The clear mandate for Finance in the coming years is to be a strategic partner to the entire business - not just a number-crunching function. But breaking down the “walls” or silos presents many challenges and opportunities for improvement.
I recently moderated a boardroom discussion on this topic at the Evanta CFO Summit in Dallas. In this session, we discussed what strategies CFOs are deploying to build teams that are more analytical and insightful to other departments. We also spoke about best practices for integrating Finance into various divisions and functions of the organization. Here’s a summary of the boardroom discussion.
How has your role in relation to other LOB executives changed in recent years? (i.e. IT, Sales, Marketing, HR)
The panelists cited the fact that the CFO and Finance are less “siloed” now and are more aligned with other functions, such as IT, Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, and other Operating functions. Key activities include engaging with the lines of business on planning and forecasting, as well as business development and risk management initiatives.
What challenges have you faced in raising the influence of Finance across the business?
Some LOBs welcome the help from Finance, and some are resistant. And some divisions of large companies like to work independently. Here, the panelists talked about the “pull” vs. “push” approach. If the LOBs don’t reach out and engage with Finance, sometimes a top-down “push” is required. One panelist mentioned that his CEO mandated that all plans and forecasts go through Finance before going to the CEO’s office.
What best practices do you have on integrating the Finance team into the business?
Getting Finance integrated and aligned with the business starts with having a strong connection to the CEO and the rest of the executive team. The panel spoke about the need to match the right Finance person with the respective LOB executives and teams. Some companies are using a centralized FP&A model, with assignments to the various LOBs. Others are employing a more distributed model with the FP&A analysts living in the LOB, but reporting to Finance. There was general agreement among the group that the model really depends on the size of the organization, and the culture.
How does the corporate culture and tone at the top influence this process?
On this topic, there was consensus among the group that “tone at the top” is important. The CEO’s view of the role of Finance will be a big factor in how much and how effective Finance is in partnering across the business. Proximity of the CFO to the CEO’s office can have an impact here – it’s tough to be aligned to the CEO and other executives if there’s physical separation. One panelist spoke about a supportive CEO who drove the CFO and the Finance team to know the businesses they support really well and to actively engage with the LOB executives on improving performance.
What tools, processes and techniques have you leveraged to be a better business partner?
Regarding best practice processes and techniques, the panel agreed that the CFO needs to delegate day-to-day tasks to subordinates in order to free up time for strategic planning and LOB support. They highlighted the need for a strong Controller who can manage the daily transaction processing and reporting tasks. Here’s some of panelists’ additional suggestions:
- Finance staff need to prove their value to the LOBs in order to be accepted
- Finance needs to understand the business, build trust with LOB executives by being active in Operations reviews and other strategic planning meetings
- Rotation of Finance staff into Operations roles can be effective for learning the business
- Having Finance staff help LOB executives prepare for presentations of their budgets and plans to the executive team can be a big win for the LOB executives and the Finance staff who support them
What strategies are you deploying to develop the strategic capabilities of your finance team? What new skill sets are important?
Some of the new skill sets the group cited as being important to today’s Finance team included the following:
- Data mining and analysis
- Multi-talented, flexible Finance staff
- Business-focused, high intellectual curiosity
- Strong interpersonal communications skills
We had a great group at this boardroom session, and the attendees got a number of helpful tips and suggestions from each other. To learn more about how you can “tear down the walls” and make Finance a better business partner, read the results of a recent survey sponsored by Host Analytics on this topic.