John Sanchez

John Sanchez is Managing Director of financial planning and training consultancy FPA Group, LLC . He has more than 20 years’ experience including working at a top ten accounting firm, mergers and acquisitions work for Fortune 500 companies, and leadership positions in consolidated business groups such as Royal Caribbean Cruises and AutoNation. John has substantial experience in capital and strategic planning with proven skills in large-scale budgeting, forecasting and financial planning.

Since his move into developing business training courses for financial professionals in the areas of communications, financial planning and analysis, budgeting and forecasting, John has established a clientele including solo start-ups and multi-billion dollar conglomerates in an eclectic array of industries. Among his many projects, he was hired by the Association of Financial Professionals (AFP) as the instructor for the inaugural exam preparation course for the Certified FP&A Professional certification.

John holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has served as a member of the board of directors for several organizations.

 

Author's Articles

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Pareto Principle – 80/20 Rule

By John Sanchez, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Author

Most business people are familiar with the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Simply put, it says that 20% of inputs generate 80% of outputs. It's a very simple concept, but many people struggle to use it. When it comes to communication, the practical application of the 80/20 rule is to listen 80% of the time.

If we are going to listen most of the time, we ought to do it well and that means using active listening. It is the most effective form of listening and it’s also the most challenging to use. Once you understand how to listen actively, you’ll start to understand why more people don’t do it all the time. It takes effort, especially when you’re first mastering the skills, but it has a huge payoff.

Let’s look at active listening as a process, step-by-step:

  1. Mindset/Focus – The first step to active listening is to consciously focus on being an active listener. The act of listening actively cannot be contrived or the person to whom you are listening will know it and it will break your rapport and keep them from speaking openly and honestly. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as without rapport and trust the communication cannot be as effective as it otherwise could be.
  2. Pay Attention – Listen to understand. Don’t get off task thinking about what you will say next.
  3. Defer Judgement – Separate the person from the idea.
  4. Feed it Back – Feeding back what you heard is different from just repeating what the speaker said. When you feed it back you put what the speaker said into your own words to confirm that you correctly understood, not only the words they said, but their intent, emotion and any other things that you sense are embedded in the words you heard. It is not uncommon that people use lingo, acronyms or words that are highly influenced by their culture. When you feed back what you heard, you are ensuring that whatever might have been unclear is brought out and clarified.

Active listening is often an iterative process. When you feed back what you heard the person may make clarifications, add on to what they just said or flat out correct a misunderstanding.

Going back through the process until you and the person you’re communicating with are satisfied that both sides are on the same page ensures you really understand and you have used active listening effectively.

One of the most common barriers to active listening is listening with an intent to reply instead of listening to understand. This is most people’s natural inclination for a variety of reasons and it makes you prone to being distracted trying to formulate what you will say next. Avoid this at all costs. 

A great way to get better at identifying and using active listening skills is to model people who are exceptional active listeners. This is easy thanks to the vast amount of video clips of great active listeners at your fingertips online. A quick search for a few names will give you lots of great examples. Some great examples of active listeners include Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose and James Lipton, to name just a few. 

Some common traits they share are their skillful use of open-ended questions, their excellent body language, and the way they give feedback. When you watch them, you will notice they ask a question and shut up. There are long stretches of people they interview talking uninterrupted. This skill is harder than it looks, as most people feel compelled to interject when someone talks for a while. Great active listeners revel in what they learn when they actively listen. They get information and stories out of people few others can. 

The principles of active listening can be applied by FP&A professionals using analytics by looking for the minority of analytic results that drive the small number of the most important decisions. This is what the 80/20 rule is all about and modern analytics tools make it even easier to spot the critical 20%. 

Conscientious application of the 80/20 rule can pay big dividends in your communication, so think more about how you can implement it in your day to day FP&A activities.

 

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog

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Tailoring Communication to Your Audience

By John Sanchez, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Author

FP&A professionals work in an environment that requires communicating with a wide variety of people, from the CFO and possibly the organization's board of directors, to department heads and maybe even managers and entry-level professionals all across the organization. This requires us to be adaptable to communicate effectively with all these different audiences. There are some things we can do to ensure we are consistently and reliably on point by tailoring our communication to each audience.

