One of the things I love about LinkedIn is that sometimes, we get mini whitepapers on really interesting topics from visionaries and leaders. This happened recently when I saw Nilly Essaides’s LinkedIn post about how financial planning and analysis (FP&A) needs to do better in 2021. Nilly is a senior research director at The Hackett Group. Her 2021 Top Issues Report can help us anticipate what’s next after the pandemic and how finance leaders can chart the course for strategic direction.
Becoming a strategic advisor to the business is the number one objective on the finance agenda. This is something that management is starting to mandate. The disruptive environment was a big wake up call for a lot of finance organizations and made them realize they couldn’t keep up with change. Now that we’re, let’s say, past the pandemic, the roles that finance leaders can have involve fast decision-making using predictive analytics.
Nilly and I agreed that while cost is still important, it’s this whole notion of value that’s become the driving force behind changes in the finance role. This is something that’s on the top of all our minds in the finance world. A recent article in Financial Management magazine espoused the three objectives for a finance department to become the catalyst for organizational growth, which the author laid out as:
- Creating the financial capacity to fund growth
- Evaluating portfolio choices and investment opportunities
- Maintaining ongoing financial operating discipline
Nilly then talked about two new issues that her report uncovered. These are improving finance agility and aligning skills and talent with changing business needs. She said this is partly a response to several trends and some that predate the pandemic. For example, she said, the digital transformation of the finance function has created a need for new skills and competencies. Then she pointed out that being a business partner requires a whole set of competencies by itself.
This is the first time that talent has been on the top ten list, she remarked. A new recognition among CFOs and senior leadership that the finance function needs to catch up and develop new skills if finance leaders are to act as business partners. This concept of the T-shaped professional is starting to take hold. A T-shaped professional builds on a deep skill set of technical management, finance, accounting and so on, and then adds wide-ranging skills on the top, like leadership or strategic and critical thinking.
The key is going to be how quickly finance and accounting departments can actually begin to implement these kinds of upskilling. Nilly and I talked about the risk of waiting until the perfect competency model exists; just get started while you’re trying to figure it out. Nilly mentioned that it’s useless to be considered a business partner if people don’t have the skills to take advantage of technologies or to have productive conversations with their business partner.
COVID-19 proved that we can change quickly. The outcome we’re seeing now is being more tolerant of change. Don’t forget that, Nilly said; use that energy and short-term innovation as a catalyst for long-term change, because we know now that it can be done. Leaders need to advise their people to be in for a sustained period of change, because moving forward means that we don’t stop where we are. There will always be people unwilling to change. So let them leave and hire new talent. It’s part of the evolution.
It’s time for finance and accounting professionals to get outside of their comfort zones, become more agile with their skills and competencies, and be willing to live with constant change. It’s all about the mindset. Getting through the pandemic was the first big milestone for finance and accounting teams. The next defining moment we’re heading toward is transitioning the CFO or accountant role to helping businesses grow and thrive.
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