A friend who works in venture capital told me that successful entrepreneurs should represent themselves as a line, not a point. He elaborated—a point is person who shows up once and asks for something, then goes away; a line is a person who has many interactions that create many points, which then become a line. That person may not ask for something in each interaction, but is building a relationship through trust and engagement, sharing information, and setting the groundwork for the partnership.
This same approach applies to finance.
FP&A is in the people business. The job requires aligning the sources and uses of capital around the company for maximum benefit, which means we are in constant contact with all parts of the business to understand how they support the company strategy, what their needs are, and how they can support their efforts. To be good at our jobs, finance professionals need business smarts, which are encapsulated by the intelligence quotient (IQ); the interpersonal skills to read people and situations, known as emotional quotient (EQ); and the ability to get the best work— effort, information and creativity—from the collection of people in your enterprise, known as collaboration quotient (CQ). In short, integrated planning requires integrated people.
However, FP&A often reports that their efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of business units are met with feelings of mistrust. Some of the hurdles they run in to include the fear that people outside their operational group will not know the business as well as they do, or that they will interfere with ongoing work. They worry that perhaps finance is looking for a way to cut the budget and so they will withhold information or sandbag their projections.
Building trust across the organization
There are many ways that FP&A can develop trust with business and planning partners to build a successful integrated business planning program. The recently released AFP Guide to Building an Integrated Business Planning Capability presents several ways to be a line, not a point.
Match the expertise of your company with diverse staffing by creating a team with different professional, geographic and expertise backgrounds that can understand the business. Consider rotating FP&A and operational people to cross-pollinate business understanding.
Learn the business by learning the data to demonstrate that you are willing to dive into the details and learn the ins-and-outs, nuances, and application of the information.
Learn their business by walking in their shoes. FP&A needs to get out of the office, perhaps even changing shoes, and see how the business operates. Your partners will respect your efforts to ensure that your understanding of operations is not limited to a computer screen.
Build planning processes that pull together the best input from subject matter experts and the best data and connects the data to a single, accessible plan. For example, consider the entire planning process a project to be managed, and focus on your planning and communications.
The job descriptions of FP&A positions demand these types of interpersonal skills. Here are a few examples:
- The success of finance depends on its team of dedicated, strategic-minded individuals who understand the business and can partner to help influence decisions and proactively identify areas of opportunity.
- The candidate must demonstrate the ability to develop trusted business relationships with internal clients and the ability to adapt to numerous and shifting priorities throughout the organization.
- The position requires cross-functional business skills, excellent facilitation and communication skills, strong influencing skills, and the ability to effectively present to and work with senior management.
How does FP&A do this? By building relationships, and that comes with being a line, not a point.
Download the AFP Guide to Building an Integrated Business Planning Capability here.
Bryan Lapidus, FP&A, is a contributing consultant and author to the Association for Financial Professionals. Reach him at BLapidus@AllegianceAG.com.