Change Your Perception: The Essential Guide for Finance Leaders

The role of a finance function has changed significantly in recent decades. Despite this, most finance functions still carry the traditional reputation of being an administrative support center. To truly transform the finance function into a strategic advisor, it is essential to begin with an understanding of how perception works and why so many individuals possess a negative view of finance based on their past experiences and biases.
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What is the perception of finance within your company? Do other people consider your finance team as an admin support center or a value-enhancing critical business function? How likely is your company to invest in finance initiatives, such as recruitment, automation or systems upgrades?

Research shows that most finance functions are undervalued by many people within their business and are less likely to receive the level of investment afforded to other departments. In fact, 27% of finance leaders consider this to be one of their top three biggest challenges.

However, this perception can be successfully overcome with a shift in mindset and the right behaviors throughout your team. In this guide, we’ll explore some key tips and strategies to help you change the perception of your finance function and unlock its huge potential.

Table of Contents

Signs that your perception needs changing

Before we look at the advice and techniques which finance leaders can use to enhance the perception of your finance function, let’s take a look at some of the common signs that your team may be undervalued.

Do you relate to any of these thoughts?

  • “My finance team spends too long chasing missing documentation”
  • “We often reject other people’s requests without offering alternative solutions”

  • “Our budgeting and forecasting process is outdated and inefficient”

  • “We don’t have access to the right data or tools to make decisions effectively”

  • “My team is seen as just an administrative support center rather than a strategic partner”

  • “I don’t have the resources or personnel needed to truly deliver value to our business”

You may also:

  • Struggle to make financial forecasts accurately
  • Lack the ability to analyze data quickly and effectively

  • Feel like you’re operating in silos instead of a cohesive team

  • Not possess the skills or tools needed to proactively identify risks or opportunities

  • Experience people acting defensively around you or trying to avoid your team

  • Feel like the outside during cross-department meetings

  • Hear complaints from other divisions about your team’s lack of commercial awareness

  • Struggle to think of any positive examples about the value added impact of your team

  • Suffer from a lack of gravitas, charisma and influence within your team

If you can relate to any of these issues, it’s time to start working on a plan to change the perception of your finance function and turn it into an engaged strategic partner for the business. Otherwise, you’ll continue to be seen as an administrative support center and suffer from a lack of investment towards enhancing your team.

The root cause: why are so many finance functions undervalued?

There are many reasons why finance functions are undervalued. This is particularly common in startup and scaleup companies, where funding is limited and most of the investment flows into the product, sales and marketing teams.

Unrealized value

Misconceptions: Many organizations fail to recognize the full value of their finance team and possess an outdated view of what a finance department should do. They often don’t appreciate their potential for creating tangible business value or helping to solve their biggest challenges.

Poor communication: Finance teams are too often seen as tactical operators, instead of being involved in long-term strategic planning. They often fail to communicate their value in a clear and concise way, leading to confusion and misunderstanding of the true impact they can have on the business.

Lack of trust: Other departments may not feel comfortable relying on finance for accurate data, or trusting their judgement when it comes to strategic decision-making. This creates a barrier to collaboration and leads to a lack of trust in the team.

Too much admin focus

Manual processes: Manual processes can take up too much time and resource, leaving very little for new initiatives or value-adding activities. This lack of focus on proactive tasks leaves finance teams feeling undervalued and demoralized.

Unwelcome interactions: Too many team members only ever contact other departments to chase missing paperwork, monitor budgetary spend and communication issues. This can often be seen as a ‘roadblock’ as they may need to intervene or question requests from other departments, creating tension and negative interactions.

Lack of focus on growth: Too much focus on cost-cutting and administrative tasks can lead to insufficient focus on growth initiatives that could add value to the business. This can mean that the team is not seen as a viable partner for developing new projects and initiatives.

