At beer giant Molson Coors, the biggest challenge the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team faces is understanding how information can be used to influence change, noted Christine Watkins, vice president of FP&A.
“Presenting facts is one thing. Influencing behavioral changes is a much more powerful skill,” Watkins said. For this, Molson Coors’ FP&A staff members need to understand the facts, build credibility with the business, and know how to drive change.
“The other important skill, albeit sometimes underappreciated, is having the ability to manage projects from vision through execution, particularly large-scale projects,” she said. “Because transformation and innovation is a constant, FP&A professionals need to understand how to develop the vision for change, sell it to the broader organization, and know how to develop executable plans.”
Often, FP&A professionals are not trained in project management, hence the talent gap. However, the good ones learn quickly, Watkins explained. “We know how to calendar our plan and budgeting cycles,” she said. “We learn to have processes that are disciplined around forecasting and reporting, and we are continuously looking for ways to improve them.”
But FP&A professionals often get into routines and caught up in deliverables, failing to see the big opportunities that will truly drive value. That’s why the FP&A department at Molson Coors is constantly pushing its team members to improve. “Continuous improvement is a big part of what FP&A should be about, not just for finance but for the entire organization,” Watkins added.
The idea of FP&A being a business partner resonates with the entire team, Watkins explained. “But what does that mean? It means sitting with executives, identifying areas of opportunity based on facts, and defining how to attack the problem.” Finding a solution is only half the issue, according to Watkins. “If you don’t identify ways to execute the solution, there is no value.”
The skills she looks for in new hires are those that are also the hardest to find: the ability to influence and manage broad-scale change while having a healthy dose of professional skepticism. “You have to have a good mix of strategic long-term thinking and relationship-building while not being afraid to ask enough questions to get to the root cause of an issue,” she said.
Watkins’ greatest hiring successes have been with individuals who are inquisitive and excited about change, while also being detail- and process-oriented. “FP&A is such a diverse profession, from forecasting and planning to strategy and transformation, there are many skills to look for,” she said.
Equally important is the retention of top talent, added Watkins. A crucial way to do so is by keeping her staff engaged. “We like to have fun. You have to enjoy what you’re doing. We celebrate a job well done. We also involve areas outside of FP&A, engaging with and celebrating as a team across functional areas,” she said. “We take the opportunity to remind ourselves about how the work performed, both small and large, impacted the overall organization. We also do a lot of listening and collaborating with each other. We’re not very hierarchical. If people have good ideas, they’re encouraged to share with the team and take ownership of implementing them. It’s very empowering.”
Watkins herself has a very diverse background that began in public accounting as a CPA and evolved into corporate finance and FP&A, working with a variety of functions from supply chain, logistics and sales and operations. She even held positions in internal audit and general management. “Having experience in many different areas gives me an appreciation for the broader workings of an organization,” she said. “The diversity of these roles best prepared me for my current role. I enjoy taking risks and stepping outside the traditional roles. It brings great credibility when working with our business partners.”
The advice she gives FP&A professionals who are interested in moving upward in the profession is four-fold:
- Take risks and open yourself up to new opportunities.
- Tell someone about your ideas; be an example of change.
- Ask questions and take accountability by following through.
- Be kind, enjoy life, and celebrate!