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The Secret to FP&A and Business Partnerships: Coffee, Talk and Finance

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 7/23/2018

Comm-16-partnership-PgHdrBefore his retirement, my father in-law’s main job was drinking coffee.

Officially, Hal’s title was “consultant” at a major defense and engineering contractor, but his stories were always about walking around the client site and chatting up the team. He was so good at it that after he retired, the company would bring him back on a contractual basis to initiate client meetings, kick off presentations, and shake hands with folks. His skill was building relationships.

I was thinking about this during my conversation with Johan Van Zyl, FP&A in Australia. This was my first call with him, and I was digging into his LinkedIn profile and wondering what he meant when he wrote about his “strong IT skills” as it applies to FP&A. He said he has gone beyond standard macros to writing visual basic scripts, SQL queries, and has studied a few other languages.

But Van Zyl’s real skill, it seems, is in eliciting great IT-related insights from colleagues. To wit:

“How do you tell who is a technological leader?”

“That’s is pretty obvious,” Van Zyl said. “They ask lots of questions and volunteer for opportunities that stretch them beyond their capabilities.” The techno-leaders, such as himself, are self-motivated to do more, learn more, and become ever more efficient.

“What is the approach of the non-techies to the systems and data?”

“They just want it to work,” Van Zyl said. The “it” is the model, the system, the tool, whatever. The non-techies had a passion to work with the business partners. “Let me give you an example. I had someone who was great at working with our internal partners. He knew everything that was happening in the business. Everyone knew him. He was a tremendous asset for our team. But he could never figure out how to use the planning tool and he could not build nor analyze data sets.”

“How did you manage this non-techie’s strengths and weaknesses?”

“That is what good managers do,” Van Zyl said. “In this case, I assigned someone to help him with all the technology aspects, effectively relieving him of the work that he was bad at in order to free him up to do that which he excelled.” (Interestingly, Van Zyl noted that if this gentleman were a younger employee, he would push harder to become more tech-savvy.)

Van Zyl’s insight is important for managers and finance in general. It is very difficult to find a single personal who embodies everything we ask of in an FP&A professional—the finance acumen, technology and data skills, and personal effectiveness. There may be sector or industry knowledge, legal talents, long experience or new disruptive points of view that you want to add to your staff. The goal is to create an effective team.

Which brings us back to Hal, walking the halls of the client site in his highly caffeinated state. His role was to build trust with he client, to listen to their concerns and bring them back to his team, and generally smooth the path for his colleagues to deliver value.

With Hal and Johan in mind, here are two questions you should ask yourself and your team:

"Who on your team is building strong relationships with your clients?"

"And, how are you maximizing the team’s collective talents by maximizing the roles of individuals?"

Connect with Bryan Lapidus, FP&A, via emailLinkedIn or TwitterFor additional insights on FP&A, subscribe to the AFP monthly newsletter, FP&A in Focus.
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