CGMA interview: Finance and the open workforce

CGMA interview: Finance and the open workforce

Helen Weir
We’re interviewing leading members of the CGMA community to gain their insights into future ways of working within organisations. 

Helen Weir, Finance Director at UK retailer John Lewis Partnership, outlines the important role that management accountants must play in managing the workforce of the future, that will constitute an increasingly complex mix of in-house teams and external partners. 

How do you ensure a high quality service from your external providers?
I think one of the things that is often neglected when people work with external suppliers is that there is a very specific skill around managing them – you need to have a cadre of people who have the expertise in managing third parties. That is something that we are learning. 

What lessons have you learnt so far?
I think the way you structure the agreement with external suppliers is crucial. To my mind, these relationships have to be partnerships. If you turn to external partners just because you think it’s going to be cheaper, I think that is foolish – there has to be an element of win-win. A successful relationship requires an investment of time and a mindset that we will succeed together.  

How important are strict SLAs and KPIs?
It is important to be really, really clear about what is wanted from external providers. Working with any external supplier requires a degree of rigour of thinking upfront in terms of specification – probably more than you would have to do were the activity performed in-house. I think when these things don’t work, it’s very often just as much a failure by the people who are managing the external partner, rather than the third party provider themselves.

Where will CGMAs add value in managing the workforce of the future?
When you’re negotiating a contract with an external supplier, there are obviously important financial elements involved. Financials are not everything, but they are an important aspect of that relationship. I think that management accountants will play an important role in both the setting up of these arrangements, and also the ongoing monitoring of them. Many of these external partners operate on an open book basis which is really positive.  So having someone with an accounting background and a good commercial understanding is really important.

How will finance need to work with HR to meet future talent needs?
I think finance is recognising the importance of having specialists as well as generalists. It’s actually about getting the balance between the two. Finance is one of those areas where ten years ago, finance leaders didn’t necessarily have an accounting qualification, but that has now changed. I think it’s important to recognise the trend towards professionals with real commercial expertise as well as accounting expertise as we form our talent strategy for the future.