Many of us in India have been standing in Queues for the last few weeks, it ‘must been a new experience for some of us to stand in front of ATMs to withdraw money, for the older lot who transacted in the pre-ATM days the bank Queues are not new. As such we have stood in many inconsequential Queues in our lives and I would argue that we all have been trained for this ‘waiting’ thanks to few years of work experience. So, what’s the link to work experience and Queues? Don’t be Naïve, haven’t you yet queued up virtually in front of your finance department? If you haven’t, you are either working in an organisation that have successfully “blended” their front and back office workforces to provide outstanding service to both its internal and external customers; or the higher probability is that you are yet to come face to face with this parallel “power centre” in your organisation known as ‘Finance’.
As I mentioned earlier, while it is normal for us to “agree” to wait in queue when it’s a case of Hobson’s choice, delays by our very own Finance Division can result in a major heartburn for us! I have written about slowdowns one of another kind in one of my earlier posts http://kamalkaranth.com/does-an-approvals-culture-slow-down-organizations/
Before anything else, let me put my cards on the table– I’m not here to nurse grudges on Finance people. On the contrary, I have worked with some finest Finance leaders who do incredible work and I still talk to my last 3 CFOs. However, I have also seen a long line in front of Finance office I’ve worked with as customers or colleagues, so I am trying to get some attention here through my biased opinions that people in Finance have an unusual affinity to make the rest of their colleague’s wait
There was once a conversation I was listening in that was too interesting not to be mentioned. One of my mentors, then the CEO of a large enzyme company, was firing someone over the phone. I heard bits of the conversation about “pay outs” and “organisation reputation”. “Some of these guys should be sent to do sales. Only then would they know what it takes to be at the mercy of others!” was his final say to me after he disconnected the line.
Soon after, he turned to me and proceeded to elaborate, “I see this gentleman almost every day at our reception area. I assumed he was attending an interview but after a week passed by and I was still seeing him, I asked the Receptionist the reason for his daily visits. With great discomfort,she said that the gentleman, who happened to be our office stationary vendor, was following up with Finance on his payments!” he concluded disappointingly. He said from that day he instituted a vendor payment compliance report which he used to review periodically to avoid violations. I hope most CFOs and CEOs do that today.
I’m sure that if you’re in Finance, you’ll have numerous valid reasons for delayed payments – from the costs not budgeted for, incorrect bills, payment not due, incomplete process, where is the approval, error due to the ERP system – feel free to add more “defences” as I might have lost touch with new ones!
If you’re in Sales, Marketing, IT Support, even HR, I can see you cynically smiling… I guess scenarios such as the one experienced by the stationary vendor chap is déjà vu for us – who can forget those arduous moments we have had with our Finance colleagues; playing “hide-and-seek” with us from behind their computers? Or the inscribed one-liners they come up with that “mysteriously” hold up payments which are crucial to you and me!
I know that the world is changing and we tend to use nice corporate terms like ‘business partnering’ for functions like finance to motivate them to work better with rest of the organisation. I would opine more can be achieved by our finance colleagues and would brand them better than they are today, let me offer three things that Finance can instantly put-to-practice and thus, cut the line in front of the them by half:
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate: Finance is often seen as the roadblock to an effective pay-out system because they don’t proactively communicate these obstructions. If Finance makes a simple switch from getting too caught up in their bureaucratic works to having better communication with stakeholders on reasons for delayed payments, there’ll definitely be more “love” going around for our Finance colleagues!
- Provide explanations; not epic one-liners: This advice is best taken by Finance (and not Sales!) While one-liners are good for Bond movies to keep moviegoers amused, we have to keep in mind that in “reel time” is very different from “real time” and that people usually end up at the doorstep of Finance when they are at the final step of a transaction cycle. Hence, Finance needs to ensure that their customers (internal and external) do not “ring their bell” repeatedly just to get turned away by a new “one-line-rule-in-the- book” every time. In simple terms, can Finance tell us all their requirements in one go and at the very first time?
- Less red tape; more flexibility: In almost (if not all) organisations, the rules and audit restrictions are severe on financial transactions, understandably. But I’m sure there are solutions and flexibilities that can be applied to move things forward a notch up if only Finance chooses to work in “partnership” with the rest of its stakeholders. This lack of flexibility on the part of our Finance colleagues make us empathise a lot less with them and the fact that “they’re only doing their job”!
I asked one of my finance friends as to why we tend to see them in poor light in these transactions. The first question he asked was am I referring to accounts or finance? He says they are two different things and I shouldn’t generalise, I said there you go again, answering with a question than answering with an answer, He said tongue in cheek, “unlike you sales guys we believe in a black and white, without adequate proof or paper trail our work doesn’t start or end, our world unlike you cannot be transacted based on smart talk, promise or hope, we must protect the financial interests & integrity of the organisation and if the leaders in the organisation think we are not delivering they will tell us, please remember we are in finance, not marketing” he concluded.
In my own experience of running organisations I have often felt we get carried away when we label our finance colleagues as non-responsive or bureaucratic in situations not favouring to us, every time I got into details I found out that the paper trail was not meeting the process. All of us want our exceptions to be dealt with our finance colleagues exceptionally.
Well if we wanted our Finance colleagues to be communicating flamboyantly with conviction on matters which did not have truth in it, wouldn’t we have put them in sales? Now sales guys out there, Chill!
I have always got a rousing welcome from Finance, it’s your problem if you haven’t!