I recently saw these two intriguing job descriptions:
“If you’re motivated, enjoy problem solving and have an interest in helping organizations operate better, then [JOB TITLE] is the career for you.”
“[JOB TITLE] thinks, analyzes, brainstorms, cajoles and challenges good organizations to become even better by adopting new ideas.”
Both of those sound like they could be describing an FP&A position, right?
Actually, the job descriptions were written for management consultants.
I mention this for three reasons. First, adopting a consulting mindset can help FP&A be better at business partnering. We sit in the finance function, and can look at our business partners as clients to whom we provide a service—financial analysis, rigorous insight, and cross-company context for allocating capital.
Second, by adopting this consulting mindset, we can gain some of the benefits that consultants get in their work. For example, we can become experts in other parts of the business and build our knowledge base in functional areas (i.e., ecommerce, supply chain) and topical areas (i.e., operational design, KPIs, strategy) in addition to finance. We can get broad exposure which opens opportunities to build broad networks across the company and industry.
Third, we can look at the traits of good consultants to see the attributes that we need to be great in our role. Below are a list of responsibilities and skills that are associated with best practices in the consulting industry. It can serve as a self-diagnostic for you and your organization:
- Add value to the business so that they seek your input
- Know the business
- Interview the client's employees, management team and other stakeholders;
- Research, collect, and analyze data from multiple sources
- Identify issues and form hypotheses and solutions
- Communicate with the business and finance
- Open avenues of dialogue with your business partner
- Keep finance teams abreast of business information
- Implement recommendations/solutions
- Manage projects as defined by the teams, including manage teams, report appropriately, etc.
- Strategic thinking
- Understanding the context of the business, externally and internally
- Seeing both the “forest and the trees;” translating strategic plans into detailed activity
- The ability to work as part of a team, especially an interdepartmental team that may have traits that differ from typical “finance” people; to add value through influence
- Interpersonal skills to get the best effort out of colleagues
- Communication, including the ability to translate ideas into financial terms and back again, in words and presentations
- Provide “effective challenge” to the status quo
- Flexible thinking
- Problem-solving, which may include linear thinking and “out of the box” creativity and innovation
- Analytical skills to find, assess, and make meaning from data
- Flexibility to work within different paradigms and functions
- Integrity; to tell the truth of what the data shows even if it is contrary to accepted wisdom.
Bryan Lapidus, FP&A, is a contributing consultant and author to the Association for Financial Professionals. Reach him at BLapidus@AllegianceAG.com.