Once we outsourced the work, we expected the retained finance team move up to the next level, where they would take the finance business approach. A number of them were used to doing transactions and dealing with the ERP system, and for them the transition was quite a challenge. It takes time to groom them and train them and emphasise what they should and should not be focusing on.
How did you train them in their new roles?
In [finance at] Linklaters, we use a system of levels: juniors, then advisors, then managers. Most of the [retained staff] are performing close to a finance business advisor level.
Right now, I’m starting to groom or develop the advisor level. Training-wise, it’s very hard because some are used to taking directions, where I would tell them, “Don’t do this, do this, this is what we should be focusing on.”
I work very closely with the other managers [regionally in Linklaters]. There are regular calls to discuss what we should focus on, and how to set examples. So if I do anything for the APAC region that is advisory, I’ll share it with them and say, “This is what we have done,” and thus with some of the partners, they should do the same for their office.
Classroom training is not going to help. At the same time, I have to think about project work and ad hoc work for each of them. I will come up with something and tell them they will help out with regional work, to train them to move away from transactional processes.
At which point did you start grooming them?
For quite some time. It’s been three to five years already. This is before we decided to do the outsourcing. When I implemented the shared service centre in Hong Kong, this was the model we followed. The vision was to be a finance business partner – to move away all the transactional work, so that the local team can start focusing on value-added work.
What was the biggest challenge in moving your staff to the next level?
It depends on the individual person. It’s very hard to tell a person what it means, because I had managers that come back to me and say, “What you do mean by value-added roles?”
That’s one of the hardest things to define. It’s different for different people. For me, it’s that the managers become a close business partner to the practice, providing advice, not data.
It doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t mean that there are certain steps you do which make you a business advisor.
Yet I think that’s what the managers were expecting, because they were trained to be transactional people. They process a task by Friday and finish by next Monday. They are very used to step-by-step work.
I know it’s hard to define, but what does it mean for finance to be a business partner in a law firm?
It means for finance to help the partners make right business decisions. It’s not just providing information, but advising them what to look at and what to do.
Our pricing is quite complicated. Some partners would say, “I’m going to do a quotation for a client.” A finance manager could easily pull out historical information. “These are all the things we’ve done; this is how much we charge.”