Date posted: 8/02/2018 5 min read

Achieving results through effective finance business partnering

How partnering with finance in business decision making drives success

In brief

  • Finance professionals need a change in mindset and skillset to maximise their roles
  • Effective finance business partnering has been adopted by many organisations worldwide
  • Storytelling can help finance professionals engage their audiences and become better business partners

Finance professionals have always been the keepers of (financial) business knowledge. Now it’s time to involve them in the strategic decision making process of organisations as partners in the journey to success, says Aubrey Joachim, global trainer in strategic finance transformation.

In the context of the modern organisation, Joachim believes finance professionals must look beyond the mere financials and recognise the drivers of financial outcomes for their organisations in order to come to the table on business decision making.

Organisational success is a consequence of bringing together elements such as business strategy, risk management and performance management. Joachim says “it is finance’s unique ability to go behind the numbers and identify the drivers of success that makes them invaluable to achieving results.”

Aubrey Joachim

A change in mindset and skillset

Traditional finance functions have always been reactive in providing decision support but this is changing.

Finance professionals are recognising that they have the opportunity to drive performance outcomes by proactive involvement in decision support. Joachim says they must leverage significant insights into their organisations’ business drivers and influence these to drive further value.

In order to do this finance business partners need to adopt a change in mindset from their traditional perspectives as well as develop a new range of competences and skills.

What does it take to become a true business partner?

There are nine key competencies and skills that finance business need to demonstrate, including business empathy, compelling communication, being prepared for challenge, commercial curiosity and analytical skills.

“The traditional passive role of finance must shift to a more proactive role where value generation must become the focus” says Joachim.

Effective finance business partnering is all about harnessing the technical skillset of the finance professional with the business skills that finance professionals should be trained to demonstrate. In combination, these two skillsets will provide any finance professional the ability to add tangible value to their organisation.

Effective finance business partnering has been adopted by many organisations worldwide already, and the number is rapidly growing. It’s a new structure that empowers finance professionals in their roles while contributing to organisations’ bottom lines.

The power of storytelling

Accountants can harness the power of storytelling to better engage, and inform, their audiences and become better business partners.

 “Accountants are so used to talking in numbers, we forget to contextualise what it is all about,” says Grant Anderson CA, head of government relationships at Xero in New Zealand.

“Storytelling is so fundamental, particularly if you can hook into the underlying emotion within the story.”

While storytelling in business has become a catchphrase, it’s often misunderstood as a marketing or branding tool. Yet storytelling is used to help deliver strategic objectives in a language everyone understands. This helps to engage with the audience and make the story more concrete and memorable.

Accountants need to change the way they communicate, says Anderson.

 “Not everybody thinks in a numeric way. Some people think conceptually, others think in words or pictures, so if we can tell our story in the broadest way possible we’re going to engage the audience much more.”

As data becomes the new gold, the people who work with data need to become better able to convey the insights to the decision-makers.

In 2009, Google’s Chief Economist Hal R Varian said the ability to understand data, process it, extract value from it, visualise it and to communicate it was going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.

Shawn Callahan, founder of Anecdote, a Melbourne-based company with a large network of business storytelling consultants, agrees.

“There’s a big misconception that people have: on the one hand there’s the data, and on the other there’s the story. You need to layer information, use infographics, tell the story orally, for the real story to come out.”

William Meek, CFO at Mercury says that people in finance today, particularly those in an external-facing role, need to "tailor their communications to the audience and put yourself in their shoes."

Whether in accounting, IT or project management, says Mark Schenk, Managing Director at Anecdote, “the number one thing to realise is the limitations of the way we are traditionally taught to communicate.

Once people get that, they realise that their technical language is completely useless for this stuff. This is where stories can help by being more memorable and most importantly, they can package an important message in a way that is more palatable, understandable and more influential.”