How can finance professionals can influence stakeholders?
I asked a selection of successful Finance Directors in the recruitment industry what advice they would give to Financial Controllers who were looking to improve upon their stakeholder management skills. Read further to see what they said!
Influencing stakeholders on key business decisions is a fundamental part of any senior finance professional's skill set. Your role is not only to know the financials and their impact on the business, it's also having the capacity to successfully communicate this to senior stakeholders from a non-finance background and having the ability to impact the decisions that they make through the information that you provide.
In recruitment companies, this skill often requires a certain level of adroitness - arguably more so than in other industries because of the natural fervour that tends to be attributed to recruitment professionals. Sales staff can be stubborn, impulsive and overzealous. This means that you need to be able to push back and get their buy-in. Although it does mean that recruitment companies are an exciting, fast-paced (and not to mention fun!) environment to work in.
In order to be able to successfully influence stakeholder decisions in recruitment businesses you need to: be knowledgeable and well-researched, have built trusting relationships with your senior stakeholders, understand the wider perspective of the business, and be able to inspire confidence.
Be knowledgeable and well-researched
Knowledge is power. If you make sure that you know your stuff and that you can back up your point with the facts and figures, it increases your credibility. You need to have done your research and be able to highlight not only the financials but also what impact this will have on the business.
“In terms of supporting and influencing key stakeholders within the business, I always stress that every activity has a financial impact. Whether this is an explicit cost, opportunity cost, or required investment appraisal or review of returns on investment, knowing the financial impact of any decision is key. Therefore, it is useful to work with stakeholders on material business projects as they will appreciate your expert advice and guidance throughout the process." - James Brice-Wallis, Finance Director at Morgan Hunt.
“If you want to influence key decisions, make sure you can back up an option or opinion with fact, knowledge, and logic; help take emotion out of decisions. There can be a fair amount of gut feel and instinct involved in decision making within a dynamic and highly sales driven environment and as Financial Controller you need to be able to bring some balance to the table. This may either support a decision or strategic plan and help guide some framework to put around it to manage risk, for example, or it may be to challenge a decision. Either way, you must be able to support what you are trying to achieve through numbers and knowledge (e.g. knowledge of compliance environment). Too often you can find finance people that are probably correct when saying 'we can't do it like X' or 'we really need to do Y' but have not done the homework to articulate and explain why X and Y are important and what the potential impact is on the business.” - Dan Potts, Group Finance and Operations Director at ProClinical.
Build relationships with senior stakeholders
In order to have the stakeholder buy-in, you need to have built a relationship based on trust. When trust is built, people work together more effectively. You need to understand how your stakeholders like to work, how they like to communicate, what their motivations are and what their established goals are.
“It is essential for an FC to have a good relationship with the stakeholders based on their personal credibility and a track record of offering good advice. Always ensure you are knowledgeable about your subject and well prepared; base your opinion on accurately compiled analysis which supports your arguments.” - James Charlton, Finance Director at SSQ.
"Make great relationships across the business at different levels and understand there is a time to be firm and also a time to support, guide and assist." - Dominic Arnolda, FD at NP Group.
Understand the wider perspective of the business
To be able to give clear, accurate and valuable advice to senior stakeholders within recruitment businesses, you need to be able to tell them how your financial information is going to affect the wider perspective of the business. How will X decision affect sales? How will Y decision affect compliance? How will X and Y decision affect the company's five-year plan? You need to be able to get involved in projects outside of the solely financial arena.
“By working closely with key stakeholders on business projects you can also mitigate negative financial implications. Within the recruitment space, this could be as minor as reviewing sundry office expenses, all the way up to assisting in M&A activities. Other examples include contract & tender reviews, office relocations, starting new teams/divisions/markets, upgrading office hardware, or insourcing/outsourcing decisions. Understanding the financial health of your business and getting involved in projects from a financial perspective will grow your skill-set and add real value to your company." - James Brice-Wallis, Finance Director at Morgan Hunt.
"Start to think strategically, get yourself out of the detail and try to take a bird's eye view of the business." - Dominic Arnolda, FD at NP Group.
In order to inspire confidence in yourself, you need to have a certain level of confidence and conviction in your own decisions. It goes without saying, but convincing stakeholders that you are confident in your advice greatly helps in convincing them to follow it. After all, as Oscar Wilde once said "The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself."
“Do your research, be confident, always meet deadlines and follow up with any questions you are asked and listen!” - Mark Garratt, Group Finance Director at Harvey Nash.
"Your opinion is valued & important, so speak up!” - Dominic Arnolda, FD at NP Group.
In summary, if you want to be able to successfully influence stakeholders in the recruitment industry on key business decisions you need to, first of all, ensure that you are well researched. If you map out the point you are putting forward and make sure that you have all of the facts and figures to back it up then you are instantly making yourself more credible. Secondly, you need to have gained the buy-in from your senior stakeholders. Don't be a name behind an email. Build relationships with the people you are trying to influence; know how they like to work and know what their goals are. Additionally, you need to be able to look at the bigger picture. Make sure you know how the ideas you are suggesting will affect all areas of the business and ensure that you are referring back to the long-term goals of the business in its totality. Lastly, you need to be confident and inspire confidence from others. Put forward your proposal with certitude and people will listen.
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