As the owner of your business, do you have a person heading up the accounting function who has limited or no experience managing an accounting and finance function? Very few SMEs will have an accountant with a designation and strategic skills in that role, which for convenience I will refer to as the Controller (other common titles are Accountant, Office Manager, Accounting Manager, etc.)
As a result, there often is a Controller with good basic accounting skills but limited experience and formal training, reporting to a President who does not know what guidance or direction to give her. In Part 1 of this article, last month, we laid out six simple steps to enhancing the contribution of your Controller. This month, in Part 2, we will help you coach your Controller to find the time to implement these improvements.
Where to find the time
The six steps that we laid out in Part 1, last month, seem like a lot of extra work, so you need to be sure that you find the solutions to the Controller’s work-load issues.
The first solution is the timely publication of monthly financial statements as this will free up time afterwards to focus on other things. “Forcing” the financial statements to be published earlier may (but usually does not) require forsaking a little accuracy but is a great trade-off for increased time to set up each of the improvements.
Many Controllers continue to do tasks and provide information long after it is no longer of value to management. Often, what starts as a good idea falls into marginal value as the problem that it solved is no longer an issue. Critically assess the tasks and information provided by the Controller’s department and whether it is necessary and, if it continues to be valuable, whether it is necessary on the same frequency.
The next efficiency to consider is what aspects of the Controller’s work-load can be delegated. There are usually processes that can be transferred to another person, with the Controller only required to review the outcome. Be very skeptical of the answer that “it is quicker to do it myself.” That often is true the first time but there often is a tremendous payback in having someone else do it in the long-term.
Remember also that delegation does not always have to be to Accounting staff. Often some data gathering and input can be more effectively input at the operations level.
Provide your Controller with the computer tools to do their job effectively. This requires the appropriate software and hardware, supplemented by processes that are designed for maximum efficiency e.g. avoid re-keying data from one system into another. A small investment in this area can reap huge rewards in freeing up time that can be spent contributing to the business.
Consider what 1% of the Controller’s salary amounts to and measure the cost of improvements against this. Examples that have great paybacks in efficiency are: having two monitors so that you can work on two applications (e.g. the accounting/ERP system and Excel) and switch back and forward and copy data, having a printer in their office so that they are not constantly having to go and get items off the central printer, etc.
Ensure that the Controller’s staff are competent and able to do their assigned tasks effectively. This may require coaching the Controller in the art of management of their staff to ensure that they upgrade their skills and productivity.
If you feel that your Controller is merely focusing on the production of financial statements, then coach them to guide them to focus on the ways to improve what they do for the business, so that they can start feeling like they are a contributor to the success of the business. A Controller should not only be a “bean counter,” as the real value in the role is provided when they take the time to implement the ideas in these two articles and other areas, where their financial knowledge contributes real value as a key executive in a business.
About the Author: James Phillipson, Principal, Mastermind Solutions Inc.
James Phillipson is a Chartered Accountant and a Principal of Mastermind Solutions Inc. with extensive 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.
This article first appeared in CanadaOne, an online business newspaper and resource centre
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