Having the Difficult Conversation about Financial Performance

Business partnering is all the rage right now.  Accountants love the idea of having a much bigger role in the business.  In driving strategy, decision making and providing insight.

Of course this is hugely rewarding and probably what motivates you at work.

Equally there’s an important role in stewardship or put another way keeping the business on track.

How comfortable are you with this aspect of business partnering?

How willing are you to step up and call people on the things that they might rather avoid?

Let’s not pretend this is easy.  So how can you have the difficult conversation about financial performance, especially when things are not going to plan?

Start by collecting relevant information

In any organisation in any sector there are likely to be a few numbers that really matter.

The key is to start by collecting relevant information about those key numbers.

Create some very simple analysis that presents the information starkly

Imagine for example your sales performance in new business is poor.

Trends might be good.

Showing the level of sales compared to the salary costs of those in that area of the business will make the scale of the problem completely transparent and allow for some open dialogue.

Prepare ahead of time and anticipate counter arguments

Never go into this type of meeting without being well prepared.

Think about counter arguments and objections and how you might handle them.

Stick to facts

The numbers tell you what is and what isn’t happening in a business in a common currency called money.

Don’t get drawn into opinions and a fault finding.  Stick to the facts.

Make it clear that you are looking to agree a way forward

You can’t re-write the past but you can influence the future.

Keep people on what action is going to be taken, when it’s going to be taken, how progress will be tracked and who’s taking actions.

Be empathetic

It’s tough when it’s a struggle.  Acknowledge this, show empathy and demonstrate that you realise it’s tough.

Remember your professional responsibilities

As an accountant you have a duty of care and professional responsibilities.  Keep this at the forefront of your mind.

Remember it’s not personal

You are raising issues in the interest of the wider organisation.

In reality this is a tough area for accountants.  Avoidance is never a good strategy.  The best way to get better at this is practice.  There is no magic formula.

About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

Leave a Comment: