Opposites attract: the happy relationship between HR and Finance

We’re all familiar with the classic scenario: ask HR and finance to compile a list of staff members and you’ll undoubtedly get two versions which don’t match. Whereas finance talks about FTEs and expenses, HR is all about headcount and people, meaning we can end up getting lost in translation. But isn’t it time we started combining forces more often?

Strategic partners of the business

In the relationship between finance and HR, the phrase which springs to mind is that ‘opposites attract’. While finance has its eye on the future, creating forecasts and strategic predictions, HR primarily looks at the past. Finance works with hard figures, HR is often seen as the soft department which ‘works with people’. A finance professional is ‘blue’ and likes processes and control, while an HR staff member is sociable with an eye for people and so falls into the green spectrum.

But if we put all discrepancies aside and search for collaboration between the two, we create a powerful engine for transformation and growth. The CFO and HR director control the most important assets for sustainable growth: the money, the people and generally also the technology. In addition, both fulfil the role of strategic advisor for the business, or have the desire to do so. None of this should come as a surprise, because while marketing and sales specifically focus on the part of the business which they’re responsible for, HR and finance (aside from the CEO) are the only departments that have a comprehensive image of where the organisation stands. So it’s time to join forces and unite the two worlds.

Insight, overview and analysis

Realtime insight and strategic decisions based on business intelligence are no-brainers for the finance professional. Now that HR is increasingly taking on the role of strategic advisor in the organisation, their advice is also expected to be substantiated by quantitative analysis. But here´s the rub. I know few HR professionals who can set up and play around with analyses themselves. They’re often clumsy when it comes to technology. On the one hand, they don’t know where to start and on the other, they don’t know how to present the correct issues to IT in order to receive usable reports. Finance could play a good coaching role here using its own experience. If HR can outline its needs, it becomes easy to provide support and insight from a business control or BI angle via a front-end tool. This quantitative data can be deployed in the recruitment of talent, succession planning and managing the organisational culture in collaboration with internal communication.

Searching for the financial talent of the future

When automation and robotisation are the norm, the finance department will shift its operations in two directions. On the one hand we’ll move towards a financial controlling role. This requires people who understand the relevant processes: specialists, who, in general aren’t the most communicative people. On the other hand, we’ll have much more demand for generalists who can collaborate with the business. This person must be able to collaborate, make connections and communicate with other disciplines. And in this case, personality is just as crucial as core skills. The current generation of recruiters won’t find these people by ticking a few boxes when a CV arrives. A different approach in the recruitment process requires effort from me as well.

In my team, I’m not looking for ' nodding donkeys' or carbon copies of staff who are already there. I’m after someone with drive and ambition. To find them, I know I have to invest in my relationship with the recruiter. A good CV doesn’t say much these days; we often get people coming in for interviews, from one of the Big Four for instance, who have a genuinely good track record. But within a few minutes it’s over. For me, it starts with the handshake. If someone doesn’t look me in the eye, I know instantly that I can’t place that person in a business-focused role. At some point the sales director will be sitting across the table and someone has to be able to restrain them. Recruiters have to make a shift from determining whether a person fits within the culture of the organisation and can tick all the boxes on their CV, but also whether the person matches what I’m looking for. In my search for the financial talent of tomorrow, this means I have to develop a long-term relationship with the recruiter.

Team management and people skills

Technology, digitisation and automation have a disruptive effect on the financial team. Roles change and teams are overhauled. The compilation of a new (financial) team requires a vision of change management, talent management and how to convert a group of individuals into a strong team. This demands a ‘connection officer’- and this is not the natural role of a CFO. We’re tempted to view everything through the lens of processes, facts and outcomes, in other words: the hard issues. If we want to develop a top team, we have to pay attention to the soft side. and learn a little from HR.

Though you need to have your house in order to achieve this; furthermore, this is the typical first step of analytical, pragmatic (financial) people. Once the foundations are in place, you can start to work on the collaboration, teamwork, trust and stability. I genuinely believe that everything is unstable when you build on quicksand. Your team stays strong when things are going well with the company. If results are under pressure, everything collapses. You need strong foundations.

And those foundations for the business can strengthen HR and finance even more when we look for collaboration at all levels.

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