The strange relationship of HR & Finance

One of my blogging rules is not to write about a current client.  The only time I’ll break this rule when I’ve got something positive to say.  And this blog is just that.

Over the years I’ve worked with a number of different Finance Departments and a range of good and not-so-good management accountants.  I would describe my relationships with this department as good, but distant.

For example:  I’m used to drafting proposals underpinned with my own financial workings and then asking Finance to sign-them off.  9 times out of 10 the financial accountant spends a short period of time working through the numbers before approving the paper.  The exception comes when I’ve made an erroneous assumption on a particular financial element, but after a brief tweak, the finances are back on track.

However, I’ve been through a huge learning curve recently with one of my clients.  I’m working on a range of projects for this client, all centred around cost savings (what a surprise!).

I first same across Diana – a senior finance manager-  in my first week with this Trust.  One of my major projects involves a significant level of financial data.  I approached it with “you do your bit…..and then I’ll do mine”.  Diana instead challenged this and proposed a way of working that was more integrated “we’ll do this together….go to meetings together, challenge the data together…and propose a way forward…..together”.

I have to admit, I didn’t get it.  Whilst we had a project plan, my behaviour wasn’t one of “working together”.

But Diana is tenacious and driven.  She kept popping up everywhere.  Emailing me about wanting to meet for 15 mins to check on the status of the project and talking about other projects that I was working on.

“Karen, whilst the last status report you wrote on x was good, it was superficial on the financials.  Before you start to draft the next report, come to me first.  I will help you draft a more robust project from a financial point of view.”

“Karen, whilst I understand what you’re trying to achieve through x, I think that my team will be able to help you producing a one-page document that will succinctly (and in more detail) demonstrate the point you are making”.

And so it went on…..until I had that lightbulb moment.  Diana wasn’t being difficult.  She was trying to ensure that as a Trust we were delivering quality information that crossed both the HR and Finance disciplines.  And when that moment happened I emailed Diana to tell her that I “got it”.

The next project came along and we worked together with the service manager.  In two weeks we had developed a robust options paper.  It took less time that if we had worked on the project seperately, at a distance.

Another project is on the horizon – and we’re both syncronised in our approach with the manager on how we think we can help them achieve the outcome in a way that is efficient and robust.

I really wish I’d worked with people like Diana on other projects that I’ve been involved in, in the past.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to close down a workplace nursery? (a decision which still hurts me, but at the time I had no option as, according to my financial understanding, it would never break-even).

So now I know what it feels like to work in an integrated way with Finance – and I’m going to bring this learning to my next client, my next project.

ETs are good for your HR Health

Last month I was working with a group of HR Managers.  In the middle of a workshop I made an observation about how they approach a particular element of their work: I have worked with a wide range of NHS organisations over the last decade and it was the first time that I had seen this practice.

Their response was interesting: they worked through all the risks associated with their current practice in comparision to that in other organisations, making reference to relevant legislation where appropriate. In the end they decided that although what they do is different to other Trusts, they saw no reason or benefit for changing their practice.  And I agreed with them.

But what impressed me most about this discussion was their approach:  their knowledge of legislation is current and embedded into their every day practice.  This group of managers regularly get involved in ETs and I began to wonder if this had an impact on their approach?

To give another example: sometime last year, I worked with a Trust which was very proud of the fact that they had not a single employee submit an ET claim for 10 years.  But when I worked with the HR Managers, I discovered that they had limited understanding of best practice, current legislation or national guidance.   These managers had not had their practice challenged in court and so they and their organisation had allowed the quality of their work to slip.

The comparisons are easy to make, but in an ideal world we (as HR professionals) shouldn’t have to go invest a disproportionate amount of time working on ETs to make us good practitioners.  There are ways to ensure that we are maintaining our understanding, embedding it in our every day conversations without having to defend our manager’s actions in court. The Trust with poor HR practice also demonstrated a lack of challenge and accountability with the HR Team, which no doubt contributed to their limited knowledge and understanding of their profession.

I’m not saying that regularly fighting ETs is the only way to stay sharp, but it certain helps.