business, training

Teaching finance to non-finance professionals

I have been in my career 23 years now. 21 of those years were spent in finance, and for the last two years I have been trying to apply my finance background to help grow our entertainment division and help us make better decisions.

During my first 7 years, I was in public accounting and did quite a bit of teaching, at new staff school and around the office. That teaching was to professionals who understand accounting and finance basics, and in most cases had recently finished their schooling where they learned these concepts.

When I joined MGM, we did a lot of training of our staff in my various roles, again mostly to folks who had a finance viewpoint. During that time, we started to realize there was a need to teach finance to the rest of the organization. So we built a training class discussing the basics of finance. It is about 3-4 hours, and has worked really well in many situations from HR teams to operating personnel to new hires into our management associate program. I am now looking to do a similar training (and maybe series of training) to my entertainment team.

I believe the key to teaching finance to non-finance professionals is a top-down approach. I start by discussing industry trends, not discussing finance at all. I want them to understand the business, of which finance is merely the scorekeeper and storyteller. I then spend a decent amount of time on corporate finance concepts, like capital, debt, valuations, analyzing industry and company financial statements. This gives them the linkage to how their individual/department/operating unit results roll up and contribute to the overall company. I feel like this linkage, and the attitudes and skills it should foster, are critical element to energizing operating units to make decisions that are best for the overall company.

I spend some time on key accounting principles or issues that affect them directly. And I like to discuss the structure of finance within our company, so they know the players and who fills which roles. Who can they reach out to when they have a question?

Finally, we work through two exercises to help them with their day-to-day financial acumen. We review an operating department’s financial statements and do variance analysis, ratio analysis, and analyze statistics. We also do some ROI calculations, so they can be aware of and participate in those workings when finance is helping them evaluate capital improvements.

We’ve gotten good feedback on these classes, the shared services center I used to manage still teaches these classes, including an all-day version for our management associates from all divisions, where they add in a CFO roundtable, and deeper exercises to understand departmental financial statements and financial decisions.

I feel like teaching finance to non-finance professionals is beneficial for both sides, and can help bridge gaps in communication and expectations as those two groups interact throughout their recurring financial reviews as well as during projects.

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