For businesses aspiring to achieve accounting team success, each January feels like the moment to implement the strategies that represent the outcome of the lessons of the year before. And there's a very good reason for that: the new year always feels significant. If it didn't, there wouldn't be a run on athletic wear and language learning software at its outset! It's the ultimate opportunity to wipe the slate clean on a broad – and granular – level.
For businesses, though, that significance is more than just a feeling or the result of overindulging during December's many virtual cookie swaps and brunches. The first weeks of the first month of a company's first quarter set the stage for what the rest of the year will bring.
Leaders going into 2021 with accounting success on their "must win" list will certainly go into the year with 2020's biggest lesson: be ready to pivot. But there's more to it than that. There are six tangible things that finance leaders can do to position their people for maximum effectiveness in the new year. Some look a little different than the usual action items, and some are recognizable stretch goals. All of them will set your accounting team up for success in 2021.
Leverage Remote Work For A Successful Accounting Department This Year
Remote work was one of 2020's biggest challenges. Now it's one of the year's biggest opportunities. A talent pool unrestrained by geography is a practically unlimited one, making it possible to find quality talent to fill hard-to-staff accounting roles. It also makes for an efficient physical footprint with attractive cost-reduction opportunities attached.
One major benefit to remote work is the flexibility that it provides for organizations and employees alike. Done right, it can foster the kind of work-life balance that facilitates increased and impactful productivity during working hours – which are no longer necessarily restrained to the window between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Creating a schedule that's thoughtfully combined – one that allows for collaborative overlap and asynchronous solo work can improve output and foster balance.
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Giving your accounting department the tools they need – clarity of expectations chief among them – to be successful at the virtual office will allow you to reap the many rewards a remote work force can offer your organization.
Setting Up Your Accounting Department For Success In 2021 Means Finally Answering The 'Tech Question'
Yes, that question. You know the one – it's specific to your organization, and it's becoming increasingly important to answer it. Maybe one or more of these look familiar:
Does our accounting success strategy include implementing automation this year? To what extent, and what KPIs will we track to measure success?
Are we compelled – or prepared – to leverage blockchain in future iterations of our strategic initiatives and how will we do that?
How will Data-Driven Decision Making come into play for us this year? Are we technologically and culturally prepared to implement it?
How will we keep up with something that's constantly changing?
Does our finance cybersecurity protocol need to evolve or change in the wake of our shift to remote work? What will that look like and who will be accountable for it?
Am I prepared to advocate, educate and elucidate on technological projects or operations during leadership and stakeholder meetings?
So yes, the "tech question" will change depending on who you talk to, and so will the answer. Answering yours necessarily requires understanding what broad implementation of any new technology – or reworking of any existing stack – will mean for your team, because it will invariably affect them.
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Will there be a need for upskilling or from-scratch training? If you're migrating data or switching ERPs, you'll have to make a plan (and contingency plan) for the inevitable transition. Answering the "tech question" is so much more than just deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on a planned installation or improvement. Anticipating how much time you – and your people – will need to invest, determining whether output will change in the short term or for good and managing though the actual change will all go a long way in positioning you and your team for long-term accounting success.
Finance Leaders Will Have To Commit To Providing Accounting Teams With Clean And Accurate Data
Speaking of technology, every accounting department will have to reconcile with the culture around data within their organization. Data has always had a starring role in successful accounting strategy. But as technology increasingly steals the show, better collection, analysis, utility and synthesis of data will become absolutely critical.
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A shiny new addition to the financial tech stack will never be anything more than flash – at best – if the data that's fed into it is no good. That means committing to providing clean, quality data and making sure you have the proper skillset on hand to get the most from what you're collecting.
If you're considering automating an accounting process, for instance, you'll need eyes on the data that RPA is using to ensure that you're actually automating that process, and not automating a Gordian Knot because it's accidentally drawing from an outdated or duplicated data pool. That means either bringing someone with solid data chops on board or providing real opportunities for professional development for your team.
We're just beginning to understand all of the ways that data can be leveraged better accuracy in forecasting, smarter budgeting and an improved customer experience that will facilitate the kind of growth that your team will be charged with accounting for.
What we've always known is that at the most fundamental level, accounting success requires access to solid data that's current, accurate and accessible. 2021 is the year to go back to basics in order to facilitate the realization of unlimited future potential.
Make Hiring Decisions With Accounting Success In Mind
You don't need us to tell you that it's helpful to start with the end goal in mind. That's Leadership 101, right? Yet this outlook has the potential to get a little lost when it's pulled down from its lofty spot on a motivational poster for application to a process as lengthy and frustrating as finding quality talent to fill accounting roles.
We certainly don't need to tell you what the hiring process can be like for talent-strapped finance departments.
But when the end goal is "finally fill that AP position – and keep it that way", what else is there to do besides just soldier through it, post the vacancy and keep your head down until you find the right candidate? Well, a lot.
First, put your hiring goals into broader context. What will a new AP clerk actually help you accomplish in terms of your KPIs? Will it lead to a faster close? A reduced cost per invoice? Do you just need someone competent as quickly as possible so that the rest of your team can stop shouldering an unsustainable workload?
