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Meet the new breed of finance professionals: influencers

During uncertain times, it’s difficult to forecast specific revenue and expense targets with any degree of accuracy. Businesses must be able to model rapidly changing conditions, and this demands organizational agility. Uncertainty heightens the need for more dynamic business planning based on a range of scenarios rather than traditional quarterly or annual planning cycles.

Influencers, eh? Aren’t those the people who post funny pictures to their millions of followers on social media, getting paid to pose with various products? Yes, that might be the popular version of being an influencer, however all finance professionals (from leaders to FP&A folk) must become influencers too!

Why is that? It’s because our ultimate role in the company is to be a sparring partner to leadership on making the best possible decisions. We don’t make the decisions ourselves, but we influence them. If we don’t influence decisions, then we might as well reduce finance and accounting to the bare minimum: what’s legally required (of which much can be automated, by the way).

Influencing might be the hardest step in the finance value chain

Now I’m sure none of us would be content with being reduced to the bare minimum. Rather, we would like to see finance grow and thrive. Wouldn’t we want a discussion at management level to go like this?

“We can hire 10 more people this year; where should we hire them? Sales seems like the obvious choice,” the CCO said. “Hold on,” said the CEO. “Last year was a good year for us but it wasn’t because of sales. No, it was because finance stepped up and influenced decisions across the company. The return on investment on one more finance headcount suddenly seems sky high! Let’s invest those extra people in finance.”

I bet none of you can imagine such a dialogue take place right now. However, if we could improve FP&A decision-making significantly, I guarantee we will see more of those conversations. Still, for finance to influence decisions, we have some work to do, because this is not easy. Let’s look at what influencing is and how you can become better at it.

Influencing is the activities we do when we:

  • Present a recommendation for a decision to solve a business problem
  • Challenge the recommendations made by business leaders through applying the insights we’ve generated through analysis

Influencing is something we do together with others. It can’t be done in an e-mail and ideally not on the phone either. You must go talk to your stakeholders and present your case. There are many factors impacting your ability to influence decisions, such as:

  • The strength of your relationship with your stakeholders
  • How trustworthy you are
  • How well you communicate
  • How solid your analysis process is

All of the above can be trained and developed over time, but rarely do they come naturally to finance professionals. That’s why influencing is easily the hardest step in the finance value chain.

What does influencing look like in real life?

However hard it may be to be an influencer, when you break it down in practical terms it should be easy to see what you must do to influence decisions. Let’s look again at the standard workweek in the disrupted finance value chain.

Remember, influencing is something that happens when you’re together with others. From the pictures, you can see that this is Monday and Tuesday (and perhaps also Wednesday). Monday is the weekly management meeting; you have presented your insights about last week’s performance and are now making recommendations about how to proceed with next steps. That leads to some discussions and additional recommendations from the management team. Everyone provides fair challenges to each of the recommendations, and you agree that it’s too complex to agree on in the meeting. Hence, you decide to gather a working group the next day to problem-solve the issue.

In the problem-solving, you use a structured framework that leads to a joint recommendation with one or two alternative options. These you take back to the management team and present on Wednesday for a final decision. Most likely your recommended option will be agreed upon, but it could also be an alternative option or a combination. This process is where the final influencing happens, and a decision gets made and put to work on Thursday. That’s what influencing looks like. Does it seem easy or hard?

If finance professionals cannot influence decisions, then we’ll be reduced to analysts who produce numbers for people who can influence, and we’ll soon be replaced by robots and algorithms. So, must we become influencers, or what say you?

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