Lost In Translation

The power of rampant financial literacy.

HieroglyphicsCollisions between the Finance Department and… well, everyone, are the stuff of legends. In most companies, business teams are as likely to voluntarily ask Finance for help as a Russian citizen would ask the KGB for help. Instead, teams develop strategies to keep finance at arms length as long as possible.

This aversion stems from finance’s seemingly random opposition to great ideas; great ideas projecting strong improvements to income or other performance metrics are inexplicably crushed when finance gets involved. Both sides are trying to create value, so why the frequent clashes?

At the root of these clashes are the conflicting measures used to determine when value is genuinely being created. We have dozens of accounting and other performance measures. However, real value creation is measured in the timing and risks of when dollars actually flow in and out of the bank account. In a word, “Finance.”

Why, then, do so few companies ensure that everyone across the company has a basic grasp of financial concepts – the language of value creation?

Rampant Illiteracy
Harvard Business Review developed a basic financial literacy test that any CEO or junior finance person should easily ace. The results: “managers from C-level executives to supervisors scored an average of only 38%” and “a majority were unable to distinguish profit from cash.”

These folks are smart and successful. Yet for some, those basic finance classes are now only a distant (often unpleasant) memory. Many others have never been given any decent orientation to relevant finance concepts.

CFO Magazine’s March issue provides a wonderful example of implementing widespread financial literacy. Peter Kellogg, Merck’s CFO, made it his mission to equip non-financial groups with a practical understanding of value creation – not turning them into finance geeks, just providing basic principles and their implications.

Now sharing a common perspective on real value, Merck’s people (e.g. researchers, manufacturing, marketing, IT) collaborate much more effectively with finance and each other on their most promising opportunities.

Spreading The Word
CFOs, CEOs… all senior leaders for that matter, have a stake in widespread value creation fluency to improve financial performance.

Get a truly superb financial communicator who can share the key financial concepts and implications clearly and persuasively. Done well, people walk away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for creating genuine value.

It’s an investment of time and money, but it’s a sound investment. Just recall the words of Derek Bok:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

© 2013 Verax Point

About Dave Wittenberg

I am all about equipping business teams to enjoy greater payoffs on their biggest bets. I bring a unique combination of evaluation expertise and behavioral insights developed over the course of more than 300 major strategic initiatives. Applying a highly effective, disciplined framework, teams unleash their full capabilities to generate better solutions, wring out hidden waste, and deliver superior returns. Specialties: Investment Evaluation, Decision Excellence, Strategic Analysis, Mergers and Acquisitions, Investor Relations, Leadership Development, Education & Training
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