Electrical Testing
What Do Bean Counters Hear?

What Do Bean Counters Hear?

To convince bean counters that your proposals are worth pursuing, speak to them in language they understand.

Some bean counters overheard these discussions between electricians. Or, at least it seemed that they did.

On test equipment purchases, conversation number one.

Bob: Check out this digital multimeter (DMM). I’ve got it tricked out with mag wheels, an aftermarket chip, and a blower.

Phil: That’s pretty rad. How much did that set you back?

Bob: Oh, it was a total waste of money. But I love my toys!

Phil: I hear that.

Photo credit: Yukchong Kwan/Hemara/Thinkstock

On test equipment purchases, conversation number two.

Mike: So, this is the new sound system for your infrared camera. Looks like you sank some serious money into it.

Jim: I really did. But check out the size of the subwoofers.

Mike: Man, those are huge.

Jim: Yep. Fifteen inches with 50 ounce magnets, way beyond anything I actually need.

Mike: Looks impressive. What kind of music do you play on this system?

Jim: Play? Oh, I don’t actually play anything on it. I just wanted to spend the money to get the bragging rights.

On training, conversation number one.

Bill: I hear you are trying to get approval for an infrared training class. What’s that about?

Sam: Well, the first day we’ll contemplate our navels. That’s always very relaxing.

Bill: Anything else?

Sam: You know, I’m not all that bright, but I have this idea that if I get enough training I could become smart enough to be a bean counter. That’s the reason I keep requesting training.

On training, conversation number two.

Janet: I really want that Level II certification.

Dave: I can’t imagine why you’d need it. You must be fully qualified already or they wouldn’t have hired you.

Janet: True, and nothing ever changes in this industry. The work we do is so simple, anyone can learn anything they could possibly need to know before hiring on at a company. But I sit up at night dreaming of ways to waste the company’s money.

Dave: Hmm. I come up with my money-wasting schemes on company time. I usually daydream about these things while I’m working inside a breaker panel.

Okay, so bean counters didn’t really overhear these conversations. But when you get turned down for one funding request after another, it can seem as if this is what they are hearing.

Have you tried to put yourself into their shoes? They don’t really understand what it is you do, because their skill sets, training, experience, and job functions are different from yours. However, you have something in common with them.

What might that be? Think about it. What educational background does an accountant or MBA have? What they have in common with you is their educational backgrounds are heavy in mathematics. That’s why these people are known as “quants” (they quantify).

Yes, you have a common language. Speak in it for your funding requests, and your chances of approval improve dramatically. But you must have the correct “accent” or they still won’t understand you. Always think in terms of “specific” rather than “general.”

Here are some tips:

Quantify the benefits. You can’t just say something is essential or allude to some vague possibility that it will reduce downtime. Nor can you just make numbers up. Look for a specific example that illustrates the need. For example: “On line three, we missed a problem that resulted in $16,000 of cost and lost profit. The camera we are requesting costs $2,500.”

Tie it to a specific piece of equipment. See the previous tip for an example.

Use specific numbers. See the first tip for an example.

Use the financial metrics they use. A competent bean counter doesn’t care about “payback time” because it doesn’t account for the cost of capital, the cash flows, or how much money the proposal will net. At a minimum, always provide the Net Present Value (NPV) of the proposed expenditure.

Substantiate your estimates. If you provide estimates, write up an attachment that explains how you came up with each one. Anything unsubstantiated or unexplained is likely to get rejected. Bean counters, like you, have only so many hours in a day. If you don’t care enough to provide this information, don’t expect them to think your proposal is really important to you.

Offer less detail. Remember that as you go up the management chain, the person reading the proposal wants fewer details. The department manager typically wants all the details, but a vice president simply does not have time to read them. How can you satisfy both (and everyone in between)? The solution is to keep the main body of the proposal lean and to the point, providing the details in appendices or attachments.

Use powerful examples. An exception to the previous point is to (sparingly) use specific examples in the main body of the proposal. But summarize each; as with everything else, provide the details in appendices or attachments.

When your requests for test equipment or training expenditures are specific and quantitative, you are giving the bean counters something they can work with. If those proposals include vagueness or don’t include the numbers needed to justify the cost, it’s going to seem as though you’re just out to waste money.

Sometimes, a show-and-tell is hugely persuasive. Consider renting or even leasing the equipment you want to buy, so you can use actual data from the plant whose assets you are trying to protect.

If you include comparative images captioned with the cost numbers you won’t need to say much else.

Here’s a conversation you really want the bean counters to overhear:

Bob: Compare these two infrared camera images.

Phil: Amazing. On our camera, everything looks fine. On that upscale unit you’re renting I see about $90,000 worth of downtime just waiting to happen.

Bob: Yes, buying one of these cameras would be a very good use of the company’s money.

Phil: I hear that.

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