Everyone's a winner with good Finance business partnering

By Andy Burrows

We’re accustomed, I think, to talking about a “Win/Win situation” as some scenario where everyone involved in a deal ends up happy with what they got out of it.

I haven’t got time to justify (and shouldn’t need to anyway) why “Win/Win” is the best outcome to aim for in any relational situation.

But one thing is certain. You don’t get Win/Win situations without having a Win/Win mindset.

And when we think of what Finance business partners, CFOs and Finance leaders should be aiming at, it must involve situations where everyone ends as a winner, certainly where the business is concerned.

For instance, as an example scenario, sales managers might feel they have gained some great insight from Finance that will enable them to convert more leads, whilst in the same interaction the Finance manager feels they’ve got sales managers to better manage risk.

These are the kind of interactions we in Finance want with our non-Finance colleagues. We don’t just want our processes and controls to be adhered to because we say so! We want them to be respected because they help our non-Finance colleagues, which helps the business to perform better.

This is what Finance business partnering is all about – not just getting into influential positions for ourselves, but achieving situations where we all win, and therefore the business benefits as a whole.

So, in my series of articles thinking about the personal skills and behaviours that Finance people should develop, this time I want to look at what goes into the Win/Win mindset, and what is needed to achieve results where “everyone’s a winner”.

It starts with character

The first thing to realise is that a “Win/Win mindset” is not exclusively about negotiating a deal. It’s not just the precursor to learning a technique for getting a good deal for both sides in a negotiation.

This involves your philosophy and the way you see the world.

Most fundamental to this, in my view, is what Stephen Covey calls, the “abundance mindset”.

The abundance mindset is a way of looking at the world such that “there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody” (quoted from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). In the long run, there is no need to rob or cheat someone else to have what we want.

But more than that, our definition of success within the abundance mindset is not selfish. We genuinely think in terms of wanting and aiming for positive outcomes for everyone, not just ourselves. Quoting Stephen Covey’s masterpiece again: “Public Victory does not mean victory over other people. It means success in effective interaction that brings mutually beneficial results to everyone involved” (emphasis added).

And that definition of success is something that comes from setting our direction in terms of being conscious of our values, and having integrity as we live them out each day. This is what I was trying to say when I wrote about setting the vision and direction.

It’s aiming to be a certain way (according to our values), rather than having or achieving certain things.

So, in Finance, it’s about balancing our desire to control, to follow due process, or even to have more influence in the business, with the needs of our non-Finance colleagues, so that together we can benefit the business... which makes it an enjoyable place to work, helpful to our customers, caring to our suppliers and profitable for our investors.

Build relationships

When you have a “Win/Win mindset” it becomes natural to build relationships where we genuinely care about the other person’s goals as well as our own.

But what if the other person has a different mindset. What if they just want to shut you down? What if they are resistant? What if they want to achieve their objectives with no care for your needs? What if they want to just use you?

If our more important aim is to be mature, to show integrity, to seek the best for everyone, then we will continue to do that even if others don’t.

As Stephen Covey says, you continue to show “genuine courtesy, respect, and appreciation for that person and for the other point of view. You stay longer in the communication process. You listen more, you listen in greater depth. You express yourself with greater courage. You aren’t reactive. You go deeper inside yourself for strength of character to be proactive. You keep hammering it out until the other person begins to realise that you genuinely want the resolution to be a real win for both of you.”

Example situations

At this point it may be a good idea to have a look at a couple of examples. Because you may be thinking that this is all very well, but not every situation requires “give and take”. Sometimes, we are just asked for something by a non-Finance colleague. Sometimes, we have to just ask people to do things. Where does a Win/Win mindset fit in with these situations? What would a Win/Win outcome look like?

Let’s say that you are a Finance Manager and you need an Ops Manager to arrange for the collection of some data for some analysis.

Well, if they just do it for you, that’s not a Win/Win result. That’s a Win/Lose. You’ve got what you needed at the expense of their time and effort.

