Interesting...but not useful

Uncategorized Sep 16, 2020

Hmmm…interesting. Have you ever found yourself saying that? Or noticed someone else saying it?

Have you written a document: whether it be a technical accounting memo, a board paper or even your resume and have an urge to include content in it because it’s interesting?

The better question: is it useful?

Strategic communication forms a huge part of my work. The ability to engage and mobilise teams, influence stakeholders and present at board meetings are all critical skills for leaders in finance. The context that sits behind almost all of the work that leaders in finance perform is that there’s a shortage of time. To do the work, to have the meetings, to deliver the deliverable.

Which means communication needs to be tight.

Most people, however, have a tendency to respond to a shortage of time by:

  • Saving time by not adequately preparing
  • Talking fast and providing a fire hose of information in the time they have
  • Reverting to monologues and diatribes (i.e. ’telling’ vs ‘having a conversation')

This results in communication that is unfiltered and accordingly, lacks impact.

How to communicate with relevance

The challenge for leaders in finance is that their communication needs to be relevant. No longer can you get away with walking into a meeting and droning on about the latest accounting policy, or the new A/P process and expect people to buy in to what you’re saying. Nor do your stakeholders want to spend hours talking about the weather, what meals you're cooking this week or even the reality TV show de jour. 

Getting the balance wrong has terrible consequences

Relevance is a function of information that is useful and interesting. Getting this balance right is like walking a tightrope. 

On one hand, it is highly rational to focus on ‘useful’ information to respect the everyone’s time and to simply ‘get the job done’. On the other hand, brain science tells us that our communication is far more effective when we engage the emotional right brain. It’s in this sphere of the brain that allows people to buy into our ideas, and remember the important things.

Consider the following scenarios:

How do you work with your business stakeholders? 

  • What is the type of information you share with them? How do you share it with them?
  • Do you find that communication is one-way: where finance is just pushing out numbers?
  • Do you get on with them really well, but find they don’t come to you proactively to seek your advice on commercial decisions?

In order to provide information that is interesting and useful to them your focus should be empathy. Putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about what they really need. Then packaging up the information you provide them in a way that is interesting to them (i.e. perhaps starting with some insight into their business units’ underlying performance) and useful (i.e. sharing how this translates into financial performance and the levers available to them to improve future financial performance). 

Do you have presence in meetings?

  • Do you find yourself babbling or ‘waffling’ (excuse the technical terms) in meetings?
  • Do people listen and interact, or do dull faces and empty eyes stare back at you?
  • Do you often run out of time before the important stuff? 

If this is the case, then your focus should be on your audience. Who is in your audience and what do they need? What is the desired outcome of the meeting? What would be relevant information to them in the context of the purpose of the meeting? Use that information to prepare an agenda that allows adequate time to engage in discussion with the group. Discussion takes time, so you’ll find you only have time to communicate relevant information. 

Is your learning useful?

  • There’s no debating that we’re in a content rich world at the moment. There’s so much good content to consume to help your professional and personal development.
  • We also know the the channels in which this content is available: social media, websites, videos or emails - suck you into a vortex. The algorithms in the back end contribute to this.

In order to focus on relevant learning: that strikes a balance between interesting and useful, it’s important to know your purpose, your career vision and design your mission so that whatever learning you’re doing is a good use of your time. Your time is too precious to waste on anything else.

The key is to get balance right 

How do you do that? It comes back to purpose. When you know the purpose of your role in the context of your team and your organisation, then you can deliver exceptional business partnering with the business. When you know the purpose of the meeting, and its desired outcome, you can structure it in a way that gets results quickly. And when you know your own purpose, you can engage in development activities that truly help.

Is it interesting?
Is it useful?
What’s the point?

3 questions to help ensure your communication is relevant.
To help you have the impact you want. 

Love to hear your thoughts...


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