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How Building Trust Enables Effective Business Partnering

Sep 27, 2022

By Paul Barnhurst and Christian Wattig


Many FP&A professionals lament that they do not have a seat at the table. How does one get there? It starts with earning the trust of business partners to demonstrate that we, as FP&A professionals, can really add value. Easy to say, hard to execute, because there can be a hesitation from the business to share information and to invite us in, and because of the historical view of finance as strictly expense hawks.

Building trust requires a winning FP&A team and strong relationships with the business. In our AFP 2022 session, “How Building Trust Enables Effective Business Partnering,” we will review leading research in this area while sharing our own examples as practitioners and teachers in this field. For example, in 2012, Google undertook Project Aristotle, a study of thousands of project teams to learn what made certain teams more successful than others. Was it star players? Length of time working together? A mix of specialties? After completing the research, Goggle found three keys to establishing successful teams:

1.  Psychological safety.

2.  Dependability on each other.

3.  Accountability through clear goals.

Psychological safety is the belief that an individual employee can share opinions, facts or ideas with the team, free from suffering negative consequences to ego or career if they are not supported by the other team members. FP&A can build all three of these elements into its own role in corporate teams through specific actions and behaviors and lay the groundwork to becoming a valued business partner.

In addition to the above, we must build credibility with the business to be a successful business partner. In the book “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey shares four cores to building credibility:

  • Integrity
  • Intent
  • Capabilities
  • Deliver Results

Building credibility starts with integrity. Without integrity, the business will not trust you, regardless of your capabilities or ability to deliver results. We will present examples of establishing integrity so that everyone understands intent and focus, ensuring you have the right capabilities to deliver the needed results.

Michael Coveney, author, speaker and head of research at FP&A Trends Group, identifies five key roles for FP&A teams:

  • Architect — Builds bridges between raw data, key drivers and driver-based models.
  • Analyst — Responsible for building financial models and works closely with the business to conduct various data analysis.
  • Data Scientist — Helps build predictive models and uses AI to improve the overall accuracy of forecasting.
  • Storyteller — Ensures FP&A can tell the story in business terms. Able to translate data into compelling stories.
  • Influencer — Able to influence the business to implement new ideas without having the authority to require the implementation.

Every FP&A team needs to decide how they will show they have the capabilities necessary to be successful. This does not mean every FP&A team needs to have one person fulfilling each role. Often, one person will wear multiple hats, but FP&A does need to demonstrate that it has the right capabilities on the team to drive the business forward through strategic business partnering.

Having the above capabilities sets your team up to deliver results. You add a deposit to your emotional bank account every time you deliver results. And the more you develop trust, the more you can move the business forward.

Please join us, Christian and Paul, at AFP 2022 in Philadelphia, where we will share how building trust will enable you to become the partner that the business needs to achieve its strategic financial goals.

Interested in this session, How Building Trust Enables Effective Business Partnering? Register for AFP 2022 and explore the full lineup of sessions.