Cooking the books

IT IS 4PM on a Friday and the information you asked for urgently on Tuesday has only just arrived. You’re used to working overtime but this time you’ll have to pull an all-nighter because the deadline is Monday morning.  After the initial anger and frustration, comments start to circulate around the team about how disorganised other people are, how they don’t value what you do and have no idea about how long it is going to take to do the work. There might even be a few four-letter words thrown in for good measure. Does this sound familiar?

?Many non-finance professionals openly admit that they do not have a clue about accounting and finance. When people start talking numbers, their eyes glaze over and they look for a way to make a swift exit; they quite literally do not understand what you are saying, so how about changing the language you use to talk in terms they do understand?? ?

The universal language of food?
I am not suggesting you quote items from a menu to them. What I am suggesting is that you use food and cooking references to explain things they are just not grasping when you explain it a different way. Delivering information late to you is frustrating but for some reason seems entirely acceptable to them, so how could you turn this on its head?? ?

Put it this way: would they turn up with a group of 15 friends at a restaurant at 7pm on a Saturday night without a reservation and expect a busy restaurant to seat them straight away? No. While they don’t necessarily know the inner workings of a kitchen, they know that it takes time for food to be prepared, served and consumed. The trouble with accountancy and finance is that what professionals in these industries do tends to happen out of sight of their clients: it is time to roll up the sleeves, put the chef’s apron on and give people a taste of what is involved.? ?

Explain to them that if they can deliver the ingredients to you pre-prepared then you can make progress preparing their accounts straightaway. If you have to wash, peel and chop everything then it is going to take longer to prepare the meal, so show clients how to clean their data, categorise it and present it to you in a way that makes sense. Encourage them to be your sous chef, commis or kitchen porter.? ?

There is a good reason that McDonalds is one of the largest restaurant chains in the world. It is not because they serve Michelin-starred food, rather because they have the best processes and systems. They do not have to mince the meat and shape it into patties: McDonalds delivers pre-prepared, ready-to-cook ingredients to their restaurants that are then cooked to order in its restaurants.?

?Ask your colleagues in other departments if they want fast food, i.e. timely management information they can easily read, or carefully prepared gourmet meals that show off the creative talents of the chef but do not give people what they really want to eat? This does appear simplistic but it does help everyone to be clear about what information is necessary and what is merely is nice to have.? ?

This is not a problem that is going to go away overnight but, with some light-hearted reminders that they have turned up with a party of 15 expecting to be catered for, they might start to see the need for change. ? ?

The dinner party business plan
?Cooking analogies can also be used in other areas of the business to encourage people to plan effectively, particularly when it comes to launching new products and services. All too often, resources are committed to developing what people within the company think the market wants and only find out when it is much too late that the product just will not sell.? ?

Rather than discounting or spending a fortune on marketing to stimulate interest, taking a customer-led approach means that products meet customers’ wants and needs in a much more obvious way.??

When running workshops and talking to our own clients one-to-one, some we find people are resistant to planning and research, preferring to rush a new product out where there is not a proven demand for it. Asking a simple question starts the conversation moving in a whole new direction and gets them thinking more strategically. The question is: “Have you ever hosted a dinner party?”

The dinner party business plan


The beauty of the dinner party business plan is that, because it is familiar, people remember it and understand that the steps need to be followed in sequence.

??Hannah McNamara, together with Patrick White, is the author of Business Cookery: Tried and tested recipes for success, published by HRM Global.

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