As successful CFOs like Michael Burwell know, the world of business becomes more and more competitive with each passing year. We live in a very unpredictable world where things can change dramatically in what seems like the drop of a hat. Technology continues to advance with record speed, not only changing the nature of the businesses we work within but also the ways that we live our daily lives. Just try to think of an area of your life that is not touched, in some way, by technology. This means staying abreast of ever-changing trends in a variety of different areas.
And as Michael Burwell and others note, the margin for error is razor thin. There is too much competition and too much high-quality competition that if you fall behind or make a bad judgment, you can easily be overshadowed by the “other guy.” This means that your ability to synthesize ever-changing information and to make a quality decision based on experience and keen insight is more vital now than it ever has been before. In fact, for those like Michael Burwell, navigating the changing world, it is imperative to one’s survival in business.
So today, automation does a lot of the bean counting and other work that used to be a huge part of a CFOs daily duties. CFOs like Michael Burwell now find themselves awash in ever-growing amounts of data, giving them valuable new insights, but also a ton of “muck” to work through to get to the value within all that data. What one has to be able to do is determine what the problem is, if there is one, or what the goal you have in mind should be, then formulate a detailed plan of action that articulates the steps that will be required to get there.
A lot of time, says Michael Burwell, you will be faced with a problem or a question. You need to not only figure out what the person is trying to ask you, but what they intend to accomplish or they think will come of said help. Engaging in this way not only helps to improve morale, it helps you better gauge what you are being asked to analyze and give you the information you need to best help them with their problem or question.
Do not be afraid to bring in experts. You cannot be expected to know everything and cultivating relationships with experts in related fields gives you valuable insight you wouldn’t have without said connections. These relationships also go both ways, so you should too offer your own insight if and when those in your network should find themselves in need. Having an expert on hand to help you better understand a problem you are analyzing arms you with what you need to make the best possible decision going forward.
When considering the topic of analysis, Michael Burwell will think out loud. He’ll form a hypothesis and test out different ideas in their mind and even with other people to see where these brainstorming sessions might lead them. You need to be able to visualize and understand the topic of analysis as deeply as you possibly can and from as many angles as possible, in order to be able to come up with the best actionable plan or answer.
Michael Burwell also knows that they have to have coherent data sets and plans. This means that you have to have a good idea as to how you will collect the data you need for your analysis, and once the data is gathered, you will need a plan in place for getting rid of any aberrant or junk data that will only cloud the results or make it harder to get to the root of the problem or question. Once you have all the data and it is cleaned of erroneous information, you can now start to analyze the data you are looking at.
Here too is where you can gain more valuable insight and ultimately become better at what you do. There are so many logical fallacies and traps that one can fall into when analyzing data and its vital to remain aware and on the lookout for these in one’s own analysis. Perhaps the largest and most common error in analysis is mistaking correlation for causation. Just because there is a relationship between two variable, even a very strong one, does not mean that one causes the other and to misidentify this will skew everything that comes out of this analysis. It is often more useful to focus on trends as this can be a good metric for future predictions and action plans.
All of these tips will help you better analyze problems, questions, and data, which, in turn, will also help you make better decisions and action plans for the future. CFOs are asked to wear a lot of different “hats” and much of the focus of the work has changed as technology and automation have rendered much of the so-called grunt work meaningless in terms of daily job duties. Being flexible and always cultivating better analysis skills will help you adapt to an ever changing future with more ease.