Monday, 3 September 2007

Getting the Message Across

They say that confession is good for the soul. I have a confession to make: I never understood the value of graphics in financial reporting. I never created graphs in Excel. I even thought that it was all just window dressing for the published financial statements or sales presentations.

I missed the point.

Accounting is all about communications and, as an accountant, it is my responsibility to be sure that the message is understood. It isn't enough to expect that the users will look at my tables of numbers and draw the same conclusions that I have.

I attended a communications session by Eagle's Flight a few years ago. The trainer made the point that people tend to put their message out there and take the attitude "Well, I've done my part." If you want effective communications, you have to take responsibility for both the sending and the receiving of the message. You have to take into account how your stakeholders take in messages. Some people are just confused by spreadsheets. Take sales statistics for example. Rather than just presenting a list of customer sales sorted by city and decreasing amount, you can now plot your customers on a map of Canada with larger circles for higher sales and create a powerful visual that has an immediate impact.

Sometimes, it's just a question of presentation. I watched a demonstration of an Excel add-in for Microsoft Dynamics GP (Great Plains) where the sales person showed how the sales table with last year comparison figures could be automatically uploaded from GP and summarized for viewing and querying. Then he turned it around and asked, "Which customers didn't buy from me this year?" He then showed a graph of all the customers where sales this year were less than last year. There were audible gasps in the audience because the impact of the graph was clear: send a salesperson out to each of these customers. I could be cynical here and say that the table and the graph said exactly the same thing, because they did. The difference was that the table was just statistics produced by accounting and the graph was a call to action.

So, if you are an accountant and you feel your message to management is not getting across, I highly recommend you try a graphical approach. You'll be glad you did.