Strategy & Operations » Business Partnering » How to show the rest of the business you’re no longer a ‘bean counter’?

How to show the rest of the business you're no longer a 'bean counter'?

Bean counter to process manager to business partner, and now strategic leader.

CFOs have arguably had one of the biggest role evolutions within the C-Suite. And while they, along with the teams, have adapted to the new never-ending list of responsibilities, there is still a stigma that they remain solely the administrative finance function of the business.

“The finance function has moved, but organisations do not view them as such,” a participant said during Connect CFO on May 20th.

The conference, which gathered corporate finance leaders from across Europe and industry, began by questioning how to bring teams along with finance functions when adopting new roles and responsibilities.

Breaking the stereotype

Traditionally, the finance department’s primary role was seen as managing budgets, conducting audits, and ensuring compliance with financial regulations.

Their work was often viewed as back-office and administrative, focusing more on cost control and financial reporting than on strategic planning or business growth initiatives. This historical focus has led to a somewhat narrow perception of their capabilities and contributions.

Finance teams frequently contribute to critical strategic decisions through risk assessments, budget forecasting, and financial analysis.

However, these contributions might not always be visible to other parts of the organisation. If the outcomes of their work are communicated only in financial reports or board meetings that do not involve wider teams, their impact on strategic initiatives may not be recognised by all departments.

Communication Strategies to Redefine Perception

There can be a communication gap between finance and other departments. Financial jargon and complex data presentations are often difficult for non-finance personnel to understand, which can lead to misinterpretations of the finance team’s work and value.

Without effective communication, finance teams are perceived as gatekeepers of data rather than as resources for strategic business insight.

Transparency: Cultivating a Culture of Open Information Sharing

Transparency is more than just sharing numbers; it’s about contextualising financial data so that it resonates across departments. CFOs should consider regular, structured updates that go beyond mere reporting and instead interpret how financial figures relate to company-wide goals and individual department targets.

For instance, developing a monthly financial newsletter that highlights key financial trends, risks, and opportunities can provide ongoing insights that empower other departments to align their strategies with financial realities.

Implementation Tips:

  • Schedule regular inter-departmental briefings to discuss financial results and forecasts.
  • Use visual tools like dashboards that are accessible company-wide to display key financial metrics in real-time.
  • Create scenario-based models that show the financial impact of various departmental decisions.

Collaboration: Building Strategic Partnerships Across Departments

In many organisations, departments operate in silos with limited interaction. When finance teams are isolated from other operational areas, their ability to influence and engage with broader strategic discussions is diminished.

This isolation can reinforce stereotypes of finance professionals being detached from the core activities of the business.

CFOs need to spearhead initiatives that integrate financial planning with departmental planning. This involves understanding and addressing the specific needs and challenges of different departments.

By doing so, CFOs and their teams can provide targeted advice that enhances departmental projects and aligns them with the organisation’s financial strategy.

Implementation Tips:

  • Establish cross-functional teams that include finance and other departments to work on shared goals, such as budgeting for new product launches or market expansions.
  • Develop training sessions where finance personnel educate other departments on financial concepts and tools that are relevant to their operations.
  • Encourage finance team members to participate in department-specific meetings to provide financial perspectives on ongoing projects.

Visibility: Showcasing the Finance Team’s Strategic Contributions

Visibility is about ensuring that every member of the organisation understands and sees the value that the finance team brings to strategic meetings and decision-making processes.

Finance professionals often come from educational and professional backgrounds that emphasize technical skills, compliance, and risk management.

This focus can sometimes undersell their ability to contribute strategically, focusing more on safeguarding assets and less on driving business innovations or growth.

CFOs should champion the cause of their teams by involving them in high-level strategy sessions and decision-making forums, not just as scribes or observers but as active, vocal participants.

Implementation Tips:

  • Promote finance team members as subject matter experts who can provide valuable insights during strategic discussions.
  • Highlight successful outcomes of finance-driven initiatives in company-wide meetings to showcase the direct impact of the finance team on organisational success.
  • Implement a “finance partner” role for major projects, where finance team members are embedded within project teams to provide ongoing analytical support and insight.

Expect delays

The role of CFOs and finance teams has evolved rapidly, driven by technological advancements and changing business needs.

However, changing perceptions within an organisation can lag behind actual changes in roles and responsibilities. As finance teams adopt more strategic functions, there might be a delay before other departments adjust their perceptions and recognise these new roles.

Similarly, while technology has enabled finance teams to take on more strategic roles by automating traditional accounting tasks and providing deeper analytics, there is a transitional period during which the full capabilities of technology-enhanced finance functions aren’t fully understood or appreciated across an organisation.

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