The 5 traits finance professionals need to be effective business partners

Business partnering means taking the finance function and delivering it in effective ways to other departments inside the business.

Business partnering is not new. However, as today’s business world becomes more uncertain and more volatile, the imperative for business partnering is greater than ever.

The Chartered Institute Of Management Accountants (CIMA) defines business partnering as a finance professional who works alongside other business areas, supporting and advising their strategic and operational decision-making through insights that drive better business.

The speed and quality of decision-making is becoming increasingly essential to a business’ success, and may actually be that competitive edge they need.

New research with senior executives from around the world identified a common need for faster, better decision-making — businesses are expecting more from the finance function.

Real business value is created through knowledge, intellectual property, collaboration and partnerships throughout the company.

Now more than ever, financial leadership has an opportunity to contribute tangibly to the success and future of the business.

But they can only do this successfully if they are effective business partners, which requires a special set of both technical and behavioral skills: an understanding of the business and what is actually driving the numbers, as well as good people and leadership skills.

Here are the five traits CFOs need for effective business partnering — all of which can be learned and honed:

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1. Have the courage to speak up, challenge managers, and hold a mirror up to the business.
“Braveheart”/Paramount Pictures
Business partners need to lead groups by challenging the beliefs of others.
To be a valuable partner, you’ll need to be able to challenge the recommendations and beliefs of others in the business.

This requires a finance professional to be grounded in technical competencies as well as business skills, confidence, and credibility.

It is essential to have mastery over finance skills and best practices within the finance function before you can move beyond finance and into other business discussions with credibility and a valuable point of view.

If, however, you’re still trying to improve financial processes or financial reports, in all likelihood you will be dismissed when you try to speak up and challenge popular thought.

2. Be able to influence people, build relationships, and communicate effectively.
Flickr / decoded conference
Talk to your teams and learn to influence them through effective communication.
As you move beyond the finance realm, you’ll need to remember to communicate actively in the context of business.

This doesn’t simply mean having the ability to speak well or the “gift of gab”; it means being able to get your message across and initiate a real discussion with those outside of finance.

By leaving financial jargon behind and speaking in the context of the business, you’ll be able to lay the foundation for strong business relationships.

Once you’ve built those relationships and can communicate strong insights, you’ll be in a better position to influence decision-making.

4. Develop the business knowledge to contribute in effective ways.
CBS/”Big Bang Theory”
Even the most unlikely group of people can work effectively together if they understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Business partners, of course, must understand the business. Remember that you’re contributing strategic thought and valuable insights that are fueled from a strong financial background. However, this strategic thought needs to take into consideration the impact on all other parts of the business.

Finance is often perceived as not having full understanding of operational, service, customer, and commercial impacts. This cross-functional knowledge is crucial to finance playing the role of a true business partner.

Additional competencies, ranging from people skills to business and leadership skills, are vital for successful business partnering. You should also remember to focus on causality, not correlation, when having discussions with other arms of the business.

Everything has a cause, and understanding the causality provides real business value, so ask yourself, “What’s driving these numbers?” as a starting point to every engagement.

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