How to take lessons from CFOs on business partnering

businesspeople shaking handsHenry Ford had a useful take on learning. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80,” he said. He’s spot on. We are never too old or too experienced to learn more, and to learn from others. And in the professional space, it is especially important to look up to those who display attributes that you would like to incorporate into your own work.

When it comes to business partnering, CFOs are pretty good role models from whom to learn. I’ve seen many CFOs make considerable strides in how they seek to work with other functions across the organization. And with firms today undergoing major digital transformations – ones that will impact upon their business models and operating structure – CIOs can also pick up some tips on how to reach out more.

With that in mind, here are a few lessons CIOs can take on board from the way CFOs have expanded their own influence:

  1. Free up adequate time to devote to business partnering. In many cases, CFOs have looked to restructure how the more transactional aspects of their role are managed. They’ve set up shared service centers or pushed discrete processes out to outsourcing providers, all helping to create sufficient time and space to focus on adding value to the wider business. CIOs can work harder to free up the lower-level aspects of their role, in order to give themselves the extra capacity for more valuable tasks.
  2. Don’t be afraid to challenge current thinking. All good CFOs challenge others. They don’t just accept the status quo. When finance works alongside other business departments, it uses tools and analysis to test the thinking of other executives. It does this, not to be argumentative, but to help them make more informed decisions about what they’re seeking to do. CIOs should back their own expertise, and have the confidence to question existing approaches and processes. Doing so is also a surefire way to get discussion flowing.
  3. Work with HR to broaden the skillset. CFOs have recognized that if they want to influence the wider business strategy, they need to change their skillset. To do so, many finance leaders have shifted their recruitment priorities to find and retain people with a better commercial appreciation of the business. They collaborate with HR to find the vital “soft” attributes, such as communication and presentation skills, that are so vital for business partnering. CIOs need to do the same within their IT functions.

Inevitably, trial and error will be needed to work out exactly how to emulate the successes of finance business partnering in the IT space. But that’s the beauty of role models: they set examples that we attempt to follow, but also adapt and improve upon. So, what will you learn today?

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