Managing a Top-Performing Finance Team

A good finance team today isn’t just about bean-counting or number-crunching — it’s about building value for the business.

“The times,” Bob Dylan once crooned, “they are a-changing.” And so, too, the face of finance. Once regarded simply as the fiscal conscience of an organization, the finance department has a much bigger hand in a company’s success today than in the past. For many modern businesses, it’s not enough (if it ever was) that their finance and accounting teams simply manage the pursestrings so that spending and costs don’t outstrip incoming revenue, or ensure that their financial reporting complies with increasingly complex regulations and standards. To be sure, these are still important aspects of the finance function; but they no longer exhaust its responsibilities, which are today as much about creating value as they are about controlling costs. From back-office watchdog to front-line partner, the finance function is now expected to work hand-in-hand with operations, sales, and other departments, to give the company as a whole the edge it needs to succeed in an ever-competitive marketplace.

That, needless to say, is a tall order for many finance departments, when they are facing staffing shortfalls and budget cutbacks, on the expectation that they can do just as much, if not more, with less. Find me a finance manager or executive who feels like they have plenty of manpower and resources to spare from traditional responsibilities, like reporting results and taking care of balance-sheets, for the more strategic role that’s now being urged upon them. That’s why it’s become increasingly important to maximize the performance and productivity of your finance team, to you in a better position to add value to the planning and management of the business at large. Here, then, are some tips for whipping your finance team into a lean, mean, accounting machine.

From back-office watchdog to front-line partner, the finance function is now expected to work hand-in-hand with operations, sales, and other departments, to give the company as a whole the edge it needs to succeed in an ever-competitive marketplace.

Assess the status quo

Delivering the right kind of information — information that is relevant, actionable, and easy-to-digest — to other departments and decision-makers in your organization is key to the finance function adopting a more strategic role in the business. A good way to start, then, is by looking at the quality of your department’s accounting and reporting, as well as its usefulness to other units and functional areas within your company. Above all else, the financial information produced by your team ought to be delivered in a timely and accurate manner. That means books should be closed on schedule, billing and cash flow projections should prove accurate within an acceptable degree of error, and so on. The other departments and managers in your organization need ongoing, reliable, up-to-date information in order to make decisions; anything less will impair their work.

But they also need information that is actually useful for growing the business. Determine how closely your accounting and finance reporting is aligned with your company’s corporate goals. Do you have the right metrics and performance indicators — for the individuals on your team, for your department, for other divisions, for the entire organization — for measuring the health and growth of the business? What kinds of information does the company use or need to identify changes in the market — for example, growing demand from clients and customers, the relative strength or weakness of competitors, and so on? Different data might allow the business to respond quicker and more effectively to these sorts of market fluctuations; figure out what your team would need in order to collect and produce that data.

Look into refining, upgrading, or streamlining your accounting systems

For there to be real synergy between finance and the other functional areas of your organization, your finance team needs to have the basics of managing, analyzing, and reporting the company’s financials down pat, before it can take on more. Assess whether the existing accounting systems and applications used by your team in their day-to-day work are adequate for their tasks, or whether tweaks need to be made or upgrades introduced in order to improve their efficiency in processing financial transactions and reporting information. Is the technology at their disposal supporting their work, or could it be improved (in a cost-effective way)? Are there any issues with the broader reporting regime, such as policies or procedures that could stand to be updated in order to expedite your team’s work?

As a rule, you should always be looking to streamline your division’s activities and processes so that they require less effort. If your team is spending too much time performing mundane and repetitive tasks, automating transactions like the processing of payments can deliver major efficiencies, by minimizing errors, bringing down costs, and reducing turnaround times. Plus, this will free up your department’s resources and personnel for more strategic and critical work, like identifying new business opportunities or efficiencies.

Remember: it’s important that other divisions see finance as a partner and enabler, not as a barrier and obstacle, to their work.

Build relationships with other divisions

In order to build your team’s relationships with the rest of the company as well as to collect the kind of information they’ll need for their work, you and the rest of your team should be liaising with your colleagues in other business units. This can range from regularly talking to non-finance people, to attending weekly operational meetings.

Above all, ask yourself: how closely is finance being integrated into the decisions taken by other functions, such as sales, operations, and marketing? For example, are you receiving estimates from sales for your team’s company-wide forecasts? If not, is there a way you can improve your relationship with the sale department, to improve the traffic of information? Remember: it’s important that other divisions see finance as a partner and enabler, not as a barrier and obstacle, to their work.

Using their finance organizations more effectively and strategically can give businesses a leg up; indeed, a 2008 Deloitte study of more than 1100 businesses globally, over a five-year period, concluded that “without support from the finance function in improving strategy and operations, companies face an uphill and often losing battle in transforming their business.” A best-in-class accounting and finance team that’s in lockstep with the rest of the company will not only report on the bottom-line — it will help to boost it.

If you’d like even more advanced strategies and advice on building and managing a finance team, be sure to check out our guides, “Everyone IS Watching You, Pt. 1: 12 Must-Know Strategies for New Managers” and “Everyone IS Watching You, Pt. 2: A Finance Manager’s Guide to Driving Performance.”

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!