If you’re a finance director, controller or CFO, you may likely have experienced the stigma that says, “You lead the team who block things.”
It’s frustrating when non-finance people see members of the finance team as enders of joy, instead of givers of valued insights. Because whatever we set out to be when we started in finance, it was broader than the perception other departments often have of our role.
We are – and have the potential to be seen as – value creators. The insights we can glean from our work have the power to make or break entire organisations. But sometimes we can be so tied up in processes that we don’t have time to analyse the data in our hands.
Insights are everywhere
It’s easy to get stuck. The processes we manage are slow, and turning the wheel can be painful. But it’s not just difficult on the macro level.
Our teams can be full of people stuck managing the process in front of them, who don’t have a chance to see the bigger picture. The possibility of error is frightening, and our processes are usually more error-prone than they need to be. And so all our efforts focus on limiting mistakes. The thought of achieving more than the immediate task might never enter our minds.
But what if we could create a sense of possibility for our teams? What if everyone was inspired to take ownership of their development? Could they reach beyond their daily tasks and their qualifications?
Our teams can offer us more than the numbers. If they’re willing to rise to it, they can all become people of insight.
Managing silos isn’t enough
Standard practice is to split finance into the reporters and forecasters. To have people who handle the processes and others who consider the future. But what if everyone had an insight into each other’s roles?
There are practical reasons for having different silos that run specific processes. But we’ve possibly made them too silo-ish. When our teams can’t see past the tasks they’re responsible for they won’t operate at their true potential.
If we could create teams that understand the whole, who are communicating with one another, who could contribute to each other’s work, there’ll be a lot more insight going around.
If team members could move fluidly between roles and between processes, the ship might not take so long to change course. If everyone was inspired to keep learning, to drive themselves beyond a process, or performance review, then maybe we’d have a better business culture.
Given a chance to look beyond their processes, our people might take the opportunity to show us what they can really do.
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We had an enquiry from a company who wanted us to revamp all of their reporting completely. They were having massive issues with unreliable processes that took too long and were about to transition to a new accounting platform.
We were in dialogue with their Head of Finance and an FP&A analyst. And in the course of our conversations, we realised the analyst was brilliant. Modelling-wise he was just like us but hadn’t had quite the same level of experience.
So we went back to the company with a quote for the work they’d asked us to do. But we said: ‘You’ve got a guy on your team who, with a little bit of coaching, could do 95% of this.’ Although that meant less money for us, it was the right solution for the client – something we always strive for.
So that’s what we’ve been doing. Myles, my business partner, has coached their analyst through most of the work so far, and then he’s going to hand over his training to me from October.
Their analyst has essentially upskilled himself, the company paid us less for the work, and now they have someone who understands a lot of the fundamentals behind it all. He already had the personality of someone who goes beyond your typical accountant – we just highlighted it.
Where do we go from here?
Before this, the company’s analyst was swamped. He was so busy turning the wheel, so consumed by his part of the process that no one could notice his potential. Arguably any accountant could have filled his role, but not everyone could think the way he could. We gave him a little room to breathe, and both he and the company have benefitted massively as a result.
If finance leaders could set aside a few hours to scope out their teams, to find the people who are ready to step beyond the task in front of them, who knows what they might find?
It’s going to require people to take ownership of their development as I did in my own finance journey. But maybe there’s something that leaders can do as well. We don’t just shut down ideas; we create possibility. And our team has the potential to prove it.
If you’ve noticed a theme to my recent articles, then well spotted! It just so happens that I – and a top-notch team of highly respected modelling companies and leaders – have been working hard over the last six months to create a unique and exciting opportunity for those interested in truly transforming their skills and prospects. For now, my lips are sealed. But we’ll have more to share with you in the not-too-distant future.
Authored by Giles Male.
Giles Male is Director of Financial Modelling and Spreadsheet Review for Clarity Consultancy Services.