Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Communicate Up: Selling Your Ideas to Senior Management

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Communicate Up: Selling Your Ideas to Senior Management

Article excerpt

Numbers speak to you. Your calculations tell you stories more elegantly, more efficiently and perhaps more accurately than words ever could. This ability to read and comprehend numbers as adeptly as some other people read text is part of what makes you valuable to your organization. However, being able to comprehend the numbers is only the first part in the process of producing measurable results. The next step is to tell the stories the numbers told you--to tell them to the right people and to make sure that those people understand you well enough to act decisively based on your information. Nowhere is the necessity to communicate clearly more important than when you are writing to people at a senior level in your organization.


The complexities of corporate life make your position central to the success of your company. As Tarik Hijazi, CPA, now a product line manager for Allied Signal, puts it, "Huge corporations are so complicated that the finance person becomes really important--not just for financial issues, but for strategic and customer-related issues as well." Executives count on finance staff to give them the information necessary to make effective decisions. As a corporate finance person, you are in a position to help the business manage its assets wisely, to run efficiently and to grow. However, you can exercise your potential influence only if you successfully communicate your ideas to people outside your specialty.

It is easier to get a manager's attention if you frame your message in terms of its relevance to larger business issues. As Bill Rusnack, president of ARCO Products Co., puts it, "The key is the analysis of the numbers, the way to make the numbers come and talk to you. What is the real meaning of the spreadsheet or array of information? CPAs need to clarify the data so that the executive does not have to pore over the whole spreadsheet to see what's going on. That's why companies have financial people--not just to add and subtract but to analyze the trends and tell the story that's contained in those numbers."

As a CPA, how can you make sure that your good ideas will be heard? First, realize that when you address someone outside of the accounting profession, you could be translating from one type of business jargon into another. Second, keep your message brief As Joe Yospe, CPA, an exporting reporting director at Lucent Technologies, says, "We know that senior management is overwhelmed with paper products, so we have a very limited opportunity to get a point across. Ideally, we try to capture the essence of our views in less than two pages. If it's not a major change, we try to get it in one page, because one page is more likely to be read."


What you do before you write is as important as what you write. Here are three steps to take before you present your idea.

1. Learn the language of management.

2. Lay the groundwork through informal communication.

3. Identify the key management issues and frame your idea in those terms.

Learning the language of management. Professor Janis Forman, director of management communication at the Anderson School at the University of California Los Angeles, puts it this way: "Each discipline has its own lexicon. The difficulty for people who are experts in something like finance is that their very gift, which they hold dear, uses arcane language that is inaccessible to the lay manager. The finance person must be able to translate the technical jargon." When you communicate to upper management, remember that in many ways managers speak a different language than you do. Once you learn that language, you can translate your ideas to them meaningfully. How do you learn their language? In meetings or informal groups, listen carefully to the decision makers you want to influence. What are their burning issues and concerns? What are their current buzz words? …

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