Simplicity: The Key for Accountancy
Accountants can be terrible at presenting information.
We tend to over complicate things. We distribute Excel sheets to our sales departments, planning teams, and key decision makers in a way that only other accountants can understand. This isn’t useful but it happens in every company, every day. The good news is that there is an easy way that we can fix this. We must first present our data and insights in the most simplistic manner. The caveat is that you need to pair this with arming yourself with supporting data and explanations that are ready to deploy at a moments notice. You need to do this to prepare for if and when your audience comes to you to gain a deeper understanding. By presenting your information in this fashion, you’ll become an influential professional and integral team member of the business.
Our job as accounting and finance professionals is, without doubt, technical. I would argue that the function is more technical in comparison to sales and marketing. It is not more difficult, but more technical. We are more technical, because we are always rules-bound; while others live in the gray and more subjective and intuitive areas of work. Whether those rules be IFRS, GAAP, or the tax regulations for the regions in which we operate, we must follow what many call, “the black and the white.” Our job being technical is okay, but our job also needs to break down those technicalities so that others can understand our communications. How does one do this, though?
First, you must present your idea in the most simple of formats. My suggestion is that you present your idea in no more than 3 bullet points and take no more than 1 minute to explain. Anything beyond this and you lose your audience. But, always be able to back it up when they ask questions as this is how you keep them coming back to you for more.
I want to give a real-life example of the power and value of this idea. I am a Californian and we are proud of our burgers. In California, we have In-N-Out, which I will happily say is the best burger chain in the world. It’s commonly joked about that In-N-Out is so great, but yet it only offers three main menu options! Your main options include only three types of burgers, and involve each burger having one more patty than the previous one. Their simplicity allows them to focus on making a great burger at a great price for their customers. If you show up at any time of day, you will see a large line of eager customers that affirm the effectiveness of their strategy.
Keep In-N-Out’s concept of simplicity up front in mind. When you offer your insights or ideas, keep it really simple. Don’t offer a bunch of variety. By doing this, you will stay focused and offer something that your audience will appreciate. Your customers won’t have anxiety from having to make a tough decision among a variety of complex information. When it is simple, they can actually use your idea and put it into action. When it isn’t simple, they instead spend a lot of time trying to understand your complex thoughts or long spreadsheet. People don’t like unnecessary complexity and dread anxiety over decisions when they are hungry for a burger or fast food.
Again, In-N-Out doesn’t focus on offering variety and complexity up front. They focus on the burger. In-N-Out offers a secret menu though. It is not posted or written anywhere. You only know of this secret menu because people like me tell you about it or your read about it online. https://www.qsrmagazine.com/growth/secret-n-out-s-cult-following
This secret menu allows one to customize one of their three burger options in a multitude of ways. They keep it simple up front and this satisfies a lot of people. But, to meet the needs of an even bigger share of the market, they have a variety of choices underlying the simplistic first three options. Keep this idea in mind as you present information to your audience. Focus on simplicity first, but back up every idea with the necessary details that an audience or team member might ask. But, only deliver those details upon request. By doing this, you will win your audience, just as In-N-Out has won the hearts of hungry Californians.
Now, let’s take another real-world example of how this works. I am regularly responsible for producing financial reports for our board directors. Certain people on our board don’t need to know every detail of every account on the financial reports that I oversee. Therefore, when I present them a set of income statements and balance sheets on a regular basis, I present a version in which several accounts are summarized into a single grouped account. I have learned that the picture that they need to see of the business to know how it is performing does not involve knowing the status of every account. They just need a one-page, easy to understand document. So, I give them the one-page document, even though our income statement is really 3–4 pages long if every account is made visible. But, when I share the summarized version, I never present something I don’t have every underlying answer to in the event that they ask a question. If you truly don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know and will investigate it, but if you can avoid this and be ready up front, the better off you will be your results.
The idea is not to overload your audience to a point that each time they ask you something, they know you are going to deliver a whole book to them. They want the insight that takes them 1 minute or less to understand and go along their way. If you don’t offer this, they’ll avoid asking you for anything. They won’t trust your ability to not take up too much of their time and leave them confused.
In conclusion, as a finance and accounting pro, offer your knowledge and insights in a simplified fashion, but be armed with the details. Work really hard to be ready to answer whatever questions and offer custom reports that they might need for when they actually want more details.
Authored by: Mason Brady
Edited & Reviewed by: Ben Wann
Originally published at https://www.the-numbers-guys.com on April 14, 2019.