How to Minimize Staffing Errors When Expanding Your Finance Team
Posted by Sjoerd-Jaap Westra
Staffing is a conundrum for most group controllers. Whether you are facing seasonal peak workloads, implementing major projects, or simply trying to manage all the manual work involved in reporting for multiple entities, chances are you need some extra help. More people, however, mean more supervision -- and a far greater risk of error.
The most effective way to expand a team is to prepare for growing pains; accommodating growth doesn't happen overnight, and invariably there will be mismatches between projects, systems and people. Here's how to keep up with the difficult process of expanding your team while minimizing risk, superintendence and error.
1. Don't Skimp on Talent
Everyone knows better than to hire less-experienced workers simply because they're cheaper, but one fact is worth reiterating – talent is an investment, and numbers should not dictate critical hires. Be very clear on the skills you need, and only hire staff with relevant experience. Capable staff will be able to hit the ground running and work with minimal supervision.
2. Run a Tight Ship
New team members need clear direction on what is expected of them individually, as well as shared goals toward which the team is working and the time frame for achieving those goals. Failure to communicate this key information can lead to a duplication of effort, different silos working to different agendas, and low overall performance.
Arranging to meet new team members early in their appointment will enable you to share expectations and, crucially, provide clarification on how the finance team's work aligns with corporate strategy. Integrating new hires will take a chunk out of your schedule, but research shows properly onboarded staff perform better, stay longer and show greater commitment to the organization.
3. Create a Training Program
Once you've hired someone, you need to work on maximizing that individual's strengths while helping him or her acclimate to an unfamiliar business culture. There are two ways to do this, depending on the size of the team. The first way is to set up a mentoring program, whereby the mentor is the primary point of contact offering advice on key people, processes, politics, culture and unwritten rules. The second method is to establish a formal training program designed to bring the new hire up to speed with all the knowledge needed for the job. Whichever method you choose, your aim is to invest a little time upfront to ensure employees can work independently in the future.
Financial software has evolved in recent years, and the new breed of systems is designed to remove the potential for human error as far as possible from financial processes – outcomes that can be tough to achieve within manual, spreadsheet-based systems. By automating the reconciliation of multiple ledger data, you can dramatically cut down on human error, slash the need for multiple layers of review and reduce the time it takes to close the books.
5. Create an Audit Trail
New staff pose an operational risk, so it's worth investigating a software solution that requires users to log in with a unique ID and also tracks each user's precise actions. This solution creates a fraud deterrent and makes the audit trail extremely secure, negating a great deal of risk. Automating your workflows lets you allocate specific tasks to specific people, with clear milestones for performance, and it also leaves an audit trail, cuts the need for excessive supervision and minimizes the potential for error.
6. Keep Your Accounting Staff Current
Current and experienced staff make fewer errors, but having a qualified staff doesn't just mean hiring smart people with powerful resumes. Train your staff to stay current with developments in the business, as well as with their own continuing professional development requirements – which is especially important given the rapid evolution of accounting standards and regulatory scrutiny.
7. Develop Safeguards
Time-pressured financial professionals may make snap judgment calls, while new employees, faced with a new and unfamiliar technology, transaction or set of circumstances, may not know how to ask the right questions of the right people to challenge their assumptions. One possible solution is to establish a process whereby non-routine transactions are subject to an objective assessment; the arbiter's role would be to ensure the company's underlying assumptions have been applied, and that staff are acting objectively and following due process.
8. Get in the Cloud
Cloud-based technologies are becoming more prevalent in the finance sector, not least because employees no longer have to be tethered to their desks. Cloud-based platforms can be accessed from virtually any device, anywhere, allowing staff to gather the information they need to be productive. Allowing staff to work remotely may seem counterintuitive from a risk perspective since remote workers cannot easily be supervised, but the software's ability to allocate tasks and milestones, control document versions, and log user activity creates a level of visibility and accountability that may not be achievable in manual control systems.
The steps outlined above can help a group controller mitigate the risk of taking on new staff. Every organization's circumstances are different, and of course, nothing is foolproof; however, implementing comprehensive work management systems, automating manual tasks and installing a robust audit trail can provide group controllers (and auditors!) with a peace of mind that may otherwise be out of reach.