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How To Keep A Good Relationship When Saying No

How To Keep A Good Relationship When Saying No
    Finance has traditionally been known as the naysayers of the company because whatever the business wanted didn’t meet certain financial criteria i.e. Get more info on was too risky for the reward or would cause the company to run out of cash. My first ever article on LinkedIn “How To Break Free From A Stereotype” discussed this exact problem and gave suggestions as to how Finance or anyone for that matter can break free from a stereotype. The good thing is that Finance is well under way to leaving the old bean counter image behind and is becoming trusted business partners in many organizations. It does beg the question though about what happens when occasionally you’ll still have to say no to the business. How can you remain a trusted partner when you turn them down?

    If they trust your yes, they will trust your no

    The core of being a good finance business partner is that your counterpart trusts you. If you keep showing up with wrong numbers or can’t get your calculations straight they will never trust you. However, if you get your basics rights you’re already half way to establishing a constructive relationship with the business (function) you’re trying to support. When you then say that from a financial point of view the project/product/market/store they want your input on is sound and makes sense they will take that as a vote of confidence. If, on the other hand, you say no then make sure you have applied the exact same principles in your work and be ready to back up your answer even further. While the business doesn’t want naysayers, they don’t want yea-sayers either. They want the finance team to apply a stringent approach that doesn’t favor either side. The difference between now and twenty years ago is that finance professionals at all levels of the company have established much better relationships with their peers and superiors in other functions.

    Understanding the financials is a two-way street

    For the business to accept your “no” they need to know that you understand the business well enough to not only make a financial calculation but a business calculation that evaluates both the short and the long-term goals of the company. I once repeatedly told the business that they needed to spend more money on repair and maintenance on a specific asset. The CEO then kept telling me that he had never heard a finance guy asking him to spend more money. The fact was, though, that if we didn’t spend a certain amount of money on a recurring basis on repair and maintenance we would be in much bigger problems later on when main parts of the asset would start to breakdown. I knew this because I had done a benchmark study on another group of similar assets previously which showed that the asset we had underinvested in, in terms of repair and maintenance, would in a 5-year period move from being the lowest cost asset to the highest cost asset. So, while the financial case might call for more savings here and now in order to meet the financial targets, the business case would certainly call for on-going investments. It’s a two-way street between Finance and the business. For Finance to make the business understand the financials, Finance must also try to understand the business. Then it doesn’t matter whether you say “yes” or “no” because the business will trust your judgment and perhaps saying “no” will even strengthen your good relationship with the business.

    What’s your experience with saying “no” to business proposals and disappoint the ones you’re supposed to support? Have you tried to truly understand the business or are you always walking around with your naysayer hat on?

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