An obvious question not asked often enough

I have been fortunate enough to have worked in organisations ranging in size from MNC’s to SME’s and including not for profit as well in financial and business analytical roles.

In all of the roles that I have had there have always been additional requests for information and additional analysis of data to support the company. These are the types of requests covered in most job descriptions as ‘ad hoc’ requirements. Some can be straightforward while others trigger the creation of a cottage industry churning out numbers.

In one company I worked for the Managing Director would insist on the month end accounts package being sent to head office in Japan by the close of working day two. This was before the days of PDF or being able to attach files to emails so it all had to be sent by fax. The package was about thirty pages long. The Managing Director retired and a Financial Controller was appointed. As I did with the Managing Director, I handed the thirty pages to the new Financial Controller and asked him to review it before sending it to head office. On working day seven we received a call from head office asking after the reports as that day was the deadline. The FC had been sitting on the report and just forgot to send it. So, in fact there was no desperate rush to have the reports in by working day two.
One of us should have asked head office what the reporting timetable was; an obvious question.

When the FC did review the package he concluded that there were a lot of pages to send for such a small company. So, what we started to do was omit one or two of the pages each month. After a couple of months we received another call from head office asking where one of the pages were that should have been sent. We quickly resurrected it from our files and sent it off by fax.
One of us should have asked head office what the reporting package should consist of; an obvious question.

A business unit of an organisation I worked for made a request for a ‘flash’ report showing the final result for a month to be available by the end of working day three after month end. This was agreed to by the FD. For a few months a lot of effort was put into preparing this report and sending it out. Then one month the report was prepared but for whatever reason was never sent out to the business unit and they did not even notice that it had not been released.

One of the finance team should have asked the business unit what the value of the flash report was going to be in their decision making process; an obvious question.
It is all too easy to deal with a request by acting upon it but before doing so organisations should create the culture in which the obvious questions such as ‘Do we really need to generate this extra report or analysis and will it add value to the business providing the information generated is used?

I came across an example of someone in a large MNC actually questioning a director about the value of a report being requested in addition to the monthly reporting.
When month closed managers would be asking the business partners for their EBITDA result from Day 1 onward. Obviously this figure would change as more month end transactions were being processed through the ledgers. Overnight the EBITDA had shifted dramatically from the previous day’s declaration.

During a conference call the EBITDA was discussed and the incumbent FD requested that all the Business Partners prepare a bridge or waterfall chart to show the overnight movement. This exercise would have taken each Business Partner two to three hours to prepare out of the day that the financial reports were meant to be finished. The FD was insisting on this exercise to be carried out.

One lone voice asked the FD if this work was actually going to be for the good of the company or for his ego? On the phone conference there was the deathly hush as if someone had broken wind loudly in a cathedral. The FD’s answer confirmed it was not for the good of the company and no other directors had requested the work. The Business Partners did not have to create fancy charts which had to be supported with reconciliations and were able to deliver the month end reports on time without working late.

Again, it would have been easy to take the line of least resistance in this situation which would have created issues later in the day but one person, just one person, dared to ask the obvious question and saved everyone else a stressful end to the monthly reporting function; an obvious question.

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About alangrenville

I live in southern Britain near the fabulous New Forest. While studying for a BSc in International Studies I have developed a strong belief in 'NIBAW' or 'nothing is black and white'. Hence my favourite saying "Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" (John F Kennedy).
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