With unexpected and planned turnover in the workforce, a prepared organization is a well-armed one. This article will examine some tangible steps that can facilitate an orderly transition of tasks and help ensure that recurring and less frequent responsibilities are addressed. Our actionable suggestions will focus on how to streamline processes and the importance of job descriptions and staffing assignments.
Effective succession planning can reduce organizational risk, increase employee satisfaction, enable business continuity, and lower costs for hiring and training. Specifically, within an organization’s finance function, this is critical because:
- Uninterrupted workflow progress supports the timeliness, integrity, and accuracy of reporting results.
- In the event of any departure, it is important that there is a continuity of the tasks that outgoing personnel had performed.
- Proactively managing toward an environment of business continuity helps a finance department maintain cross-departmental relationships and facilitate cross-organizational trust in the department’s team and its ability to produce meaningful and actionable reporting for decision making.
After developing a strategic succession plan, organizational leaders must consider how to handle the dynamic of both personnel needs and business requirements to help mitigate these impacts.
Evaluating the procedures employed to help achieve accounting policy objectives should be a routine exercise. This can help ensure that the processes being performed are consistent with policy goals, and that what is documented is truly reflective of the tasks performed by staff.
In streamlining workflows, an organization should consider the following:
- Establishing Strong & Efficient Procedures: Procedures that are clear, concise, and routinely reviewed and updated help ensure continued relevance. These include maintaining off-boarding guidelines that document key steps, such as removal of access to systems, collection of organization-owned assets, re-assigning or filling the vacant role, and defining staff levels of responsibility within the separation process. Additional measures may include documenting compliance-related responsibilities and duties to help ensure that critical external and internal reporting obligations are performed according to statutory, granter, or other stakeholder specifications.
- Leveraging Technology to Streamline & Automate Processes: As mentioned in our previous FORsights™ article, “Five Considerations During a System Selection,” technological investments also can help make collaboration more seamless by digitizing systems and processes. Systems and technology can facilitate more efficient processes and workflow automation, while aiding the integrity of outputs, reporting accuracy, and the way in which the finance department is viewed. Creating interfaces between key systems can assist in aligning processes that result in reliable information, especially in the current hybrid/remote work environment where work-arounds to get information and documentation had been utilized. Efficient technology allows for a well-run financial accounting department that takes advantage of functionality already embedded within these platforms to free up the “human element” to be a reviewer and critical evaluator of the data, rather than an executor/preparer of the data. The technology helps avoid duplication, manipulation of data, and excess staff time in performance of financial close and other activities.
- Increased Transparency & Collaboration: Organizations can foster an environment that allows for collaboration across various functions, departments, teams, or programs. Cross-training or job sharing for vital roles and tasks can help ensure proper coverage, mitigate institutional risk, and reduce potential redundancy of team members who can perform each function while alleviating dependencies on any one individual. Re-evaluation of where precedent and dependent data are best compiled or reconciled helps foster ownership and align inputs and outputs with those best suited to evaluate the data.
Understand Your Job Description & Contemplate Staffing Redesign
Your staff is an essential component of succession planning; they provide the knowledge and skills required to pave the pathway toward continuity. Therefore, not only is the “what” of a job important, but also the “who.” After you have appropriately updated tasks so they are efficient and not duplicative of efforts, and support the goals of the organization’s policies, you will want to assess which individual, or group of individuals, should carry out these responsibilities. Good succession planning can assist the organization in allocating job tasks and roles, while being mindful of its goals and human capital resources.
It is important to understand and evaluate roles and job descriptions to help provide correct alignment to skills and prevent the “job creep” of duties beyond one’s role. Having well-defined and updated job descriptions aids in hiring decisions and enables staff to understand their roles and job expectations. This is why management must take steps to identify what each employee does and the tasks for which they are responsible. As such, an organization will want to consider the following:
- Critical Roles & Core Competencies: Sudden turnover can leave an organization vulnerable as it rushes to fill a vacancy for a key role to keep performance of core duties uninterrupted. Identifying the critical roles and the required competencies to effectively perform these roles helps address and reduce the organizationwide impact of any given departure. The identification also can help maintain cross-departmental reputation, reduce friction, and preserve integrity across teams. Being aware of a team’s “bench strengths,” as well as its talent and skills gaps, can help drive informed and precise decisions. The awareness also can highlight which skills and experience are short-term or project-based needs, which may indicate a need for outsourced specialized resources or consultants. Organizations can leverage and use technology to help complement the human capital needed for each role and reduce negative business impacts.
- Internal Controls & Segregation of Duties: Challenges exist, especially for smaller to midsize organizations, for the segregation of physical access, recording, and authorization tasks. Therefore, organizations must evaluate their segregation of duties based on staffing and entity structure. Although technology can assist and streamline processes, it also can come with higher level of risk, as the loss of a key individual can lead to a vulnerability and compromise of internal controls, particularly in the event of an abrupt or poorly planned transition. To limit the risk of fraud, especially in the current virtual technology-dependent work environment, organizations must reduce the access of unauthorized personnel to financial systems.
- Potential Over/Underutilization of Staff: Organizations should contemplate the allocation of job tasks and roles to determine opportunities. This can help utilize staff to their best potential, while being mindful of the available resources, skills, and associated organizational goals. The practice also can help management understand the impact of “job creep” as reflected in a diversity of tasks that fall outside of traditional job descriptions for the roles. It is vital to help ensure that duties leveraged to other in-house staff are within their bandwidth and capacity, while being rightsized to the individual’s highest and best use. Having senior staff perform tasks best assigned to lower-level staff, or having junior team members in supervisory or reviewer roles for which they are not adequately trained, can misalign resources and increase risk of errors or job dissatisfaction. After this staffing analysis is performed, there is an opportunity to explore utilizing additional external resources on a project or interim basis to support existing staff and prepare for any gaps that cannot be managed in-house or may compromise the above considerations.
Succession planning is a crucial process for organizations seeking long-term health and the ability to thrive during inevitable transitions. If you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to a professional at FORVIS.