“I like to do things of low-value,” said no one, ever. However, according to a recent survey, FP&A professionals often find their time consumed by routine, repetitive tasks like data reconciliation, data cleansing, reports and budgeting which leaves insufficient time for more strategic activities. FP&A professionals would like to spend about half (48%) of their time on high-value activities but currently this number sits at a mere 21%.
Of course, balancing high and low value tasks isn’t as easy as balancing a budget. There will always be data to collect, reports to run, and numbers to reconcile. It’s not like you can just stamp the weekly forecast with a message declaring, “Now backed by 50% less data!”
The reality is that many routine, repetitive tasks provide absolutely essential inputs to the higher-level strategic outputs. On the flip side, there may be some low-value tasks that can be streamlined or eliminated altogether. The question is: what work is merely menial and what’s meaningful?
As part of our initiative to help finance professionals get a handle on data-driven FP&A, we asked some of the brightest minds in the business how we can focus more on high-value activities.
FP&A Process Improvement: Finance Thought Leaders Weigh In
How can processes be changed to create a powered-up department, in which more time is being spent high-value activities? According to these FP&A visionaries, it all starts with employees.
Rally the Troops[bctt tweet=”…people must come first, indeed before processes and technology. @rcarrowsmith” username=”prophix”]
Ranica Arrowsmith, Technology Editor of Accounting Today, believes employees are the best resource for shifting FP&A towards more high-value contributions. “As is the case for most professions, it’s easy to forget that hiring well is key to creating a high-performing team. So people must come first, indeed before processes and technology,” she says. To this end, Arrowsmith says that, as an FP&A leader, you must “Exert control over the hiring process in your finance team, and make sure you spend a lot of time with potential hires before making a hiring decision. If you’re not in the driver’s seat for hiring, then clearly let the hiring manager know what you think the missing puzzle piece in your team is, so they can search for the appropriate candidate.”
Once you’ve secured you A-team, make the most of their time. “Minimize time-wasting group meetings, and instead have one-on-ones with your team members to create a picture of what processes they believe the team needs to create efficiencies,” Arrowsmith says. “Individual meetings enable honesty and directness, and you will sooner discover the preferences and biases — for instance, for or against digitizing certain processes — of your team members.”
Start Small and Celebrate Quick Wins
Darryl Bannon, Director of Darryl Bannon Consulting Ltd, thinks effective corporate change requires employee buy-in and a measured approach. She says, “If you want any change, you need to get your people involved. Start small to get the quick wins. How can I simplify a process? Do I need all the reports I run? Ask those who receive outputs from your department — do you still need them?”
Bannon notes that there may be some resistance to changing behaviors.“But by switching off reports identified, cutting out unnecessary meetings, you start to free up the time to think about developing further new ideas,” she says. “Plus, you demonstrate to your staff that the investment of time pays off.”
Finally, to promote continued engagement in the finance transformation process, Bannon says that it is essential to “give credit for ideas no matter how small, those 5 minutes a day saved, will mount up.”
Train for Victory[bctt tweet=”The finance team is key in supporting an environment that promotes necessary and ongoing investments in technology, personnel and most importantly TRAINING … @nonprofitcfos” username=”prophix”]
Leigh Tucker, CPA, Principal and Managing Director of the Nonprofit Client Practice of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, thinks prudent investment is key to lining up people, processes, and technology to score high-value data combinations. “In the nonprofit field, proving positive outcome analysis and mission impact is more important than ever in securing continued funding and establishing sustainability, as there is a fight for every dollar, be it federal funding, state, foundation, or individual giving,” he says. “The finance team is key in supporting an environment that promotes necessary and ongoing investments in technology, personnel and most importantly TRAINING at all levels and in all departments to allow for proper analysis of combined data sets. The days of being the “guardian of every dollar spent” is gone; prudent allocation of resources and the ability to see the big picture is the new norm.”
Your Team Can Help Balance the Equation
Most FP&A professionals would like to spend more time on high-value activities. A great place to start is by leveraging the knowledge and experience of the FP&A team members. Chances are, they have ideas about how to balance the equation.
Read the Defining the Evolution of FP&A: Benchmarks, Challenge & Opportunities survey [ =link] for more on the disconnect between how corporate FP&A teams spend their time compared to what activities they think could provide higher level value to their organization.