Finance Leadership Blog

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Leadership skills and upgrading your Finance Function

finance leadership reporting time management May 03, 2024

Are you running your finance function like a small town, local business or like a professional corporation?

Are you spending all your precious time just getting through your task list? Or are you really setting your team up for growth and success? 

Moving from an all hands on deck, chaotic work life to a more longer term professional team is a key part of moving into or proving yourself in that Finance leadership role.  This is key in developing your leadership skills and are an essential part of being a really strong Leader.

There are many aspects to great Leadership skills, but below are 4 that I recommend starting with, particularly within a start-up or scale-up.

1. Are you spending time fighting fires, ticking off a to do list that never ends? 

This is very typical place to be in a start-up or scale up particularly, as there are very few processes and policies that are in place. It's also the nature of a start-up or scale up because the business is pivoting regularly.

What may have been useful and essential three months ago, may no longer be the case and often things are put in place very quickly. When you have low amount of human resources, these additional requests can pile up and often fall on you as a finance lead.

As these tasks often need to be done quickly, you may find you're using Excel quite heavily, or the tasks are very manual which will become a problem should the volume increase. 

What you need to do as a leader is review all the processes on a regular basis, and decide which tasks are essential. These you can keep and then strike the non-essential ones off the list.

Once there is a list of things that need completing, spend the time on how to improve the current way of doing it. Even if you have reviewed this before, it doesn't hurt to review on a regular basis. This is because the business may have started using a software that they haven't used before, particularly in a star-tup or scale-up. For example, in a start-up, it's common for the KPIs to be in a KPI tracker on Google Sheets. Once it's upgraded onto a proper dashboard such as a reporting tool like Tableau or Looker, then  the reporting that you can download is slicker. With that additional software or business process, you can improve the processes you have within finance.

Another way that it can be improved is via software that sits directly within finance. I've written about the finance tech stack that we use with our clients or recommend using with our clients. So if you want to have a look at processes that you can automate at this is a good place to start. Not only that, it's also worth looking at how you work across departments. Sometimes you may find that finance function and another department may be duplicating some tasks. 

2. Does your team own any processes?

This is similar to reviewing your task list, but worth highlighting separately.  As what I have found sometimes when working with new leaders, is they do have a more junior accountant, but they have never actually given them ownership on a whole process. And they also certainly own all of the business partnerships. As your company grows, this can be quite time consuming.

So an action would be to both review what you currently spend a lot of time on what your team spend a lot of time on. Step two is improving those processes and automating what you can. Then once you've completed that, you can look at what you could potentially hand over to your members of your team.

Sometimes it's worthwhile having a chat with each individual (if in-house) and finding out what their career goals are. For example, if they want to move into a FP&A role, then you can train them up  with that end goal in mind. If you can demonstrate this, your team will be more likely to take on more tasks, if they can see that longer term vision. With the FP&A example, you could delegate the task of updating the live model with the actuals as a starting point, or other adjustments that need to be made.

3. Are you still spending time tinkering in Excel?

I will say in the Finance tech stack, I still do tinker in Excel as far as budgets and scenario testing is concerned. The caveat to that is that the clients that I work with are very small and do not have $1,000 budget a month to spend on a budgeting tool.

However, if the company that you do does, then I would highly recommend having a look at moving away from Excel and reviewing these different software options.

I still see a lot of management accounts coming through in Excel. However, I find that particularly with consolidation, it is such a waste of time to do consolidation in Excel and it is so prone to human errors, that it's just not worthwhile. So if you're still consolidating in Excel, move to a software, like the ones that I recommend.  Excel and Google Sheets does have a place, and sometimes doing a "back of the envelope" scenario, Excel is great. But anything that you're doing regularly every single month, such as reporting, overhead reporting, board packs, all of these things, try and move away from Excel. It'll also streamline the way the business receives information from you. It's much more professional looking. It's easier to do and actually you can create the reports that the business needs

4. Do your internal reports reflect a subset of financial statements where no one asks any questions or engages with the report? Or do they really start conversations?

What I mean by "no-one asking any questions" is, are you sending a reporting pack, that just has reams and reams of numbers, and the numbers are a detailed P&L, a relatively detailed Balance sheet and a cash flow? And that's about it? The slide deck has lots of numbers and either to the leadership team or the board, never say anything, after you've sent it out>? It just goes into a black hole, and you tick it off the list and job done?

If that is the way that you're doing things, then I would highly recommend that you look at both simplifying these reports, but also changing them quite considerably.

I do go through this in a lot of detail in my upgrade your management accounts course, but at a high level, you want a report that starts conversations. You want people to ask questions, not questions, such as Do they question the validity of the numbers, and they potentially don't trust them? But rather, reflecting on the business results. Commercial conversations is what you really want your financial reporting to drive. So if you're sending a board pack, for example, that gives a summary of the financial statements, but also includes trend analysis or charts or KPIs that change every single month. You want to change it up every single month, rather than just having the same slides where the numbers just move because the month moves.

Think about showcasing your value, showcasing your leadership skills, your analytical skills and your strategic skills, by what reports go to the board in the C suite.

They're the decision makers in the business.  You get the opportunity to showcase your skills every single month, and are you putting your best foot forward?

Or are you just churning out reams and reams of numbers that may look good, but doesn't add any value? Because you're not starting any conversations? 

Want to improve and speed up your finance career? See the steps in our Framework below:

  1. Join our next FREE Workshop on the FLF Framework.
  2. Work with me in the Financial Leadership Foundations course  that includes monthly Q&A sessions where we can discuss all of your questions and how to apply your learnings to your current role.
  3. Get your monthly reports to showcase your skills and Upgrade your Management accounts and Board reporting.


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