Outdated systems and processes

Legacy systems: Many finance teams continue to use traditional methods and outdated technology, which can make it difficult for them to be seen as a proactive, forward-thinking team. For example, relying on inefficient manual processes like spreadsheets and paper documents, instead of investing in automated tools with advanced features. The lack of modern technology or integrated systems often results in finance teams relying on manual processes, leading to low productivity, delays, inaccuracies, and a lack of trust. This can make them seem slow and unreliable in comparison to other departments.

Ineffective processes: Outdated systems often lead to inefficient processes, creating a lack of alignment between finance and other departments. This can lead to slow decision-making, which can be seen as an obstacle to progress and hinder efforts to achieve success.

Untimely reports: Without the right systems in place, it can take too long to produce reports, leaving decision makers without the information needed to make confident strategic decisions. This often results in reactive rather than proactive decisions and a lack of trust in the finance team’s capabilities.

Ineffective data

Generic information: Without access to real-time tailored data and insights, finance teams are unable to provide meaningful analysis or effective advice. Inaccurate or incomplete information leads to a lack of trust in their capabilities and the perception that they are unable to contribute anything beyond basic administrative tasks.

Basic reporting: Without reliable data and detailed reports, it can be hard to make effective decisions or take quick action. This lack of evidence-based decision making often leads to fewer opportunities for collaboration and limited visibility of how decisions affect other parts of the business, creating misconceptions about the value that finance teams can add.

Inaccurate predictions: Without access to real-time detailed information, it can be hard for them to accurately predict future trends or identify potential opportunities. This often leads to a lack of trust in the team’s judgement and limited involvement in long-term plans.

Lack of resources

Skills gaps: Without the right resources and skills, finance teams can feel overwhelmed by the demands of their roles and unable to deliver the most beneficial activities. This often leads to them feeling undervalued and unable to meet their goals.

Time constraints: Without enough skilled personnel, it can be difficult for finance teams to keep on top of tasks or produce accurate reports in a timely manner. This creates further mistrust in their judgement and processes, leading to a feeling of incompetence or lack of purpose.

Lack of budget: Without enough money allocated to finance teams, they can feel that they are unable to make the most effective decisions. This leads to further mistrust in their capabilities and discourages collaboration with other departments who may be better resourced.

Too siloed

Lack of visibility: Without the ability to see how different parts of the business are performing and understand their biggest challenges, finance teams can feel disengaged and unable to provide meaningful insights. This lack of integration often leads to them being seen as a separate entity from other departments, leading to tension and mistrust.

Limited collaboration: When teams are too siloed, it can be difficult for them to collaborate effectively on projects. This leads to a lack of trust and understanding between departments, as well as an inability to see the value and potential of working together.

Inability to learn: Without being able to understand how decisions made in other teams affect the overall business, finance teams can feel discouraged and uninvolved. This lack of engagement often leads to a feeling of being left out and unable to contribute, which further decreases trust in the finance team’s capabilities.

Poor commercial awareness

Lack of understanding: Without a clear view of the market and how it affects their business, finance teams can struggle to make effective decisions. This often leads to them feeling unable to keep up with trends or anticipate potential opportunities, leading to further mistrust in their judgement.

Misinterpretation: Without having access to all the facts, finance teams can misinterpret data and make inaccurate predictions. This lack of knowledge often leads to frustration and a lack of trust in the team’s ability to provide meaningful insight or advice.

Limited decision-making: Without having an up-to-date understanding of the competitor activities, it can be hard for them to make timely decisions and take advantage of potential opportunities. This can lead to further mistrust in their judgement, as well as a feeling of being out of the loop.

Insufficient finance knowledge

Inability to interpret data: Without a good understanding of the data, and how it can be used to inform decisions, non-finance teams can struggle to identify the benefits of financial reports to help identify trends and make accurate predictions. This leads to them feeling uncertain about their value and unable to derive useful insights to support their decision-making.

Poor communication: Without having the right financial language and tools, non-finance teams may struggle to work effectively with the finance function to drive business value and solve their biggest issues.

