I have always been amazed when I hear CFOs and their teams working well into the night to fulfil their month end obligations. Journals, rework, analysis, reporting until the late hours of the evening, month after month, year after year.
What makes senior finance people accept this as the norm? Why is this acceptable in some companies?
Reflecting on my corporate career, I have always been lucky enough to enjoy a great work life balance. Outside of new roles or catastrophic problems, I thought I was lucky to be working in organisations where I could leave at a normal hour at month end.
After eighteen years of working in different companies and different environments, I now know I wasn’t lucky. I made my own luck. I followed a few simple rules (let’s call them hot tips!) that freed up myself and my team’s time, and allowed us to produce results that were reliable, relevant and provided to the key stakeholders well before dinner time.
Hot tip 1 – Know your Tasks
Month end processes are exactly that. A Process. The entire process is simply an accumulation of tasks that need to be done over a short time frame. In order to make this process flow efficiently it is important to know what tasks you need to do, who needs to do them and when they need to be done by. In addition to this it is critical to know the Earliest Time Possible (ETP) these tasks can be done, and do them then.
Listing out your tasks and understanding the timelines attached to these will dramatically improve your process. Aligning these to the ETP of these tasks will help to reduce any bottlenecks, which in turn will help to reduce the stress.
Hot tip 2 – Be Disciplined
I have never been the type of person to do my “homework” on the night before its due. Applying this mindset to your month end is a sure fire way to ensure you are sitting at your desk at midnight. As much as I thrive on the pressure of a deadline, I do things as soon as I get the opportunity rather than wait until the last minute.
Adhoc requests, last minute meetings, staff emergencies, and other disruptions are completely out of your control. They can happen every day and will happen most days if you are in a senior role. When they come on the last day of month end, and you are already a day behind, be prepared to eat dinner at your desk and get a midnight taxi home.
Knowing what you have to do and when you have to do it is important. But unless you stay disciplined to it and keep on track, it will not translate into a work life balance. If you are behind after the first day, you will be playing catch-up for the remainder of the process.
Hot tip 3 – Avoid Rework
You have organised your tasks and stayed disciplined to the timelines. But now you have noticed a problem in the numbers and your team has to spend the next two hours correcting the issue.
Reworking numbers (or repeating tasks that have been done incorrectly) needs to be avoided if you want to get out the door at a reasonable hour. Not only does rework mean you or your team have to go back and do a task again, it probably flows into other tasks that will also need to be redone.
Cut down on your rework by:
- Reviewing your teams tasks as and when they are complete and correct any rework immediately. Don’t wait until the end, do it as you go.
- Understand “why” the error occurred and ensure your team understands this so it doesn’t happen again, month after month. People will make errors and this is annoying but if you can eliminate them by understanding why they happened and avoid them going forward it will very quickly reduce your rework. This applies to anyone in the organisation inside or outside of finance that you rely on for information or process at month end. It is your responsibility to educate them on your expectations.
- Know your business and get as close to other departments as you can. Have conversations throughout the month, make yourself visible and approachable so when issues occur you are informed. By doing this you will be able to spot when things do not look right early, and avoid others pointing them out to you late in the process and have them question your credibility.
- Set expectations and follow up on the things that are required and when they are required by. Your month end is often reliant on a number of people both in your team and in other functions outside of your control. If those people are aware of what is required and when it is required by, and know you will ask for it if it is not delivered, you have a greater chance it will be done to the level you expect.
So next time you are sitting at your desk at midnight thinking there has to be a better way, remember there is. Step back and ensure you Know Your Tasks, Stay Disciplined and Avoid Rework. This will help put you on the path to an early night, a stress free month end process and focus your time and energy on value added issues like insights, strategy and improving business performance. The less time you spend on your month end process, the more time you have to add value to an organisation through insight and analysis.