For many years, accounting departments were walled off from other parts of the business as they focused on auditing, accounting, organizing and controlling the company’s finances. They are being asked to take a bigger picture of the organization’s needs than ever before and are taking roles as trusted advisors.
They still have these priorities today, of course, but employers increasingly depend on their finance teams to provide more than numbers to the rest of the company.
“The landscape has changed, and finance is considered a much more vital part of business partnerships than before,” says Syed Hussain, vice president of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, North America. “For managers, it’s critically important now to empower finance professionals at all levels to fully integrate their knowledge.”
What can you do to prime the members of your finance teams to become trusted advisors?
1. Integrate your finance teams in the business
The influence of finance teams as trusted advisors within organizations needs to be widened, also.
“Companies should move their finance teams to the front line of initiatives and get them more involved in the company’s business,” Hussain says.
For example, in the non-profit industry, the business development team and the finance team don’t always see eye to eye on the way funds or grants are accounted for. “A simple solution,” he adds, “could be to educate the business development team in finance — and also to integrate the finance teams in fundraising efforts.”
Similarly, in for-profit industries, Hussain says, it’s imperative for the finance and sales divisions to be completely aligned with the organization’s goals and targets.
2. Strive to develop trusted advisors within your organization
Business acumen is an essential but often overlooked skill for finance and accounting experts. But it’s not enough for them to contribute their knowledge; they also need to be groomed to become trusted advisors. By implementing leadership training programs, you can help your finance team members stretch beyond the basic job requirements and increase their effectiveness so they can help make the best decisions for your company.
3. Teach them more about how to tap big data
Hussain says managers should make sure their finance teams are developing cutting-edge business analytics skills. Why? Data and analytics are becoming increasingly important to business operations, and leveraging big data can yield powerful insights into a firm’s operations and customer trends. Yet 90 percent of finance leaders and managers say they have trouble hiring staff with the skills to analyze and interpret big data.
Read Building a Team to Capitalize on the Promise of Big Data, a report from Robert Half and IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants).
4. Embrace the challenges of regulatory change
Whether you own a small business or manage a large department, you’re undoubtedly aware of sweeping changes in the finance field brought about by new regulatory and financial reporting requirements. Offer specialized training to keep your employees on the cutting edge of the ever-evolving regulatory initiatives. With a little research, you can pinpoint the ideal regulatory compliance training opportunities for your specific industry.
5. Make hiring and succession a business planning priority
With the recent job reports in the U.S. showing low unemployment and a shrinking workforce, it’s easy to see that conditions are challenging for finance leaders looking to hire top performers with the abilities to become trusted advisors. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a strategy for recruiting, hiring and onboarding employees.
Regardless of company size, whenever a key leader retires or there’s an unexpected absence, you need to have a clear plan to maintain employee morale, along with efficient operations. Succession planning is the culmination of career and leadership development. It’s where you identify — from among your developing leaders — individuals who have the most potential and whose movement toward key positions, either laterally or upwardly, you want to accelerate.
In the future, those who handle your company’s finances will continue to be valued for their expertise. Their roles and contributions to the decision-making process will evolve and grow with the right tools and the guidance of forward-thinking finance leaders, like you. Surround yourself with trusted advisors who know your company as well as your accounting and finance teams do — and keep grooming them for success.
Syed Hussain is vice president of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, North America. He joined Robert Half in 2007 and is an expert on trends affecting the finance and accounting market, including the use of social media in recruitment and managing a multi-generational workforce. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.