Coaching with Questions
by Adrian W. Hollander, C.P.A., CISA, CIA, CBA, CFSA,
COMPLUS’ target market is defined as businesses that are too big for the owner to run with just a checkbook and too small to hire one of our Controllers full-time. The owners of these companies are active, energetic, understanding and very capable. (Otherwise, their businesses would not survive.) They would generally rather share money than decision-making (though it’s not necessarily an easy choice). Our job is to help them to be more in control. We enable the owner to run the business without feeling blindfolded. Does the owner see the same things that we see?
Occasionally during Controller interviews I am asked if I can make decisions for the Owner/CEO/President. Certainly I could. I do so for my own company. I respond, though, “ If you really want me to make the decisions, would you please call ME President and pay me accordingly?” The CEO’s question implies a different job vacancy than what started to discuss. With that (I hope) humorous exchange, does the owner now realize that what he/she really wants is a helper not a challenger or substitute?
In our web site we suggest the “captain” and “navigator” relationship. If the captain is pointing the plane (or ship) toward an obstacle, as the navigator, we must bring the condition to his/her attention (with suggestions for alternative courses, certainly). If the owner continues to pursue a course that could be dangerous, we must ask if he/she is doing this on purpose. Fortunately, our clients are “reasonable people.” They tend to make good decisions when enabled with good information. They are empowered by their positions to “crash” if they choose, however. (Shouldn’t decisions have consequences?)
We illustrate our relationship with the owner in another way by suggesting this image: the owner and CFO/Controller standing back-to-back with arms linked elbow-to-elbow. In this relationship, together, we can have a 360-degree view of the world. We want to be part of the leadership team. With a properly functioning accounting system we (controllers) run the feedback (and early warning) system. Shouldn’t we be doing our best to prevent unexpected, unfavorable situations from surprising the owner?
Our obligation is to make the accounting system bring “truth” to decision makers. We bring what the owner “needs” to hear; sometimes that’s not what the owner “wants” to hear. (It’s the owner’s choice whether or not to pay attention.) The arrangement that I make with my clients is that they will deal with the news and not shoot the messenger. Please? We sell alliance. Do we owe our clients any less?
Style becomes critically important. If we “tell” the owner what to (or not to) do, might we be perceived as a challenger by the owner? Who is working for whom, anyway? How would you feel about someone who is always “telling” you what to do? Sounds sort of bossy, doesn’t it? Cannot questions influence actions even more effectively? Do you see how this technique gives prerogatives to decision-makers rather than taking them away? Is “coaching with questions” easier to understand, now?
A business owner will always pay for good accounting -- one way or another.
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