Lack of training: Without adequate finance training, non-finance teams can struggle to keep up with changes in regulations, industry trends or the financial landscape, leading to further tension when dealing with finance team members.

Methods to enhance your perception

Here are some of the many ways in which finance leaders can help to enhance the perception of both themselves and their finance function:

Provide financial training

Financial training is an important tool for finance leaders to ensure that everyone within their organization has the necessary knowledge and understanding of how financial decisions affect the business. It also allows non-finance teams to better understand the financial landscape, appreciate the value of the finance team’s contributions, and have a greater appreciation for their role within the organization.

Leaders can provide financial training in different ways, such as through online courses, workshops or seminars. By making sure that everyone has the right information and is aware of their responsibilities when it comes to finance-related decisions, teams will be able to work together more effectively and make informed choices.

Finance leaders should also ensure that their training is tailored to the specific needs of different teams, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to understand and come up to speed with financial topics. By doing this, they will not only be able to develop a strong team dynamic but also foster trust in the finance function as its value becomes more transparent.

Does everyone in your organization understand their financial responsibilities? Are you providing regular, tailored training specific to the needs of different teams? Is there a clear line of communication between finance and non-finance teams?

Foster collaboration

Finance leaders can also foster collaboration between their team and other departments by working together to develop strategies that take into account the needs of all stakeholders. This type of cross-functional relationship will allow for a more meaningful understanding of each team’s roles and responsibilities as well as how different decisions affect the organization as a whole.

Leaders can also facilitate inter-team dialogue and open up channels of communication to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands how their actions affect others. By helping to bridge the gap between finance and non-finance teams, they can create a culture of trust and collaboration that will help them reach their goals more effectively.

Finally, finance leaders should leverage their position to bring different departments together and encourage them to think about the broader context of financial decisions. By showing an understanding of the challenges faced by each team, they can foster a sense of unity and help create more cohesive strategies that benefit all stakeholders.

Enhance visibility

Invest in technology and processes to ensure everyone has access to the data they need to make informed decisions. This will help to increase the visibility of the finance team’s work and build trust among stakeholders.

Finance leaders should also be proactive in communicating their successes and engaging with stakeholders to discuss the value they bring to the organization. Taking time to explain their strategies, tactics, and goals can help to create a better understanding of how the finance team’s work impacts the business.

Leaders should also look for opportunities to use their position to make a statement and demonstrate the value of finance within their organization. Whether it’s through industry events, press releases or public speaking engagements, these initiatives can help enhance visibility and build trust in the function.

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Increase commercial awareness

Finance leaders should take the time to develop a deep understanding of their organization’s current and future goals, as well as the external environment in which it operates. This will help them make informed decisions that have long-term strategic benefits.

By keeping up to date with industry trends and developments, finance leaders can also make sure that their strategies are in line with current market conditions. This will help them stay competitive and ensure their organization remains profitable.

Leaders should also look for ways to become more involved in the decision-making process outside of the finance function. Taking part in company-wide discussions and debates, such as strategic conversations and project planning meetings, will give them a greater insight into the broader context of the business. By doing this, they can ensure that finance is seen as an integral part of the overall strategy and not just a supporting role.

Business partnering skills

Finance leaders should provide their teams with professional training to develop their business partnering skills. This will enable them to develop an understanding of how their decisions impact other functions and departments throughout the organization, as well as how different teams interact with each other.

Leaders can also use their position to encourage collaboration between finance and non-finance staff by setting up regular meetings or workshops that are focused on creating shared objectives and strategies. Doing this will help to foster a culture of innovation and mutual understanding.

Finance leaders should also strive to build relationships with other departments by taking an active role in the development of new projects and initiatives. Taking the time to listen, understand, and provide feedback on ideas can go a long way in creating better working relationships between different functions.


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Simplify communication

Make sure that the language your team uses is accessible for all stakeholders and that everyone understands what is being discussed. This will help to ensure that important information is not lost in translation and that everyone’s ideas are properly considered.

