How To Speak CFO: A Primer For HR

William Tincup 60-Second SPHR, Audacious Ideas, Bad HR, Trench HR, William Tincup

So here’s the thing: CFOs don’t actually hate HR professionals—they just don’t understand them. As a resource to you, the faithful Fistful of Talent reader, I’ve created a guide for the funny terms CFOs use.

Take this moment to learn how they speak when you’re not around.

  • Acid Test:  A stern measure of a company’s ability to pay its short-term debts, in that stock is excluded from asset value. Meaning, should we take acid before the Depeche Mode concert? Hells yes, Acid Test.
  • Cashflow: The movement of cash in and out of a business from day-to-day direct trading and other non-trading or indirect effects, such as capital expenditure, tax and dividend payments. Meaning, do we have enough money in the bank account to pay $h!t on time? If so, cashflowin’.
  • Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS): The directly attributable costs of products or services sold, usually materials, labor, and direct production costs. The key phrase is “directly.” COGS is actually quite important. I wish it had a sexier acronym though. COGS makes me think naughty thoughts.
  • Depreciation: The apportionment of cost of a (usually large) capital item over an agreed period. Come on now, you’ve been screwed at a dealership… surely you know what depreciation means. Surely.
  • Fixed Assets: Assets held for use by the business rather than for sale or conversion into cash, e.g. fixtures and fittings, equipment, buildings. Just between us… CFOs generally like things that are fixed—assets, liabilities, expenses, etc. They hate surprises. Really hate surprises. So no more variable crap, m’kay?
  • Goodwill: Any surplus money paid to acquire a company that exceeds its net tangible assets value. Or, place where you donate the crap you couldn’t sell in the garage sale. Either way.
  • Liabilities: General term for what the business owes. While not evil, liabilities are like the last Doritos in the bag. Inevitable.
  • Net Present Value (NPV): NPV is a significant measurement in business investment decisions. You’ll need a PhD in Finance to figure out NPV… suffice to say, a dollar today is better than 110 cents in six months. Try not to hurt yourself. NPV is a jerk.
  • Overhead: An expense that cannot be attributed to any one single part of the company’s activities. Well actually, you’re overhead. At least you’re not a Sh!thead. Unless you are. Anyhoo, overhead = no bueno.
  • Return On Investment (ROI): Profits derived as a proportion of and directly attributable to cost or “book value” of an asset, liability or activity, net of depreciation. People in our industry lie about ROI all the time. Truth is, only the Loch Ness Monster knows how to truly calculate ROI. Let’s just call it guesstimate.
  • Variable Cost: A cost which varies with sales or operational volumes, e.g. materials, fuel, commission payments. Remember what I said about fixed versus variable? CFOs hate crap that is variable… it messes up those pretty Excel spreadsheets. Kidding aside, cut out variable stuff in your budget… your CFO will love you.
  • Working Capital: Current assets less current liabilities, representing the required investment, continually circulating, to finance stock, debtors, and work in progress. Like Cashflow, Working Capital is a great measure for the here and now. The Porridge Rule applies… too much working capital is bad; too little working capital is bad. It’s got to be just right.

Well, now. Don’t you feel smarter? Of course you do. Learn their language… meet them (CFOs) where they are. And, while you’re at it, pick up a fancy financial calculator the next time you raid Office Depot. None of it will make sense but just having it on your desk will send the right message.