When organisations only talk about reducing costs or increasing revenue, it’s easy to undervalue the critical work of many of your people. It can lead to losing good people and making costly mistakes in the business. In this article we’ll see how conversations using the Four Categories of Financial Value can show people the importance of the work they and others do.

I discussed the Four Categories of Financial Value in a separate article and I suggest you read that first if you don’t know them.

She’s Just Doing Maintenance

One of the great things I got from learning the four categories was the ability to challenge statements such as “it’s just business-as-usual work”.

In several organisations I know, people are ranked and rewarded based on their delivery of projects. However, the projects themselves have an implicit ordering where projects that increase revenue or reduce costs are considered most important and people who deliver them are rewarded most. So, the person who delivered a project that makes an additional $1m of revenue is rewarded more than the one whose “maintenance” work protected $100m of revenue.

Now maybe that $1 was much harder to obtain and we could get into all kinds of discussions about performance appraisal systems and whether they are fair or not. But that’s not my point…

Despite protecting $100m of revenue, the “maintenance” guys are never appreciated because they’re “just doing business-as-usual work”. But, boy, are they shouted at if anything goes wrong.

Is that really how we’d like our companies to be?

I’ve noticed it’s not just manager’s attitudes either. When I’ve pointed out to people that what they are really doing is protecting millions of revenue, I frequently get a “Wow, I hadn’t thought of it like that” moment in return as that person shifts their view of themselves from menial bug-fixer to doing something seriously important for the business.

If you’ve been wondering how to motivate your staff then letting them know the significance of their work and how much you value them doing it is a good start.

Those Annoying Security and Audit People

A similar undervaluing happens with organisational stakeholders such as security and audit. Some people, particularly technical staff, see them as an obstacle or a waste of time – creating paperwork or bureaucracy while they are trying to do the “important” work and get the product delivered. Usually “get the product delivered” has an increase revenue or reduce cost driver behind it.

However, security, audit and similar stakeholders are typically protecting value and avoiding costs such as regulator fines, being forced out of a market and the reputational risk of hackers stealing information or money.

I find having conversations about the four financial categories and the intent behind those stakeholders requests can change attitudes very quickly, particularly when we start putting a few numbers of the value. And that means people start making technical decisions that protect revenue and avoid costs as well as getting the increased revenue that might be their main driver.

And when you reach out proactively to those stakeholders because you value what they do and need their help; you get a far more productive relationship with them.

It’s About Conversations

I’ve found that discussing the value of work using four categories isn’t just a powerful way to create more balanced thinking around business ideas and their financial implications. It’s also a way for people to understand the value they and others bring to the business and can have the surprising effects of improving motivation and relationships.

What Next?


I can’t remember who taught me the four category value framework, but some internet research suggests it was developed by Joshua Arnold at BlackSwanFarming.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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