Above all else, effectively tailoring communication is rooted in asking good questions and listening carefully to fully understand people's responses. Here are some of the questions you should consider asking:

  • What is your audience's experience level?
  • How familiar are you with your audience and how familiar with you are they?
  • What is your audience's interest level?
  • How much topic knowledge does your audience have?
  • How diverse is your audience?

There are many more questions we could ask, but this is a good start and will give you some great information about your audience. While questions are the key to understanding our audience, they are only as good as our listening skills. If we don't listen effectively, even the best questions will bring us limited benefits, so let's talk about listening.

EFFECTIVE LISTENING TAKES SKILLS

We spend about 70% of our waking hours communicating and roughly 45% of that time is in listening mode, so let's make sure we're being effective with this time. Active listening is the type of listening we should focus on. There are specific steps to the active listening process, and once you learn and practice them you will become a much better communicator. This simple visual illustrates the active listening process.

  • ​​​​​​​Mindset/Focus -The first step to active listening is to consciously focus on being an active listener. 
  • Pay Attention - Listen to understand. Don’t get off task thinking about what you will say next.
  • Defer Judgement - Separate the person from the idea.
  • Feed it Back – Feeding back what you heard is different from just repeating what the speaker said. When you feed it back you put what the speaker said into your own words to confirm that you correctly understood, not only the words they said, but their intent, emotion and any other things that you sense are embedded in the words you heard.

Active listening is often an iterative process. When you feed back what you heard the person may make clarifications, add on to what they just said, or correct a misunderstanding.  Going back through the process until you and they are satisfied that both sides are on the same page ensures you really understand and you have used active listening effectively.

Now that you know how to listen actively, let's talk about what to do with the information you glean from asking great questions and being a great active listener. You’ve probably heard about The Golden Rule. Simply put it says, “Do unto others as you would like to have done unto you.” Most people think this is a good rule of thumb and intuitively, it seems like an idea with merit. The problem with this principle is people are different and not everyone wants their communication the way you want yours. Even gloves don’t fit two different people the same, they don't "fit like a glove" universally. 

THE PLATINUM RULE

A better rule to use in your communication is the Platinum Rule, which says "do unto others as they would like done unto them." In other words, give them communication the way they want to receive it. If they prefer lots of details, give it to them. If they prefer brevity, like most CFOs and boards of directors do, give it to them. Adapt your communication to your audience based on what you learn from asking great questions and being a good listener.

​​​​By practicing these few simple things, you will ask good questions, use active listening ​​​​to really understand your audience and tailor your communication to them for maximum impact.​​​​​​​

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog


 

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Improving Communication With Data Visualizations

By John Sanchez, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Author

Research shows that the human retina can transmit data to the brain about 60,000 times faster than it can transmit simple text! On top of processing visuals faster, people retain visual information at more than three times the rate of text alone. The speed with which we process visual data is important, not just for expediency, but because we deal with increasingly large volumes of data we need to be able to communicate a lot with a little. These are just some of the reasons data visualizations are used more and more by organizations that want to make better decisions to drive business performance. 

A Simple Definition

Many view data visualization as just a recent term for what has long been known as visual communication. But, data visualization is not just a new buzzword, it is an entire field of study. There are universities all over the world that offer degrees, some even masters degrees, in data science with an emphasis in data visualization. It's not a new concept, just new terminology. For finance and accounting professionals who frequently communicate numeric information, data visualization is particularly relevant. For clarity, let's look at a simple definition so that we are all on the same page when we talk about data visualization. Data visualization is simply the graphic representation of quantitative information. 

Show, Don’t Tell

The old, “a picture is worth a thousand words” concept really comes in handy when you have to make a point that could take a lot longer without the benefit of visuals. Let's look at a simple example. Let's look at a very simple shape like a square. If we were to try to convey the idea of a square to someone using only text we might say, a square is a four-sided flat shape with straight sides, a regular quadrilateral, with four equal sides and four equal angles, where every interior angle is a right angle (90°). Whew! What a mouthful. While that might be a perfectly fine, accurate description of a square, wouldn't a visual image of a square be a much more efficient way to get the point across?

