How to manage a growing finance department: build strength in unexpected places

How do you keep a growing finance department strong? Focus on building up those out-of-the-spotlight areas, which typically take a back seat to the numbers.

growing finance department: The word strengthen a forest

Whether it’s to tap into a certain market or reach a projected profit-level, all companies have one goal in common: to grow. And there’s no growth without growing pains: that goes for every department, including finance where:

  • Tasks and responsibilities are delegated further away from your control
  • New employees are added to the department and need to be trained
  • A bigger workload requires more robust processes, tools and support
  • Contact with customers and vendors increases
  • And maintaining productivity in the face of bureaucracy becomes a bigger challenge.

So, purchasing, budgets and expenses aside, let’s take a look at those areas of a growing finance department that have little to do with actual number crunching, because often they have everything to do with the success of your department.

Customer service

Customer service skills aren’t always the first consideration in a finance department, but as a company grows, members of your department will increasingly come into contact with:

  • Customers with transaction issues or escalated billing questions
  • Different companies added to your vendor roster
  • Other departments needing the expertise of the finance department

Judith Cane of Ontario-based Antara Financial Group says that success in finance is ’15 percent technical knowledge and 85 percent psychology.’ Knowing how to talk about the numbers in person, in writing and for presentations is just as important as knowing what they mean.

For the individuals in your department to excel in customer service, especially during times of growth, ensure training not only equips them with basic communication skills, but also gives them:

  • A healthy knowledge of the company. Growth tends to draw distinct lines between departments, but customer service is best when your employees either have the answer or know who could assist with customer questions. They need to understand where their role fits into the bigger picture.
  • The ability to navigate all programs and systems. Reduce hold times and ensure employees aren’t stumbling through calls by providing regular and comprehensive training on all the technology and processes you use. Pay attention to feedback about ideas on how to use it better.

89 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing bad customer service. Strong service skills are how you help the company retain customers and continue to grow.

Human resources and people management

In a survey by eFinancialCareers of 500 financial services professionals, a third admitted they hate their jobs. In fact, finance employees are the least satisfied of any industry.

Any manager wants their employees to be content because, as Richard Branson asserts: ‘Happy employees are central to the success of a business.’ Studies of companies like Zappos link corporate culture to financial success.

If the success of your department is dependent on a strong culture, focus on the key ways you can influence that culture.

Preserve a positive culture

You may already have a strong company culture, but the subculture of your department is equally important. ‘Culture usually doesn’t arise on its own. It’s something that deserves as much thought as any other component of a business and is essential … to preserve [a] company’s identity as it evolves.’

Culture is people, workspace, projects, management, meetings, process and more, all intentionally influenced by you so the effect trickles down to every part of your growing finance department. Culture is a result of the leadership and the example you set.

Hire for diversity and the right fit

A Forbes article about Steve Jobs says he ‘believed that a broad set of experiences lead people to conclusions that others might have missed.’

There’s an ongoing debate on the question of consistency and diversity in hiring decisions, the crux of which is: while you need to know who will fit and strengthen the culture you are trying to create, you also need to consider the advantage of introducing different backgrounds and thought patterns to your teams.

Leadership and accountability

As your company grows, one of your main concerns is maintaining internal controls and auditable procedures, but it’s more difficult to account for these things yourself as the number of people and levels of management increase.

A Harvard Business Review survey rated managers on their ability to hold people accountable: 46 percent received a poor rating. How do you ensure each and every individual acts with integrity?

Give them a code and creed 

A code of conduct or ethics sets out how you expect employees who handle company finances to behave. It also gives you a consistent guide to use when addressing compliance issues.

Employees want to know the ‘why’ behind expectations. A code of ethics can explain why accountability is important to your company’s brand, for example it helps to build trust between your customers and company.

The code is what you expect. When you explain why it’s important, it becomes the creed of your department to operate with integrity and accountability.

Make your processes accountable

In a growing company, workloads increase before new hires are brought in. It’s easy to slip into the quicker way of doing things like:

  • The same employee receiving payments and balancing the accounts
  • Purchase orders placed without the approval of a manager

The processes in a finance department have to be auditable, meaning you have to eliminate both external and internal risks. Create processes that either split tasks between at least two employees or require the approval of a manager before moving forward.

Keeping accountability in your processes sounds like a good way to bog down your workflow, right? Accountability is vital to a strong finance department and so you must find a way to have both accountability and efficiency as you grow.

Technology and systems

A growing finance department has to be equipped to anticipate increased workloads and changing working styles.

It starts in the cloud

Eighty seven percent of companies are operating in the cloud and 43 percent of businesses wish they had adopted the cloud sooner. The list of advantages is extensive, but vitally, it:

  • Connects you to the department by enabling you to access data and information that tells you in real time what is happening in your department.
  • Connects employee to employee, allowing for easier collaboration and access to tools.

Any growing business can benefit from getting connected in the cloud and your department is no different.

Equipment and tools

If equipping your department is about anticipating needs, you need to understand what tools and devices will best suit your employees’ different functions. You have to answer questions like:

Equipping a department is not as simple as purchasing company laptops and smartphones. It’s also about what’s behind the equipment and tools.

Security and support

The key element of a well-equipped office is first that your information stays secure and second that you have suitable support in the event of a server crash or misbehaving laptop.

Any time you consider equipment or tools, you must ensure they boast security and support so you can rest easy about external threats to your company by way of the finance department.

Be specific about what your department needs and only then choose the technology that matches them.

Connection strengthens your growing finance department

Your role is diverse. It’s not just numbers. It’s people and systems, efficiency and project management. As your company grows, you won’t always deal directly with the outcome of these matters.

Get in touch with areas that aren’t considered a priority for the finance department. When you shine light on HR, customer service, accountability and tech, you can build a finance department in which you, your managers, employees and new hires are operating at full strength.

(Hat tip to Colleen McMahon for the photo)

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