The turbulence of the last two years has placed huge demands on the finance function, from delivering forecasts amid unforecastable circumstances, to rapidly responding to the changing needs of the business. To cope with this level of volatility, finance teams have needed to develop a culture of resilience and adaptability. But this is going to stand us in good stead as a profession and may even change the way we hire and develop people in the long term.
Historically, as an industry we’ve prioritised and rewarded technical skills. While these are essential, it’s becoming increasingly important that we focus our attention on creating a function that works hand-in-hand with the business – that means leading people in the right way and looking for talent that can learn fast and be adaptable.
The finance function becomes even more valuable during uncertain times. As well as providing the functional support to cope with changing market conditions, our role is to maintain trust, from managing market expectations to providing internal assurances of sound financial management. Achieving that trust can only be done when we have strong business partnering in place and excellent communication skills.
For the supply chain industry, the pandemic created a very mixed picture; while some of the industries we operate in experienced a major slow down, others like supermarkets, e-Commerce and healthcare saw a huge uplift in demand. This created significant challenges for our team, not least redeploying colleagues from shuttered operations to those in need of extra support.
Finance and HR
To manage this successfully, it was crucial for finance to effectively become an extension of the HR function, as well as the operational teams running each customer’s business. In so doing, we were able to offer essential help managing complicated redeployment processes and, with the teams whose operations had slowed or totally paused, we helped them understand and anticipate what they needed to do to protect their cost base.
We launched expert drop-in sessions for anyone across the business to join, on a range of topics from accounting advice to managing commercial risks. This positioned our department as open and willing to help, while also signposting people to the right contacts.
Communication and collaboration
To foster ongoing collaboration, we’ve started to find opportunities for interdepartmental training. Take for instance negotiation training, instead of training each department separately, we’re bringing together HR, legal, opps, business development and finance to help everyone understand and appreciate each other’s roles and bring the teams closer together.
Over the past two years, finance has had to grow comfortable operating in a new way, working with less certainty, and sometimes even letting go of processes that we’ve historically relied on. Change like this is a challenge, but the experience has made us more dynamic as a team.
Ensuring colleagues across the finance function felt a sense of belonging and really understood our organisational purpose – “Connecting people, improving lives” – was key to maintaining motivation and coping with new expectations and changing demands. The supply chain has always been behind the scenes, but when our industry was suddenly front-page news, our people felt a much stronger connection between the work they’re doing and the impact it has on the wider world.
To maintain this connection, we need to ensure finance colleagues are as close to the business vision, values and purpose as anyone in an operational role, while investing time in creating great line managers that have the skills to successfully coach and support teams as they face new challenges.