How to fix the leaky roof in the Finance Department?

Written by on December 22, 2018

In a survey from earlier this year 95% finance leaders said they experienced a skills-gap in the finance function, however telling finance professionals to change their behaviours alone is not going to address this gap.

Think about it, how often are we hearing from leaders (and thinking in brackets):

  • We need to be more commercial (Okay so what does this look like?)
  • Get out from behind my desk (But then what?)
  • Be more like a consultant (What has to happen for me to do this?)
  • Less box ticking and more strategic partner (Ah okay but I’m actually trained to box tick, is that not what you paid me to do?)

Changing behaviour is hard

These are all behaviours leaders want us to change but changing one’s own behaviour is hard. Another study found that:

Only one in nine people who underwent heart surgery were able to change their lifestyle, and these people had the ultimate “motivation,” possible death.

So if changing our own behaviour is difficult imagine then as a leader how hard it is even to change another person’s, let alone a whole finance team’s or organisation’s, it’s nigh on impossible.

Back to fundamentals

One fundamental truth we’ve always known in Finance is that income follows assets. So to ultimately see behaviour change in 95% of our finance teams we first need to treat finance professionals as assets, not a cost centre budget expense, and if we adopt this mindset then we’ll begin to treat any behavioural or delivery issues as ‘asset deficiencies’.

It’s a bit like telling a leak roof to fix itself rather than fixing the underlying problem in the house itself.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Think about your own house. In a rising market it’s generally regarded as an asset, appreciating in value, and whether you walk out of it to go to work in the morning, or you work remotely from it, it’s still an asset.

So one day sitting in your kitchen when you notice a slight but noticeable discoloration, perhaps a water stain, in the ceiling, even your partner notices it, but you tell them and yourself that I’m busy today with work so I’ll sort it out tomorrow, you go to work and when you get back there’s now a massive hole in your ceiling, and at your feet there is plasterboard and debris, with water and damp all around it on the kitchen floor.

To make matters worse your partner has told you that she’s wrecked from trying to keep the kids from playing in the debris and she’s frustrated because it’s hard to make them their dinner and having to constantly walk around the problem.

So what’s now happened to the value of your asset? It’s dropped it’s deficient, you cannot operate effectively with it in it’s current state, it would be uncomfortable, frustrating, to continually walk around the plasterboard and damp, wasted heating bills, you get the picture.

So why do we tolerate deficiencies in our finance team, or keep saying we’ll do something about it when we don’t really follow through on enhancing and nurturing our finance team’s assets?

We wouldn’t tolerate a leaky roof at home, so why would we tolerate a leaky roof in our finance team? Particularly given we spend so much of our lives there.

No wonder why there’s such much frustration and disengagement in our teams. We spend so much of our careers at work, why not fix asset deficiencies and make finance fun again, where we’re influential, solving meaningful problems, engaged, fulfilling careers and creating and capturing massive value for our organisations we serve.

What to do

In the example of the leaking ceiling in our house what would we do to fix it? There are two options:

  1. We could do it ourselves (the DIY approach) which will involve spending more time but save on some of the financial costs as we’d still have to spend out on materials; or
  2. Get in a contractor or professional who’s a track record of tackling such asset deficiencies.

Either way we’ll have to get our wallets out and even tax authorities recognise that we have to be continually investing in the upkeep of our assets to be fit for purpose. When I used to be an accountant in the UK a landlord could claim up to 10% of their income as an expense for repairs and maintenance without having to provide receipts. So how much are our finance leaders spending on just simply upkeeping the value of their finance team’s assets, let alone enhancing them, or making them fit for purpose in these days of automation, artificial intelligence and business partnering? Even if it’s not money then, but effort, how many hours a week are finance leaders investing on enhancing their team’s assets rather than tolerating them or ineffectively trying to change behaviour.

As a finance professional at heart I’d typically be slow to part with my budget or cash so that’s why I’d invested my time in going for option 1 and I’ll share with your what I did next week, it’s a lower cost approach and takes more time but can still be effective.

One tip until next week is to subscribe and listen into the #SITN (Strength in the Numbers) show every week, because we bring on guest mentors to share with you their stories and hard won lessons and practically figured out how to address their asset deficiencies and how to nurture and enhance them to create and capture even more value in and for their organisations. And ultimately help you learn how to leverage your own assets and strengths in the numbers faster so you can have a more fun, rewarding and successful careers as finance professionals and leaders.

So what do you think, do we spend enough time, or even money, investing in maintaining, nurturing and enhancing our finance assets?

The author Andrew Codd is the producer of the Strength in the Numbers Podcast which interviews real finance practitioners to break down their hard won lessons and deconstruct their practical methods that work on the job and which you won’t typically find in textbooks or exams so that we create more influential finance professionals worldwide who solve meaningful problems for their organisations and in return have fun, rewarding and successful careers in finance.


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