On the 25th of May, I had the honour of being a panelist at The Digital Nordic FP&A Board sponsored by Unit4. The agenda and panelist of the meeting with 119 participants were the following:
Selling a concept of FP&A Business Partnering to your stakeholders
Studying articles, case studies and experience from my personal career makes me say that maximising FP&A Business Partnering can be done by the three C’s. Capacity by having appropriate time and resources in the team, capability by making sure you possess the right skill sets and experience. Finally, collaboration is achieved when you have established the right access to and relationships with business stakeholders.
Based on a LinkedIn poll
Now, my suspicion has always been that it is the collaboration part that is the hardest. And what I wanted to do was to find out the reason why we sometimes fail in our business partnerships. As it turns out, this is due to the fact that our stakeholder quite often does not see the value of having an FP&A Business Partner (see the results of the second poll below).
Based on a LinkedIn poll
In order to “sell” the concept, we must measure and demonstrate the benefit. There are three ways of demonstrating and measuring the benefit of having you as an FP&A Business Partner:
- present KPI improvement
- show progress in forecast accuracy
- ensure cost and time savings
Based on a LinkedIn poll
What I have found out during all my years as an FP&A professional working with change management is that motivation can overcome almost all obstacles. If you manage to sell in the concept of a business partner, you motive your stakeholder to greet you as one in the team.
My conclusion is that motivation and empowerment is a requirement for business partnering and the values and trust is the foundation in the relation. When you work together after a joint vision you have probably reached well-functioning cooperation.
What it takes to become a leading data-driven FP&A business partner
Valerie Martin, Finance Director at Autodesk, has most recently worked a great deal improving Business Partnering by upgrading FP&A and becoming more data-driven. In a world where companies have a magnitude of systems, it is important to have a single source of truth. Even if data is reliable, different audiences interpret data and metrics differently.
The benefit she points out is that FP&A can support its organisation becoming more intelligent using the right data and more differentiated compared to its competitors. An important aspect that we all struggle with, in a world where companies have a magnitude of systems, is what data is the single source of truth. With the complexity of data that we have, FP&A should play a big part in this treatment.
To become a data-driven FP&A Business Partner, you need to be able to gather baseline data, identify goals and monitor performance. Also, a data-driven business partner excels in storytelling and can deliver real-time insights using an interactive process and staying curious and engaged.
To become a leading data-driven FP&A business partner, it is important to embed a data-driven and fact-based decision culture in your organisation. It is not enough to set ambitious goals, you should also be open and build trust, train your employees and focus on power skills and behaviours. In the leading state, you make your decisions based on data and have a data-driven mindset. You are no longer just exploring.
Overcoming remote work challenges
Dmitri Baranov, VP of Finance at ICON plc, brought up the topic of remote business partnering. This is something which I have experienced at 3 companies since the COVID-pandemic started and the prerequisites are very different from one company to another. There are several things to consider:
Simplify. In Dmitri’s experience, a successful approach is to streamline workflow even more and limit the number of reports. Simplification should go together with increasing interaction with your business partner. Since we do not interact face-to-face, we need to keep the message simple and focus on what matters most.
Keep the spirit up. Having your camera on and trying to behave as if you all were in the same room makes a huge difference from being invisible and muted. If you are a CFO or a CEO, skip-level meetings will give you the opportunity to connect with staff below your direct reports. You can increase your understanding of what people really feel about stress and culture.
Encourage socialisation. Working too much and communication difficulties are the largest concerns for FP&A professionals. The coffee breaks and small chit-chats we used to have in the lunchroom nowadays are gone. I always recommend Friday non-work-related coffee with the team via Teams, and this is very appreciated. Being social beings, we all have a need for personal interactions.
Looking at the result of the poll made during the meeting we can conclude that working too much and communication difficulties are the largest concerns for FP&A professionals and this goes also for CFO’s and CEO’s. The coffee breaks and small chit-chats we used to have in the lunchroom nowadays are exchanged to “work”. I always recommend Friday non-work-related coffee with the team via Teams and this is very appreciated.
Using technology to transform FP&A business partnering
Alistair Gurney, Group FP&A Director at Unit4, started his presentation with an important message: There is nothing that will make you lose the trust of your business partner faster than having different numbers or non-transparent data. We often have loads of data but not the right integration or discipline to benefit from it. As the result, knowledge is often lost when someone leaves the company or moves into the organisation. If the data were more robust and transparent, the systems and material would become more user friendly and bring more value to the FP&A team.
A skilled FP&A team and its business partners can benefit immensely from rich data, but systems in isolation are not enough for us to use technology to exploit it. For organisations to be successful, we need to advocate for integration.
FP&A professionals need to be motivated and motivate others to trust and to make strategic decisions based on insights from the team. If trust is not yet established between you and your business partner, find the trigger that will make them believe in your analysis and the numbers behind them.
If you can access rich data efficiently, use it wisely, try to work on visualising your conclusion in order to truly receive your seat at the table. Use your expertise to start moving towards a data-driven FP&A department.