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How to uncover inefficiencies in your finance organization

Inefficiencies easily creep into your finance organization when you’re looking the other way. New hires, changes in the company’s direction, advances in technologies, the passage of time, and meetings, meetings and more meetings all take a toll on the organization’s ability to run as efficiently as possible. Before you know it, you have redundancies, blocked process flows, outdated systems and employees who are either bored or overwhelmed with their jobs.

Whether you’re new to your role and you’ve been asked by management to uncover inefficiencies or you’re taking initiative to find them on your own, consider taking the following steps. You have some hard questions ahead of you, plus some homework, but the results will be rewarding.

1. Know the status quo

Your routine may be so tied up in meetings and issue resolutions that you may have lost a hold on what all your employees do for their day-to-day activities. It’s understandable—passing time, shifts in direction and modifications in roles, plus an increasing number of staffers can make any manager distant from everything that goes on under his or her watch. For the purposes of uncovering inefficiencies, though, you have to figure it out. Learn what everyone in your organization does and how they get it accomplished.

You can go about this in several ways: One approach can be to ask your employees to write out their own job description for you. The caution with this method is that many staff members may not give themselves full credit for all the considerable work they do.

Another, somewhat easier approach is to have the staff interviewed by an impartial third party. That way, you’ll be documenting all the tasks and how they are completed, along with inquiries from the interviewer about why each task is relevant and how it connects to other processes or tasks. You’ll also be getting a sense of the time it takes for each task plus a clear sense of who you are most dependent on. Take the time to also understand the process flow—how exactly all these things get done.

2. Understand your organization’s skill sets

After you have conducted your interviews, you will have a better understanding of what tasks are getting done, what’s working well and what could be improved. It may become apparent to you that you need an analyst with stronger Excel skills or your project manager is not really gaining cooperation from others and consequently a particular project isn’t moving along as quickly as you would like.

As you review the jobs and the staff assigned to them, explore whether some people have room for improvement within their current roles or whether they would be better suited for a different position. Some of the telltale signs that you need to make a change: when a staffer is continually late to work, has a disgruntled attitude, or misses deadlines on assignments or does not complete them at all. Such issues commonly arise when a smaller company grows to a larger size. Some people outgrow their original roles, they haven’t been trained to take on the new skill sets that are required, or they may lack the experience necessary for what has become a global or public company.

3. Get a handle on the systems

Anyone who works in finance lives and dies by their data. But having data does you no good if you can’t access it. If you have lost touch with how your own team deals with and processes data, make sure that you understand the systems that are holding your critical data along with the processes to update it. Check that your process flows are complete and include what systems are used and whether any tasks are getting done manually. If you see that systems are down more than up, this should be an indication that something is not right. Do the users have trouble using the system, and how often?

This is an instance where you don’t need to be an expert yourself. You can rely on outside expertise to advise you on systems for your industry and size (based on the number of transactions). These experts will be able to make you aware of new advances in technology, to ensure your team has access to the most efficient tools that can give all of you the most up-to-date information possible.

4. Record your observations

As you go through tabulating the people, the processes and the technology at your disposal, keep track of anything that could be redundant. Can that redundancy be streamlined with process changes or system updates? You may discover that critical data is held captive in your current system and many work-arounds are required to obtain this data, not to mention manual labor. Or do you need a process change?

Process changes sound easy, but you and I both know that getting people to change can sometimes be a challenge. Be sure to outline goals for any changes that you want to implement, while it’s top of mind, and think about the “what’s in it for me” that you can tell your staff when it comes time to request the change.

5. Make your list of recommendations

Whether you’re making a list of recommendations for yourself or a list you will be sharing with others in management, tier them by most critical, essential and nice to have. This will help you prioritize and give others a clear indication of the impact to the organization.

This entire process is a lot of work and may require some tough decisions. But it’s an opportunity that should be embraced. The types of improvements you’ll uncover will only make the overall organization stronger.

Salena Oppus has been a member of the RoseRyan dream team for over 15 years. Her specialties are system planning and implementation, cost accounting and forecasting.

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