What happens when an owner shares financials with the staff?

  • Lou Simon

    Lou Simon

 
By Lou Simon
Simon/Myers
Updated 6/22/2022 11:03 AM

Like any workplace, each of us at Simon/Myers has unique gifts and talents. The overall fabric of the agency changes with each new hire; some are great at building culture, others at planning events, and still others at coaching and mentoring.

In fact, one of the main reasons I chose my business partner is that I was sufficiently self-aware to know that I'm not as affable as he nor as quick to build new relationships.

 

However, one of the skills that I have developed is the ability to translate the implications that financial trends and data have on our business trajectory. Some of this data is generated from our analysis of the agency's performance, some is information gathered from articles and publications. I know, I know ... that particular skill doesn't make me the life of the party, but it does have its uses.

You may have heard folks say, "Do the right thing and the numbers will take care of themselves." There is truth to that bit of wisdom, but are there times when the numbers themselves can guide you down the right path? I tend to think so.

Enter the matrix

At Simon/Myers we view our financial performance in a number of ways: across three business units, two functional units, by personnel and of course, by project. Some reports we review weekly, others monthly or quarterly. We are only 25 people, so on the surface this type of analysis may seem like overkill. But the reality is that it keeps the ship on course, or ready to course-correct, in real time.

In order to spot areas for improvement fast, the entire staff needs to be engaged in the process. One of the core values at Simon/Myers is "egoless collaboration." This translates to our policy of transparency about agency and project performance, including the sharing of financial data. How can we expect our team to make smart decisions with partial information?

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For example, agencies like ours occasionally need to determine when to "invest" in a client's business and deliver more work than was originally scoped. This is a complex decision with competing forces, as it might inflate client expectations, has an opportunity cost, and reduces job profitability. But it could lead to more opportunities in the future, and deepen relationships.

Made purely based on gut instinct, decisions like these can have unintended negative consequences that won't be understood until well in the future. However, taken as a measured decision, grounded in data, it becomes a calculated risk just like any other financial decision. And since we have been steeped in the numbers, we can make judgment calls like this in real time.

Of course, not everyone's financial literacy is the same when they join, but together we continue to develop that skill set. It is an investment we are happy to make in order to see returns a year or two down the line.

My hope is that having this new knowledge will also serve our staff throughout their career.

The impact on culture

Just as there is a direct relationship between sharing financial data and agency performance, there is an equally important impact on agency culture. I can't think of a single act that builds trust within a team more than keeping everyone informed as to where things stand financially.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In addition to sharing agency data, we take the time to break down those numbers and talk through their implications. To gain insights on a macro level, we pay for subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal, and I frequently share articles from Fortune's CFO Daily.

This isn't just for our accounting, strategy or account teams -- it extends to our creative staff as well. The benefit to our clients is that an elevated, collective business IQ helps us understand their goals in greater depth and ties directly to our strategic approach to marketing consulting.

That's a look behind the scenes at Simon/Myers. If you are an entrepreneur and debating how much to share, let's talk. I'm curious what others' experiences have been, both from a staff and owner perspective.

• Lou Simon is the Principal of Simon/Myers, a marketing consultancy, that specializes in creating branded physical and digital experiences. With offices in Wheaton and Chicago, they work with midmarket companies to achieve their marketing goals.

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