The Duke does have a point …

They tell you when blogging that the first sentence is vital in attracting attention and encouraging the reader to continue. Oh dear. But bear with me please.

While on holiday in Wales I came across an interesting letter that was allegedly sent by the Duke of Wellington during his campaigns in Spain in 1812. The letter concludes as follows.

“This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

 1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance,

 2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.”

Put simply, do you want me to provide you with all the information and paperwork that you say you need or do you want me to do my job?

You have probably heard similar sentiments from CEOs, COOs and managers everywhere, although probably expressed in earthier, less flowery terms than used above.

Finance departments do have a knack of rubbing up operations people the wrong way. Personality and culture do come into but fundamentally it is a lack of understanding and communication. Finance does have compliance responsibilities but it has to also be able to contribute commercially to the success of the business.

It is pointless tying up the top person with an endless stream of bureaucratic requirements. That is often where corporates get it horribly wrong with their teams of head office personnel whose sole purpose is to process numbers received from location A and then send them off to location B. Performance suffers and the end result is often the departure of a talented but frustrated individual.

Whether the letter is genuine or not is a moot point, as the sentiments expressed by Wellington 200 years ago are still very relevant today. Finance functions that want to retain their credibility should bear them in mind. Ultimately they are there to support the business and drive it forward, not take it over and smother it.

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