When the discussion falls on Millennials and what they want from their work and careers there’s one word that dominates: “Purpose”. In fact, Millennials are even labelled “The purpose-driven generation”. This got me thinking in terms of what I want to achieve with my career in Finance and my writing no less. At the same time, I was thinking about an article from one of the Top Voices of 2016 on LinkedIn, Jeffrey Towson on how he got 300,000 followers in 18 months where his point #1 was an interesting one.
“Choose one valuable question to focus on”
That immediately made sense to me in terms of giving my career and writing a purpose and made it clear as to what I was really trying to achieve. I’ve been exploring many aspects of current trends and developments in the finance function and despite having written series of articles revolving around the same topic they never really had a focus stemming from a purpose. At least I hadn’t made it clear to myself. Now it has become clear though and my writing going forward as well as what I strive to achieve in my day job will explore the single question of.
“How Can Finance Help The Business Add Value?”
Why is this important?
Late last year I wrote an article titled “Why Transforming Finance Matters” discussing if Finance (or more specifically the people working in the function) was even needed. At the end of the day at the core of every company, it’s about creating value. You typically do that by solving problems and so this is also what every day should be about for Finance. How can the function help add value by solving problems together with the business? If the finance function can’t provide any answers on how to solve the problems that the business has set out to solve, all it will ever do is the minimum legally required. However, that doesn’t bring purpose to all the young people coming into finance and accounting. To a purpose-driven generation, it has to be about something more than the paycheck at the end of the month and doing the bare minimum. That’s why it’s important to answer the question of how Finance can help add value to the business. The answers will bring purpose to those that choose a career in Finance and open the eyes of the business to how Finance should be an important partner in achieving its goals.
Decomposing the question
Before going in-depth with trying to find answers to the question let’s start by decomposing the question itself. What does it actually mean?
How: “in what way or manner; by what means” i.e. it’s about finding ways, means, and manners in which Finance can help the business add value. It’s about exploring different paths and aspects of HOW to help.
Can: “to be able to; have the ability, power or skills to”. The word itself leads to two questions.
- Why is it “can” and not “shall” and should Finance even do this?
- Does Finance have the ability and skills to help?
As for 1) I firmly believe Finance should do this referring back to the discussion about purpose. While there are many legal reasons as to why Finance exists then I believe that it’s the value adding part that is the true purpose of Finance. Moreover, this is more about whether Finance has the ability, power, and skills to do it rather than the intent to do it. All the good intentions in the world matter none if there’s no capability to do it. This leads to 2) which is about exploring Finance’s current skills and abilities but certainly also the power that Finance has in the company and the ability to make an impact.
Finance: This is not so much about the official definition of the word but simply put about “the finance function”. It’s the department that almost all companies have which often includes accounting, tax, financial planning and analysis, treasury etc.
Help: “to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need”. This is about helping someone else to achieve their goals. It can be the business overall but also line managers, other departments etc.
The Business: In broad terms, it’s the company in which the finance function operates but it can also be line managers, departments etc. as per above. Seen from the outside it’s the entity in which people have invested their money and demand a return from.
Add Value: There’s the addition i.e. the opposite of subtraction meaning there must be more of something when Finance is done helping. That more of something is more value and whereas value can be defined in many ways such as shareholder value, stock price etc. I’ll define this as discounted cash flow meaning that all the helping that Finance does should eventually lead to a positive cash flow. In many cases, this can be indirect and difficult to measure but Finance must put on itself to quantify the value and how non-financial measures ultimately translate into cash flow.
The start of something bigger
This is the question I’ve been trying to answer through my so far ten years in the finance function and having made it explicit gives me a new sense of direction. That’s why in 2017 you will find that all my writing will be centred on this question just as establishing Finance Business Partnering 2.0 at Maersk Line was in my day job in 2016. My latest series “The CFOs Roadmap To Transforming Finance” and “How Finance People Can Be More Successful” both explored this question although not explicitly expressed but going forward all articles will explicitly express what part of the question they explore and they will have tangible actions and suggestions on how you or your finance function can improve on how to help the business add value. There’s no fixed end in sight as the world will continue to evolve and new answers to the question will pop up. Are you ready to explore and answer this question together with me?
What’s the question you’re trying to answer in your career and have you found your purpose? How do you think Finance can help the business add value? Having defined this question probably won’t lead to 300,000 followers over the next 18 months like Jeffrey experienced but hopefully, it will make the purpose of my writing crystal clear. Ultimately, I do hope it will help you in your career or your finance function helping the business add value.