Well if you are in this situation then you are not alone.
For a number of years Business Partnering was the phrase on management’s lips.
People spent time and money assembling a team of business partners and giving them the tools to do their job, but often the results fell flat.
From the various business partnering set-ups I’ve seen over the years they tend to have the same basic issues.
Paying lip – service
If the CFO isn’t fully invested in business partnering, and if the board don’t support them then frankly you may as well go and do something else more productive.
Sure there will be one or two forward thinking managers who will love to get their numbers and have a direct line into finance but most will take their lead from the top.
If you are a CFO who hasn’t put their weight behind the initiative then you need to make a decision, and soon.
Action – get fully behind the function, get fellow board members and senior managers on side, relaunch the function.
A business partner isn’t just for Christmas (or month end)
Often the only contact the BP will have with the department they look after will be once a month (or even a quarter) when they present a bunch of numbers.
Business partnering is all about relationships.
If you have a big organisation then sitting the BP with their department is ideal, but if not then making sure there is regular contact and inclusion is vital.
The managers (and staff) need to feel comfortable asking their BP questions and feel like they have someone who actually understands the real issues they are facing.
Action – make sure that your BPs either sit with the department or are regularly meeting with them. Try and get them involved in more operational meetings rather than a regular finance update.
Garbage in – Garbage out.
A famous phrase from the early days of computing but in terms of business partnering it relates to information provision.
If your business partners can’t get quick and easy access to accurate information then they are going to quickly lose credibility with their department.
Action – BPs need the tools to do the job, so ask them what they need and sort it out.
Business partners have to have a combination of technical knowledge, ability to present information in a digestible way and a bit of a personality.
I once saw someone operating as a BP who was the stereotypical accountant but more so.
He was an amazing technical accountant who could quote GAAP for any given situation and was totally across the numbers.
The only problem was he really didn’t like talking to people – at all.
He was miserable as a BP and frankly ineffectual. Luckily we were working with a very big company at the time and he got moved to a place where he was much more at home and effective.
So make sure your BPs are the sort of people that thrive in this environment.
Action – assess your team and make sure that they are the right people for the job.
Give them a chance
An effective business partnering relationship won’t just spring up overnight so you need to give the situation time and space to develop.
Check back from time to time, find out if they need anything but give it time to grow and you’ll be rewarded.
Actions – monitor and assess but apart from giving encouragement just let them get on with it.
Give them a chance 2
I’ve seen many companies set up a business partnering function thinking that all they need to do is to say the words and it will magically be so.
When people get moved or promoted they need to be given training and support in their new roles otherwise it’s likely to fail.
Just because someone is good at one job doesn’t mean that they will be amazing at another without any training whatsoever.
You also need to set it up as a proper function with all of the communication and backup that this requires (see point 1).
Actions – sort out training for your new BPs, make sure they have the information and the facilities they need.
So in short, get the right people in place, give them the training and kit they need, place them in the right areas, throw your weight behind the project and then give them the time to develop and grow.
A business partnering ability within your finance team will give you much better visibility, coordination and will improve the depth of your reporting massively and make your life much easier!
What’s not to like?