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How finance business partners orchestrate value

By Jacky Pfennig, Research and Development Manager – Management Accounting, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

By bringing together diverse viewpoints from across the business, finance business partners can act as ‘knowledge orchestrators’ who provide strategic oversight and leadership.

Businesses are increasingly deploying finance business partners in uncertain environments with rapid technological advances and competitive markets. The finance function is changing rapidly, and finance business partners increasingly are expected to provide business leadership and create value.

Our new report Finance Business Partnering: Design principles to orchestrate value suggests that, rather than look for simple numbers-based answers to organisational challenges, finance business partners should engage with the uncertainty and embrace diverse views to gain new knowledge.

The report is based on research by a team from Manchester University that investigates how business partners can provide leadership to create value. The team explored how Toyota Sales & Marketing Corp and a mid-sized manufacturer applied four principles to orchestrate value as set out in CIMA’s 2016 report Dealing with the unknown.

Four principles for value orchestration

Principle 1 — Create opportunities to open up discussions.

Rather than expect numbers to reveal answers, business partners should embrace uncertainty and facilitate open discussions, which leads to a more rounded view of the business.

Principle 2 — Raise, praise and mediate different viewpoints.

In the context of decision-making under uncertainty, raising doubts is a positive, not a negative, behaviour.  Recognising alternative views and challenging existing ways of working can harness productive tensions to create value.

Principle 3 — Use visuals to facilitate better understanding.

Use simple visuals, rather than detailed accounting numbers, wherever possible to encourage the business to engage with uncertainty.

Principle 4 — Simplify coordinating systems to invite scrutiny and generate new ways of constructing knowledge.

Accounting and coordinating systems should be kept as simple as possible and used to encourage scrutiny, rather than to provide answers.

Implications of the findings

Role of finance business partners in value creation

The two case study companies applied the above principles to help finance business partners better engage with the business and support value creation. This illustrates how embedding them in the way finance business partners approach decision-making under uncertainty can facilitate the conditions that create and harness knowledge to orchestrate value.  

Finance business partners require soft skills

Research showed that, to go beyond the numbers and embrace other viewpoints, finance business partners must build trusting relationships with others in the business. They also need to develop their emotional skills and empathy with others in the business to recognise and engage with different viewpoints. If they can do this, they will be in an ideal position to orchestrate value.

It also suggests that finance business partners must engage with uncertainty and embrace the diverse views held within the business. If they instead continue to look for ‘answers’ only in the numbers, non-accountants could become the finance business partners of the future. For example, professionals with MBAs who have worked in various areas of the business —or in other businesses — could fill these roles. Their education will have given them a sound understanding of the essentials of finance. Where they go to gain broad business experience also develops the empathy with others in the business to be able to embrace their viewpoints.

Related resources

  • The updated CGMA Competency Framework includes a category for people skills. Effective communication to influence the decision-makers and others in the organization and collaborate and work with partners is vital.
  • Business partnering in the digital age, a new thought leadership report, explores how COVID-10 accelerated business ecosystem change and new technologies to transform business models and affecting the role of the business partner.
  • Many resources to help develop people skills, including podcasts, articles and videos, are in our “Human Intelligence” toolkit. Topics covered include emotional intelligence, collaboration, negotiation and communication.