The 4 Skills You Must Master to Become a True Business Partner

Great academics? Tick.
Top tier accounting training? Tick.
Moved into industry? Tick.
Been promoted ahead of peers? Tick.
Moved into a commercial business partner role? … A work in progress…

It’s a challenge – and you’re not alone. Accounting’s cool and sexy cousin – commercial finance – is not all that easy to court.

If you’ve been a financial or management accountant most of your career and are seeking to move across into a business partnering role, rather than up into more of the same, there are some crucial, non-technical skills, you must master.

Influencing Without Authority

As a commercial business partner, it’s very unlikely you’ll be managing the people you work most closely with. In fact, you may not manage anyone at all, in the traditional sense. You are likely to be working with stakeholders that sit outside of finance, and ‘in’ the business. And critically, you’ll have to get them to do things for you that will require you to not only advise and engage them but influence them by getting them to see ‘what’s in it for them’.

Becoming the Go-to Advisor

As a business partner, you don’t want to be approaching the Head of Sales after she’s signed a major deal to tell her the profit margins aren’t strong enough. Likewise, you don’t want to be doing what your peers are doing in core finance, and reporting ‘after’ the event. You need people to come to you, before they do anything at all. Playing a role in all business discussions, having visibility over all that is going on, and being that person that people come to as a sounding block, is crucial to your success as a true business partner.

Using Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

When you need to get someone to act, or change approach, you can’t just tell them. Just like you need to influence without direct authority, you need to up your emotional quotient (EQ) to build the type of relationship with your business partner that is not just based on expertise but trust, rapport and respect. To do this, you must work with empathy and with emotional intelligence to connect with your counterparts on a human, not a technical, level.

Not Being Afraid to Challenge

When partnering with a division outside of your area of expertise, it can be difficult to challenge a strategy or action. Especially if you’re more junior or less experienced in handling the robust types of conversations that business partners need to have with their stakeholders.  Ultimately, however, your role is to challenge, as well as to guide, to ensure the viability and integrity of any actions or strategies deployed by the business. If your challenge is proved wrong, it really shouldn’t be an issue – without it, the repercussions may be far more serious. In short, trust your expertise, that’s what they are paying you for.

Above all, the role requires an ability to think outside of the box. Traditional solutions are not the playing field of the commercial business partner. You are essentially an innovator as well as a guardian, and responsible for helping the business to understand where it needs to change, while ensuring commercial achievement, minimal operational disruption and negligible financial risk.

Good luck!

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