If you could enhance any of your communication skills, which would it be? That’s the question a colleague recently asked me. It was an easy answer: my financial know-how. While being financially savvy may not be classified as a “communication” competency, it’s certainly important to business leaders. And what’s top of mind for management should also be our priority if we want to provide the best counsel — and have leaders seek our advice.
With today’s recession, it’s even more critical to understand and communicate an organization’s financial situation to internal (and external) audiences. But before we can help employees build their business literacy, we need to be well versed on the financial underpinnings of our company or clients. Like many public relations practitioners, my comfort zone is words, not numbers. But financials don’t have to be overwhelming. Here are practical ways to improve your business acumen to be a more effective communicator:
- Get smart. Start by understanding the definitions and drivers of items on the profit and loss statement. Ask a finance department colleague to explain the numbers and answer these types of questions: How and where is money made and spent? What factors drive revenues and costs up or down? What are the most important areas related to meeting business goals and creating shareholder value? You can also find out what reports and business-related books management is reading — and put them on your reading list.
- Get involved. Volunteer to help your investor relations or finance team with a project, perhaps the annual report, analyst conference or quarterly earnings. For one company, I helped prepare background materials for quarterly earnings announcements and listened in on analyst conference calls. This helped me better understand the numbers, speak the CEO’s language, and determine what’s most important to leadership.
By Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, vice president, Linhart Public Relations, provides organizational communications, reputation management and other brand-building counsel to help drive business strategies and results. She has worked on the agency and client side for global Fortune 500 companies and other firms.