A Win/Win mindset would look for some way to ensure that the Ops Manager also got something out of the transaction, or at least had the opportunity to get some sort of benefit from it.

So, perhaps after asking for the data collection you could offer to share the analysis with them and spend some time explaining how it will be used. That would increase their understanding of how business performance is managed, and therefore would benefit both them and the business in the future.

Or perhaps you could simply ask if there’s anything you can do for them that would help them out. And if there’s nothing that springs to mind right now, assure them of your sincerity to help them out with anything they need in the future.

And what if it was the other way around? What about when the Marketing Manager comes asking for an urgent piece of modelling on a new product that she’s working on?

If you just roll your eyes and say you’ll fit in the work somehow, even if you’re really busy, then you’ve accepted a Lose/Win outcome, which is not what you want.

To make it a Win/Win, perhaps ask if you can attend a product launch steering committee meeting or join the project team. Then you can learn about what they’re doing, and ensure they’ve thought of everything from a Finance point of view – transaction process, contracts, credit control, data capture, and so on.

I hope you see what I mean.

If you have a pervasive Win/Win mindset, you will always look for ways that you can finish with an outcome that you’re all pleased with.

Where hard and soft skills meet

Here’s another example. And this one illustrates how soft skills can impact on the hard technical areas of our role in Finance.

As I’ve reflected on this from the angle of “personal effectiveness”, which is core to the “soft” skills, or behavioural, side of Finance business partnering, I’ve been struck by how this interacts with one of the thorny issues we have in Finance.

And that’s the issue of budgeting!

Stephen Covey says, “Win/Win can only survive in an organisation when the systems support it. If you talk Win/Win but reward Win/Lose, you’ve got a losing program on your hands.”

Traditional budgeting rewards Win/Lose behaviour, because it encourages political “gaming”, each manager playing the system to their own ends, with Finance ironically both facilitating and attempting to police the politics!

Win/Win systems tend to be based on clear agreements, delegation, trust and integrity. And that aligns very nicely with the decentralised management methods advocated by the Beyond Budgeting movement.

Deal-making where everyone’s a winner

Finally, let’s briefly think about what the process would be in a deal-making situation, where we want to come out with a Win/Win result. This needs to be more of a process. But the process has to align with the mindset.

There are four simple high-level steps in the “everyone’s a winner” deal-making process:

  1. See the problem from the other point of view. This comes back to the real listening skills I described in my last article. We listen until we really understand what the other party wants and why, and how they are thinking.
  2. Identify key issues;
  3. Identify what outcome would qualify as fully acceptable to everyone;
  4. Come up with new options to achieve those results.

It’s not rocket science. But two things are critical:

  1. Wanting a Win/Win outcome, because that’s part of your value system;
  2. Really listening because you care about the perspectives, needs and desires of other people, not just yourself.

Finance is about people, not numbers

I realise that this kind of thing is not what you expect to find when you read an article within the Finance and Accounting realm!

But, you see, I have this belief that Finance is more about people than it is about numbers.

The numbers would not need to be crunched if they weren’t useful for some purpose.

And the purposes are the purposes of people!

Numbers don’t exist in a vacuum. Different people demand business numbers for different purposes.

So, we’ll do our jobs better in Finance if we understand the people, work with the people, and win with the people, who drive the numbers and demand the numbers in the business.

In the next article in this series, I'll outline the amazing things that happen when you listen well, with a win-win mindset!

Related Posts

Great CFOs listen without prejudice

Setting the destination and direction – a big CFO skill

Relationship building skills for Finance business partners

Great resources available FREE:

I've put all the articles from this series into a book which you can buy on Amazon ... but you can also get the pdf download version of the book free by clicking the link below:

An introduction to personal effectiveness for CFOs and Finance professionals

Other free resources to consider:

How Finance Can Drive Business Performance (short pdf guide)

7-Day Finance Business Partnering Email Challenge

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