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How to become a great Finance business partner... even if the thought scares you!

By Andy Burrows

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Many of those who observe and comment on the state of the Finance function in general portray Finance people as being fearful of change.

The hype around robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence, the explosion in different tools on top of the ERP system and Excel, the speed of business change, and the cost pressure on Finance, add up to a significant feeling of uncertainty.

I have to say, when I work with Finance teams, I don’t necessarily feel that fear tangibly. People seem to get their heads down and work hard, and grab automation opportunities with both hands as something that will make their lives easier.

But I think it’s the way we characterise or explain things.

You see, I don’t think Finance people are fearful of losing their jobs, which is often the way it’s expressed by commentators (like myself). I’ve lost my job several times in my career – and it’s a...

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How Finance Can Support Strategic Business Innovation

By Andy Burrows

Two innovation problems for Finance

When we think about the attitude of Finance towards innovation, there are two key questions:

  1. What should our attitude be towards business innovation? And,
  2. What should our attitude be towards internal innovation within Finance?

I’ll deal with the second question in another article.

But, before I kick off let me be honest about my thinking about innovation and Finance.

I approach innovation, whether in business or Finance, with a mixture of scepticism and mind-boggled wonder.

I am still staggered when I think of the rate of change over my working life. The internet, mobile communication, digital music and photography, to name but a few. Life has been transformed in less than 30 years.

And in order to achieve that, brave entrepreneurs – the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg – had to take risks with their new inventions. They reaped the rewards, and continue to do so.

And there have been hard lessons...

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The one risk you should always take as a Finance professional

By Andy Burrows

Do we want risk takers in Finance? Does that conjure up positive or negative images in your mind?

I once asked my Supercharged Finance newsletter subscribers to tell me about problems and issues they had in Finance (by the way, if you want to be on that mailing list, please go to www.superchargedfinance.com and click the button that says "join our mailing list"). One FP&A Director wrote back to me saying that one of his frustrations was that his team was reticent to take risks and get out of their comfort zone.

From a business point of view, I guess we need Finance people who have a balanced view of risk. But in a very big sense, I believe we do need people in Finance who are willing to actually take risks personally.

But what risks do we want our Finance teams to take? And what are the benefits of developing risk takers in Finance? And how do you develop that culture?

Being outside our comfort zone is often not a risk at all

What we’re really thinking...

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How to work with the business as a Finance Business Partner

By Andy Burrows

The Marketing Director of a business I worked for a long time ago said in leading a seminar, words to the effect that, “functions like Finance, HR and IT are just overhead costs. They don’t add value. They don’t bring in new business or sell anything, and they don’t produce anything.”

I didn’t respond at the time, but I remember being quite offended. I felt put down, saying that I was no value to the business.

I was, at the time, I have to say, fairly naïve – this was not long after I’d started my first job outside of public practice.

What follows here are some of my reflections on the relationships between the Finance function and the other parts of a business, from working in more than thirteen different companies over more than twenty years since then.

“Business Partner” – a misleading phrase?

One thing that has vexed my pedantic brain occasionally over the years is the use of the term...

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The Purpose-Driven CFO Part 9: Developing Finance Business Partnering

 By Andy Burrows

[First published 20th July 2017]

[This article is also on LinkedIn - why not "Follow+" Andy and give the article a "like"?]

I don’t take it for granted that anyone reading this will have read the other articles in this series. Perhaps you have a particular interest in Finance Business Partnering. So, for new readers, I’ll just briefly reiterate the premise of The Purpose-Driven CFO.

That is, what I set out to do was to investigate what difference it makes going back to first principles with the things we do in Finance, and asking “why?” I know from experience that understanding why we do things can increase our motivation in doing them. Once you can see the end goal, and see the benefits of that goal, any tedious, mundane, difficult or complex steps towards it become less burdensome. And often asking “why” reveals implications that will change the way we do things. That has certainly been the case with all the...

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You Don’t Have to be in FP&A to be a Finance Business Partner

By Andy Burrows

[First published 28th February 2017]

It is becoming fashionable nowadays to identify some roles in Finance as Finance Business Partner. It’s intended to emphasise the need for managers in the business to have a strong understanding of financial performance. And therefore, the Finance function ought to provide people who can come alongside business managers, providing financial insight and understanding.

I have been known to express my unease with the use of the term Business Partner. For one thing, it suggests that we are somehow separate from the business. We can only partner the business. So, it always seems to trigger a little internal irritation in me when I hear people say, “we’ll need to consult with the business”, or some such thing. But for another thing, it suggests that business is all about strategic decision making, and somehow the mundane things don’t matter. So only special people get to be “business partners”.

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