In a nutshell: The business world needs professionals who can focus on the issues beyond the numbers.
If you’re in business, there is no way around the numbers. They allow you to measure progress, make informed decisions and report achievements to stakeholders. But, just because numbers aren’t your thing, doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the financial conversation.
Here’s how, as a non-numbers person, you can have a seat at the table:
Data doesn’t tell the whole story, and you can fill in the blanks. One of the skills you can contribute is putting the state of the financial situation into context. By applying big-picture thinking, you’ll be able to discern what forces are leading to an increase in expenses or decrease in revenue, for example. Crunching the numbers isn’t what leads to a figuring out a strategy to achieve ideal results; it’s analyzing the data and understanding what’s going on in the company or the industry that’s causing the shift.
According to an article written by Adam Weinberg, President of Denison University, that appeared on HuffPost, “Data Analytics and the Liberal Arts,” framing questions is an important role for a non-numbers person. Often, people are asking the wrong questions. And if they get the question wrong, the answer is irrelevant. Your perspective can lend insight into what questions stakeholders should be asking and not only answering them, but also coming up with solutions to reach organizational goals.
You don’t need to be a lawyer to know the difference between right and wrong. But people driven by data and maximizing revenue or profit may be focused on the numbers alone and find themselves in an unethical predicament. Your perspective may be able to stop them before they’ve gone too far. An article that comes from Florida Tech, “3 Frameworks for Ethical Decision Making,” details ways you can consider if something is ethical or not. One of the best-known methods is the Blanchard-Peale Framework that instructs you ask yourself:
- Is it legal?
- Is it fair?
- How does it make me feel?
Take the 2008 housing bubble as an example: The New York Times reported that in mid-2004, the CEO of Freddie Mac received a memo from the company’s former chief risk officer warning him that financing risk-laden loans was threatening the company’s financial stability. He wrote these loans “would likely pose an enormous financial and reputational risk to the company and the country.” But the warning was ignored by the CEO and two dozen other high-ranking executives. Sometimes watching short-term positive financial gains can cloud ethical decision-making. Don’t let it!
If you’ve so much as glanced at an income statement, you know the numbers aren’t always user-friendly. You have the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the wider audience and discern the financial takeaways. Warren Buffett, in the preface of the SEC’s “A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents,” provides this tip:
“Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them.”
He goes on to say there must be a genuine desire to inform. And eludes to the fact that some companies hide behind the numbers because they don’t understand what’s really going on internally – and externally – or they want to obfuscate the truth. As someone with business savvy and operational knowledge, you can lend truthful insight.
As you contribute to the financial conversation, you may lack confidence without the formal knowledge. But, remember that bringing a different perspective is valuable to the decision-making process. A lack of diversity in experience and thought can lead to a dark place.