6 tips for lean Accounting teams
Have you just had your Accounting team cut, while expectations just keep getting higher? Or, perhaps, you’re just growing faster than you can keep up?
Here are 6 tips to transform how you work to achieve your goals within your resource constraints.
1. Face the challenge
Operating in an era of staff reductions, hiring freezes, and layoffs presents many challenges. It also prompts a new level of ingenuity. A leaner team often grapples with the increased complexity of managing high transaction volumes. In this climate, acknowledging the severity of the situation is the first step toward solution discovery.
Face the consequences of staff reduction head-on, which often manifest as compliance risks, data accuracy issues, and workflow bottlenecks. However, there’s no need to despair. Staffing limitations serve as a call to action to revisit and revise your operations and adopt new, more efficient practices, rather than a roadblock to progress.
2. Assess your team, workflows, data
Evaluate where you stand across people, processes, and systems.
Evaluate current staff and competencies. Which skills does your team possess? Are there gaps you need to address? No one is perfect and almost all of us want to grow. Make it easier for your team to identify areas of ownership by searching for the skills you need for each role online and then prioritizing which ones are most pressing for your company and team. Then, make a list of what each person needs to work on and rank it, so that you and that person can tackle one thing at a time. Using this as an integral part of your performance management system can really help motivate your team to improve their skills.
Review your workflows. Are there bottlenecks or inefficiencies in your current workflows? One way to do this is to bring your team together and identify each of the key workflows in your function. Use a whiteboard (or virtual one) to identify important steps in each workflow and ask the team to identify three things for each step:
- How much effort does this step require?
- Does this step add value to the process?
- Can this step be done more efficiently?
Then give the owner of each process the opportunity to make changes that either reduce the effort, add value, or increase efficiency.
Assess data accuracy. How often do errors occur, and where are they likely to happen? Data is often at the core of many challenges and arguments. If you find that data isn’t trusted, there are multiple versions, or the data doesn’t provide the full context — you likely have a data problem! The best way to tackle it is to compile a list of the data sources you rely on and identify any recurring errors you find, gaps in them, or where you have multiple sources. Once you know the main sources, you can rank them from most to least critical, how much rework they cause, and trace duplicates back to the source. Identify those that are causing the most pain and who owns them, then work with them to come up with ways to reduce the challenges.
3. Embrace automation
When your team is lean, automation is a must.
It’s about more than mere task completion. Automation enhances data accuracy by reducing the chance of manual errors, which can lead to substantial time savings regarding data reconciliation and problem-solving. Automation also frees your team from repetitive and low-value tasks to focus on strategic responsibilities that enhance overall operations and improve their morale.
Automation allows for scalability: As your company grows, so will the transaction volume. With an effective automation strategy in place, the increasing transactional activity won’t overwhelm your team, nor will it call for immediate staff augmentation.
Think about what you can automate: Pinpoint repetitive, time-consuming tasks that could benefit from automation. Start with all those spreadsheets! Much of the work that we do in spreadsheets today is collecting, cleaning, and collating information and not adding value to the business. Spreadsheets are super useful, but they just don’t have the controls, workflow, and data processing capabilities necessary to build a compliant and scalable process. If you have workbooks you use each month or tend to use frequently they can be a great source of potential transformation for you and your team. By automating the clerical work, you can free up loads of time to dive into analysis and problem-solving.
Understand your data sources: Ensure you know the transactional software sources of your data and what exactly they contain. For each source, identify the key information, nice-to-haves, and any data that requires integration with another source. You might find that you are handling a lot of redundant or duplicate data within or across various sources. It’s best to trace those back and capture just the original, so there’s no question of which information source is correct.
Change Management: Prepare your team for changes brought about by automation. Get them involved early and take their concerns and input seriously. They’ll have some good ideas and some that will be eye-opening for you!
4. Stay ahead of compliance
You can uphold high compliance standards, even in times of change, by leveraging automation and enforcing clear compliance procedures.
Automated systems can handle repetitive, rule-based tasks with precision, ensuring consistent adherence to compliance requirements. Moreover, they can provide detailed audit trails, making it easier to demonstrate compliance during audits. And a real bonus of demonstrating compliance during an audit with an automated system is that once it’s audited and trusted once, it’s usually trusted thereafter. One less thing to worry about next time.
Automation also provides improved visibility into financial operations. By having an automated system handle high transaction volumes, you can better track transactions, identify anomalies, and rectify potential issues before they escalate.