Leaders should also look for opportunities to communicate more effectively with other departments, such as holding regular meetings or using online collaboration tools. Doing this will help to create a more connected working environment between different functions.

Finance leaders should also strive to use data and analytics to make their communication clearer. Doing this will help them to provide evidence-based information that is easily digestible and helps other stakeholders understand the decisions they are making.

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Develop leadership skills

Finance leaders should invest in their own development by seeking out opportunities for training and mentorship. This will help them stay ahead of new trends and gain the confidence to lead their teams effectively.

Leaders should also take the time to understand their team’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what motivates each person. Doing this will enable them to provide individual support and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas.

Finance leaders also need to be able to provide direction and guidance in times of ambiguity or change. They should be proactive in managing risks and anticipate potential issues, so that they can address them before they become a problem. Additionally, leaders should use their influence to drive the organization forward and create a culture of innovation.

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Manage people more effectively

Finance leaders should take the time to understand their team’s individual needs and provide regular feedback. Doing this will help them stay up-to-date with each person’s progress and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Leaders should also strive to create an environment where their team members feel safe to take risks and experiment with new ideas. Doing this will help to nurture a culture of innovation and ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives.

Finally, leaders should be able to delegate tasks effectively, so that everyone has the support they need. Doing this will enable them to stay on top of their workload and ensure that everyone is contributing to the team’s success.

Finance leaders need to focus on maximising your team’s performance to help you make a large impact within your role. The strength and quality of your team significantly affects your ability to delegate time-consuming tasks to others and to trust your team members to deliver high quality output. However, leading an under-developed finance team will eventually deteriorate your own performance. This will also reduce your ability to create value within your company whilst delivering the business plan.

Create a vision

Leaders should use their influence to create a shared vision for the future of the organization. Doing this will help them to rally people around common objectives and motivate them to work together towards a meaningful goal.

In order to create a powerful vision, finance leaders should take the time to understand their team’s strengths and weaknesses. Doing this will enable them to identify opportunities for improvement and set realistic goals that everyone can work towards.

Leaders should also strive to communicate their vision clearly and consistently, so that everyone understands what they are working towards. Doing this will ensure that everyone is on the same page and help to motivate them to work together towards success.

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Closing thoughts

Many finance teams suffer from the misconception of being seen as cost-cutting rather than value-adding, but in reality they can be the driving force of positive change in an organization. Finance leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their teams are properly supported and empowered to make decisions based on sound data and evidence.

The most successful finance leaders are those who take the time to understand their team’s individual needs and develop their leadership skills. They should strive to create a vision for the future of their organization and communicate it clearly, so that everyone is working towards the same objectives. Finally, they should use data and analytics to make their communication clearer and provide evidence-based information that is easily digestible.

By understanding the needs of their team members and investing in their skills development, finance leaders can create an environment of success and positive change. This will enable them to drive the organization forward and create lasting results that are significantly valued by the wider business. Such recognition will further support the investment and development of your team, allowing you to continue create additional business value into the future. Get in touch.

Professional Mentoring and Coaching​

Mentoring and coaching can help finance leaders plan ahead confidently with the expert guidance of someone who’s been there before and is committed to seeing you succeed. We offer complimentary chemistry calls so that you can get to know us better and see if our mentoring style is a good fit for your needs. During this call, we will discuss your challenges and goals, and help you determine the best course of action moving forward.​

The CFO Programme​

Our CFO Programme is designed for passionate finance leaders who are keen to develop a well-respected finance function that provides vital support, influence and value creation across your business. This six-month virtual programme is led by professional mentors who have strong CFO experience and is delivered within cohorts comprising 5-6 finance leaders, alongside individual mentoring.​

The GrowCFO Competency Framework​

Use The GrowCFO Competency Framework to assess your and your team’s hard and soft skills. This first of its kind assessment tool will help individuals benchmark themselves against your finance leader peer group across nine CFO competencies and 45 skill sets.​

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