Business Partnering: How to be Effective Without Forgetting Duty of Care

The concept of business partnering is more than two decades old. But until now, employees at all levels have not fully understood the fundamental point of business partnering roles.

The core point, which many finance people miss out in a finance business partnering assignment, is the importance of taking off our finance hat and wearing our business partner’s hat instead.

Whenever their business partner goes off the track of financial discipline, the finance partner should politely bring them back

At the end of the day, our business partners are the ultimate judge of the quality of finance business partnering. Confidential feedback will help to understand the variation in expectations and delivery.

Different hat

In my experience, finance personnel are usually assigned business partnering roles with the Marketing, Sales and Supply Chain divisions.

There is a potential misalignment here. The nature of finance professionals, from their education to their job, is very much driven by processes, systems, guidelines, principles, ordinances and standards.

On the other hand, business partners rarely rely on these drivers. They possess very different skill sets.

I believe that finance people, once they are in a finance business partnering assignment, should stop regarding themselves as part of the finance department. They should consider themselves part of their business partner’s department instead.

Finance people should take their business partner’s agenda as their own agenda, and their business partner’s targets as their own targets. Using their financial skills and training, they should support their business partner to complete their agenda and meet their targets.

Duty of care

But finance has one duty of care. Whenever their business partner goes off the track of financial discipline, the finance partner should politely bring them back.  

Business partners have the tendency to go off budget, execute contracts without timely or proper documentation, embark on non-strategic business activities and so on.

Whenever they engage in any act that could trigger an audit point, it is the finance business partner’s responsibility to help their business partner understand the consequences. In my experience, it really helps when business partners are schooled by finance to understand finance discipline.

On the other hand, a significant number of finance people seem to have the tendency to kill unconventional business plans and stifle the creativity and ambitions of their business partners.

Mind you, all of these are very dear to our business partners. Business partners are always looking for innovation, breakthrough technologies and unconventional products.

But whenever business partners come up with a business plan for their creative work, the finance partner is sometimes the first person who is unable to digest the business partner’s efforts.

For finance, the key is always to come up with ideas on how to make the business plan happen, rather than giving reasons why it cannot be implemented.  

Personal rapport

The next important point is connectivity and communication with business partners. As soon as a finance business partnering role is assigned to an individual, the first advice I give to him or her is to sit alongside the business partners. 

For some reason, finance people like to stay within finance department and try to find all sorts of reasons not to sit with their business partners. This results in lack of connectivity and communication. More importantly, personal rapport with the business partner is not developed.

Because of this, the finance person neither understands the ways of working, personality and behaviors of their business partners, nor do they become part of team building, off-the-corridor chats and, in some cases, even departmental meetings.

A finance business partner of marketing should get involved in advertising campaigns, meet consumers and understand marketing innovations. A finance business partner of sales should go along on customer and trade visits

My advice is to involve yourself in business activities just as your business partner does. As an example, a finance business partner of marketing should get involved in advertising campaigns, meet consumers and understand marketing innovations.

A finance business partner of sales should go along on customer and trade visits. Similarly, a finance business partner of supply chain should go on production factory visits and understand product and manufacturing processes in detail. 

Conclusion

The missing link in finance business partnering is very personal and individual based. It starts with finance person becoming part of their business partner’s department, sitting with them on a daily basis and developing a personal rapport.

It should reach the point where finance adopts their business partner’s agenda as their own, and works with them to make it happen – without, however, forgetting financial discipline. 

This way of business partnering will transform finance managers into business managers. This will later become their differentiation from rest of the finance community at large.

For that we all should be thankful to our business partners.

About the Author

Until recently, Hyder Hasan was Financial Controller Malaysia-Singapore and a key member of the Customer Development (Sales) team at European consumer products giant Unilever.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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