Best Practices

Strategic finance leaders always optimize for trust

Becky Kulak is a Customer Growth Manager at Vareto. Previously, she supported business units at Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon Technologies), as the program finance partner. Through her experience, she’s learned how to collaborate effectively with cross-functional teams to drive better business outcomes while building lasting, trusting relationships.

Earlier in my career, I joined a large, multinational organization as the finance lead for a specific program. That program had many stakeholders, including directors, program managers, and more. My job was to communicate with that team at all times and work closely with them to deeply understand their work, their results, and the business impact of the program on the larger organization. 

I quickly realized how critical relationship building is to finance. I had the experience and expertise to support my assigned program. But I’d need to earn their partnership.

As a Customer Growth Manager at Vareto, I work closely with customers who are committed to building better relationships with their business partners. There are many ways to build relationships, but it all boils down to a singular foundation: gaining trust.

Combine transparency with proactive solutions

It’s our job to deliver news to our business partners. Unfortunately, not all reports contain good news. While many of us have learned to lean into transparency and avoid sugar-coating information, we can fall short of delivering actionable steps to address the problems our partners are facing. The combination of transparency and problem-solving is what builds genuine partnerships. 

For example, if you find that a request made by a budget owner can’t fit into their current budget, look into alternative solutions. Come to the discussion ready to propose a few areas that could be modified to make room for the new addition or explore different trade-offs with stakeholders to find a creative way to achieve the goal.

A true partnership is a give-and-take. We’re not trying to solve their problems for them. We’re bridging the gap between our areas of expertise for collaborative teamwork that drives better outcomes—and more trust.

Prioritize education on both sides

Empowering business stakeholders to own their financials can be really hard. There are a lot of contributors, and they all have different levels of financial experience. Senior leaders and budget owners might understand the P&L, but individual contributors and lower-level managers may face a steep learning curve. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and it’s our job to get them there.

We can’t expect business stakeholders to educate themselves on our organization's finance practices. There’s too much to learn, and processes vary too significantly from one organization to another. I solved this by regularly meeting with each individual to help them understand their budgets. We went over everything—their budget, where the numbers come from, their responsibilities, how the process goes, and what it all means for the broader organization. I’d walk them through their monthly budget vs. actuals report line by line until they could understand the reports themselves. 

At the same time, we need to understand our business partners' work. We can’t focus on numbers with no context. If we expect business users to get up to speed on the financials, we need to do the same for their functions. Finance can’t live in a vacuum.

Taking the time to educate the team and myself unlocked a better relationship with the program managers because they were more comfortable coming to me for advice and answers to their questions.  Plus, it unlocked a better relationship with the program director because they saw the team grow in their individual roles and deliver better results. 

Get the tools you need to succeed

We have to recognize that understanding financials can still be difficult even with proper education. The easier you can make things for your business partners, the more compliant they’ll be, and the more your conversations can focus on value-add discussions instead of logistics and minutia. 

In the past, this looked like a templated spreadsheet with explicit instructions for how business partners should provide their inputs. The finance team would take that information and package it in a way that made sense to stakeholders, and back-and-forth on updating inputs and missed deadlines introduced unnecessary friction in the relationships we were trying to forge.

That’s why I love what I do at Vareto. Vareto streamlines collaboration between finance and business partners for better efficiency and fewer mistakes. Budget owners can access their own dashboards on the platform, providing greater insight and more informed decision-making capabilities for the team. The ability to automatically pull in real-time data improves accuracy, increasing confidence. Functionality that allows us to double-click into transaction-level data gives everyone the details they need to understand where numbers are coming from and ultimately control costs and plan better.

Giving budget owners a chance to self-serve much of the previously unavailable data in real time prevents finance teams from being a blocker to informed decision-making. Instead of waiting for finance to round up data from siloed systems and deliver a report, we can get everything we need with just a few clicks and instead spend that time discussing strategy around whatever decision needs to be made. When individuals are trusted and empowered, they produce their best work. They’re also more inclined to give trust and empower others in return.

True partnership as the new cornerstone of finance

As finance evolves into an increasingly strategic function, teams that can’t effectively collaborate with their business partners will be left behind. We have to figure out ways to empower cross-functional teams to understand their numbers, and we have to educate ourselves on the complexities of their functions so that everyone has the proper context for better decision-making.

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