In my speaking session at the Finance Alliance FP&A Summit, I discussed how we could incorporate incentive schemes both in the long and short term to align managers with business owners' financial objectives. I argued that by focusing on the monetary reward and communicating this clearly across teams, it would enable a strong partnership with the FP&A team, to ensure that you're an integral part of strategic financial discussions.
In the Q&A session that followed, I was asked what to do if the operations team didn’t believe that an FP&A professional's analysis was necessary. If you found yourself in a circumstance where the FP&A team was new to the organization, how could you address any skepticism that you were able to bring value and ultimately improve business performance?
This can often be amplified by the fact that the business unit has been operating successfully without input from an FP&A professional in the past. So, it becomes a challenge, particularly when your initial efforts can add to their workload and administrative burden.
In this article, you'll discover three ways an FP&A professional (or an FP&A team) can survive and thrive amongst a field of skepticism.
Stick close by to the data
Firstly, the focus of your efforts should be around bringing yourself up to speed on the data that already exists in the organization. Not only in the sense of what the key metrics are but where there are gaps in the data. If you spot any inconsistencies in reporting metrics over time, say the past three years, then carrying out a full audit in your own space will help clear the decks for any progressive changes you may be about to propose.
This also achieves several further benefits: it gives you the confidence as an FP&A professional to speak up about the results, ongoing performance, and trends that will, in turn, help guide you in asking the right questions to the team. Your goal here is to elicit trust with the teams and break down any existing preconceptions around what the data is telling them.
It'll also help you understand where the difficulties lie in data collection and what data is currently collected that requires manual intervention. This will give you a broader understanding of what is involved in contact with the operational teams and ensure that any future conversations you have with them relating to data will not be completely railroaded into the ‘too difficult’ bucket on account of the current processes.
Once you are then comfortable with understanding and tracking the data that exists across the organization, address the processes around data collection and where manual inputs are required by operational teams. Think through how processes could be redesigned or adapted to minimize the touchpoints that teams will have with the data.
You need to be able to preempt the pushback you will experience from operations and therefore be ready with constructed solutions that will address the skepticism they are likely to retort with.
Armed with this prepared work, you can then approach teams with more open-ended questions. By taking a consultative approach, you can ask not only what the current dataset is telling them, but what new data series they would like to see and where they currently believe their blindsides exist. For this part to be most successful, it will help to have an ally in operations for you to bounce ideas off, which brings me to my next point.
Find your data champion in operations
Every organization has one individual who has found themselves in an operations role but is an incognito data champion. On their own accord, they will have searched out the data and run analysis and even entire dashboards for themselves. It can often be surprising how extensive this work can be, completely separate from any formal business intelligence or finance efforts.
Seeking out these individuals and ensuring that their efforts are captured and integrated into ongoing business processes, will help from two fronts. Firstly, having someone who understands the operations from the inside out will accelerate your knowledge of what data is useful and can be utilized.
Secondly, taking counsel from these individuals, testing your ideas, and seeking a greater understanding of their operating environment, will not only assist you in having more meaningful conversations on operational matters but will give you a worthy ally in changing the cultural mindset of the team around the use of data and how it can drive decision making.
One of the goals you are wanting to achieve early on in these interactions is to derive a key relationship in the data with which you can improve forecasting to predict results. Addressing this challenge in partnership with someone on the operational team will help in your ability to understand where to look for these relationships and to adjust for any real-world impacts that may cloud the data when pulled into your analysis.
Feedback on progress back to senior management
In an ideal world, carrying out a thorough audit of data processes and outputs, as well as aligning your efforts with the resident operations data champion should see you face any skepticism against the FP&A function that you may have initially faced. However, we do not live in an ideal world.
Therefore in addition to proceeding with this work, you also need to develop strong communication channels back to senior management, which keeps them abreast of your progress and ensures that you highlight the problems you face in a timely manner.
You will face roadblocks in your journey, with either the state of the data or indeed with how the tech stack brings together the data in the first place. Ensure then that you map out what your stated goals are and where progress has got to in achieving these.
Communicating what you are setting out to achieve is a difficult challenge in itself and is time-consuming, however, it will pay dividends further down the line, when progress becomes stalled and it can be difficult to articulate where progress has become stuck and therefore where resources or support needs to be applied.
In summary, you should gain a thorough understanding of the data and think through solutions to data processes that seek to minimize the impact on the operations team. Seek an ally from within to help with bridging the gap in your knowledge, with what data may or may not be needed. Finally, communicate your overall plan with senior management and be vocal in highlighting roadblocks to help unstick these.
Ultimately skepticism will exist where there is mistrust. Your priority should therefore be focused on building this trust and providing a clear signal that the data will always be your guiding light in the journey.
Wanna learn more about financial planning and analysis? Join our panel of FP&A professionals and finance experts from Google, E-Capital, HDMI, and more at the FP&A Summit in San Diego on March 8th – 9th 2023. They’ll be exploring forecasting in uncertain times, mastering FP&A to establish predictability in times of change, and more.💡
Join our attendees for a 2 day event that will feature keynotes, panels, and more from top industry decision makers to equip you for future challenges and help you unlock your career potential. Register now before tickets run out! 👇