Communicating Up

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Communicating Up

April 23, 2018      In construction accounting No Comments

Recently I read a survey of what owners want their accountant/Controller/CFO (here after known as Controller) to tell them. I have also moderated a panel aimed at getting answers to this same question. In addition, I have completed my very own sophisticated survey (randomly asking people questions) and found that the Controller thought they were expected to communicate a very different set of items than what the owner wanted them to communicate.

As the owner of a company, I understand and agree with the survey of owners. As a current CFO, I understand and agree with the Controller’s perspective.

Here is a short list of the most common items I’ve heard:

What the owner wants:

  • The owner wants the Controller to provide information the owner(s) can’t see, don’t know or wouldn’t understand. The owner is relying on their Controller to be the eyes and ears and expect that if the Controller sees/hears/feels anything funky (official term for “something is wrong”) that they would carefully and confidentially tell the owner.
  • Open and honest dialogue about the status of the company. Is it going well? Poorly? Is there a mutiny coming? Are customers happy or unhappy? Basically, the owner trusts the Controller to bring forward the grumblings of the business because accountants are thought of as impartial and trustworthy.
  • Guard/Shield the company– Many owners I have spoken with assumed/expected the Controller to be the final stop for maintaining rule and order in the organization. The owners want this person to hold the line and enforce the rules.

What the Controller thinks the owner wants:

  • Accurate financials above all else. When I have asked owners about this, the owners had this as an expectation, but not a want. Look for our blog on needs versus wants soon!”. Accurate financials are needs and expected as part of the Controller’s duty but owners want more than just numbers from their Controller.
  • Confidentiality to the point of no conversation. Accountants have been trained to keep our mouths shut to avoid any data leaks. Sometimes we are so closed lipped that we don’t even talk to others! The owner wants to be the exception to this rule since they carry the risk and the Controller is thought of as a trusted team member.
  • Shield/guard – Here is one where they both agree. Many Controllers I have spoken to do think of themselves as the guard and last stop when it comes to rules in the organization.

So what is the take-away from this post? Owners: Tell the Controllers what you want besides timely, accurate numbers and how you like to receive the information. Controllers: Share more with the owners above and beyond the numbers in a way that will help them manage the company and meet their goals.

What are the items that the Controller and Owner talk about it your organization? What has been key to making the relationship work?

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