Increasingly, accountants have to work with a variety of departments, such as information technology and accounts payable, as organizations seek to leverage internal talent and reduce reliance on external consultants. Written communication, whether emails, memos or reports, is becoming increasingly important. Different locations and conflicting work schedules result in written communication composing a large chunk of communication among departments and professionals. How can accounting professionals, with improved business communication skills, deliver more value to their organizations?
Memos and other communications about accounting can prove to be very technical in nature. Additionally, accountants must understand the needs of other organizational members, as well as how the information being communicated is used. While not exhaustive, the following is a checklist to get the ball rolling.
- Quantifying the qualitative. Sustainability, corporate governance, and risk management are all buzzwords in the business landscape, particularly since the financial crisis, but what do they really mean? The ability to quantify these phrases, as well as the effect they will have on organizations, is critical to the continued success of the accounting profession. Creating metrics, standards, and methods of evaluating concepts is the proverbial bread-and-butter of the accounting field, and the areas mentioned above are prime examples of where accountants can take leadership roles in these conversations.
- Serve as interpreter. Between Dodd-Frank, Basel requirements, Forex regulations, and implications from the ACA, management teams in virtually every business are swimming in regulatory data. Accountants, well-versed in parsing technical language to drill down to the most important pieces, are uniquely positioned to understand these regulations. Translating these regulations into bullet points and action items that other departments can understand highlights the value of the accounting function, possibly also saving the organization costs associated with noncompliance.
- Use real-world examples. Using examples can be a tremendous benefit to communicating your points, especially in a business context. The sheer volume of information, communications, and deliverables that occur during a given week can make it nearly impossible to keep track of what is occurring, as well as keep track of what items really will have an organizational impact. Accounting professionals, building on the fact that they are uniquely positioned to interpret what regulations mean, are also well situated to construct clear and concise examples to illustrate the points to management and other departments.
- "What's in it for me?" This is probably the question most commonly asked after reading any particular piece of business communication. With training and expertise centered around quantitative analysis, an increasing amount of work is being conducted with other departments. Stating it simply, if people do not see what is in it for them, or what benefit they will receive, any additional effort spent on the communication will be wasted energy.
Finally, here are some specific action points to add punch to your memos and reports:
- Keep it simple and reduce the technical jargon.
- Grab your audience's attention with a headline applicable to them.
- Play to the strengths of accounting: numbers, facts, metrics.
Accounting is much more than Excel and pivot tables. It is how the information of the business is processed and reported. Improved business communication is critical to the accounting profession as accountants transform themselves into strategic business partners.
About the author:
Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, CMA, has written for a variety of publications. He is a doctoral candidate at Capella University, as well as adjunct faculty at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He works for United Water/Suez Environment as a senior accountant, and may reached at [email protected].
About Dr. Sean Stein Smith
Dr. Sean Stein Smith, DBA, CPA, CMA, CGMA, CFE, is an assistant professor at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York. He is a member of the NJCPA Content Advisory Board, Student Programs & Scholarship Committee, Young CPA Council, Nonprofit Interest Group, and Accounting & Auditing Standards Interest Group. He can be reached at [email protected].