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Who’s the Walter White of Your Finance Team?

good and evil

I have a confession: I just binge-watched all five seasons of AMC’s hit series Breaking Bad. Walter White, the show’s main character, reminded me of a specific type of person that exists within nearly every finance department.

The series features an ordinary chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with cancer, goes “bad” and puts his scientific skills to work to ensure his kids will be well provided for when he’s actually gone. A talented chemist, he is able to concoct a high-quality narcotic that drives wild demand. And so a king, or in this case a cook (a.k.a. Heisenberg), is born.

Consider a corollary in the office of finance. Members of your finance team spend much of their day in and around transactional source systems, and as such are adept at extracting data from them, manipulating the data in Excel, and joining records from disparate systems – the infamous “V” and “H” lookups. That’s how they continually produce all of those financial plans and budgets. So when business managers pose questions outside of the normal course of reporting  —  Which products are most profitable? What does our customer base look like by company size? How does customer acquisition cost vary by channel? — how do you satisfy their craving for more knowledge within their financial reports? More often than not, it’s the finance org that is tapped to answer them.

While these analyses frequently start out as one-off exercises, they rarely stay that way. Pretty soon these ad hoc reporting requests become an addiction. Ironically, the better and more insightful the analysis, the more eyes will see it, and the more likely it will need to be repeated, revised or “just updated.” Sounds so innocuous, right?

If these analyses are not quick and easy to reproduce — likely the reason they ended up on your desk in the first place — you can inadvertently set yourself up as a bottleneck in your organization’s ability to make timely, informed decisions. And before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of strangers knocking on your door asking when the next “cook” is!

To all the “cooks” in the office of finance: If you want to add real, long-term value to your organization, STOP answering difficult questions and instead START making difficult questions easy to answer.

Realistically, you’re probably still going to have to do the initial legwork. So go ahead and pull that one last report. But make sure you go back and set up the systems and self-service reporting capabilities so your business managers can cook for themselves in the long term.

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