A strong finance function is a great asset in any organisation, irrespective of size. So what does this look like?
Your finance function is unique to your organisation. So I am going to describe ways to strengthen it that can apply whatever shape and size of finance function you have.
A strong finance function needs agility. This is being adaptable, flexible and quick. So an agile finance function is alive to the early signs of change and responds appropriately. It is capable of driving change as well as managing it. A strong finance function anticipates and effectively manages risk and, essentially, is pro-active in seeking and exploiting opportunities.
Traditionally finance has focussed on measurement, analysis and controls. Whilst these remain relevant and important they are elements that are increasingly automated. To be strong a finance function must go beyond this to provide insight that is useful to the organisation.
Insight comes from harnessing the critical thinking skills that finance people have and keeping focus on solutions. When finance are very clear on the organisational purpose, strategy and goals they provide insight to enable leaders to navigate the way forward.
Real value comes from the insights that finance share with the rest of the organisation. This means telling the story behind the numbers and data. It is vital to remember that people are behind every number. Making these strong connections between the numbers and people influences behaviour and drives change.
The complexity of our working world means that the finance function cannot be an isolated silo. This means that it must work effectively with other functions and external stakeholders.
People have different ways of looking at things and where this is valued and used to solve problems it creates real strength in the organisation. Conflict and challenges will happen and dealing with these constructively means the finance function plays a strong role in achieving results.
Finance tends to see things a bit differently and this can be a real strength for your organisation. A strong finance function harnesses and values different perspectives to create better solutions for challenges and exploit more opportunities.
In addition, a good balance in attitudes towards risk and opportunity is critical. Maintaining focus on a sustainable future for the organisation and ability to flex between strategic thinking and getting into the detail are all great attributes in your finance function.
Your organisation has a vision for the future and so having a finance function that also has a clear vision for how it will continue to develop to support the organisation is another important dimension of perspective.
The final attribute for a strong finance function is the ability to learn. I believe this needs to be more of a philosophy or personal approach. It means that reflection, continuous improvement and learning from experience are naturally built in to what the function does.
Strong technical finance skills and experience are a starting point. A strong finance function will take a continual learning approach that allows individuals and the function itself to develop and build capability.
I have briefly described five key attributes for a strong finance function. These can be defined in more depth to suit the nature of your organisation. This can provide a simple framework to map how your finance function becomes stronger.