• Motivating finance department staff

  • Optimize the performance of your staff through motivation

    Do your staff have more work than they can manage? It is often said that work expands to meet the time available, but this does not occur when staff are motivated to do their best. Solid supervision by a department head can often go a long way to encourage staff to go the distance. In this article I review some of the basic skills that a good supervisor brings to her staff, to motivate them to do an excellent job and then some.

    The first key is to lead by example – setting yourself up as someone who is positive about the business and the opportunities presented to your staff. The concept of being one of the “guys” – (participating in the gripe sessions and the office gossip that come with the territory) might initially seem like an appropriate way to befriend the team, but is ultimately very unproductive and dangerous. This takes time and the negative influence on staff is detrimental. A supervisory role adds value to the work of your staff. Your opinion counts and influences your staff’s outlook. You are their role model and you have a responsibility to represent the company in a positive light. Consider that a negative opinion expressed by you could influence a valuable staff member to leave.

    Spend the time necessary to manage, mentor and coach your staff and let them know that that is a key part of your role. The difference in productivity between a person left to “sink or swim” and one who is given appropriate guidance by their manager can often be enormous. Ensuring that they know how to do their job properly, rather than assuming they know, will often highlight gaps in their knowledge (and maybe yours) as you review some of the details.

    Encourage your staff to improve every time they do a task. Every job has aspects that are mundane and repetitive. One way to make them more interesting is to search for ways to improve the process and to share that with others who do the same or similar tasks. Ensure that your staff know that you want to hear their ideas for improvement. Continuous improvement should be everybody’s aim.

    Treat your staff with respect. Show them that you care about them and their work and that they are entitled to be treated by you and everyone else with respect. Ensure they realize that part of respect is feeling free to discuss errors, both those they have made and those you have made. The objective is to avoid the same mistake in the future. It often amazes me how an open discussion of what went wrong, highlights the need for a simple control procedure to be put in place.

    Respect for your staff leads to discussions about matching a skill set with a task. Re-allocating tasks or delegation of tasks can be openly discussed when mutual respect is in place. Delegation enables you to lighten a workload, so that you can focus on the parts of your job that really add value to the business and are often more interesting. Fair assignment of tasks between your staff (and you) results in new opportunities for learning which increases an employee’s value to the organization. This should be complemented by educational opportunities that further expand their knowledge and value to the business.

    Maintaining and appreciating a sense of humour is a necessary ingredient in order to create a pleasant and productive atmosphere. If people are friendly in the workplace and even sociable after hours, they will help each other in ways that make the work environment pleasant and more efficient.

    Dale Carnegie said that you should “catch someone doing something right.” This is a much more effective way of managing than focusing on errors. When mistakes are made, they should be dealt with and used as a means of educating to avoid repetition. However, recognition of a job well done, especially in public, is a universal and tremendous motivator. Fear of reprimand might ensure a job is done effectively, but it does not inspire employees towards creativity and is detrimental to team building. Your staff will strive for the positive feedback you give them. If you have made it clear what is deserving of praise, the difference should be quite noticeable.

    Give credit where it is due and even where it is half due. If you acknowledge your employee’s participation in a project, they will be even more motivated to ensure that you shine. Your contribution as the manager will almost always be recognized, but the ongoing support of your staff is a long-term benefit to you and the company you represent. Even better, if a presentation is being made to a potential (internal or external) client, invite your staff to participate, thereby providing them with an opportunity to be recognized for their contribution.

    Be reasonable when setting deadlines for your staff and encourage them to be open and honest about their progress should they encounter obstacles. Deadlines are often ignored or not respected when staff are accustomed to there not being a consequence for a deadline not being met. Let them know that you are reasonable about negotiating extensions, where appropriate, if the request is discussed in a timely manner. Staff dislike being micro-managed and like to be treated as professionals, so ensure that they understand that it is their responsibility to let you know well before the deadline when an occasional and non-critical deadline will not be met.

    Make yourself available to deal with the challenges that your staff face. Inefficiency increases when your staff cannot move forward with a task that depends on your help or input. Your staff and their ability to be productive should be a priority in your time management so that the problem does not compound itself.

    Do regular performance appraisals for your staff and ensure that they always provide a balance between areas for improvement and recognition for tasks done well. A good balance is critical to ensuring that the discussion focuses on what can be improved (without necessarily being critical). A performance appraisal should be clearly focused on the future and must always set clear and measurable goals for improvement in order to motivate staff.

    A respectful work environment that is focused on the future will ensure that your staff are working in a productive way to meet the goals of your function.


    About the Author
    James Phillipson is a Chartered Accountant and a Principal of Mastermind Solutions Inc. with over twenty years experience in large and small businesses. He has provided financial counselling to his clients since 1996, often in the role of a Controller or Chief Financial Officer. James has experience in financial roles in a wide variety of businesses and industries.

    If you have any questions feel free to contact james@mastermindsolutions.ca or 905-731-8255


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