High transaction volumes also pose inherent compliance risks. Regularly evaluate compliance risks and adjust your procedures as needed. Your businesses change over time, so establish a cross-functional group that meets at least twice a year to review compliance risks in your organization and provide recommendations for improvements.
With large volumes, errors are also more likely. To address these, implement a transparent system for internal error reporting and resolution. People respond to what gets reported, especially errors. Only report on key items so that reports are easily readable and clearly highlight any issues.
5. Empower your lean team
Operating with a lean team isn’t about doing more with less — it’s about doing things differently. Redefine roles, don’t just reallocate tasks. With automation taking care of high-volume transactions, your team members can step into more strategic roles.
Consider your team’s skills and talents. Each member likely has unique competencies that extend beyond their routine responsibilities. As automation takes over repetitive tasks, you can reallocate your team members to roles that maximize their potential and contribute more significantly to the organization.
This strategy not only boosts overall productivity but also can improve job satisfaction. Team members will feel more engaged when they can use their skills effectively and make a meaningful contribution to the organization’s success.
Identify the unique skills and competencies that you need to build a scalable and efficient team today. Start with each of your current processes and identify the key skills needed to take ownership. Include hard skills, such as understanding the nitty gritty of the applicable GAAP, and soft skills, such as translating complex accounting issues for operational teams to understand. Don’t worry about what your team can do today — start with what you need. You can find lots of skills information with a quick search today and it helps to look at what others are hiring for.
For each of your future-focused tasks and responsibilities, identify those skills that must be there today and map them to your existing team. If you have more than one person capable of a skill, or someone with many skills, map all the possibilities so that you can make trade-offs and get people into roles where they’re likely to excel. If you wind up with people that don’t have a corresponding role, or roles without corresponding people, identify a course of action to address that gap. It could be hiring, training, or process changes so that you have a plan to cover all the necessary skills.
Monitor performance to ensure that role changes are having a positive impact. Most of us are willing to adapt to change but feel good when our progress is seen. Be sure to provide encouragement and recognition of what is going well, alongside support when there’s a miss.
6. Build trust, but anticipate resistance
One of the greatest challenges in implementing automation is overcoming resistance to change. This is especially true when introducing new technologies to an already lean and overworked team. However, by building trust in automation, you can ensure a smoother transition and greater acceptance of the new systems.
Trust in automation comes from understanding its benefits and seeing its positive impacts. When team members can see how automation makes their jobs easier and how it improves overall operations, they’re more likely to embrace it.
Furthermore, by involving team members in the automation implementation process, you allow them to gain a sense of ownership and control. This active involvement not only aids in successful implementation but also contributes to building trust in the new system.
Be transparent about the automation process, including its successes and challenges. Automation isn’t a panacea, just another tool to elevate our work. Find analogies in your own business to help team members understand that business is constantly adjusting and that generally means things get better even if there are challenges to meet along the way.
Show real-life examples of how automation improves operations and makes tasks easier. Be sure that you’re setting an example of how you are adapting to changes. Automation will change everyone’s role; embracing it yourself will encourage others.
Involve team members in the automation process, giving them a sense of ownership and control. Get input from your team as to what can be automated, what kind of automation, and when. There are many small tasks in our workday that can benefit from simple automation and those small examples can be groundwork for larger and larger efforts as they prove out.
Adapting to a lean team structure in an era of high transaction volumes can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. By acknowledging the reality of your situation, embracing automation, maintaining compliance, redefining roles, and building trust in technology, you can transform these challenges into opportunities.
This transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but with strategic planning and implementation, you can navigate through staff reductions and high transaction volumes more efficiently. Through it all, remember that change isn’t a journey that you need to undertake alone. The right partners and tools can make your path smoother and your destination achievable.
Leapfin, your trusted partner in automation, is ready to help you every step of the way. Together, we can integrate disparate transaction data sources, turn transaction data into financial records, and automate the generation of journal entries at a transaction level daily. We publish them directly into your ERP system, offering you the level of detail you want, as often as you need.
We hope this guide has been a useful tool in navigating your current challenges. For further assistance or to discuss personalized strategies for your situation, please reach out to us.
As you implement these changes, your lean team will be more equipped to manage high transaction volumes and add value to your financial operations. Remember, it’s not about doing more with less – it’s about working smarter, not harder. In an era of uncertainty and rapid change, the organizations that adapt are the ones that will thrive.