Do the Numbers Speak for Themselves?
Finance has a crucial voice in every business. Here’s how to make sure you’re being heard.
Tina Golsch, CPA, MBA
Enterprise Finance Services, Boeing
I didn’t land in Boeing’s International Finance and Consolidations and Corporate Systems
departments on skill alone. I didn’t help my consulting clients excel by showing them how
to simply improve their finance functions while I was with Accenture. I didn’t advance from
general accounting to international finance and reporting roles at IRI and Hospira by only
making sure the numbers were compliant. Earning a seat at the leadership table takes more
than knowing the numbers, it takes knowing how the numbers bring value to your
organization — and being able to communicate it to your audience.
Whether you’re early in your career or already many years experienced, as a corporate
finance professional, you’re going to be sought to provide expertise and guidance by
corporate leaders, peers, shareholders, and maybe even the public. The way you present
the numbers, and the way you communicate your expertise, will ultimately determine if and
when you earn a seat — and a voice — at the leadership table. In my experience, developing these traits, behaviors, and approaches will help you be the one who’s consistently called on to provide the much-needed financial expertise your organization needs to succeed.
Provide Value to Your Audience
A key component of earning a seat at the table is being able to provide value. Is your
audience looking for confirmation that a proposed path does not have any unanticipated
financial pitfalls? Are they looking for more financially sound alternatives? What exactly is
your audience looking for? Identifying this ahead of time allows you to prepare the type of
data and presentation that delivers the information your audience is actually looking for
and values most in their decision making. By helping your audience achieve its goals, you’ll
help yourself get a call back to the table.
Know Your Audience
Does your audience lose attention as details are provided, or does providing concrete
examples exhibit competency to them? Are you in a group of other technical professionals
where citations are important, or is this an audience that needs you to explain technical
accounting matters in very non-technical language? How well others can absorb the
information you provide determines if they will repeatedly seek you out for guidance. Being
able to adapt your approach and communication style to meet your audience’s skills and
strengths is essential to them being able to assess, absorb, and act on your guidance.
Learn by Example
Recognize that looking to others who have already been distinguished for their skills can
be beneficial to you. What traits do those go-to people possess? Are there certain areas of
competency that appear more valued? Are there certain communication traits that they have in common? Are they providing innovative ideas, or is it more
that they are providing solid, tried-and-true advice? At any point in
your career you can learn from others that hold the influence or
position you seek.
Expand Your Expertise
Every organization has subject matter experts; tap into them. Even
though you have deep knowledge in certain areas, it is always
beneficial to gain knowledge in the organization’s other business-critical
areas. I also encourage you to learn which areas your
organization needs more knowledge in, and to tap into the tools and
techniques being used to develop proficiency in that subject matter.
Own Your Area of Expertise
Recognize that those who are perceived as go-to people are not the
go-to people for everything. In other words, you cannot be all things
to all people. There are specific areas of expertise they are being
sought after and in which you will be sought after. In which areas do
people reach out to you for your guidance and advice? Master them.
Your aim should be to be recognized for your expertise inside and
outside of your organization. You should also look to grow your
professional network so that you can refer to other subject matter
experts. When people recognize that you can point them toward
people that provide valuable guidance, they are more likely to trust
the guidance that you provide. Further, experts you refer others to
are more likely to reciprocate and direct others to you when seeking
information on your specific areas of expertise.
Know the Problem
Generally, if a group of professionals are being gathered to discuss
a problem it is unlikely an easily identifiable solution to that problem
exists. As part of that gathering, being able to understand and
define the actual problem that people are trying to solve is key.
Complementary to understanding what will provide value to your
audience, being able to identify and define the root cause of the
issue at hand will help you provide meaning as solutions are sought
Be an Active Participant
In the classroom, a professor calls on students who raise their
hands to answer questions. In the business world, there is no going
around the room looking for people who have their hands raised.
There is an expectation that if you have specific knowledge or
expertise that you will provide it without prompting or being
specifically called upon. Providing that knowledge and expertise is
your job, it is welcomed, and it makes it more likely that people will
look to you in the future.
We often receive surveys requesting feedback on services
provided. Why not do the same? Do you know which areas your
colleagues believe you to have expertise? Do they perceive you
as providing value? Are there specific areas of knowledge more
sought after? Welcome that feedback, even if it does not agree with
your perceptions or opinions, because it can help you define
which areas you can build upon to enhance your expertise,
influence, and recognition.
My closing tip for you is to recognize that earning a seat at the
leadership table and becoming an influential, go-to person in your
organization is all part of a journey that unfolds over time. You
cannot rush or force expertise, trust, or recognition. In fact, nothing
you do can truly guarantee you a seat at the leadership table. You
can, however, proactively develop your expertise and your skills in
communicating that expertise, so that if you do get an invite to the
leadership table, you will have a voice that is heard at the table.