DENVER -- Over 25 finance practitioners at the 2015 AFP Annual Conference gathered for the Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) Roundtable, sponsored by Peloton. The agenda was determined by the participants themselves and three main topics dominated the conversation: Talent management, finance transformation and data analytics.
Most of the conversation at the luncheon centered on how to recruit and develop FP&A talent. Everyone agreed there’s a gap between what senior finance professionals want in their FP&A teams, and
what typical candidates bring to the table. As discussed in a recently published AFP FP&A Guide, Addressing the FP&A Talent Gap, the biggest hole to fill is in the area of interpersonal communication and business partnerships. “My CFO does like to see people at their desk the entire day,” one attendee said. “It’s okay at the start and end of the day. But during the middle of the day he expects everyone to be talking to others. He wants people who get up to solve problems.”
But where do companies find that talent? Several practitioners suggested provided some sources.
- IT departments offer natural problem solvers and project managers.
- Operations yields people with a deep understanding of the business.
- Auditors can recommend good analytical and people-skilled personnel.
- Ex-consultants often have both the technical and analytical skills, as well as the right people skills.
Practitioners dentified three key traits that FP&A departments should look for when onboarding new talent. Ideal FP&A staff should:
- Be natural problem solvers
- Be persuasive
- Be confident enough to ask, “Why?”
“You can’t be meek,” noted one practitioner.
Practitioners also suggested several key interview questions:
- Name one project that you weren’t assigned by your boss.
- What dog would you pick for your house? A poodle or a pit bull?
- Tell me something that you know more about than me and communicate that effectively.
“The danger of FP&A is that you may end living in an ivory tower,” concluded another participant. “That’s why you need the skills to dig deeper.”
At several participating companies, the finance transformation was sparked by failed technology implementations, which in turn led to a reimagining of the process and structure of finance in general—and FP&A in particular. “It’s important to have everything clearly articulated and everyone’s role clearly defined,” said one FP&A chief, who is currently going through a multi-year transformation. “You’ve got to embrace the bureaucracy of governance.” That means being accountable for deadlines and deliverables, maintaining decision logs and measuring results.
Two practitioners both advised getting middle management involved in heading up the project so it’s not coming from the top down. “Get the right people to communicate with the teams,” said one practitioner. “And if you get the wrong people in there, fix it quickly.”
The other important piece of advice was to include the naysayers in the team. That’s the best way to get their buy-in, according to this practitioner. “Also engage senior leaders,” she said. “You want people who are hungry to do it.”
For many companies, the biggest hurdle in implementing sophisticated data analytics is that they’ve grown through acquisitions. Each new company comes with its own set of systems and databases that do not talk to the other companies. It’s hard to get them all to talk to each other. “We’re trying to use data to identify the drivers that move the dial on performance,” said the FP&A director of one such organization. The other push is to ensure more resources are put in the right areas where they can make a real impact. With drivers, the point is not to necessarily argue about how they are calculated but to look deep to see how they’re changing behavior, added another FP&A professional.
“There’s a difference between reporting and analytics,” pointed out another participant. “Sometimes there’s too much data in the reporting package. People think that three pages of data are better than half a page of analytics. In fact, it just drives confusion,” he said.