As a financial professional or financial leader in any business, you have an immediate advantage. You have access to and an understanding of financial data and business processes.

Now, how do you leverage that privileged position to really drive value in the business. Also, this can dramatically increase your job satisfaction and career prospects. Below are a Six Steps you can take to leverage your financial skills to help your organization and your career prospects.

Step #1: Get to Know the Business First

Almost every article I write will repeat this. Before you can help others, or add value in the business, you need to understand the business. What is the business, who are the customers, what are the products and services? Get out and meet people who can help you understand the basic facts about the business. You may have a full view of the broader business or you may be focused on a sub-component. It doesn’t matter. As you interact, start to think about how financial information could help different aspects of the business. Also, become aware of the types of decisions that are routinely made to manage and grow the business.

Step #2: With Financial Analysis, sometimes think 80/20 (Pareto Principle)

There is always room to improve the financial performance of a business. Study the numbers. Inevitably your will find that the 80/20 rule comes into play. For example, 80% of the revenue may come from 20% of the customers. Or, 80% of the cost structure may be made up of 2-3 major expense categories.  Try to understand the composition of the revenue and cost structure.  Dive into the detail. Then, move up a level and conclude the primary drivers to the finances of the business.

You will often find that a disproportionate percentage of resources are invested in activities that do not necessarily deliver quality financial results.  So, that opens up an opportunity for you to ask and answer a few questions. How does your organization prioritize its resources? More importantly, how does it re-prioritize based on what you learn from your analysis?

Step #3: Put a Financial Face to the Cost of Quality

How much is it costing your organization to “not get it right” the first time. Organizations consume an extraordinary amount of resources recording and fixing business deviations. These include deviations on customer service, handling customer complaints, levels of buffer inventory, product losses, returns, manufacturing quality deviations, or any host of adverse metrics in managing financial processes. These metrics are critical to understand how the business is being run, whether it is under control or not, and checking for compliance with various internal policies and regulatory requirements.

For the financial person, these metrics are your friends! Convert them into financial terms. Give them a financial face. Identify the good and the bad. Expose the inefficiencies and the potential opportunities for improvement. Then, be part of the solution. Work with the business to identify projects that could get at the root causes of the problems and influence management on value adding changes that need to be implemented.

Step 4: Play a Role in Business Case Evaluation

Businesses are always making big decisions as they move forward their agendas.  Adding a sales force, investment in product research and development, or adding manufacturing capacity. Formal business cases are often required. Intentionally, play a role in this arena. Here are a few tips:

Decision Analysis will require Cash Flow, Net Present Value, and Rate of Return computations. Be cautious. Often non-financial people will ask financial people for data but will use it incorrectly. For example, using a “standard cost” (manufacturing terminology for the unit cost of manufacturing a product) as a baseline for calculating financial impacts has limitations. “Standard Cost” is not cash flow and is fully loaded with fixed overhead. The out of pocket saving of an initiative should be identified. You may be the right person to do this analysis.

Make sure you identify the Income Statement Impact of major decisions, including the impact of depreciation as capital investments are charged to the Income Statement. Once a project is approved senior management will come back looking for results. The results or lack thereof will be visible on the Income Statement. Make sure accountability is established for both Cash Flow and Income Statement impacts.

Keep an eye on the Balance Sheet. Most big decisions have an impact on the Balance Sheet. For example, watch for decisions that dramatically increase inventory values and make sure future sales support inventory levels. Otherwise you could be faced later on with an unexpected inventory write-off.

Step #5: Always Validate Your Data and Assumptions

We all make mistakes. Or, bad data may flow from data sources into your financial analysis. Start by asking yourself what you would expect to find in your financial analysis. Validate against other data sources or bounce off someone who understands the business. Your eventual story or recommendations are only as good as the data your used or assumptions you made. When you make a presentation to senior management, they will validate as well. Better to do some up front validation to make sure you are reasonably comfortable with your data and assumptions.

Step #6: Simply Become a Valued Business Partner

Beyond your routine accounting, financial and reporting responsibilities, challenge yourself to become part of a team of people responsible for running the business. It doesn’t matter about your level in the organization, get involved with the business. The choice is yours. Timing is critical. Be available at the right time. Be tuned in. Remember, you earn their respect. Being a valued business partner will get noticed and will enhance your career prospects.