I can’t think of many businesses at all that don’t need numbers to operate. It doesn’t matter what your job is, decisions always need to be made about what work to focus on, what to prioritize, how much time to spend on something, what to spend precious budget on.
Now I’m not talking about calculus, algebra, geometry, trigonometry or any of that stuff (and don’t get me started on imaginary numbers: i2 = −1).
If numbers are the language of business, are you comfortable talking in that language?
Lets look at some simple ways to get started with this language. Lets say you want to convince your manager that your idea is worth pursuing, how would you say it (also check out my earlier post here for examples in your CV)?
- Not so good: I think we should do x because the customer seems to like it
- Better: We should spend £1000 on x because our customers will pay and extra £50 each for this
- OK: Can we change our process because it will make things easier
- Better: If we change our process, we will save an extra 2 hours every week for the team
- Not so good: We’ve made lots of mistakes this week as we are short of staff, can we hire someone please?
- Better: With one team member down, and that has caused 4 errors over the past month costing us £z. If we hire someone, we can fix those errors and save that money.
Did you notice, all you are doing is using numbers to describe the activity. Its like using a different language to say the same thing. And in a language that the business understands.
An additional benefit is that you look credible and like you understand the business. This is a huge advantage to you especially if you are early in your career.
How to get to the numbers
Now, sometimes you don’t know what all these numbers need to be so there are two ways to find them out as you prepare your argument:
- Get the facts – Go get the information by collecting it yourself (Primary Data) or asking someone for it (Secondary Data). Asking someone like a colleague or your manager or could even be Googling it to see if others have information available online related to your situation.
- Make educated assumptions – If you can’t get exact numbers, then make assumptions and be ready to explain your thinking as to why those assumptions could be accurate (again, examples could be Googling similar companies to see what results they saw or base your assumptions on internal things you have seen that could be comparable).
Believe me, its much better to be critiqued on your assumptions rather than the decision itself, you’re already one step closer than you would have been and they will be impressed with your business thinking.
Practicing the skill
Once you start thinking this way, you’ll notice you are actually doing this all the time, day-to-day in normal life. Next time you are trying to decide what to do over the weekend, notice how often you consider the cost of things as you juggle options, or weight up the time it takes for each thing and how to plan in the priority of what you want to do.
Who said learning another language was hard!
- Use numbers to describe your point
- Collect the relevant information either directly or from others
- Use educated assumptions where required and be prepared to explain them
- You already weigh up the numbers in your day-to-day life, you just need to practice it further in the workplace