Ambitious financial controllers are urged to embrace new approaches to communicating financial information and managing risks. Speaking at the Annual Financial Controllers Conference Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas suggested: “Giving people lots of data does not increase understanding. The best candidate for financial director may be the person who is best able to explain financial forecasts and results.”
The Adaptation chairman explains “Thick and unread reports are expensive to produce. Users of accounts should be able to quickly access what they need and work with data to produce trend and other analyses. New tools can speed up the preparation and dissemination of complex information, increase understanding and cut costs.”
Coulson-Thomas advised financial controllers on how to become financial directors: “Strategic awareness and personal qualities usually dominate the criteria for boardroom appointments. Communication skills are important both within the boardroom and when building mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders. Directors need to be able to look ahead, see a company as a whole and understand the context within which it operates, formulate a vision, and provide strategic direction.”
According to Coulson-Thomas, “Personal qualities sought include integrity, determination, independence, objectivity, balance, commitment, individuality, sensitivity, strategic and ethical awareness, and a sense of accountability and responsibility. Directors need energy and drive to move an organisation forward, certain legal and financial knowledge, and an awareness of boardroom issues and practice and relevant governance requirements.”
The Professor finds: “To be effective in the boardroom, a director must also command the respect of colleagues. Development activities should focus upon honing and demonstrating strategic awareness and perception, thinking, decision making, communication and inter-personal skills.”
Coulson-Thomas advises “Preparation for a particular boardroom requires an understanding of the business environment, the specific company’s situation including how its directors are selected, appraised, remunerated and developed, how its board operates and the contribution a new director is expected to make.”
Tools to improve financial understanding can also be used to transform an organisations approach to managing risks. According to Coulson-Thomas “Traditional approaches to risk management involve checks, reviews and approvals which increase costs and result in delays. Yet companies can avoid technical, commercial, regulatory and relationship risks in activities such as developing and costing bespoke solutions and drafting proposals. They can use support tools that make it very easy for important workgroups to do a difficult job. Building controls into such tools enables areas of risk to be addressed before outputs can be produced.”
Coulson-Thomas suggests: “Boards should ensure people are equipped to handle complexity, recognise risks and mitigate or negate their consequences. Support tools that increase financial understanding and focus upon known or likely problems can be distributed via a website or CD-ROM disc. Tool use can provide compliance evidence that risks have been identified, assessed and addressed.”
The Professor is convinced: “Financial and other directors should explore the opportunities for building ways of avoiding risks into appropriate support tools. Bespoke tools that increase understanding of complex issues, boost the productivity of key workgroups and make it easy for people to do difficult jobs can also reduce risk, cut compliance costs and increase performance.”
Directors of over 4,000 organisations have participated in Prof. Coulson-Thomas’ research programme which identifies critical success factors and successful approaches to the challenges faced by directors and boards. His books ‘Developing Directors’ and ‘Winning Companies; Winning people’ set out the different approaches of those who are most and least successful. Both are published by Policy Publications.
Examples of how support tools can be used to make it very easy for average performers to understand areas that are difficult and adopt winning ways are given in Prof. Coulson-Thomas’ book ‘Winning Companies; Winning People’ while guidance on preparation for the boardroom is given in his book ‘Developing Directors’. Both can be ordered from Policy Publications.
Twenty five courses for directors and boards on particular activities that are vital for corporate success are also available. Further information can also be obtained from Adaptation Ltd.
Coulson-Thomas’ talk to financial controllers on the subject of ‘have you got what it takes to be a Financial Director?’ was speaking at the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) Annual Financial Controllers Conference which was held in the Ballroom at The Dorchester, Park Lane, London W1.
Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, an active consultant and experienced chairman of award winning companies, is the author of ‘Developing Directors, a handbook for creating an effective boardroom team’ and ‘Winning Companies: Winning People’. He has helped over 100 boards to improve board and/or corporate performance, and spoken at over 200 national, international and corporate conferences in over 35 countries.