Camino Partners recently held a virtual event for some of the brightest minds at Financial Controller and Head of Finance level in recruitment. During this event attendees were able to hear the thoughts of our industry-leading expert panel, including: Arrows Group CFO Bala Shanmugam, Cobalt Recruitment CFO Stephen Shorter and Aristar Consulting Founder & Director Paul Glynn. Read on for 7 of the best pieces of advice they provided.
Successful business partnering with your CFO or MD depends on taking the time to understand how you can help and then providing them with reliable, useful advice
The best way you can offer value “depends on your CEO, as you get a broad range”, Paul states. “First and foremost you must understand your CEO”. Some will very keen to dig into the numbers and others will be somewhat wary. In the latter case, you can help them overcome this by showing them the strategic insight that finance can provide. As Stephen notes, accountant-level financial literacy is not always a given, so it is important to make sure that the terminology you are using is fully understood.
Bala says that the best way to provide advice is with commercial analysis; information that “can help them steer the business will usually land on good ears”. For Stephen, “the most important thing is the quality of information – it has got to be right and got to be timely. If you can establish that what you provide is absolutely bang on, then they’re going to be interested in what your opinion is”.
However, it is not just the content of information that matters but also the way it is delivered. Bala says it needs to be presented “in a concise way”, and Stephen stresses that it should be tailored to “how they like to communicate”.
It also may not be easy to get facetime with your business leader, particularly if there is someone above you in the finance function. In that case, says Bala, you should “ask [your CFO or FD] if you can come to meetings and see what’s going on, ask them if you can present one or two of the elements of that.”
Don’t miss the opportunity for business partnering at the next level down
Bala notes that often once strategy is formulated, “those are the people who are actioning things so their understanding is important”. It can be a useful alternative if you do not currently have access to the top level, as Paul says. Building those relationships can pay long-term dividends, as these are often the people in line to succeed company leaders. As such, by building mutually beneficial relationships, this is likely to help your career progression in the future.
Involving yourself across the business is a good way to ensure career progression
Stephen observes that the CFOs and FDs of today are “expected to have a justified opinion on everything, not just finance”. You should look to build relationships across the company and make sure you are not siloed within finance – “it’s really important to get to know everyone in the business”.
Bala points out that “people will come to you once you’ve proven you can help. To kickstart those relationships, “don’t be afraid to take information to people and suggest how you can help them”. Stephen is also keen to highlight the value attending events and socials outside of work, stating that “it’s the stuff outside of work that is going to help to establish those relationships”.
In some cases the finance person may have to be the one to say ‘no’; here you should make sure “it is delivered in the right way” as Stephen says. “Don’t say no unless you know what the yes is”, advises Paul, “make sure you have the solution”.
Successfully leading a finance function in times of financial uncertainty requires agility, communication and hard work
Many companies in the recruitment industry having experienced difficult times over the course of the pandemic. On the basis of his experience, Stephen’s single biggest piece of advice is “go fast and go hard”. It is important to “lead from the front” and communicate effectively across the function and the business as a whole, a sentiment Bala concurs with, detailing how Arrows Group came up with multiple plans to deal with the difficulty of predicting the market’s future and made sure they were well understood throughout the company.
As Stephen points out, you “have to be prepared to throw all of your plans out of the window quickly” and alter definitions of key metrics such as what good looks like. For finance leaders, this involves a lot of hard work, as your role is crucial in formulation of company strategy, particularly when circumstances are changing rapidly.
Don’t ignore the opportunities that difficult times can present
“Never waste a good crisis” is the aphorism Stephen uses to illustrate his point that “you really do have a mandate for change, probably more so than you realise”. Colbalt Recruitment have “affected structural change” during the pandemic. Similarly, at Arrows Group “we reviewed every single thing we did” says Bala.
Our panel unanimously concurred on the need to simultaneously cost-cut and invest in this period and the difficulty of finding the optimum balance between the two, but noted that having cash in the bank is key to being able to get ahead of competitors through investment. At Arrows Group, their review process resulted in a significant investment in tech, including purchasing a stake in an AI company and investing in a management information suite that allows managers to steers productivity more effectively.
Effectively managing people working remotely requires considering their individual needs and motivations and putting effort into relationship-building
“When you are thinking about your team it’s important to consider that the job is one aspect and the individual is the other aspect. There will some individuals who love the idea of working from home and some who absolutely hate it. It’s important to understand where people’s preferences and motivations lie”, says Stephen.
While it is often feasible to successfully do finance roles from home, this may not necessarily be the preference of the person in question; Paul points out that “there are accountants who want to be in the office”, noting that a third of his team have expressed a desire to work in the office full time. Flexibility, therefore, is key.
Remote working certainly has its benefits, as Stephen describes. It has given him the “opportunity to be a better employee, because you are more balanced, more recharged”. Nevertheless, in management terms it can present challenges, as you have less facetime with your team and less opportunity for building relationships with them. This is an issue that requires concerted effort to overcome. Bala does this by setting aside half an hour to an hour each month to catch up with each employee working in finance, while also delegating day-to-day coaching and mentoring to the mid-level members of his team. Recognising that working from home usually means longer hours, Arrows Group have begun finishing work at lunchtime on Fridays.
To understand where the remit of senior finance recruitment professionals is headed, look at tech
Paul states that “The clever CFO is building the efficient, tech-backed finance team rather than a people empire. First and foremost its about embracing tech as a CFO and FD.” As such, clever management strategy involves “creating significant efficiencies within your finance team”. This increasing focus on technology is reflected in the market as a whole; Bala says “that’s one of the reasons we invested heavily in tech, our collective view is that recruitment in three to four years’ time will be very different to what it is now”.
After the success of this event, Camino Partners is seeking to host these on a quarterly basis. This represents an excellent opportunity for up-and-coming Financial Controllers and Heads of Finance in the recruitment sector to network with their peers and gain insight into how they can progress into senior finance.