Our Head of Four Executive, Neil Whitaker, recently sat down with several experienced and well-respected FD's and CFO's from across the North West. The discussion focused around the skills and traits required to build an effective finance team, the challenges they've faced and the mistakes they've made along the way.
Gordon Brown,FD of Bensons for Beds (GB)
Matt Williams, FD of Northern (MW)
Jim Perrie, previous CFO of Lookers (JP)
Ben Fletcher, CFO of The Very Group (BF)
Let's first take a look at the positions that are most likely to be responsible for building and establishing finance teams within a business.
The role of a Finance Director (FD) is a broad and varied role. It involves managing a business’s internal finance team, ensuring that company budgets, payments and legal obligations are met and managing monthly, quarterly and annual forecasts.
A Finance Director collaborates with executives and directors of a business to create budgets and coordinate strategy to increase return on investment and profitability. The role is often fast-paced and multi-faceted and requires someone with an analytical and strategic mindset.
A Chief Finance Officer (CFO) oversees all financial operations within a business including budgeting, reporting, decision making and strategy planning. It is an executive-level position that requires someone who can demonstrate traits such as collaboration, leadership, organisation and critical thinking.
A CFO will have several years of experience at a senior management level as well as an accountancy qualification. As a CFO, you are often expected to have a say in the business strategy and funding decisions and may even be involved with new investment initiatives, acquisitions or capital expenditures (CapEx).
Now we know more about these roles, we can get a better understanding of what a good finance team looks like from the viewpoint of our panellists.
MW - The core of the team needs to be strong and stable. It's important that the team works hard together, has a strong reputation across the business and is connected on a cultural level. You need a good balance of capability and nature, which allows for individuals to complement one another in their roles.
BF - It's important to ensure your team has clarity of purpose and everyone understands their responsibility. Creating a team with a diverse range of skills allows you to allocate roles and responsibilities to those most capable to improve efficiency within the team.
JP - Having a team that fully understands the role of the finance team and their responsibility within that team is essential. Having a shared vision of the finance function that runs down from the CFO, into his direct reports and down to the transactional level of the team will create successful team.
GB - A good finance team needs a diverse group of people, but not diversity in the usual way. Instead, you need a group of people who have diversity in thinking. You also need a team structure that provides headroom for people to grow and develop, this is important to keep your team motivated.
MW - Be aware of your recruitment strategy and ensure you have the right people in place at the right time. It's important to invest in your people and your team as soon as your team if deficient in any area. Spending the money at the right time is worth it in the long run and you will reap the rewards.
BF - Look out for the employees that you rate 6 out of 10, they are the ones that can be detrimental to a team. The 9 out of 10's are brilliant and if someone is a 3 out of 10 then you know what you need to do. But you need to move fast and decisive with the 6 out of 10's to ensure damage limitation.
JP - Avoid over-recruiting and recruiting individuals across one level of seniority. You might end up with a team of ambitious and bright individuals but no-one that is willing to deal with the problems right now or the lower-level tasks. Be aware of what you need and what you're going to need but ensure you have the right team that can deliver right now.
GB - Don't ignore your gut instinct. If you spot an issue or a problem, make sure you address it straight away to avoid it escalating. Dealing with situations in the moment will reduce disruption and increase the effectiveness across your team.
GB - I think it's important to realise what's in your blind spot. Majority of the time you know what's ahead of you and behind you, but what are the areas in your blind spot? Be sure to proactively take time to consider what's coming up that could be in your blind spot and how to tackle it.
BF - Sometimes the relaying of information and the communication channels needed to convey this information can be overlooked. It's important to ensure you communicate the necessary facts, strategy and actions to your team and continue to update them where required.
JP - This one particular guy joined the company fully content with what was involved with the role and knew how he wanted to develop it. Additionally, he was very self-aware and knew his capabilities and his strengths and how this could benefit the role. Over time, and with advice from peers he evolved in a structured way and made a great contribution to the team and continued to grow and develop in his career.
BF- The temperament of a person is often underestimated. One of the factors that can distinguishes the best people from the rest is their temperament and that includes their self-awareness, their willingness to learn and their ability to handle complexity in a cool-headed way.
MW - You want to recruit people that are going to grow into the role. When I recruit somebody below me - I genuinely expecting them to replace at some point in the future. I want them to come in, take the weight off me, feel confident in what they do and in return I will give them the opportunity to grown into that space.
MW - One of the biggest challenges can be letting people go. It's important to remember that all decisions need to be based on the benefit of the business. However, I always try and do this is the nicest and the most humane way possible. It's always worth considering that some people can surprise you and given the opportunity might be able to turn it around and contribute to the team.
GB - Change is naturally really hard so don't lose heart and always remember why you started any change programme. It's also beneficial to recognise and support change agents across the team, if you can empower the people that want to change then this can have a multiplier effect across the business.
BF - Don't underestimate the anxiety and guilt that can affect the remaining members of the team. For anyone who leaves, be sure to handle their exit personably and also recognise their contributions across the team.
JP- One obstacle can be dealing with the opinions of other board members. Be sure to find out what is happening in your team and form your own opinion on what needs to be done, rather than reacting to what others think.
BF - We've continued to recruit over the last 18 months and it requires you to work harder when you're not able to meet candidates face to face. It's essential that you have the opportunity to judge whether they're right fit for the organisation and to create the social moments that build a effective relationship.
MW- The onboarding aspect has been an obstacle with the new remote and hybrid ways of working. We need to work out how to bring people together and ensure quality interactions among team members.
JP - The 'kitchen moment' has been lost and we no longer have those opportunities to have a quick chat with a colleague or solve an issue in person. During the home-working period I made sure I blocked out 45 minutes in my diary to me team to call and speak to me about anything. This opportunity to make yourself accessible really worked with bringing my team together.
GB - I'm missing the connections and communication opportunities that you enjoy in an office environment. You no longer have the ability to walk up to someone and ask a question and this can be a limiting factor in the workplace. Hybrid working requires a lot of work and development to ensure it delivers what we need for a functioning team.
You can watch the full webinar below. Thanks again to all our panellists who took part in the 'Building the ultimate finance team' webinar. Neil Whitaker will be back with another webinar in October. To stay up to date with our calendar of Four Executive webinars and events you can sign up here.