3 Ways to Help Your Finance Team Add More Value

For your team to develop these abilities, it will take some time. They will need to be better politicians in the workplace,and master these three critical skills. Are you ready to learn how to do it? Let’s begin.

To get this started, let’s make an assumption. The assumption is that the finance team members you are targeting to “tell us why and drive it” have core financial analysis skills. They can put together a discounted cash flow, read and interpret financial statements, prepare financial models, and do “what if” analysis. They can access the necessary data, and run models to twist and cut it.

The skills of facilitation, teamwork, communication, and driving strategy are tougher to get your arms around. I call these the non-traditional finance skills. There are several ways to develop them. For me, the start came with my role as a cost accountant. I had the necessary mundane assignments of explaining different operations variances, but I was also very lucky. As a cost accountant, I was a new product development committee member. It’s where I learned the inner workings of Sales, Marketing, Operations, R&D, and Quality Assurance.

In this role, I was able to learn how things work, and develop a foundation of institutional knowledge required to understand why certain decisions are made. After I developed it, I focused on these 3 skills to get my seat at the table:

1. Understand the Business ModelTo get your seat at the table, you need to know and understand how the organization structure, purpose, products, services, customers, strategic partnerships, and supply chain come together to create and deliver value. Crunching numbers and sitting in your cube will help, but ultimately Finance leaders need to get their people out of their chairs. Whenever possible, your finance team members need to volunteer or “be volunteered” to work on cross functional projects that boost their business acumen. A few ways to get this done are to have them travel on sales calls, work in production, or complete job rotation assignments. Give your best and brightest people assignments that will stretch them well beyond their comfort zone.

2. Build and Sustain RelationshipsHave you ever been in this position? You’ve been asked to find out why the average selling price is down this month. So…you head over to marketing and sales and talk to the people in the know. They divulge something that makes you scratch your head. You go to a cross functional meeting, and the subject comes up. You repeat what you heard, and the sales and marketing team feels that you threw them under the bus. Nice work.

To become a valued team member, you have to help colleagues achieve. If they come to you with an idea, work with them to figure out a way to get it done. It’s easy to say no. An example that is commonly seen is when a sales person wants to close a large deal, but there are some credit terms that need to be worked through. If you follow the letter of the law, you just say no. However, if you come up with an idea on how they can get 80% of the way there instead of no, you now have that person’s trust. The help you gave will spread like wild fire through the sales department, and they will view you as a problem solver – not a stop sign. Your seat at the table has been reserved.

3. Communicate and Drive ChangeIn Accounting 101, they tell students to be barometers, not thermometers. OK, that’s fine. However, there is so much more. The barometer needs to tell the business leaders more than which direction they are headed. Leaders want to know why they are headed in a certain direction, what can be done to keep it that way or change it, and finally, whether or not it’s sustainable. Can someone provide this insightful analysis from cubicle land? Heck no. Finance people need to master skills 1 & 2. The third, communicating and driving change is actually a powerful reward for mastering the first two. You now have the ability to influence decisions, achieve consensus, and drive change across the business. Your toolbox is well stocked!

Developing these three competencies will earn Finance a seat at the table. It takes effort, skill, and sometimes a complete change of outlook. When it’s done well, Finance earns a respected and valued role in establishing strategy, and the responsibility for owning the results of the business.

An Open Door Policy – A Barometer of Your Leadership

As a business coach, I’m always on the look-out for articles and seminars from well-respected experts on effective leadership. But I want to make sure those articles and seminars will add value to your business life; therefore, I read as much as I can. I recently discovered one such book; The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari.

In this book, Harari reviews 18 leadership lessons derived from General Powell. One of the lessons says, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care”.

Reading and thinking about this lesson made me recall managers I have had as well as times when I managed people and practiced having an open door policy. I wish I could say that I always followed the leadership lessons Colin Powell touts with my own open door policy, but that probably wouldn’t be entirely true.

