Management Culture Leadership

The importance of being human in a career dominated by numbers

Maximize your potential and your value, says Gavin Rouble of The 2% Factor

Author: Gavin Rouble

If you’re like me, a part of your decision to enter the field of finance and accounting was driven by the fact that it can be easier to deal with numbers than people. I only half-joke when I say: numbers don’t talk back. Tweet: It can be easier to deal with numbers than people. I only half-joke when I say: numbers don’t talk back. https://bit.ly/2MiApDj via @Cdn_Accountant

There is something inherently cleaner about interactions with numbers. Numbers are predictable, understandable and eventually lead to a nice tidy solution or balance. People, however, are infinitely more complex, unpredictable and sometimes simply don’t make sense.

For this reason, many finance and accounting professionals find themselves in jobs where they never have reason, opportunity or desire to interact with their organization’s customers, patients, clients or members. This separation, inherent in most corporate structures, creates a distinct disadvantage for both their employer and the career development of these accounting professionals. 

Those responsible for developing critical strategies, policies, and practices that ultimately affect the customer must often do so without sufficient insight into how the customer thinks, what they need and why the need it. This is when Finance falls victim to treating customers like numbers rather than human beings. 

Gavin Rouble
Gavin Rouble, CPA, CMA, of The 2% Factor.

Is this really a problem in business?

As you may know, The 2% Factor has pioneered a simple, systematic approach to creating amazing relationships in our personal and professional lives. Currently, it is working with the faculty members of a “Global Top 50” business school on how to incorporate the Cooperative Action™ methodology into the school’s business and entrepreneurship courses. 

Driving this partnership is the recognition by the school’s administration that the future of business success and leadership will be more dependent than ever on one’s ability to develop and maintain strong and healthy professional relationships. This remains an area where Canadian finance and accounting professionals unfortunately continue to struggle. 

Invite an accountant to a party and you will see what I mean. When in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations, we tend to resort to what we know. Sadly, this tends to be very technical and not very interesting to anyone other than other accountants. 

This deficiency in human skills is also why many finance and accounting professionals have difficulty transitioning from large companies to SMEs. In smaller companies, there are fewer finance and accounting professionals who speak our language. Instead, we find ourselves having to carry on a conversation with front-line staff whose job it is to effectively interact with customers, which can be a challenge. 

Many smaller companies also subscribe to an “everybody sells” cultural philosophy where every interaction, regardless of the type or reason for it, must be treated as an opportunity to remind a customer, patient or member why they decided to trade their hard-earned money for the company’s products or services and why they should continue to do so. 

For example, as CFO, I would directly contact clients whose payments were far in arrears to find out what was happening. I could have simply allowed Collections to handle (and harass) these accounts but I preferred to give people the benefit of the doubt. 

Through these direct conversations with clients, which I always approached from a place of genuine concern for the client’s well-being, I learned that most of them truly wanted to pay but were unable to. In response, I was able to arrange payment schedules for these individual clients that met my need (to get paid) while the client was no longer forced to trade off between paying their employees and paying their outstanding balances. 

Not only were these interactions invaluable for me in my development as a finance and accounting professional, but unlike those who remain six degrees separated from their company’s customers, I learned that most people truly do want to do what is right. Clients weren’t trying to rob or cheat the company I worked for. They truly wanted to pay their invoices but were in the unenviable position of having to make some very difficult management decisions.

Maximizing the value we provide as accountants

While it was not my original intent when making these calls, the indirect benefit was that many of these customers, once their financial positions improved, made subsequent purchases (and paid their bills on time) because I had taken the time and cared enough to treat them with respect and dignity while finding out what the problem was. 

I treated them like a human being, not a number. Tweet: I treated them like a human being, not a number. 
https://bit.ly/2MiApDj via @Cdn_Accountant

In the finance and accounting field, we often think of skills pertaining to relationship management as benefiting team cohesiveness or leadership but we never stop to think how important it is that we also practise these skills outside the walls of our offices. 

Yet it is outside these walls where there remains the greatest opportunity to gain critical knowledge and understanding that finance and accounting professionals need to maximize the value we provide companies. Our efforts to develop, implement and analyze strategies that maximize revenues and minimize costs are made far more effective when we understand the impact these strategies will have on customers and fellow employees … in other words, other people. 

Gavin Rouble MA, CPA, CMA, is managing director of a leading healthcare group and co-founder of  The 2% Factor, which has pioneered an uncommon common sense approach to creating amazing workplace relationships. Gavin can be reached at  gavin@the2percentfactor.com.

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