The Importance of Business Acumen for Finance Professionals
An important goal for Allison as CFO is to break down the silos that often develop within organizations, particularly regarding the finance department. He believes that finance professionals must understand the business from a broader perspective in order to drive performance effectively. To that end, Allison requested a workshop to improve the business savviness of his finance team.
The result was dramatic. Participants’ self-assessments of their business acumen score rose from 40% to 95%!
Similar results were made in understanding the KPIs used across WVA. For one of the key KPIs – a Revenue Growth/Cost Growth metric – the Finance professionals improved their understanding of its use in the company from 57% to over 90%. This means clearer focus on practical decisions in the future.
In a recent interview, Allison explained that business acumen training helps finance staff to understand how the business actually works. The workshop put them in a competitive environment to better comprehend the pressure and decision-making required in the business. This training translates numbers into thinking about the business in terms of drivers and levers.
The Role of Finance in Decision-Making
Allison’s approach to decision-making is to set the context and framework for decisions, providing the whole business with a common language to discuss options and set clear objectives. In his experience, this approach has led to faster, more effective conversations and better decisions, as it reduces the chances of teams working at cross purposes. The business acumen course has helped finance team members better understand the challenges their organization faces and find solutions that best address them.
Improving Communication and Empathy Between Departments
The business acumen course also led to improved communication and meeting times, as well as increased empathy between the finance team and other departments within the organization. The most significant shift in this area was observed in the relationship between finance and sales, with the ease of working together improving from 48% to 65%. Allison attributes this improvement to the experiential learning provided by the workshop, which deepens understanding and knowledge retention.
In the interview, Allison also shared that engaging with the business and understanding finance provides the opportunity to add more value to the business. Finance’s real power is that they can join the dots and see the whole business, acting as a coordinating point to understand the implications of decisions.
The Value of Ongoing Business Acumen Training
Allison believes that one business acumen workshop is not sufficient for maintaining and improving understanding within the organization. He suggests that regular refreshers and training are necessary, as individuals gain different insights each time they participate in the course. As participants become more comfortable with the mechanical elements of business acumen, they can focus on understanding market dynamics, competition, and proactive strategies.
Gordon Allison’s experiences and insights as CFO of World Vision Australia highlight the importance of business acumen for finance professionals. By developing a deeper understanding of the organization and fostering improved communication and empathy between departments, finance teams can become more effective in driving performance and making informed decisions. Regular business acumen training can help maintain and enhance these skills, ensuring ongoing success for the organization.
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