I believe every manager, no matter their level of responsibility should allow their staff members to visit one-on-one. But in doing so, you should ask yourself: “Is this policy really working in this company?” You can measure the barometer of your leadership from your people by how they do or don’t take advantage of your open door policy.

Some managers can count on a long line outside his office door most of the day, every day. But if people are constantly coming to you for answers, perhaps you should ask yourself a few questions.

o Have I provided them the training they need?

o Are they worried they will not have another opportunity to meet with me?

o Have I empowered them to feel confident they can make their own decision?

o How do I react when they do make a decision that I do not agree with?

o Is this person in the right position, and able to manage daily decisions?

By asking yourself these questions – and answering them with complete honesty – you will begin to see a pattern in yourself as a manager. And you will probably discover that your continued avoidance of the issue and the enabling of your staff to come to you is probably not the best way to conduct business. In this environment, the company is not receiving all of the innovative power they need of their people in order to help the company succeed. The business will never grow past the point of one manager giving out all of the ideas and directions which creates low morale among team members.

The other end of the spectrum is the manager who never sees anyone outside his office waiting to ask a question or gain clarity on a project. This could be even more deadly than too many people outside the Open Door. Even if everyone is well trained, empowered and has all the tools ever developed for them to do their jobs well, people will invariably still need to talk through some aspect of their work. So if you know of managers who have little or no traffic at their door – or if you are one of them, ask:

o When people bring things to me, do I automatically go into prescription mode, offering fixes or do I seek to help them find the best answer?

o Do I really listen or do I still answer e-mails while they are talking to me?

o If someone brings up something, do I always take some action and provide follow-up?

o Am I humble enough to allow others to bring ideas to a situation?

o Does our office culture see asking for help as a weakness?

Either situation is an innovation killer. In the first scenario, no one is brave enough to bring new ideas to the manager, and in the second no one thinks it will make a difference so they don’t even bother to try. Real leaders make themselves available and accessible to everyone in the organization. They must show concern for the efforts and challenges of their people. Doing so goes a long way to building a positive culture or figuring out better ways to achieve success.

What is your leadership barometer reading right now? Perhaps it’s time to recalibrate. Here’s how:

1. Set very clear expectations for your people, and make sure they know that you trust them to make things happen but only if you really do trust them. If not, that is another subject altogether and can be covered in another article later.

2. Provide feedback on a regular basis. Sometimes employees may be coming in your door because they simply need affirmation. Everyone has a different requirement for strokes; make sure you are providing them.

3. Set regularly scheduled meetings with every one of your people. Depending on their needs and the dynamics of their role, they may need a daily, weekly or a monthly huddle with you. Never go beyond a month’s time without meeting with your staff. Ask them to hold onto things that can wait for the scheduled meeting but help them to understand that if the building is on fire, you’ll welcome the interruption.

4. Make sure everyone in the organization understands that you value and want their ideas and input, especially if they know something that will benefit the company, employees, or the customer base.

5. Take action and follow-up on everything that you accept. Watch out for people that are just looking to dump an issue in your lap for resolution because they don’t want to deal with it themselves.
As a manager and leader, it is often very tempting to stop having an open door. Frustration grows when people bring things to your attention that are indeed real issues, but they come with no offer for improvement or suggested solutions.

Encourage your staff to bring the challenge and offer up a resolution without feeling as if they need to ask your permission to move forward. If they believe in the course of action, give them the green light to pursue it. To create an environment of such trust through an open door policy, make sure that you have the right people in the right jobs, they have the training and tools needed for success and then make sure you tell them of your expectations.

Reviewing your own barometer as a leader will help your staff learn how to read their own barometer and make improvements that will benefit the company as a whole.

Attitude – The Power of Positive in the Workplace

o Did you know that 75% of employees are unhappy in their current job?
o Have you ever thought about how your attitude affects…
o Personality and work performance?
o Your employees, your customers, your relationships and your work environment?
o Workforce diversity, career success, and teamwork?
o Bottom-line results?

