A meeting with the accountant for an organization can reveal a lot about leadership. The accounting team is responsible for payroll, billing, payment processing, and the financial statements. In order to do its work well, it needs to gather input from managers and others. With the month-end cycle, every activity that has an impact on the financial position of the organization needs to be reported to the accountants in a timely manner.
When the input is erroneous, you can be sure that someone will be affected. For this particular organization, the accountants have been receiving inaccurate and incorrect information from team managers consistently. As a result,
- Employees could be underpaid or overpaid because the pay rates and benefits entitlement are incorrect.
- Expenses are charged to incorrect accounts because the account codes are wrong.
- Deposits are rolled up to the wrong accounts because information is not forwarded in a timely manner.
- Vendor payments are late leading to penalty.
These problems require time and effort to correct. The accountants are frustrated and demoralized because their repeat requests and efforts in educating the managers have been ignored. The accounting team needs its leader, the executive director, to set things straight.
The executive director needs to do the following:
- Re-educate managers. As the problems have been lingering for a while, the managers are aware of the need. Unfortunately, they continue to put little effort in doing their work properly. It is essential to have the managers recognize the impacts of their oversight. The executive director needs to gather data on the frequency of error occurrences and the efforts spent on fixing the errors. Share the data so that each manager is aware of the extent of rework attributable to his sloppiness. At the same time, re-educate the managers on what information is needed and how best to provide the data.
- Assign accountability. The accountants have been bending over their backs to fix problems. They look up employee files to correct benefit entitlement and pay rates. They help to locate funds when the incorrect account code is provided. They work overtime to meet deadlines when the input information is submitted late. The managers make little effort to follow instructions and pay adequate attention to details. They rely on the accountants to correct their work. The lack of commitment and ownership of their responsibilities really shift their duties to the accountants. The executive director needs to set firm guidelines and hold the managers accountable for doing their work properly.
- Reinforce ownership. An effective approach is to monitor the statistics on errors and the efforts spent on fixing problems. The executive director needs to review the tracking with each manager and discuss how to correct cause when there is no improvement. This is the best way to raise attention, making it known that it is a priority. It is difficult for the managers to ignore their sloppiness when there is data to substantiate the case.
- Provide support. When there is deficiency with the knowledge needed to do a good job, provide the training and coaching required. Create job aids that are easy to use. The key is to provide all the help the managers need. This removes the reliance on the accountants and shifts the work back to where it belongs.
When problems persist and become ingrained, the leader must step in. Without the involvement of the executive director, the accounting team would continue to overload itself with unnecessary work, feeling demoralized and disrespected.