A Strategy For Catching Up (Advice To Colleagues)
Inheriting an accounting function that is "behind" in its work is very common experience for a new CFO/Controller. In that case the previous "leader" (I say sarcastically) has certainly earned his way out. Staff personnel express the excuse that they can’t complete "today’s work" because they are too busy trying to "catch up." The problem (if what is found is allowed to continue) is that more "mistakes" are added to old mistakes and recovery gets harder and harder and harder.
Here’s my suggestion for solving the problem:
- First, determine that current work can be completed by current staff -- without the complications of "catch up" activity. The following assumes that current staff can do "current" work.
- Delegate (under control) all work activities which occur at least once a week to clerical staff and basic supervisory personnel (if any).
- Next, take all "catch up" work away from the "regular" work team.
- Then, assign "catch up" duties to a separate team.
- The "catch up" team should generally use LIFO (last-in, first-out) priorities to work on problems. First, do whatever is necessary to enable the "regular" work team to function as if all work were really caught up. Next, solving newer "old" problems will probably be easier, be more impressive to those affected, and reduce disruption to save time in the long run. Solving older "old" problems, if ultimately being necessary at all, will not make much difference if done a few days later.
- If I were the CFO/Controller, I would definitely lead the "catch-up" team.
- If there are any "surplus" resources among current staff, I would draft the best of them for the "catch up" team. Then, I would engage extra, temporary help to fill gaps, temporarily. This way, both teams can focus on their primary duties without interference.
- A major responsibility for the CFO/Controller is training for both teams.
- Staff personnel should be expected to follow instructions, but "stop short of being lemmings." Under no circumstances should anything but full cooperation by staff be tolerated. (Some may have been part of the problem.) If they don’t want to be part of the solution, let them work for somebody else.
- Stopping the creation of new mistakes is like flushing a pipe with clean water. Soon the water will run clean.
- Chase receivables, not payables. Payables are someone else’s receivables. If cash is short, unless you plan to be an investor yourself, the owner has primary responsibility for providing capital.
- Avoid accepting extraneous duties that reduce focus.
- Enable other executives to do their own work; don’t do it for them.
- Be realistic about how long the "catch up" project will take -- but more than 90 days is too long.
- When the crisis is past, re-evaluate duties and job descriptions. A "regular" full-time job should be expected to take about 35-40 hours, not 50-60. The two most common reasons for a "salaried" worker to spend long hours are (1) being exploited and (2) covering for lack of skill. The "hardest" worker is not the most valuable; the "smartest" is. By the way, consider "outsourcing" alternatives. Many tasks can be done better or more economically by "contract services."