The role of the finance team has changed as a result of the ongoing digital transformation of businesses.
While finance professionals were once seen as only guardians of cash flow and accounting, their role has now rapidly evolved, and they have become a vital part of any business’ ability to drive growth and business transformation.
In times of digital disruption and rapidly developing customer demands, all organisations need to be able to adapt and respond to change quickly.
Small, nimble start-ups can very quickly take advantage of digital technology to bring new ideas to market almost instantaneously.
More traditional businesses, therefore, need to be always on their toes, ensuring that these new kids on the block don’t steal their market share.
All parts of an organisation have a role to play here, and finance is no exception.
Not only is it perhaps more important than ever that the finance team is advising on the best possible way to allocate budget, but it also has to be as agile and flexible as possible to ensure that the organisation can stay ahead in turbulent times.
Finance teams that don’t adapt quickly to change can significantly hold back their organisations.
A high performing finance function can help drive cost efficiency, improve processes, deliver budgets earlier, and mine data effectively to provide insight with impact. This, in turn, can equip businesses with the vital tools they need to stay ahead.
With this in mind, how can finance teams ensure that they are performing optimally, and what traits do successful finance teams have in common?
#1 They have diverse backgrounds
Building a high performing team is hugely complex. It takes significant skill and expertise to bring together all the parts of the jigsaw where the total will be greater than the sum of the parts.
These ‘parts’ are the necessary mix of technical and professional capabilities, which should almost go without saying.
The first step is to get the team ingredients just right.
To build a great team, you need people from a range of backgrounds, who think differently and can challenge each other while still working as a unit.
For example, if your team are all ‘doers’, then who is responsible for thinking of new ways to tackle issues.
Conversely, if everyone is a ‘thinker’, who is going to execute all their plans?
#2 They have high emotional intelligence
The extra element, which can elevate teams is the added emotional intelligence (EQ). This is what enables all the different characters to balance and work together.
“Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them,” says Howard Gardner, the influential Harvard theorist
Organisations which fail to design in EQ tend to have finance teams whom all think, behave and speak similarly, probably because hiring decisions have been driven by technical skills to a significant extent.
Having a team with high EQ will mean they are more self-aware and will have that all-important ability to communicate and bring people along with them on their journey.
Considering that the finance function needs to be able to not only understand budgeting and investment priorities but must sell the need for these into the leadership team, this is hugely important.
Those with high EQ also tend to be good mediators and negotiators.
The right finance team will be able to prioritise without ruffling too many feathers.
#3 They have a strategic focus
Once your team is assembled, they also need to be working towards an overarching strategy.
Just focusing on tactical tasks without looking to the future and at the bigger picture won’t work in today’s environment.
Successful finance teams are those that recognise the importance of continually mining data and then analysing it to spot trends, opportunities and then using these to make future predictions.
#4 They look to improve efficiency
Another sign of a successful team is one which is continuously looking at ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
This could be through introducing automation or investing in new technology such as AI or cognitive computing.
In times of data deluge, having the ability to rapidly wade through the reams of financial data available in hours rather than weeks and then use this insight to gain a competitive edge is vital.
#5 They take a holistic view
Great finance teams don’t just stick to the numbers; they take a holistic view as to how their function fits into the broader business model and how it can impact on other areas.
In the same way, the days of keeping silos of information and processes completely separate are slowly coming to an end, at least for successful businesses.
A good finance team will work closely with other departments such as technology, operations and HR to align goals, strategy and information sharing.
A business can’t transform and adapt to change if all of its departments are singing from different hymn sheets and not sharing insight and information.
By fostering open channels of communication and an environment wherein ideas can be shared, the finance team can have an impact that shapes the entire organisation.
#6 They are strategic partners with the leadership team
The finance team has an especially vital role to play in communicating with the rest of the leadership team to bring a business-wide vision for growth alive.
By demonstrating where businesses challenges are most likely to come from, and proving insight into how to combat these and how to budget for them, the finance team can act as the primary conduit to steering a business through turbulent times.
Again, this ties into having an overarching business strategy, one that all departments, including the finance team, understand.
By working together across the business to develop company strategy, you can engage your finance team from the word go.
They will then not only understand their vital role in meeting the wider business goals but will also feel empowered to play their part in bringing colleagues along with them on this journey.
This needs to be done not just with senior team members, but all team members.
#7 They feel valued
Of course, to allow your finance team to act as trusted and strategic advisors, they need to feel valued, recognised and supported.
Smart businesses will appreciate the vital role that all teams have to play and will implement ways of working and workplace benefits that foster wellbeing and employee engagement.
Countless studies have shown that the happier and more engaged an employee is, the most productive they will be.
As part of this, organisations need to be open to flexible and agile ways of working.
If a finance team is operating at the top of its game, it can have a significant impact on the successful running of a business.
High performing finance teams have the following characteristics:
- They come from diverse backgrounds
- They have high emotional intelligence
- They have a strategic focus
- They look to improve efficiency
- They take a holistic view
- They are strategic partners with leadership
- They feel valued
Organisations are operating in hugely challenging times, but with the right mix, approach and people, the finance team can help to drive growth and keep one step ahead of the most disruptive of competitors.