What finance consultants learn from their peers. Key takeaways from TriFinance mentors12 January 2022
What are the main pitfalls and challenges when starting a new project, and how to overcome them? How to kick ass during a controlling assignment? And how to take the lead in a finance team as a project consultant?
What is hub mentoring?
TriFinance regularly organizes knowledge-sharing sessions for its consultants. One of the more popular formats is hub mentoring, in which a more experienced consultant shares their tips and tricks with junior peers. “As a consultant, you learn on-the-job mostly,” Nico De Neve, learning & development expert at TriFinance, explains. “It’s essential to exchange newly acquired knowledge and recent experiences regularly with your peers. When you wait too long, the knowledge and experiences will become an integral part of your way of working. And you will not be able to pinpoint it as you do when you’ve first acquired it.”
The benefits of hub mentorings
- Consultants get to know each other in an informal atmosphere. Some of us work together with TriFinance colleagues on a project. Other colleagues are holding the fort on their own at a client’s finance department. Building strong ties with peers boosts resilience and internal motivation.
- We cover real challenges. The issues that we address during the hub mentoring sessions are the ones consultants experience daily. Participants can apply the newly acquired knowledge to their project the next day.
- Everyone gets to share because we opt for small groups and interactive tools. We create a safe learning environment for all participants.
Recently, we set up nine hub mentoring sessions for our colleagues at T&S Ghent, divided according to three levels of experience: three for young hubs (up to three years of experience), two for consultants taking their first steps in General Ledger (GL) and controlling, two for consultants with GL experience and controlling, and two for our most experienced colleagues, covering business partnering and indirect leadership.
These are the lessons learned from the mentors that moderated the sessions:
Learnings from the session 'consultancy basics'
Moderators: Elise Decoene, Wannes Vigneroo, and Florian Lagae
1. Take initiative
Document processes and tasks. It eliminates gaps, it’s easier to delete unnecessary steps, and it lightens the hand-over. Zoom out and observe the process in its entirety. Once you understand your role in the process, it will be easier to see the difficulties and overcome them. Remember RACI: who is responsible for doing the actual task, who is accountable for the success of the task, who needs to be consulted, and who needs to be kept informed.
2. Quantify your work
Measure what you’re doing, report, and analyze those numbers. Define KPIs and service level agreements. Review how processes are measured and analyzed, and communicate your findings with the client’s finance team. Finally, link your reporting with actions so that you can keep track of your work.
3. There is more to a project than meets the eye.
Commit yourself fully to the project. Question your colleagues about the company during coffee breaks, and link that knowledge to your bookkeeping project. Once you’ve gained the trust of the client and the finance team, you can learn a tremendous amount.
Learnings from the session 'GL basics'
Moderator: Marco Vandewalle
1. Closing is a process
Tasks evolve because the company develops, and thus they have to be reevaluated from time to time. Eliminate unnecessary tasks and controls. Solve the bottlenecks in the closing process to speed it up.
Be prepared for questions or issues about your reporting. It allows you to answer quickly when you get a question, and you don’t have to drop everything you’re working on at that time.
Automate when possible, and only if you know how the automated process works. Avoid black boxes.
Learnings from the session 'GL for experienced colleagues'
Moderator: Jo Noppe (interim manager)
1. Take a head start
You never know what surprises will pop up at any given moment in the closing period. If you start on time, you can more easily deal with unforeseen circumstances. Take some time each week to work on the closing, so you own the numbers and lower the workload during the actual closing.
2. Closing is teamwork
If AP and AR are struggling to meet their deadlines, GL will also suffer. An imbalance between finance teams causes negative space in the department. Meet up after each closing, address the challenges you faced, and continuously improve the process.
3. Involve your colleagues and your manager
Experience makes a closing process more manageable. When you’re starting, it can involve a significant amount of doubt. Consult with your colleagues about what you don’t know. Harmonize with your manager which priorities to take on.
Learnings from the session 'business partnering for experienced colleagues'
Moderator: Steven Verniers
1. There’s always an opportunity
Even if they’re not for grabs, you’ll find opportunities for growth and optimization in each project you take on. Be patient enough to collect pieces of information and knowledge along the way. They will prove helpful later on in the journey.
2. Be business pro-active
Search actively for ways to convince the business of the added value of your role. Spot the needs of the company, and propose solutions. You’ll notice that business departments will start to find you and come to you with questions.
3. Set up a fixed communication structure
When working from home a lot, business partnering is a lot more challenging. Try to set up a fixed structure of recurrent online meetings. When you haven’t heard from an individual in a while, reach out. Keep up with informal calls, small talk fikas, and coffee catch-ups.
Learnings from the session 'indirect leadership for experienced colleagues'
Moderator: Maarten Geerts
1. Great companies have leaders everywhere.
Consultants often have to change the way things have always been, without a formal leadership role. You don’t need a title to (indirectly) manage people and motivate them towards a common project goal. Demonstrate leadership in all your tasks: listen carefully to team members; avoid vagueness and be specific; make sure your team members have everything they need to do their jobs well.
2. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Sleep, walk, cycle, go outside. Build resilience, and use it to your advantage in your professional life. You’ll be ready when something unexpected happens and for the tension that changes bring along in a team. As a consultant, you can be the grounding that drives the excess electricity to the ground.
3. Learn & grow
Regularly update your leadership and conflict management knowledge with podcasts, videos, and relevant content on social media. Be sure to keep an eye out for new releases by Harvard Business Review and TEDx.