There are multiple hiring models that can help you fill a seat, but is that your actual goal, or is your new team member part of a broader plan to reduce turnover and increase reporting accuracy – or something else?
Next, look at the obstacles that are standing in your way. If you live in an expensive or spare talent market, the bad news is that the labor market is only going to get more competitive as 2021 progresses. The very good news is that if you're willing to tap into international and rising accountancy markets, you can contain those costs while you control for talent scarcity. After all, if you go back to the literal beginning of this article, you'll remember that you have a global, remote workforce at your disposal if you need it.
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Before you post another job opening, fork over exorbitant staffing multiples or resign yourself to another year of spending time you don't have attempting to fill the same position over and over again, go back to the beginning and look at your end goal. Better AP flow and cost reduction, employee retention and reducing burnout for your existing team don't necessarily depend specifically on you taking an endless trip through the accountancy recruitment hiring door. Partnering with a third party that specializes in creating (and training and retaining!) skilled virtual accounting teams can be a more efficient and much more cost-effective way to achieve those goals.
Accounting Success Will Require You To Streamline Your Process For Good This Year
Let 2021 be the year that you swear off accounting spaghetti, especially if it's being stored in inaccessible siloes. This may be the primary way that you can set your team up for accounting success in the months to come – make capturing institutional knowledge, streamlining and rectifying disparate processes and universal documentation a table-stakes item on your list.
Whether the issue is culturally ingrained, a result of shortcuts thanks to high churn, the byproduct of a complex organizational structure or just an unshakeable tradition that involves the use of outdates and counterintuitive spreadsheet reporting in place of a workhorse ERP, you can mitigate such a variety of accounting challenges by streamlining accounting processes that it only makes sense to get it done.
Yes, it can represent a significant time commitment and yes, there has to be a cultural of proactive silo-busting in place to be successful, but there is a reverse domino effect associated with facilitating efficiency and making universal documentation non-negotiable.
That's because streamlined processes are more efficient, eliminating bottlenecks and reducing spend. Less time spent on transactional work means you have more time to invest into strategies like answering the "tech question". Universal documentation means that work never grinds to a halt because someone is out sick and makes data cleansing a matter of course, all while reducing your fraud risk.
It's also something that you can easily delegate, especially if you're already tackling hiring with intention by inviting a reputable offshore partner in. Process documentation comes packaged with offshore augmentation. Look for a partner that has experience with knowledge capture and process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma as opposed to one that can only put a warm body at an open desk. You're likely to be surprised at the outcome, the results of which you should be able to ascertain immediately – and you'll spend a lot less time getting there.
Running A Successful Accounting Team Means Not Running Them Into The Ground
Ours is a culture that really values hard work. There's a reason that the introduction of "unlimited PTO" to the workplace lexicon was met with sideways glances and everyone can – and does – download all manner of smartphone apps designed to increase productivity in every aspect of their lives. The bullet journal exists for a reason, after all.
But there is an event horizon when it comes to hard work. It's the moment that the stress and unrelenting workload – especially if your accounting department is chronically short-staffed – becomes too much. Suddenly, less is being done in a week of 12-hour days than if you were all just keeping regular hours. Only now, resentment has an opportunity to take root, and it chokes off engagement, which can torpedo morale and fuel turnover. Besides just being an unpleasant way to work for your team members, it's an ineffective and ultimately very expensive way to do business.
Of course, few leaders are apathetic to burned out employees or the circumstances that create them. Fewer still start their day thinking, "how can I make my bookkeeping team and CPAs as miserable as possible this week?" We'd evenly confidently wager that none do.
Instead, burnout tends to creep. It can be the result of a stopgap measure that went unaddressed because there was something new to triage. In so many cases, it's the simple fact that demand far outpaces supply for qualified talent, let alone exceptional talent, so leaders do what they can with the resources they have.
The truth is, every single one of your employees began as an intentional and thoughtfully sourced hire. They were the best of the best of your interviewee pool. Maybe you chose them for their Big Four experience, the education they pursued and the skillset they cultivated. The last thing you want to do is waste their talents on rework and leave them too exhausted to perform the strategic work you envisioned when you first asked them aboard.
Luckily, you don't have to. When people envision offshore accounting support, sometimes the first thing they think of is "headcount reduction". That doesn't have to be true, and in many cases, it isn't! Instead, it's a very elegant solution to the far too common and insidious problem of burnout.
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By delegating the stopgap measure and triage overflow and rework to qualified virtual accounting professionals, you allow the in-house team you worked hard to build to do what you hired them to do. Personiv has helped organizations just like yours do exactly that. We hire skilled accounting professionals to work remotely with your team to support your strategy, so you can refocus your efforts on accounting success as opposed to "burnout-reduction success".
Our teams start as small as one, which means that if the only thing standing in the way of leveraging hard-won data for must-win growth strategies is finally filling that AP position (and keeping that way, of course!), that's absolutely achievable. It doesn't need to stand in your way for much longer.
Get in touch today to learn more about our supplementary virtual accounting solutions that help you achieve success in your accounting team. When you do, you'll find we're just as invested in your accounting success in 2021 as you are.
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