During the era of remote work, having a stable workforce has become a major necessity for organizations. While working in a hybrid or remote environment, the familiarity your staff has with accounting and finance processes and each other is a competitive advantage. However, even in the best of scenarios, staff turnover happens. Changing personal priorities, childcare needs, greater opportunities for flexibility or better compensation, and growing demand have contributed to a mass exodus in the workforce. We saw many of these exits in the Great Resignation of 2022. How your organization plans for any type of job succession could mean the difference between a successful transition and a disastrous one. Proper planning can allow your finance department to withstand any type of staff turnover in stride.
As your organization contemplates formalizing its job succession preparedness strategy, it should consider the following.
Segregation of Duties & Cross-Training
It is not uncommon, especially for small to midsize organizations, that challenges exist in finance and accounting departments regarding segregation of physical access, recording, and authorization functions. When small teams handle company finances, it becomes even more important to properly prepare and plan for personnel changes. While many organizations have a formal accounting manual, what is occurring in practice—especially with changes post-COVID-19—could have created very different processes and procedures to accommodate workarounds for new technology, staff access, and enhanced compliance reporting. Management must take steps to identify what each employee does and the tasks for which they are responsible.
Any type of job succession plan involves making sure there is proper segregation of duties through cross-training and certain redundancies. Mapping out processes and procedures and developing backups within the department also allow employees to go on vacation and truly recharge. Even though senior management may be hesitant in some instances for staff to be cross-trained for various functions due to the confidentiality of certain information the finance department handles, i.e., payroll, it is necessary to establish proper coverage and even redundancy of team members who can perform each function to reduce dependencies on any one individual and also to help lower institutional risk. While these individuals normally wouldn’t have regular access, under certain circumstances they should be readily pre-trained and available to provide an extra set of hands and prevent the same person from performing more than one function in any given process.
Properly identifying these individuals and processes will help make any job succession easier as staff will be able to step in on the various functions of the organization with the confidence of knowing they were properly trained and empowered to assume such tasks. Following this practice not only reduces the potential risk of fraud but also helps with business continuity through meeting deadlines and accomplishing time-sensitive tasks even when circumstances arise and staff need to be out of office. Further, this type of intentional planning promotes teamwork and leverages the use of existing staff for efficiency.
Safeguarding of Assets
A second key element of a successful job succession analysis is making sure the organization’s assets are protected. This is important not only for physical assets, like cash and equipment, but intellectual property and record-keeping. This is accomplished by understanding the following:
- How an individual supports their findings by determining the state of process documentation
- Availability of information in secure, yet easily accessible form
- The existence of an adequate plan for records and information retention
In today’s world, physical access to company assets is becoming far less important than virtual or electronic access. During the finance department’s staff transition, the risk of inappropriate access to the company’s systems becomes elevated, as outgoing staff may “hold the keys to the kingdom.” If certain institutional knowledge is not properly documented, management may not be aware of user account existence for grant sites; local, state, and federal government reporting portals; and even trust and savings bank accounts, along with vendor and payroll processing logins. Making sure that all systems have been identified and new users have been granted access will help reduce the amount of disruption time. This process also will allow the organization to deactivate access for the outgoing individuals to help protect the security of the data and the assets it represents.
How the finance team functions within the organization can determine an organization’s overall financial success. Developing working relationships across the various functions of the organization creates synergies and efficiencies during the year. When employees leave, these relationships can be vulnerable, and this can cause friction between finance and other departments. During employee turnover, these interdepartmental relationships can be at risk during the rush to fill the vacancy to keep performance of core duties uninterrupted. However, the reporting and information-gathering requirements provided for and gained from other departments are still critical.
Developing succession plans allows the other organizational departments to know they will not be lost during the transition and informs key stakeholders of the mechanisms in place to help with continuity and reassure them that their needs are still a priority that can enhance organizational culture, productivity, and teamwork.
Management’s response to turnover and headcount changes can have a lasting impact on the organization. Intentional, proactive, and thoughtful job succession planning is important for all levels of staffing. It can allow transitions to be smoother and more manageable, increase confidence in the continued accuracy and accessibility of financial reporting, and showcase the forethought and leadership skills of the organization’s management. To assist with this planning, our advisors have helped develop tools for compliance and responsibility, urgency evaluation, and the documentation of outgoing positions related to staff duties and systems access. We are available to advise clients on how to help limit fraud risk, reduce access of unauthorized personnel, maintain effective and timely accounting functionality, and empower staff with little disruption to operations.
If you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to a professional at FORVIS or use the Contact Us form below.