Deadlines are inevitable! They often cause a high level of stress for the person responsible for meeting the deadline. There are many strategies that a Controller and CFO can implement to manage deadlines effectively and, as a result, reduce the stress level of the Controller and support staff. Deadlines for recurring routine tasks and ad hoc assignments, that are both long and short-term, can be met effectively.
It is a truism that work expands to fill the time available and even with very diligent, hard working staff a point is often reached where more time available to finish an assignment can be counter-productive. A few reasons explain this:
There is a point where many projects are substantially “done” and additional checking, formatting, etc. is not worth the time required;
The perception that if there is no deadline, other tasks are more important; and
Information is often time-sensitive and declines in value as time passes.
At a client recently, we moved the monthly reporting deadline up five days. The Controller agreed that this was achievable after we reviewed and agreed on the following steps:
Developed a written schedule of the key steps, with assigned responsibilities and due dates;
Reviewed the schedule with every person who had a role in the process to ensure their buy-in and commitment to meet their respective due dates;
Reviewed the schedule with the CEO to ensure that he understood the improvement and agreed that, if this resulted in an occasional report being late, that was better than continuing with the current deadline;
Ensured that the schedule included the necessary preparatory steps prior to the month-end, so that they did not delay the process;
Reviewed each step in the process for relevancy and expediency;
Introduced early reporting (a “flash report”) for select information so that management could have the most important elements well before the complete package was ready. It is very common and often easily achievable for reports on sales, gross margins, accounts receivable, etc. to be available well before the entire financial reporting package is available.
The result was that the Controller and her staff completed the reporting package comfortably within the new deadline.
A similar process would apply to a one-time project. I have often found that a project seems complex and time consuming until I spend a few minutes breaking it down into its component tasks. This often enables me to recognize that it is just made up of numerous small and easy steps that I could not hold in my mind at one time. Committing it to paper enables me to see that it is “no big deal.” Of course, the opposite is true sometimes where I see that on thinking it through and committing it to paper, I see that I need help or resources (staffing, input, approvals, financial, etc.) that I had not recognized before. Seeing that at the outset enables me to make arrangements for those elements in advance.
One of the easiest ways to enhance your personal credibility is to consistently deliver projects on time. Your supervisor should feel confident that you will discuss, any unavoidable delays, in advance of the deadline. This is also key to improving your relationship with a supervisor who is perceived to be a micro manager. A micro manager may have developed this style dealing with staff that cannot be relied on to meet the deadlines that have been set and agreed upon.
A written and communicated schedule of key component tasks is the best way to ensure that you commit to deadlines that are reasonably achievable, or that enable you to negotiate extensions well before the deadline approaches.
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 or as a coach to a Controller or Chief Financial Officer. James has experience in financial roles in a wide variety of businesses and industries.
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