The main purpose of any business is to improve it’s outcomes and depending on whether you’re talking to an economist, marketer, engineer, salesperson or customer you might get different answers from maximise profits, create a customer, develop better products, increase revenues to improve customers satisfaction.
Ultimately a business is in the business of delivering better outcomes for key stakeholders and the best finance business partners have found out how to use the principle of accountability to deliver these better outcomes. But to see how this works we need to look at a simple model of the business.
We can’t get much more simpler than the IPO (Inputs-Process-Outputs) model above. Inputs in the form of various resources, like labour, know-how, raw materials, machines, money, etc.. come into a black box of processes that transform them into outputs that hopefully improve outcomes for key stakeholders. It’s a linear left-to-right process. However the best finance business partners, play a transformational role. They instead see and apply the model backwards, from right-to-left, they work back from the outcomes to figure out what accountabilities need to be in place so that the right resources can be brought to bear.
Why do accountabilities matter?
In simple terms accountabilities enable businesses to garner a willingness from people, like managers, staff, suppliers to commit to and to be held to account for courses of action that turn resources into the desired outcomes. Now you may be thinking that this is all well and good in theory, but what if we don’t have the right resources?
Again, the best finance business partners, like any good leader, know that resources show up after resourcefulness, or said another way: the more resourceful that people are, the more resources they have at their disposal. And these finance business partners rely heavily on using accountability to drive commitments because:
“Resourcefulness shows up after you make a commitment, not before.” Daniel Priestly
If you think about it further before we commit to something, half of our resourcefulness & brain energy might be occupied and used up on assessment of an idea, its timing and trying to predict an unpredictable future (How many annual planning and budget cycles have we come across like that). Instead of worrying about how to grow sales 10%, shave 5% off expenses, increase customer NPS by 20 points or ensure 30% of revenues come from products less than 5 years old, finance business partners know that when people finally commit to an outcome they free up loads of energy to become more resourceful to sustain them when following through.
“Accountability is used as a tool to sustain these commitments, which facilitates resourcefulness and the necessary resources showing up to deliver better outcomes.”
Three Ways to Improve Accountability
Fortunately we can all learn from some straightforward to implement best practice ways to improve accountability:
- Implement a Functional Accountability Chart: List out the person responsible for each function along with their key commitments (these can be verbal such as Critical Success Factors (CSFs) or metrics like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)) and assign to each of them the relevant line item from the P&L; Balance Sheet & Cashflow Statements to align them with the appropriate outcomes.
- Implement a Process Accountability Chart: Identify 3 to 7 key processes that drive your business (unit) area’s results and assign someone as specifically accountable for each process, whilst listing out what needs to happen for these process KPIs (i.e. better, faster, cheaper).
- Establish a Communication Rhythm: Put in place a weekly meeting (call it a wash-up, although some call it an accountability group) that you chair and invited with those listed on the accountability charts so you can understand as a group what went well towards the commitments and what could be better (resourcefulness).
It’s this last point that enables the best finance business partners to add more value because as part of the accountability process they also facilitate an improvement in the level of partners’ resourcefulness.
Three Considerations on Facilitating Resourcefulness
- Asking better questions: Better answers come from better questions, and typically partners become stuck when they’re asking unresourceful questions like “why can’t there be an easier way?” or “Do we have enough time?” Some better questions might be: “What value can I add to this?”; “Who else has achieve a similar outcome?”; or “Who might already have access to the resources we need?”
- Reframe requests as opportunities: Instead of asking partners for things like: “Can you cut your spend by 10%?” or “Can you get a better deal from suppliers?” the best finance business partners will reframe these requests as opportunities: “If we could see some lowering of your spend say 10%-15%, we’d happily share some of the upside back with your team”; or “Would you like to get involved on a project getting more value from our suppliers?”
- Accept conditions will never be a perfect clearing: Some people will only act when the conditions are “just right” or when they’ve “cleared” enough time in their diaries. Finance business partners recognise that there’ll never be a perfect clearing, but to achieve better outcomes the most important thing is to ensure partners are focused on and working towards the most valuable outcomes at any given time. This may mean providing partners insights such as Pareto or Scenario analyses to keep them focused on the higher value and most impactful areas of accountability and deprioritising the least valuable ones.
For the best finance business partners accountability is used as a key tool to help their partners make the necessary commitments and continue to work with them to facilitate them being more resourceful in delivering better outcomes for key stakeholders.
So what accountability approaches do you use with your partners to improve resourcefulness or the delivery of outcomes? Let’s all contribute to make this another resource for other aspiring finance business partners so please like or add your comments below.