How to work out what financial information to share with your team
As a business owner, sharing financial information can be a fine line to tread.
Fail to talk about company finances and it can look like you don’t trust employees. On the flipside, sharing low figures can lead to anxiety amongst your team.
So what’s the answer when it comes to financial transparency with employees?
The benefits of sharing company finances
Before you share any information about your company’s finances, it’s important to understand the reasons for doing so.
Being financially transparent doesn’t just benefit employees. It can be beneficial for you as a leader too, so know what you want to get out of the process.
Here are some of the main reasons to be upfront about your company finances.
Increased employee satisfaction
Research shows that 82 per cent of staff want information about their company’s financial situation. However, only 56 per cent of businesses provide updates to all workers.
Sharing finances takes trust. If you show staff you trust them, they’re more likely to trust you in return. This will help employees feel like a valued part of the company and have a big impact on how motivated they feel in their role.
Improved workplace culture
Talking about finances is just one area where you can foster an open environment. This approach can influence the workplace culture and help with collaboration. It will also show staff that you’re approachable and willing to talk honestly about the business.
Better financial awareness
As the saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved”.
Keeping the company’s finances secret might help you dodge difficult conversations. But it also deprives you of the chance to hear valuable new perspectives.
Staff will usually be on the ground, interacting with customers every day. This can give them ideas on how to capitalise on success or solve the small problems that are affecting cash flow. However, that’s hard to do if they don’t really know what’s working and what isn’t.
One of the biggest benefits is greater accountability. Sharing information shows how each person's work fits into the big picture. As a result, you'll remind staff that what they do matters.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like the hard work you put in every day is going unnoticed. This can have a real impact on motivation. You may find that even the most hardworking employee becomes lacklustre at work.
Sharing financial information gives staff a clear example of how their work affects the company's success.
Whether you relate financial information to individual or team goals will depend on your company’s size. What’s important is that everyone feels recognised for their contribution.
“It’s about trying to get everybody to understand monetary value, no matter what it is that they’re doing. It’s easy to mispour a pint, so it’s about training our staff, giving them a visual and having that monetary value of everything they’re in control of.”
Mark Holden, company director of Inn Cornwall
Steps to take to become financially transparent
So you know you want to be more financially transparent, but where do you start?
It’s worth planning out your approach in advance so you can deliver the information with confidence.
Step one: Work out what to share
Sharing too much can cause information overload. Share too little and people will lack context.
To get the right balance, ask yourself the following questions:
- Which information am I comfortable sharing?
- What would be the most useful to my employees to see on a regular basis?
- How relevant is this information to their role?
- Would it help them better understand the bigger picture?
- How will it make staff feel?
Talk to your employees and ask them what financial information would be helpful to know. Don't forget to ask how it should be formatted as well. Would an email one-pager be most useful, or should it be shared in a meeting?
It’s also crucial to remember that any information you share will essentially be public. It’s natural that some information should be kept confidential, so know what you need to keep back.
Step two: How to communicate financial information
The way that you present company finances will have a huge effect on how well it’s digested.
Emailing a spreadsheet of numbers usually won't do enough to capture people's attention. Worse, it can leave people feeling confused or disheartened.
That's why it can help to hold a company-wide meeting in the first instance. If you want to reap the benefits of greater understanding, you need to make sure everyone's on the same page.
Put together a slideshow and work through the finances together. Provide context against last year's numbers if you have them.
Encourage employees to ask questions and take your time to explain why each point is relevant.
After that, find a regular opportunity to run through the figures. It might be in email format or a feature of a monthly team meeting, followed by a quick Q&A.
Follow these steps to communicate financial information clearly and get staff interested:
- Highlight the metrics that are most relevant to the company goals
- Focus on common sense and simplify where necessary. That means avoiding jargon and explaining any difficult concepts
- Use colourful visuals, like graphs and diagrams. This will help bring the information to life
- Look to the future. Add projections to show where you could be in six months. If the figures are good, this can help to motivate the team. If not, treat it as an opportunity to address any issues now
It's vital to bear in mind that employees will have different levels of understanding.
A good rule of thumb is to explain the numbers and terminology in a way that would make sense to a five year-old. That way, you can be sure everyone understands, even if they're too shy to speak up.
Step three: Stick to a schedule
Once you decide to start sharing financial information, it’s important to do it on a regular basis. Make sure employees know when and how to expect the updates, and keep the communication consistent.
It can be tempting to hold information back when financial performance is down. But employees need to have a full picture of the financial landscape – good or bad.
There's little worse than management going quiet during a rough patch. This can generate anxiety in the team and lead people to make their own conclusions.
Step four: Ask employees what’s working
Want to know whether sharing financial information is having an impact? Ask them.
You can do this by checking in with them individually or sending out a survey. It’s best to wait three or six months before doing this, because it takes time to build up context.
Check people’s understanding of where the company is at financially. If your staff seem lost or aren’t showing interest, find out how you could improve communication.
It might be that difficult concepts need to be better explained. Or you might need to show employees how they fit into the bigger picture.
If you do make a change, keep in mind that it will take a few months for it to bed in. Don’t expect overnight results.
Dealing with difficult conversations about money
Starting conversations about company finances can occasionally lead to difficult discussions. This can be unsettling at first, but it’s all part of the process.
You can deal with most tough questions by preparing what you’ll say in advance. Don't be afraid to be honest if you don’t know the answer either.
Questions about staff salaries
Make sure you keep discussions about pay between line managers and their staff.
It's a good idea to have a robust structure in place for salary reviews and bonuses. That way, you can suggest the right time and place if questions arise.
Questions when profits are down
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but all businesses go through financial ups and downs. As a business leader, it’s your job to navigate your team through tough times.
This is easier for businesses who are in the habit of addressing their finances. A downward turn may come as less of a shock when you’re reviewing numbers regularly.
If you do experience a downturn, there are benefits to speaking to your staff. Explain how you think the problems should be addressed but give them ownership too. Allow them to suggest their own solutions.
Above all, remain calm, transparent and open to conversations. Create a culture where talking about finances is normal and you’ll build a more responsible, resilient team.
“If there is negative news, if we’ve had a bad month or money is tight, you need to clarify it. As a director, it’s about instilling a sense of calm. If we’ve had a bad month, it’s about what we’re doing next and being quite clear on our plans.”
Tom Frost, director of Crack magazine