We all know that HR technology threatens to make many in our function obsolete. We’ve heard that HR tasks can be outsourced or that systems can take the place of people. What I don’t believe anyone has pointed out is that Finance weathered this storm beautifully a long time ago, stepping in front of their transaction-based business into the role of core management, disseminating and becoming indispensable as advisors who use the tools to make the business faster and more agile. We’ve never tied these two departments together in their migration from transaction-based to innovation-based. I think it might make for a good read.
As HR professionals, we’re often threatened by obsolescence. We hear threats of outsourcing, that we’re mere paper pushers, that we can’t keep up with our internal business partners, nor do we speak the language of the business. Many of us seek our own counsel, gathering together to figure out what best practices could lift us into higher esteem with our C-suite, breaking our organizational structure and twisting our business models to appear more productive and current. But there’s a simple solution not many of us may have considered, another division who was much maligned for years until they rose to prominence over the past few years: why don’t we ask our friends in the Finance department?
Those of us who’ve been around for a couple of decades or more can remember how maligned our financial partners were: seen as necessary number crunchers who just ran reports, they suffered much the same threats as HR does today: outsourcing, deconstruction of the department, reengineering because they didn’t understand the business. But one look at the transformation of the Finance department of today, and they’re some of the most respected individuals in the business. Why not follow their lead?
Before we go further, I understand in many organizations the Finance and HR departments might be at loggerheads. Where Finance sees HR as the defender of decisions that might be better for the workforce than the bottom line and where HR may have issue putting return on investment on their activities for the needs of their Financial partners, I argue that a closer partnership is invaluable, and that we can learn a lot from our math-savvy teammates.
We’ve suffered many of the same failed reorganizations, by the way. Massive IT overhauls, shared service centers, process reengineering, etc. But where Finance has evolved is the focus on what the team can offer their clients versus how they offer it. Back office transaction processing is virtually invisible to the internal client, and the most client-savvy among them are front-facing with their C-suite and management team, offering analysis and decision support. They operate with a clear vision of the activities which create value and drive business outcomes and those that don’t. Finance understands the skills and competencies their staff needs now and in the future in order to build stronger talent capabilities in areas of weakness. They evolve as a service provider. They keep their eye on how their processes and tools can help their clients succeed. They mind the bottom line, and they speak the language of the business.
The evolution of the back office of the Finance department is a critical example of what is possible if you maintain a client focus during a transformation. Both Finance and HR have undergone massive technological revolution. The differences between these processes is simple: HR technology brings HR processes to the desktops of the masses, while Finance technology brings the mindset of the masses to financial processes. Their job is to make it easier to enter data and run reports. General ledger information is rarely visible when filling out an expense report. Can we say the same about HR desktop technology? Are benefit, compensation and performance management desktops that fluid? We could learn something.
But the most crucial item to come of the evolution of the Finance department is their migration into the C-suite as consummate business partners. They know their businesses, and they’re able to forecast where the business wants to go and what it will take to get them there. They’re quick to suggest process improvements, technological advances, and tough decisions that will lead to the fortitude of the company. They’re one of the first to be pulled into a crucial decision-making meeting. They’re involved in all the major moves of the business because they’re seen as a trusted advisor and a crucial aspect of the business. It’s admirable. It’s also repeatable for the HR side of things.
I believe strongly in HR as the business partner that Finance has become. We must evolve and use our tools to solve the problems of our corporate clients. Align with Finance and follow their lead. Where their success has taken them, we only have to follow and surpass.
About the Author: Rita Trehan is the Founder and Principal of Rita Trehan, LLC, a change management and leadership advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, emerging technology, and cutting-edge organizational design. As a seasoned top executive that has successfully transformed organizations at the Fortune 200 and beyond, she has extensive experience working with CEOs and top corporate management on process and organizational improvement for maximum profitability. A soon-to-be published author, Rita regularly speaks at industry conferences around the world. You can contact Rita on twitter at @rita_trehan and connect with her via LinkedIn. Rita’s blog can be found at www.ritatrehan.com.