When Accounting Interferes
With Getting the Job Done
By Yulia Mazur
Partner, Head of Accounting
Yulia Mazur holds a degree from the Ryazan State Radio Technical Academy in Accounting, Financial Control, and Business Analysis. She has advised the Ryazan Duma on tax legislation on several occasions.
With more than ten years experience, Yulia has worked as a chief accountant for construction, entertainment, and retail companies. She has been with Alinga for more than five years.
Ms. Mazur is a Certified Professional Accountant.
“Cost-prohibitive business item”, “post-mortem accounting” – what contemptuous epithets haven’t yet been assigned to accounting? Yet, for some reason, we don’t bring ourselves to give up on these services.
Thousands of businesses live like this – in a cold war of sorts, marked by flashpoints, between business and accounting. Accounting requires documents, places restrictions on contract terms, and doesn’t allow for language on payments. One day a payment is late, another day an invoice is rushed. What motivates them, apart from a feeling of self-importance? This is a question operations departments are asking. It’s difficult to understand them, and impossible to accept them. Yet, tens of thousands of people go to work each morning, among other things, to spend several hours on soul-sucking arguments between accounting and marketing, management, operations and procurement… Such relations cannot be fixed, and the very next morning, like in the film Groundhog Day, the very same scene plays out again. If business is on the upswing, product lines are expanding and new types of transactions are being added, this is where mutual misunderstanding grows in a proportionate manner and is capable of driving the contending sides to a serious conflict that becomes personal.
Depending on specialization, accounting gets in the way of work for 30-50% of employees: PR (41%), procurement (46%), IT (43%), marketing (33%), sales (28%), production (27%), HR management (33%), administration (37%) and legal (51%). As for accountants themselves, they find it most difficult to work with sales departments.[*]
Do you recognize this?
Are you tired of it?
Then it’s time to get out.
It only happens that rivals become a team when their goals match up. The paradox is that employees have just one goal – to ensure the proper functioning of the company as a source of personal wealth. The problem, however, is that “goals” are uniformly coated by “efforts” without overlapping, i.e., only the ones that are necessary and sufficient without duplication of functions and excess requirements. But also without breaks, i.e., avoiding someone’s incompetence and “break downs” – processes without a beginning and an end, without someone in charge or with more than one person in charge.
A visualization of this process gives a clear picture of an enterprise’s work and the role each division or even each employee plays in the process. We call this a “Process Map”. A process map can be worked out in detail all the way down to the step-by-step instructions for individual actions – sub-processes – and the level of detailing depends on the complexity of the sub-process – on how many development variations the sub-process have (i.e., if-then-else branches).
We come to a project with “white sheets” and are unburdened by obsessive ideas, personal relationships, and old grudges with colleagues. Your employees we’ll speak with about the problems hindering effective work are all equal to us. We don’t have favorites; we are seeing everyone for the first time, so an equal interest and trust in the words of everyone is guaranteed. If different people give conflicting information about the same process, this only means that we heard, but could not have imagined: there are no “bad” and “good” employees among the process participants; rather, one, several or all of them do not have a proper understanding of the process. For example, about its purpose or action sequences.
Our task is to extract a few key issues from the pile of recriminatory claims, formulate them, offer a solution and, most importantly, to implement it. Why several? Because perfect quality is a philosophical category that has nothing to do with reality. We tell you – let’s solve three problems. Only three, but right now. This is better than having twenty problems but never solving them.
After talking with employees both in accounting and operations departments, and reviewing existing workflows, we identify some of the lowest quality processes and begin working to improve their quality. How? By replacing “bad” components with “good” ones. For example, if a process has no clear goal, then yes, something is in the air, something is umm…important, but let them guess. We define this goal. If the process does not have someone in charge, that person should appear. If the procedure for sub-processes is disturbed, it should be restored. If the same goal is achieved by more than one process, this means that all of them with the exception of one are superfluous.
It does sometimes happen that employees from different departments, especially accounting, see us as a potential threat to their comfort and wellbeing in a particular company. But what does comfort mean for you? A repeating error cannot be comfortable. Many hours spent putting together reports by hand that could be put together automatically in a few seconds using 1C (and yes, we do that as well).
The formalization of processes is just the beginning. Implementation of programs is the real work. Before an updated process becomes habit, it must be known to all participants. Then, it should become clear. Here it is difficult to overestimate the role of visualizing the process, its accessibility and simplicity. Training sessions and audits. Teach them how to do it, and then check. Several times like that.
Success comes with tenacity. When we put our heads down before a problem, precious time passes by, taking opportunities with it. The best people leave in search of something better. Is this something we should put up with?
“They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.” Think that it’s possible; perhaps Mark Twain would say the same thing about you.
[*] The survey was conducted by the HeadHunter Research Service on October 17-31, 2014 among 1,574 employees at Russian companies.