How to have influence and impact with colleagues

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Members in business share tips and tricks that can increase your impact in the business.

Strategic decision making for businesses is more critical than ever. According to McKinsey, finance functions spend 19% more of their time on value-added tasks such as financial planning and analysis, but more crucially, business partnering.

In order to influence the decisions made around the wider business, finance teams need to be venturing out of the accounts office and building trusting relationships with key stakeholders around the organisation.

Our panel of members explain how they connect and collaborate with their organisations, the benefits of that approach, and how they’ve maintained those relationships as remote working has become more prevalent.

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We have to be proactive to break down the ‘frostiness’

Andy Murray, Finance Lead, Manna Pro UK

The most important business partnering we do as a finance team is working alongside the sales team. Helping sales understand their numbers and margins is crucial, not forgetting the sales trends and product analysis. This is a really fun part of working in finance, helping to grow sales and contribute towards the organisational objectives.

We’re currently partnering with sales to implement a new customer pricing structure to align customers to a set trade price list and discount structures. The new pricing structure also includes extra provisions for freight to capture the ever-increasing freight charges which many businesses are currently incurring. It’s been a really proactive and positive partnering experience, strengthening relationships between sales and finance.

As in some businesses this relationship can sometimes be a little ‘frosty’ at times. We are really working hard to be seen as a reliable, approachable partner to the entire organisation, having open discussions offering clear guidance and advice.

Sometimes there are some light-hearted debates surrounding sales discounts, promotional discounts and maybe lower pricing being offered to customers (lower than usual, that is).

How do we overcome difficulties? I would say by having conversations around break-even points, the margins management expect and offering alternative solutions to support promotional offerings. At the same time, we make sure the customer offering is still attractive and we are covered in terms of our own overheads and profit requirements! 

As a team, we provide solutions to support managers and colleagues and work with them proactively should any potential problems arise. Finance is involved in many commercial aspects and strategic planning, both on a project and ad-hoc basis. This includes scenario planning, ‘what if’ planning, budget preparation for growth and organisational development planning.

I think it would be great to have more opportunities for the finance function to partner and help influence various managers and teams to make commercially wise strategic decisions. Finance is a vital partner in broadening and widening continued business development successes. 

Strategic collaboration is becoming more important

Björgvin Vigfússon, Finance Manager, Westmorland Linen Rental and Laundry

In recent months, the finance team has proactively been increasing the collaboration and input with other departments within the business. This is not only on an operational level, but also on tactical and strategic level.

This has resulted in some insightful and highly successful business partnering, which has lead to operational and tactical decisions giving much better results than in the past, when these collaborations didn’t happen.

To keep this up, we’re making sure that these partnerships carry on. The key issue is to make sure that everyone involved has the space and freedom to express their thoughts and concerns.

One example is explaining to the purchasing manager why buying lower quality material at a better price could result in lower quality products, making life harder for the sales manager. So, in the end, the cost saved in purchasing might be eaten up by the discount given to sell the product.

This example is applicable for many scenarios at each level of the business, being operational, tactical or strategic. The danger is that managers of each department only see what’s good for their department. As accounting and finance professionals, we can come in with a good oversight on the whole of the company and make sure everyone is aiming in the same direction.

In order to improve the business partnering within a company, it is important to have buy-in from all involved. Danger is that it won’t happen of only accounts/finance professionals see and understand the benefit of it, we also need to get operation, HR, admin and senior management to understand the benefits of this.

We feed information to the business partners, which boosts their decision making

Sanjiv Bali, Senior Project Accountant, A2 Dominion

As the Component Accounting team, the information that we process and provide is integrated with the different areas of the business that rely on business partnering and collaborating with other teams via various communication channels, such as regular virtual meetings using Teams and Zoom, monthly visits to the business partner’s offices and via calls and emails as well.

As a result of collaborating with our business partners, we can see that collaboration and integration are influential. The business partners will use the information, suggestions and advice that we provide from meetings and in the form of fixed asset accounting reports that are used to support decision making.

Adapting to remote working was a challenge that we’re still adapting to

Clare Elliott, CFO, ILUX

Collaboration and communication has always been crucial for business success, while at the same time being something that businesses often fail at, or at least don’t always do that well. The changes in working locations for many of us at the start of Covid lockdown meant that suddenly we had to find different ways to ensure collaboration and communication still happened, and was successful. That wasn’t always easy, and some ideas were trialled and failed, while others became the new way of working.

Collaboration increased via the use of Teams, either messaging or virtual meetings, which was the substitute for talking across the desk, and the volume of emails increased too. This was great to begin with; then the cracks started to show.

The communications were too much, we all knew we were spending too long looking at messages in the Teams chat, there were too many emails flying backwards and forwards, and people forgot to pick the phone up and talk to one another.

Fundamentally, we realised the importance of being proactive. Firstly, we needed all of our documentation up to date, so when someone did have a query they could simply research the answer for themselves. Secondly, we needed to make very strict rules about which types of communication were fed through which channels. This ensured important items could be easily identified and prioritised, while less time critical issues could be filtered out and scheduled for action. Lastly, we needed to focus on inefficiencies within the business.

We needed to evaluate if all of our meetings were really necessary. Was this increasing collaboration, or was it actually hindering work and creating more inefficiencies? Meetings were reviewed, some cancelled, some changed, and some new ones created to give a better structure and more focus.

We significantly increased communication between managers, creating a structured and regular meeting. We then increased collaboration between our Directors and Managers. We focused on which teams needed meetings for which purpose, and determined the most efficient and effective frequency.

We’ve also increased our knowledge across the management team so that each member is fully aware of the specific demands and problems they experience within their departments. That way we have been able to cross-share information that may be helpful to others, or perhaps change what one team does in order to positively influence the effects on another team. The more everyone understands everything about the business, the more efficiencies and effectiveness we see, and the greater the influence on the success of the business.

Is this perfect? No. We are still reviewing, analysing and changing what we do as time moves on and we evolve with this new way of working. We are still working towards increasing our efficiencies within the business, to ensure that we’re dedicating enough time with our collaboration whilst not wasting time. It will inevitably be a never-ending review process, as the business is constantly changing too. Our business has continued to grow throughout the past 18 months and is forecast to grow even more over the next year, therefore nothing is static for very long before we need to find a new way of doing something. The benefits of ensuring communication and collaboration are effective are massive to the business as a whole.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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