By Stephen Rue, CFO, NBN
I’ve been working in Finance for longer than I care to recall. What I will hint at, is that it’s been for more than 25 years in Australia alone. While the finance profession has responded to legislative and accounting practice reforms during that time, it is only recently that I’ve felt a pivot in how we work in corporate finance.
No longer just the numbers man, I now look around our table at my fellow executives and realise how much I’m learning from them and mirroring to build a better finance function. The cross-functional talent has always been there. But now as an executive, I cannot succeed as the numbers man alone. I need to know my value, and how to direct it. It is the finance executive who fully understands the value chain of their business, participates in problem solving, creates solutions, identifies opportunities and collaborates who wins in these dynamic times.
As an executive team, there are so many skills and competencies we can share and teach to grow the business.
From our Chief Information Officer, I’m learning how to be flexible, open to change and technology, and how to have an agile approach with some of our projects. The biggest value we share is for data-driven decisions. We see the difference, we call it out.
From our Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, I’m enjoying forecasting further, being much more outlandish and creative with our scenario planning, much more conscious of our external markets, potential innovations and influences. I’m looking wide-eyed for those opportunities that create wealth or enhance our operating and financial decision making.
How do I know what to look for and when I’ve found it? That’s because I’ve partnered more closely with our operational business executives for a deeper, transactional understanding of what we need to do to run our business successfully.
Finally, by mirroring our Chief People and Culture Officer I have been able to reframe our function to look at creating valuable partnerships, business integration, upskilling and talent-building.
CFOs need to be agile and take a whole-of-company partnership approach. So let’s change CFO to Collaborative Finance Opportunity, and below are my three pieces of advice to help enable your finance department thrive.
Structural changes to boost productivity
It is important to build your team in a way that enables trust, integration and collaboration with the business. Each industry and company would have its own view on this, and I agree there is not a cookie cutter org chart.
What is important is to understand how a structure can drive productivity. On the flipside, the structure can stifle progress and creativity just as quickly.
Clear accountability will always drive simplicity and provide talent with the guardrails in which to play to meet the function’s purpose. Clear accountability helps drive excellence. By knowing what they are clearly accountable for, my team has the freedom to act and to continually improve. Any confusion or potential duplication of roles slows down even the most committed team members.
So structure your team well, don’t be afraid to adjust where necessary, and do focus on supporting any structure through a lived experience of collaboration, respect and team work. The structure will support your business needs, your value creation outcomes, but it is the culture that truly enables productivity.
Knowing how and where to play
Knowing how and where you create value for a business is essential for any role, in any function, not just for performance but for your own engagement, satisfaction and workload prioritisation. For Finance roles, including CFO, this is no different.
Each year in my role I look ahead and forecast my role and value for the business. Where do I need to play during this financial year? Where should I put my energy and be present? Where should I empower my team to take the lead and direct the function? Do I have the right people in the right roles for this period of focus?
More often than not the answers are obvious. Self-assessment on whether my behaviour and my leadership team models this strategy is more challenging. I like to simplify things right back to basics, and ask, if person X was only able to deliver one thing this year what would it be? Or reverse it out, and list out current responsibilities and activities of the teams, and ask yourself, if they stopped doing this activity what would happen and can we live with that?
While tapping into existing specialist process centres offshore or onshore often has its own detractors, it is a key element of scoping value creation and knowing where and how to play. What high volume, low value work can be outsourced to professionals who specialise in data management, systems, processing, invoicing and reporting?
Befits of being the Finance Business Partner
Upskilling the finance team to focus on being a business partner, has clear benefits to our operations, our executive, and to me the CFO. These two-way partnerships rely on open and honest communication, in-depth understanding of cross functional needs and collaboration to meet business objectives.
I like to refer to this as being the steward for the business. We ensure assets are protected and results are reported accurately. We do this by developing an intimate knowledge of the business, how exactly does our business generate revenue, where costs come in and why they come in, and through clearer understanding we ask better questions. This is particularly critical for me when I have to demonstrate clear transparency in our reporting and explanations to the Department of Communications and Department of Finance.
By understanding the business infinitely, we can strategically partner to meet business objectives, together. One of my greatest pleasures is to visit our different sites around the country and hold town hall meetings to chat and learn. I’m the one who asks the questions. I’m the one who has prepared the list of questions I have about the business I’d like them to clarify. I’m the one putting my hand up asking if I can sit in on our customer service calls and have someone explain to me the key escalation complaints of the day.
All of this is not for entirely selfless reasons. By business partnering we create trust and influence. We use our partnerships to help accelerate business transformation and drive commerciality into the company. It’s win, win.
Stephen Rue is responsible for the financial management of NBN Co’s business activities, business planning, financial reporting, financial control, management reporting, taxation and treasury, as well as procurement and supply. To hear more of his insights first-hand, join us at The CFO Forum where Stephen will be a keynote speaker.