It all starts with attitude! A positive attitude is a priceless possession for personal fulfillment and career success. It is also an essential element for creating a positive workplace. It’s what really matters… When we think about the basics elements of human relationships, we think primarily about the attitude we each bring to relationships, whether they are personal or professional in nature. What is the first thing you remember about someone you meet? Chances are it’s their attitude!

Noted authors, Elwood Chapman and Wil McKnight say, “The attitude you bring with you everyday will significantly affect what you can see, what you can do, and how you feel about it.”
We all know what a positive attitude sounds like, but how can we define it?
Simply stated, Chapman and McKnight describe it as the way you look at things mentally, your mental focus on the world. It’s never static; it’s always in flux – the result of an on-going process that’s dynamic and sensitive to what’s going on.

Events, circumstances, and messages – both positive and negative – can affect your attitude. A positive attitude can be infectious! Let’s face it… no one can be positive all of the time! What we do know is that a positive attitude makes problem solving easier and the more you expect from a situation, the more success you will achieve (The High Expectancy Success Theory).

Nowhere is your positive attitude more appreciated by others than when you are at work. How does a positive attitude about diversity impact the world of business? A major change had taken place in recent years in the workforce: the generational and cultural mix of employees has become more diversified. The performance standards are the same, but the workforce mix is different. Business is complex and competitive – with comparable resources, including people. People with a positive attitude are looking up and forward and are more likely to work to higher standards of quality, safety, and productivity – individually and as a team. Working near a person with a positive attitude is an energizing experience; he/she can change the tone and morale of the department and make others feel more upbeat. Sometimes the reason people lack a positive attitude is simply that they don’t realize that they have a negative one!

A positive workplace is about the people and their positive outlook about their work and the organization that make the business thrive. The war for talent exists. Do we want to hire and retain people with positive or negative attitudes? The answer is obvious…Hire for attitude; the mechanics of the job can be taught. A company gets its edge from the attitude of its people – its leaders, its supervisors, front-line, back-office, entry-level and long-term employees. Employees want to feel valued and appreciated and will most likely be more engaged and stay with an organization, as a result. The higher the engagement levels, the more their attitude barometer rises. The higher the attitude barometer rises, the more business results improve.

Building and maintaining healthy, effective relationships in all directions – with people your work for, people you work with, and people who work for you – is a key to success. Business is a team sport, that’s a given. Nothing contributes more to the process of building effective work relationships than a positive attitude. More business successes are won on attitude than technical achievement. A supervisor who demonstrates and knows how to build a positive attitude can lead a departmental workforce with only average experience and skills to achieve high productivity and successful performance. It’s called “teamwork” and it happens often!

It’s important to remember that we all have a choice – to be either positive or negative in any situation – and we make those choices every day. By keeping our power and being aware of our own attitude and choices, we can protect ourselves from external circumstances and people’s negativity. Safeguard your attitude by solving personal conflicts quickly, taking the “high road” if someone behaves unreasonably or unfairly, insulating or distancing yourself from a person with whom you have a repeated conflict, focusing on the work and changing your traffic pattern to avoid people who pull your attitude down. Remember: Your attitude belongs to you and you alone!

Be open to new people, ideas and processes that create positive changes and improved bottom-line results. The business world consists of many people who are different from you. We’re dependent on each other to achieve common goals. We need to understand and work effectively with all the labor resources. Opportunities for us to learn about other generations, backgrounds and cultures broaden our perspective with new ideas, talents, and points of view – it all affects bottom-line results!
A word of caution – don’t go overboard by becoming a noisy cheerleader who spends more effort on projecting your attitude than nurturing it. Above all, don’t try to be someone you are not! Be who you are… Project the real thing! Be authentic!

Life is a learning journey and all we can do is to strive to do our best each day.
A wise person once said, “If you place more emphasis on keeping a positive attitude than on making money, you’ll be successful and the money will take care of itself.”
Be good to yourself, enjoy the ride and make a Positive Impact on your career and workplace with a positive attitude!

A Positive Workplace Means Business!