Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Guest Column: Halfords’ retail FD on building a best in class finance function

HOW do you create a finance function that is best in class? This is an important focus for all FDs due to the ever-changing requirements of stakeholders. At Halfords, the culmination of two years of intense focus on this manifested itself in the team being awarded the Best Blue Chip Finance team of 2015 at Financial Director’s Business Finance Awards. An award that was especially pleasing, given the quality and abundance of resource of the competition faced.

The starting point of the journey was providing absolute clarity on what the finance department should aspire to be and to map out our vision.

The vision we agreed on is unambiguous; it is to be the best finance team in Britain. A bold objective, but setting the goal so high means the team understands the standards that are expected. Underpinning this clear vision are critical success factors that were challenging and embedded within all of the team’s objectives. A key area of focus for the team was on providing the ‘wow’ factor to our stakeholders. An immense amount of energy has been spent on understanding what stakeholders need and then delivering on this. Some strong early wins emboldened the team further to add even more value to the business.

The mantra of the Halfords finance team is that every day should be a masterpiece and so we expect improvement every day. In order to facilitate this, a focus on providing the right culture for the team to excel has unlocked some strong outputs. It is the responsibility of the team leader to provide a positive working environment for all. Things will not always go according to plan and the wrong reaction of the leadership team in adverse situations can be demotivating. This could dissuade team members from feeling confident to come up with new ideas.

Colleagues are held to account, but the focus is on resolving the underlying problems. Fostering an environment where recognition is important and where we take time to celebrate successes collectively has also made a huge difference.

You are only as good as the people on your team. Halfords has an exceptionally talented and strong finance leadership team. Equally importantly, ensuring we have the right colleagues with a growth mindset has been critical. There is an excellent training programme, 90% of which is delivered by the team in their own time. Identifying and developing talent is high on the agenda with structured plans in place. A focus on attracting new talent that supplements the quality of the team has also been key. Opportunities for growth have been created. If you are bright and have a drive for self-improvement, you can go through the ranks quickly.

Focus on engagement has been at the heart of how the team has operated over the past couple of years. Staff have a voice and feel comfortable that they can feed back through our structured quarterly listening groups or on an ad-hoc basis.

Issues are reviewed immediately and action taken to resolve challenges. The communication on the resolutions is clear and consistent. Given the time committed to the business by the team, we are keen that they get something out of it for themselves. For some, that will mean different experiences to develop their career; for others, it may be the wider team helping them raise money for a charity they support. Having a lot of fun is also high on the agenda. One of my teams climbed a height equivalent to that of Mount Kilimanjaro on the stairs of the support centre, but more important are the small things that are done every day to keep the mood upbeat. And the level of discretionary effort constantly exhibited by the team is above and beyond expectations.

There is a long way to go yet to be the best team we can be, but with the endorsement of the award creating an increased buzz around the team, I know they will be pushing the boundaries even further in the art of the possible. ?

Anand Patel is retail finance director at Halfords

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