Being A Better Business Partner

Business partnering in finance and other functional areas like IT, procurement and HR is becoming more and more common.

This is in part being driven by advances in technology.

But also by functional professionals themselves wanting more rewarding work.

And let’s not forget the changing demands of business itself.

Of course being a business partner is a whole lot more than just changing a job description.

So what in my experience are some of the building blocks to being a better business partner?

Building Block 1: Business buy-in

There’s plenty attractions for you as the business partner.

Equally unless you have the buy-in of the business, it’s going to be near impossible to make much progress.

The question you have to be asking yourself is “what’s in it for the business”

If you can give a compelling answer to this, you are much more likely to be able to make the case and get the buy-in you need.

Building Block 2: The processes and systems

I’m sure you have many long established processes.  The problem is these processes may not be as effective as they could be.

I know I’ve worked in places in the past where there were so many work arounds because processes were pretty cumbersome.

Additionally you may well have systems that are stand alone and not connected.  This is not a surprise as technology has evolved at different pace in different areas of the business.

This building block is all about streamlining, standardising and automating wherever you can.

It’s about encouraging more self service and less dependencies on human intervention.

Building Block 3: Re-focus

There’s one constraint that’s often overlooked.

That constraint is time.

You can’t find time.  You can only choose how you use it.

If you are going to be a better business partner, you are going to have to re-focus.

Moving from doing to supporting.

Spending less time on routine and more on added value.

Understanding where you are investing time right now is an excellent start point.

Building Block 4: Determining your internal client needs

When was the last time you really did some in-depth internal client research to determine what they want from your function?

Perhaps you have never done this.

But think about it.

Your role as a business partner is to support the success of those areas that you work with.

To do this you need to understand their needs.

Chances are you will also need to do some education too so that your internal clients are aware of the range of what you can offer.

Building Block 5: Understanding the business

Whenever I’m doing workshops around Finance Business Partnering, one of the areas that many delegates say they need to work on is understanding the business (or areas they partner with).

Too often people understand what’s going on from the perspective of a financial report or spreadsheet.

However, that’s very different from understanding the business, what drives success and the obstacles and challenges to be overcome.

The only way to do that is to immerse yourself in the business.

Spend time in the business and see first hand what’s really going on.

Building Block 6: Building relationships

Conceptually this might seem easy. 

In practice it takes time.

It’s really easy to see this as a nice to do.

Think about it differently.

If you have a strong professional relationships, you are going to be in a much better position to influence and challenge.

You win trust and respect.

Your opinions are sought and valued.

Building Block 7: Being an equal partner

This is about your mindset, attitude and outlook.

Yes others have different skills, experience and knowledge to you.

But you bring your own expertise, skills and experience to the team.

And at the end of the day it’s the collective team effort that drives better performance.

So don’t see yourself as being better or worse than those that you partner.

See yourself as an equal partner.

Building Block 8: Communicating effectively

Part of this is about getting your message across in writing and in person.

Using clear and simple language and avoiding jargon is really important.

Being able to explain the why behind the numbers brings them to life.

It’s also about listening effectively.

When we listen we get information, insight, understanding, all of which helps us to respond effectively.

Building Block 9: Being okay with not knowing

You have your areas of expertise.

Those that you work with have their areas of expertise.

You don’t need to be the expert in everything the areas you support do.

You just have to have a good level of understanding.

It’s often the mindset shift that presents the biggest challenge.

One way of overcoming this is to look at non executive directors.

They often aren’t experts or in the detail but can still offer valuable insights.

Building Block 10:  Being professionally curious

Good business partners are professionally curious.

By that I mean always looking for opportunities to learn, make improvement, exploit opportunities and better serve their internal clients.

Often this is an area where it’s really easy for finance business partners to really embrace not least because it tends to fit well with the accountant DNA.

So that’s my thoughts on 10 key building blocks.  If you have enjoyed this post click here to sign up for my no cost online course.

About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

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