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The 8 C’s for professional FP&A. Part 1. Curiosity and Creativity.

Posted by  Amrish Shah

What is this article about?
I have previously written about 8 qualities which I believe characterize good FP&A performers. The article will explore what 2 of these – Curiosity and Creativity - can mean for Business Finance and FP&A in particular. There is a strong amplifying but also tension between the two.

Why is it relevant?
A modern finance function is normally organized around some or all of the following areas:

  • Accounting & Administration
  • Internal Risk & Control
  • Business Planning, Analysis and Reporting
  • Business Finance, sometimes referred to as Business Control, Commercial Finance and even FP&A
  • Treasury
  • Tax
  • Investor Relations
  • Mergers and Acquisitions

Management Accounting has provided better training for professionals to pursue a career in Business Finance. However, such formal training tends not focus enough on the required qualities needed to succeed in this field. Understanding what business finance really is should allow finance leaders to better ensure that their business finance departments are staffed by not just technically qualified professionals but also with the right attitude, approach and mindset. In a time when there is increasing demand that finance plays a better strategic value added role, getting this right becomes more critical.

What is Curiosity in context of FP&A and how can it be cultivated?
Without knowledge there is little understanding. For FP&A no knowledge about the business makes it impossible to support the business in the problems it is trying to solve. To acquire knowledge and then understanding one has to be curious – in essence a desire and motivation to want to know. The key to curiosity are three thing in my experience:

  • Intrinsic pleasure in wanting to know things
  • A sense, desire or drive to want to know a bigger picture and to want to connect the dots
  • Comfort with asking questions

To be curious from an FP&A perspective is to help explore in order to build up relevant context.

People are intrinsically curious to varying degrees. Some ways to help cultivate this quality is by reading diverse things, by developing a broad interest and, simply, getting out of quantitative models and talking to people. Learning and practicing how to spot and make patterns is also a good way to stimulate curiosity. Having an external orientation to also build up knowledge about the particular business area also helps.

What is Creativity in context of FP&A and how can it be cultivated?
This one may seem a bit strange when applied to FP&A but the core purpose of FP&A is about helping solve business problems and to influence business stakeholders in a positive manner. And both of these tasks can be approached – like any task – in either a predictable, tried and tested manner or a more innovative manner that requires creativity. It is important to make a distinction between being seen as very creative in any absolute sense versus thinking of novel ways to address the problem at hand in the relevant context. The key to creativity revolve around the following three things from a mindset perspective:

  • The desire to experiment and try new things
  • The willingness to learn, from both success and failure when trying new approaches
  • A predisposition to want to see things (for example a problem) in a different light or frame

Having some or all of these elements is more likely than not to encourage someone to seek novel approaches to their tasks. At heart creativity for FP&A is about presenting something in a way that grabs not just attention but real engagement from the business.

Again, everyone is creative to a degree. Some different ways of working on being more creative is, for example, investing in time to learn about different problem definition and solving techniques. Becoming very good at project management is a good and easy way to explore this. Another idea is to familiarize yourself with work from professionals who are well known in creativity field. A good example to mind are the works of Edward De Bono. Lastly, technology has now also made information visualization far more sophisticated but also creative than ever before, so getting well trained on these developments can also help.

RESPONSIBILITY - the key tension between Curiosity and Creativity?
At the beginning I mentioned that there exists a tension between these two chosen qualities. In this case the tension revolves around RESPONSIBILITY and specifically in taking responsibility. Both the qualities above demand taking responsibility, the first around taking the issue seriously to find out more and the second around doing something that is of quality. The flip side can be where too much responsibility is taken so that it ends up at the expense of driving accountability.

Summary
I hope in this article I have shown why both Curiosity and Creativity are much needed qualities for good Business Finance / FP&A professionals and what are some ways to continue to stimulate this.

Amrish Shah

Amrish Shah, of Indian origin, born in Africa, a British national and now residing in The Netherlands, is a seasoned and senior finance leader with over 20 years of financial management experience in international organizations. Some of the companies he has worked for include Unilever, O'Neill Group, Staples, Royal Wessanen, Kao and he is currently working in a senior FP&A transformation capacity at EndemolShine.

A qualified Management Accountant with CIMA, he has held regional finance leadership positions since 2001, based out of The Netherlands. He has held both staff and line roles, managing teams of up to 40 people. He has a clear belief in the value of finance at both strategic and operational levels to the organisation and is passionate about, amongst others, organisation decision making, organisation culture, high performing teams, leadership in general, organisation and finance transformation, change management and talent management.