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Resident CFO: Top priorities of any finance team

Chris Astle shares his priorities for a finance team, and how to structure them in a way to link day-to-day objectives to delivering the long-term vision

Chris Astle, our Resident CFO, continues his series of articles by sharing what he has found to be important priorities for a finance team, and how to structure them in a way to link the day-to-day objectives to delivering on the overall long-term vision of finance.

In my opening column, I shared some of the challenges I had experienced upon taking on a large team for the first time and some thoughts around what worked well in helping me navigate that new adventure.

I included several important things that are constantly on the radar screen of finance leaders: tax, governance, quarterly profit targets, the annual budget, politics and, most importantly, having fun along the way. There must be a hundred more.

I believe it is critical to have a simple, clear and relevant strategic vision for your finance team, which is supported by three clear “Critical Success Factors (CSFs)” which will support that vision.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” — Sun Tzu

The key to having these three CSFs, is that they are underpinned by day-to-day tactical activities that can be translated into objectives and create focus for the entire finance team. Having three is diverse enough to allow all team members to contribute as there are a wide range of roles and responsibilities across finance.

From the ground up, the team is then aligned to reach these three CSFs and deliver on the vision which finance promised to the wider business.

These priorities must be carefully developed in tandem with your direct reports and peers, and tailored to support the aims of the business. Below are three CSFs which I believe can be relevant to many businesses today and are ones I intend to continue to use in the future.

CSF 1:  Optimised processes, controls, policies

A finance team can claim to be the best value-added business partners in the world but, without this CSF being established as a firm bedrock, it will all be for nothing when a fundamental issue in the core of financial controls rears its head.

So it’s back to basics, examining each end-to-end statutory and control process to ensure this is not only solid, but also stress-tested, documented, and standardised.

Sounds dry. However, this is exactly the area where there are many cutting edge pieces of software available to help you automate the transactional elements which save time and remove manual processes which can be prone to error.

Nailing this down should be every finance controller’s prime directive. It enables the team to expand its impact into other areas with the knowledge that it is under control and as efficient as it can be. Efficient processes such as AP and AR are also great for your business partners, suppliers and customers.


CSF 2: Innovate to transform FP&A

FP&A is so simple yet so under-developed in many companies. It’s time to challenge the status quo and embrace technology.

Put an automated, super user-friendly, tablet-based financial dashboard in the hands of the business. Doing so will help them become more financially sophisticated and stay on top of their own financial commitments. This will also help the finance team move away from processing data, downloading data at month end, transposing data into tables, moving it all from Excel to PowerPoint and, finally, to an email that no one reads.

The aim is to reduce output and increase insight. There are great resources out there to allow large parts of FP&A to be automated. There are also some exciting data analytic tools which will enhance your team’s ability to draw out trends and drive insight.

This is the ultimate enabler to allow your team to evolve along the value chain, moving from being data processors to adding insight and to being a truly value-added business partner with the power to influence and have an impact.


CSF 3: Deliver commercial value as a trusted business partner

I find myself talking about this topic regularly. Whether it is to the back office aspiring to add value, other support functions looking to partner with the business, or teams with slick systems but still struggling to develop the relationships required to add value.

With the finance profession facing significant levels of automation, embarking on a journey to business partner is essential. It is also an area in which I believe finance can add significant value to the business, both to the top and bottom lines.

Creating a value-added business partnering team, through enabling and training, takes time and effort and is perhaps a subject for a future column.


CSF 4: World-class expertise and talent

Although I said I had three CSFs, this fourth underpins the first three. How to develop a world class team of finance professionals, through talent management, team profiling, career pathways, mindset evolution and culture is again perhaps one to cover in a future column.


Developing CSFs will bring no value unless they are appropriately cascaded to the teams – it is an essential part of the process. I take the time to talk it through and get buy-in from my team, so they can talk it over with their own teams and work on translating the CSFs into their day-to-day work and objectives.

I hope that you will find it useful the approach of organising your CSFs behind a clear vision and ahead of tangible tactical activities that everyone in your team can set as objectives that directly contribute to the most important priorities for finance. This, in turn, will help you deliver on your long-term vision.

If you are finding that setting your finance strategy is proving difficult, just remember:

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”  — Confucius


You may have noticed some hash tags along the way. Why not use some of the latest team tech tools like yammer, and encourage the sharing of successes (and failures!) along the journey to delivering the financial objectives. Being recognised for having an impact together with the use of technology are areas in demand.

Follow Chris Astle on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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