Covid-19 action plan for finance business partners

With many finance teams now working from home, don’t forget your business colleagues!

I’d like to give you a simple 3-step plan for the short-term to help you stay focused on finance business partnering, especially since many finance teams are now working from home.

Your business colleagues need your finance partnering help more than ever as they are confronted with so many unforeseen decisions and tough choices to make.

Talking with a lot of finance people over the last few days, there is a risk in the short term that Finance teams turn inwards within Finance, focused on setting up everyone in finance to work from home, ensuring payroll and accounts payable works properly, providing ever more re-forecasts and scenarios for the CFO, holding daily virtual finance meetings on Zoom or Skype to stay in touch as a finance team.

These are essential finance activities and absolutely add a lot of value to the business in times of crisis.

But so is reaching out to all your regular business colleagues.

Have you checked-in with all the business colleagues you normally work with since the crisis exploded?  You don’t have to be in the office to do this.

Stand in each of their shoes and listen to what is causing them stress.  What challenges and issues are they facing in their part of the business?  Do you know the decisions and trade-off options they are each struggling with?

It might be they simply don’t need all the regular management information you normally provide –  budget variance reporting, performance management commentary etc – because for now existing budgets don’t reflect reality.

So, what would help them?  Do you really know?

In times of crisis, business people go through three short-term steps:  Shock, Emergency Actions and then Planning Ahead.

As a finance business partner what should you be doing now to help?
Step 1 Shock.  Be a good friend and colleague.

Reach out and check-in to see how they are.  To offer support.  To help them feel they’re not alone and could ask for help if they need it.

Hopefully most people have got through the initial Shock phase by now.

But if you haven’t already checked-in with all your regular business colleagues, please do it now.  Are they in panic mode or are they working through a long list of contingency measures?  What are they personally worried about?

Step 2 Emergency Actions.  Offer to help where it would add value.

Which emergency actions are they struggling with?   Are they working through whether to let people go or ride out the storm, how to keep the supply chain going, how to manage with 20% fewer staff, how to work with their own virtual teams?

There may be areas you could help beyond your normal finance role.  Maybe you have some prior experience of crisis management?

Could you provide regular updates to your business colleagues with key statistics about the pandemic, latest government advice, anything related to the impact on your customers, staff or suppliers from available external information?  In other words, valuable information to help them with their decision making.  Not just financial reports.

If you understand the business (I’m hoping you do!) there will be areas where some basic analysis, options, scenario planning, sensitivity analysis etc. could really help with decision-making.

Could you divert some of your time to roll-up your sleeves and help your business colleagues with their emergency actions right now?  It could be of enormous value to them, and importantly help to build a stronger, trusting relationship for the future.

Step 3 Planning Ahead.  Get ahead and work on go-forward plans.

Once the immediate emergency actions are largely under control, business leaders will quickly turn to planning what happens next.   There will be many different scenarios of what the crisis could mean to each part of a business.

For many it will be how to survive, what to ‘mothball’, how to manage cash, suppliers or customers, what to do with staff?  For others, such as grocery retailers it will be how to manage the increased demand in terms of supply, staff and customers.

Once business colleagues start to look beyond the short-term emergency actions you will need to be one step in front and already on the case in planning ahead for your business leaders.  There will be many questions such as how to exit the current lock-down, what will the new normal look like, are there transformational opportunities to invest resources differently in the future, are there any structural shifts such as on-line working,  will customers drift back to how the business used to be?  How quickly?

Why not brainstorm the likely ‘Planning Ahead’ questions and scenarios now?

I’m just focusing here on the short-term in this note with my 3-step plan for finance business partnering.  I’ll cover what happens after that in future posts.

So Ask Yourself:

  1. Have you checked-in with all your regular business colleagues?
  2. Where could you offer your skills or time to help with business emergency actions and not just finance ones?
  3. Have you started to plan ahead for each of the business areas you work with?
      Be pro-active.  Don’t wait to be asked.  Be a good finance business partner.
      Adrian Willmott,
      Managing Director, Arcus Consulting
      t: +44 (0) 207 608 5096

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