You stay late to meet your deadlines. You triple-check your reports to keep them error-free. You turn around one-off requests at the drop of a dime.
But you still haven’t gotten that big promotion.
That may mean there’s a disconnect between the work you’re doing and the work your boss would like you to do. Research from Robert Half Management Resources has found that finance leaders want FP&A professionals who can look beyond the bottom line to see the big picture. A study found that 86% of CFOs said strategic thinking abilities are important for accounting and finance professionals, with 30% of those reporting that these skills are now mandatory.
And this demand is only expected to increase. In one popular Workday Adaptive Planning survey, CFOs predicted that the time spent by the FP&A team on strategic tasks will double—to as much as 50%.
To show that you’re ready to take on more strategic responsibilities, start by demonstrating that you can make smart decisions. Developing these three skills will help you highlight your potential—and get picked for the next promotion.
1. Study every angle
Strategic thinkers plan by identifying several potential paths forward and weighing their likely outcomes against each other. And according to another survey of ours, 48% of CFOs said that, during a market contraction, finance teams provide the most strategic value by planning for multiple scenarios.
That means FP&A professionals who can identify, model and analyze how different factors could impact the company are more likely to stand out as problem solvers. The right software can help you quickly create projections based on potential risks and opportunities on the horizon—and identify actions that could help your company meet its strategic goals. This type of proactive planning can give you the ammo you need to make well-informed recommendations when it’s time for your boss to make the next big decision.
2. Create compelling visuals
When making a presentation to your CFO or board, don’t make your numbers do all the talking. Data is an integral part of the conversation, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Leaders need you to explain what metrics really mean.
Data visualization can help you cut through the clutter and deliver comprehensive, easy-to-digest analysis. And this is exactly the kind of presentation executive teams crave. According to published reports, 31% of CFOs indicated that improving visualization skills would help FP&A teams represent data more effectively.
Learning how to create visuals that explain variances, period-over-period performance and sales projections will help you deliver the wow factor that will put you in the leadership pipeline.
3. Build bridges
Sometimes, sitting down with people from other departments is all you need to gain a fresh perspective or uncover a new approach to a common problem. And this type of collaboration is what execs are looking for from their finance team.
According to an off-cited EY report, when CFOs were asked about their top goals for the finance function over the next five years, 95% listed improving business partnering with other units as either critical (58%) or a significant priority (37%)—making it by far the most popular priority.
But collaboration doesn’t have to happen around a table, looking at spreadsheets and a whiteboard. If the company’s data exists in a centralized repository, collaboration can happen virtually. Different teams can drag and drop figures into sharable reports that others can comment on in real time, making it easier to get leaders the fast feedback they need to make more informed decisions.
FP&A needs to put itself in the business leaders’ shoes. Anticipate their needs, and creatively look for ways to add value by providing insights and unique perspectives, improving the efficiency of key activities and introducing frameworks, models and structure to enable these business leaders to better plan, manage and run their operational areas.
Grow next-gen FP&A skills
Modern finance teams are more than number crunchers; they’re key partners in support of a company’s strategic vision. But not every new hire (or, frankly, finance team member) is going to have strong strategic acumen from the start. That’s OK, as long as CFOs and finance leaders are willing to nurture those skills with hands-on coaching.
It’s one thing to hire someone and then give them a list of functions they’re responsible for. It’s another to really check in on them, give them guidance, help them avoid certain potholes, and really help them bridge any gaps. Starting early with leadership training, having team members give presentations to strengthen their communication skills, and emphasizing one-on-one coaching sessions over classroom trainings can all be effective ways to build up skills that stretch beyond classic FP&A duties.
Above we presented the top 3 skills that will help you highlight your potential. In closing, we present the top 8 skills needed in FP&A teams, according to a leading publication for finance professionals:
1. Strategic and critical thinking
Automation technology frees you from the manual work and allows you to have more time to think about data critically and strategically.
To be successful, an FP&A professional needs to ask questions, listen objectively to various viewpoints, consider the information at their disposal, and respond appropriately to various stakeholders across multiple communication channels.
3. Tech savvy data analytics
New technologies can benefit your organization in various ways. To recognize them, you need to develop an enthusiasm for new technological advances and intellectual curiosity about what’s coming next. Being a tech savvy finance professional gives you a competitive advantage.
4. Technical accounting and finance skills
Undoubtedly, FP&A professionals must be skilled in their areas of expertise. You need to continue working on your education by learning new aspects of the professional.
Automation will require finance professionals to be innovative and creative when it comes to solving business problems. This is one of the ways to contribute value to your organization.
6. Anticipating and serving evolving needs
Modern FP&A is not only about mastering skills in data analysis. You will need to recognize emerging requirements around you.
Finance does not work exclusively with numbers. If you have emotional and cross-cultural intelligence and empathy, it will be easier for you to understand the needs of those around you. There comes a time when finance must be the reassuring voice and visionary.
Cross-functional collaboration is playing a major part in the overall success of your organization. FP&A professionals need to learn how to work with colleagues who have other skills. Their expertise and specialties can help finance develop the big-picture ideas. It is also important to keep working on your virtual collaboration and management skills.