Not only is the visual image of a square quicker and easier to understand, but you could see that it is a square from across the room, which you could not do with the text. Think about the impact of that if you're developing a dashboard to communicate lots of information. How valuable is it for your end users to be able to understand something in an instant?

Spot Things We Otherwise Couldn't/Wouldn't

Visual imagery helps us identify relationships more easily. Whether it’s the parts of a whole, like in a puzzle...

...or a connection that is easy to see, but hard to discern using logic, visuals sometimes make relationships clearer.

        

Kurt Koffka said of visual imagery, “The whole is other than the sum of the parts.” Koffka is one of the psychologists that developed the Gestalt principles of visual perception, which include a handful of principles of visual perception. Simply put, data visualization helps us make more of data than merely the sum of its parts. 

Many organizations all over the world have jumped in with both feet using data visualization. Some of the biggest players in a wide variety of industries have been using data visualization tools for years, including Audi AG, Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil to name just a few. 

Visualizations Can Be Interactive

While finance and accounting professionals frequently communicate numeric data, they are not the only ones using data visualizations. Many professions use them. Some of the visualizations I've run across that were created by marketers illustrate some novel and dynamic uses of data visualization tools. Here are a couple you might like that make use of  interactive visualizations:

These visualizations were created to create engagement and they are good examples for anyone who might want to get users of their communications more involved and engaged. No matter your audience, getting them engaged with the data boosts understanding, retention and leads people to take more action.

If you communicate data at all, it is worth investing some time to explore data visualization. There is a wide variety of tools available to make creating visualizations easier than ever before. With a modest investment of time you can try different options, come up with your wish list of functionality and narrow the field. Before you know it, you'll be creating visuals that take how you communicate information to a whole new level.

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog

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Using Analytics to Enhance Decision Making

By John Sanchez, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Author

Analytics are nothing new, but what is new is how they are being used and how pervasive they are. Recent surveys show that more than 90% of organizations believe that using analytics more effectively will lead to important insights to inform decision making, and 49% of businesses said the biggest benefit of using analytics is improving decision making. The crux of the analytics movement is making better decisions and more organizations are moving towards a data-driven culture, but only about a third of organizations surveyed said they would describe their current culture as data-driven. So, where is the disconnect?

Data-Driven Decision-Making Culture

Maybe the best way to answer this question is to examine what it takes to have a data-driven culture with analytics at the heart of decision making. One of the key characteristics of a data-driven culture is transparency. The right people need access to data to perform the analysis they need to make better decisions and disjointed or locked down data does them no good. The dilemma this presents is adhering to data governance policies while still allowing access to the right information by the right people at the right time. 

Some of the analytics tools that are currently in use by organizations who are maximizing their analytics function make it easier to strike the proper balance between transparency and compliance with data governance policies with well-defined user access policies and audit trails to ensure people can use only data they need and any changes to data are well documented.

Establishing Data as the Decision Driver

Another key characteristic an organization needs to have to extract the most out of their analytics is to cultivate data as a key decision driver. There are many approaches to decision making and among them are a variety of non-data driven methods. Decision by consensus, for example, is a common decision-making methodology that does not have data as a core decision driver. This is not to say that there is no merit in this method, but it is not compatible with a strongly data-driven decision making culture, so this is a big consideration. Changing the culture is not without some significant challenges, so plan accordingly and get a handle on the resources that will be required if a major culture shift is in order.

Get the Right People on the Team

Culture, by nature, has to do with people and having the right people on your team is critical to successfully establishing analytics as that key decision driver. That means hiring, training and retaining talent with the right set of skills and attributes. You will need analysts who are curious, eager to learn and flexible. Curiosity doesn't just mean asking questions. It means asking good questions, critically evaluating answers, and asking good follow up questions when necessary. 

I recall being frustrated when I was managing financial analysts and I would see an explanation of a variance with phrases like "Variance due to volume increase". While it may be a factually correct answer, it does little to provide insight. Analysts must understand how to ask questions that lead to insights so they are empowering decision makers, not just reporting data.

