Urgent vs. Important

Accounting is all about deadlines.  From the weekly cheque run to the monthly management reports, the quarterly shareholder reporting and the annual tax return, there is always something that has to be done NOW!

At the same time, there are those important initiatives that have no specific deadline but that will significantly impact the running of the department, like systems upgrades, staff development and departmental strategic planning.

Two things are clear:  you can’t manage what you can’t measure and it won’t happen unless you make time for it.

Measuring Success

When implementing accounting systems, I ask for an idea of transaction volumes:  how many accounts payable invoices are processed in a month, how many journal entries, etc.  Often it takes some digging to get the answers to those questions.  Controllers often don’t know how many transactions are being put into the system or, more importantly, how many entries one person can be expected to be able to do in a day.  Accounting managers often have a sense that some staff members are busier than others, but no hard statistics to back up their impressions.  Yet, this information can often be easily obtained.

Accounting systems usually tag each entry with some code for the person who created the transaction, as well as the date the entry was made, so you can create a report that summarizes the number of transactions entered by each person.  When I did this exercise for one company, some useful information resulted.  The report confirmed what the Controller already knew about how slow the summers were, but it also gave him some reasons to investigate the performance of the Purchasing staff.

When he found out the reason it took so long to create purchase orders was the amount of time they had to put in chasing department managers for their signatures, he decided to go ahead with the workflow software he had been considering.

Making Time

A hint about making time for important initiatives:  delegate!  Make it part of everyone’s job description that in addition to the regular routine, each member has a special project they are responsible for.  Emphasize how taking on this responsibility will enhance their career and that you will work with them to help them find ways to make time for the new project.  For example at one company, I knew that we were wasting time photocopying each cheque we received and that our payment encoding scanner was on its last legs, so I asked for a volunteer to research the latest technology.  An accounts payable clerk who loved technology offered to do it.  He did a more thorough job than I would have had time for and he enjoyed the challenge.

How do you make time for important initiatives in the middle of all of your urgent deadlines?

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