At the Business Partnering Institute, we’re all about value creation and have just launched the “Value Creation Series” where we share our own and our reader’s examples of how they have created value with Business Partnering. Get more info on https://bestheadunits.com/ . Last week Anders shared one of his favourite examples in the story of “the 4 mUSD and the picture on the intranet” (the previous article covers Business Partnering tips #1-3). This week we’re talking to Robin Kiziak who’s a Finance Manager at Wickes and previously a long-time finance professional at DHL. Robin tells us about his experiences starting in a new company where you start from scratch building new relationships, start with zero credibility and must go through a steep learning curve to become a trusted partner to your business stakeholders.
“When I came into my current role the credibility that finance had with the operation was extremely low. …the senior leadership team of the distribution network were feeling neglected by the finance function and any information that they did receive was received with a degree of contempt…”
Talk about a tough beginning and a challenging starting point!
The stage was set but what should Robin do?
Clearly, this wasn’t going to be an easy task for Robin as not only was he new in the company but the finance function also had a very poor reputation as it had simply ignored the Operations team for a long time. Robin, therefore, shares one of his tips for successful Business Partnering.
Tip 4: “I discovered very quickly in the first couple of months in the role that a big part of the problem between finance and the operational team was that it was very rare for someone from the finance function to be on site with the operation and if they were on site it was purely to sit in one of the offices rather than to get out and about in the warehouse, meeting not only the leadership team but other members of the workforce, and understanding what they all did.” i.e. simply meeting your business stakeholders and showing an interest in what they do will give you a great boost towards building a partnership
If you really want to be a finance business partner you must accept that you cannot do it by sitting in front of your screen all day long. You need to get up and out and about to meet with your business stakeholders. If all you do is send e-mails with reports and hope for them to get acted upon you will fail miserably. Robin reflects on this point.
“When reports and data are being produced and distributed on a weekly basis it is not good enough to believe that everyone has the ability to understand the information that is sent by email, therefore, I set up weekly meetings with the operation to ensure that the information produced is understood and being brought in to.”
Business Partnering happens only when you start to discuss the result of your analysis conveying your view on what the numbers tell you about WHAT happened and WHY it happened. Through sharing your view on the WHY you discuss and align with your business stakeholders about why performance turned out the way it did and prepare everyone to discuss WHAT can be done to improve performance. Robin then goes on to share his next tip about Business Partnering.
Tip 5: “We have a meeting at the beginning of the week which is attended by the operational leadership team from the General Managers down where we discuss the initial outcomes of the previous week and iron out any inaccuracies in the data. We then have a further meeting later in the week which is attended by the entire operational leadership team where we dig further into the data and link it back to the operational performance for the week.” i.e. it’s only through discussion with your business stakeholders about the numbers that you develop true business insights into what’s going on and can make better decisions to improve performance.
Making better decisions is the #1 intended outcome of successful Business Partnering hence all Robin’s efforts should, of course, lead to some sort of value impact at the end of the day. If all Robin and the Operations team did was to discuss performance naturally nothing is improved but that was not the case according to Robin.
“By reviewing the data in scrutiny and ensuring an understanding by all this has driven the leaders within Operations to go back and review various areas in detail with their teams. As an outcome of this, we have seen agency spend tighten up significantly as the operation will now always think twice before employing another agency operative and ensuring that productivities are being achieved by their shift. Not only is it agency spend that is impacted in this way but all variable costs are thought of in much more detail than they ever were before because people are aware that notice is now being taken of not only operational performance but the financial performance of the operation.”
Well done Robin and co.! Robin has shown us that regardless of your starting point you can create trusted relations with your business stakeholders and form a true partnership. Sure, Robin also notes that there is the occasional stakeholder that doesn’t think Finance should play a role in their business but honestly how can we expect something different when we never cared about the business in the first place?
Let’s recap what made Robin’s Business Partnering efforts successful
There are many great insights to take away from Robin’s example of how he managed to become a trusted business partner in a matter of 6-9 months with an Operations team that felt Finance was not worth spending their time on. So, let’s review some of the key steps.
- Start by showing a genuine interest in your business stakeholders and what they do by walking the floor and being visible to them.
- Follow-up by not just sitting behind your desk and send out reports via e-mails. Instead, sit down with your stakeholders to discuss your insights and align on the WHAT and WHY of business performance to agree on WHAT you can do about it.
- Create a continuous cycle where you keep feeding them insights to help them make better decisions and create a tangible bottom-line impact.
It sounds easy and simple but we all know that just doing step 1) is a massive jump out of the comfort zone for many finance professionals. Nonetheless, if you don’t do it how can you ever create trust and build a partnership? We also know that if you successfully do step 1) then you’re feeling drained for energy and could just as well fall into the trap of staying behind your desk. DON’T! The reward for keeping going is simply too big. Once you’ve done step 1) and 2) you’ll find it much easier to continue with step 3) and about those rewards, we’ll let Robin have the last words.
“A more pertinent impact of [all my efforts] is that I really believe that by gaining engagement we have seen the impact in our cost to serve which is now world class leading in the logistics/distribution sector ”
What tips do you have for successful Business Partnering and would you be willing to share your story like Robin did? Then write in the comments or reach out to Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anders encourages you to take a tour of his past articles on finance transformation, finance business partnering and not least “Introducing The Finance Transformation Nine Box” which is really the starting point for the transformation. You should join our Finance Business Partner Forum which is part of the Business Partnering Institute’s online community where we will continue to discuss this topic and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.