An eagerness to learn is especially important in an environment that is constantly changing, as people need to learn new skills as they are required to adapt to new technology or circumstances. Whether you have a formal training program or knowledge and skills are shared informally, there must be a commitment to continual learning if you are to keep pace with top competitors. Not only is this important for your current employees to do their jobs well, but it is also important to keep them on your team at all as the business landscape at top companies gets more and more competitive. Demand for finance managers, for example, is expected to grow at nearly 20% per year, which is much faster than many other jobs.

If you recruit and retain top talent, establish a culture where data is a key decision driver and foster an environment of wisely planned transparency, you put yourself and your organization in a position to maximize your leverage on analytics to drive decisions that can improve business performance.

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog

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Applying Analytics to Storytelling

By John Sanchez, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Author

storytellingAccording to Google's Chief Economist, Dr. Hal Varian, "The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it— that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades." LinkedIn confirmed this when they analyzed the skills most needed in 2018 and among the top skills they identified are data analysis, presentation and communication skills. Applying storytelling to analytics embodies all these skills and is critical to FP&A professionals who want to move the next level.

As FP&A professionals we are expected to not just report on data, but to add value to our organizations with analysis we produce. There are many reasons we should strive to incorporate storytelling into how we communicate the results of our work. In their best-selling book "Made to Stick", Chip and Dan Heath talk about how people's ability to recall information was more than ten times better when they learned information through a story, rather than being presented with data alone. Beyond just making information more memorable, research shows that stories increase people's propensity to act on what they have seen and heard in stories, so storytelling is clearly an invaluable tool we should use when communicating.

Don't just present numbers, help people understand the story behind the numbers

The key to using analytics is extracting insights that drive effective decision making and storytelling works as a lever to get the most out of those insights. The first step to developing stories based on our insights is to start with the end in mind. What decisions will your analysis support that drives the business forward? Answer this question first, rather than being pulled in whatever direction data takes you. Exploring data with an open mind is important, but it is once we have developed our insights that we must move to the communication piece of the puzzle, so decide first what your end goal is. Are you communicating to inform, to influence, to persuade, to educate? There are many reasons we analyze data, so get clarity on your goal first. Once you have decided on your desired outcome you must start to develop your story using a combination of visuals and narrative.

There are many data visualization tools with a wide variety of functionality, but even the most rudimentary visuals that you can create in spreadsheets are helpful to telling a story with data. If you have more sophisticated visualization tools, use them, but don't let the tool drive your story. Let the data tell the tale, with you as the narrator steering the story in the right direction. There are many great advantages of visualizing data, which is the subject of an upcoming article, but suffice to say we should always incorporate visuals whenever they make data quicker or easier to understand. 

Use narrative to add context

Use narrative to expand on what your visualizations show. You may have a visualization that clearly shows a trend, but the trend alone usually doesn't tell the entire story. Adding narrative provides context that helps people understand the bigger picture. Is your trend the result of some other data you can discuss or show with another visual? How is the data you present related? Maybe the trend in your visualization of your company's revenue is the result of several new marketing efforts that are illustrated by another visualization. Tie them together to create a complete picture of what is going on in the mind of your audience. 

By performing analysis with the end in mind, being intentional and focused in choosing what data to communicate and combining visualizations and narrative to craft your storytelling, you will take how you communicate with analytics to a new level.

 

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog

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Author's Articles

October 4, 2019

Most business people are familiar with the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Simply put, it says that 20% of inputs generate 80% of outputs. It's a very simple concept, but many people struggle to use it. When it comes to communication, the practical application of the 80/20 rule is to listen 80% of the time.

August 27, 2019
FP&A Tags:

FP&A professionals work in an environment that requires communicating with a wide variety of people. This requires us to be adaptable to communicate effectively with all these different audiences. There are some things we can do to ensure we are consistently and reliably on point by tailoring our communication to each audience.

June 18, 2019

Research shows that the human retina can transmit data to the brain about 60,000 times faster than it can transmit simple text! On top of processing visuals faster, people retain visual information at more than three times the rate of text alone.

April 30, 2019

The crux of the analytics movement is making better decisions and more organizations are moving towards a data-driven culture, but only about a third of organizations surveyed said they would describe their current culture as data-driven. So, where is the disconnect?

Pages