I reflect back on why I didn't enjoy any of the abovementioned subjects. It's because they were taught in an incredibly theoretical manner, they got into ridiculous levels of detail and spoke many-a-time in a completely different language. Well...that's what I thought.
I reckon this is how many of our stakeholders feel. They find what we do boring, complex and they don't see the relevance – and therefore the value – in what we bring to the table.
The curse of competence for CFOs and their teams
I spoke recently at an event to a group of 200 business owners. Some of them had CFOs, some had outsourced finance teams and some simply had bookkeepers. As I prepared to deliver that session, I couldn't help but second guess myself at times because I thought my content was too simple. In fact, I was getting up there to tell them 'they already knew all the answers – they were the experts of their businesses!'. I thought to myself, 'surely they're going to think this is too basic. I'd better be prepared to smarten it up'.
Then there was the other part of me saying, 'Alena – this is what they need. They need someone to talk in their language, show them the important basics, so they can be armed with great questions, identify key trends and get themselves some simple tools so they can forget about the finances and focus on being great CEOs.'
This is the skill of financial translation.
How CFOs are best positioned to help their C-suite peers
Like many CEOs today, they are dealing with the reality of a continually volatile business context, an economy which is in various levels of recession – depending on what you read – and the supply chain, staff shortages and consumer uncertainty that we're all too familiar with.
What they don't have is the skill of CFOs to cut through the noise.
So I set about giving them the confidence – 'you can do this. You know it all already, I'm just going to help you unpack it so you can look at your numbers and make meaning – and therefore great decisions – out of them each month.'
I then helped them get all the stuff they know about their business onto a page. What do you sell? What do you buy?
We then talked about business processes. I asked them, from the minute you have a product to sell, what is the process that you go through until you make a sale?
From there we started to get 'techy':
• We identified the key levers of performance
• We created some key measures and ratios for them to aim for
• We then put everything into a high level P&L.
The results and insights they had during that session were phenomenal:
They were so grateful for the session and I've probably never felt so appreciated walking out of an event.
Why am I telling you this?
Because this is the impact you can have on your business stakeholders if you get the skill of financial translation right. You can blow their minds and help them achieve their dreams.
We just need to keep it simple.
7 Steps for CFOs to help their teams become better financial translators
1. Connect well: Bring your energy and essence to the conversation. They want to converse with a human, not a robot.
2. Empathise deeply and meet them where they're at: Be prepared to 'smarten up' and 'dumb down'.....but never make them feel dumb!
3. Reinforce how competent they are and how successful they've been to date: Be like the best coaches and educators and take a strengths based approach.
4. Offer up that you might be able to help them out: Don't presuppose that you're the answer they need. You probably are, but don't be arrogant about it.
5. Ask them lots of questions. Be genuine in your curiosity – hold their hand and be their partner as you help them through this learning journey.
6. Keep. It. Simple. Take a leaf out of Coco Chanel's book and 'always take one thing off'.
7. Have them play back what they've learned from you. Not to stroke your ego, but so you understand how you were most helpful. You might be surprised.
If I had known that a truly smart person was someone who could simplify the complex, I may have been more engaged and bold enough to tell my lecturers 'I don't get it'. My 'Ps' may have turned into 'HDs' and I may have enjoyed the journey more. Who knows.
What I do know is that CFOs and their teams have an incredibly special expertise that when shared in the right way can and will change the lives of the people they help.
As 'people people', I know this is something that CFOs desire.
How good are your team at financial translation?
Do they have the commercial acumen to engage with the business in a meaningful way?
How are you and your team helping your peers achieve their dreams?