I always loved the old and famous U.K. underground statement, “Please mind the gap!” that warns passengers of the risk of being caught unaware and sustaining injury by stepping into the gap between the train and platform. It has turned out to be an apt metaphor for life and one that has taught me important life lessons.

Minding the gap is about seeking opportunities to explore new possibilities and learn new skills. It’s about accepting novel and challenging situations despite the risk of failure and setbacks. Minding the gap is essential for you to know where you stand, identify what you need to develop, realize what knowledge you need to acquire, know how you can be competent and successful, and, finally, make informed decisions and take wise steps to achieve all of the above.

Now I’ll identify some topics to focus on to keep developing your skills.

Leadership Skills

First of all, to mind the gap, you need to understand your current skills and what functional competencies you need to be equipped with in order to stand on solid business partnering ground as a finance leader.

To further enhance your readiness, you need to enhance your business acumen and perfectly understand your business model, commercial drivers, market positioning, and key industrial challenges—understanding the risks and opportunities facing your business—and move forward based on all of that.

The role of the finance leader has undergone a significant transformation over the last few decades. No longer limited to bookkeeping or traditional financial management, today’s finance leader is a strategic partner integral to the overall business strategy.

Finance leaders are pivotal in steering organizations toward sustainable growth, profitability, and success. They spend more than 50% of their time on value-added business partnering activities rather than merely running a typical finance department. They focus more on casting a wider net for new efficiency opportunities, boosting finance’s role in managing data and strengthening decision making through widespread adoption of data visualization and advanced analytics.

Finance leadership has also been influenced by several global forces, including the growth of digital technologies, the importance of sustainability, changing demographics, the complexity of geopolitics, and the inevitability of structural transformation. These forces have led to a greater focus on collaboration and people-oriented leadership, as well as the need for managers to make important decisions with input from their employees.

Business Partnering Skills

In the area of successful business partnering and decision support, there are various points to consider to bridge the gap between the traditional finance role and a strategic partner.

  1. Build strategic engagement: Building strong relationships with your stakeholders is fundamental to effective engagement. Spend time getting to know your stakeholders, understand their priorities, and be ready to challenge points they may not have considered. Ensure the analysis and reporting provided align with what your stakeholders need, as well as what is accessible and meaningful to you.
  2. Develop strategic insight: Insightful analysis and reporting need to have relevance and impact. This requires taking extra steps to look at the data beyond routine reporting in order to understand whether there are further questions to be explored and what the resulting actions may be.
  3. Communicate better through visualization: Visualization is a powerful tool for communicating complex information in a simple and engaging way. It can help you to tell a story with infographs, making it easier for stakeholders to understand and act on the insights you provide.
  4. Believe in change and sponsor it: Change is always happening. It’s a norm we live with on a daily base, and it’s important to be adaptable and flexible in your approach to deal with it. Be open to new ideas and ways of working and be willing to challenge the status quo when necessary.

Storytelling is another key pillar for successful business partnering. Link it to financial performance—the better you simplify the business dynamics while translating financial performance, the more integral you’ll be.

Empower your teams to integrate all business dynamics, being on top of what drives the business and moves the market. CFOs and finance leaders now have all the capabilities to support and challenge business drivers and influence how executives and top management make decisions to improve a company’s performance and drive organizational strategies in both the strategy-setting and implementation phases.

An effective business partner, especially from the finance perspective, should possess a set of key competencies that can help prevent poor operational decisions. Understanding your business model and drivers is one key skill that must exist, along with other competencies including the ability to understand the goals and overarching strategies of the business, analyze financial and nonfinancial information, and present recommendations to support decision making.

Additionally, business leaders seek active partnership and collaboration from finance professionals who can grasp the larger goals of the business, challenge the status quo, and champion finance as well as enterprise-level transformation.

Finally, finance professionals should mind the gap, focus on being strategists and catalysts, in addition to their roles in accounting, financial planning and analysis, and controls.

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