Financial metrics are not enough

  • How do you know if an organisation has performed well?

 

  • If it’s a private company, financial results will reflect customers’ valuations of what they were offered and translate them into revenue and profits

 

  • If it’s a public sector unit, the tax-paying public will judge quality and service levels received – actual costs are not their concern unless their taxes become unacceptably high – until then, they leave it to service unit managers and government ministers to manage resources needed and so costs

 

  • Currently, there’s a glut of financial measures available and, confusingly, more than one definition for some of them – they include:
    • Free Cash Flow – FCF
    • Net Assets – NA
    • Capital employed – CE
    • Return on Sales – RoS
    • Return on capital employed – RoCE
    • Asset turn
    • Added value – AV
    • Economic value added – EVA
    • Gearing
    • Working capital
    • Liquidity

 

  • The problem, as Peter Drucker once pointed out, is: “Financial accounting is an X-ray of an enterprise’s skeleton but most of the diseases we commonly die from such as heart attacks, cancer or Parkinson’s disease do not show up in a skeletal X-ray – a loss of market standing or failure to innovate does not show up in an accountant’s figures unless the damage has gone beyond repair”

 

  • Hence, financial measures have their limitations

 

  • And they don’t drive results – they’re the results of actions already taken – they show where an organisation has been, rather than where it’s going

 

  • Warren Buffett famously described them as ‘rear mirror, not windscreen’ measures

 

  • Using them alone would be like steering a boat by watching its wake and hoping there are no dangers ahead

 

  • That said, there are some financial measures which are vitally important – the financial cardinals, detailed later

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