Don’t look now, but another period end is fast approaching. Will this period go better for you than the last one, or will you, like a whopping one-quarter of finance professionals, doubt the validity of your organization’s regular reporting?* Will you be ready for the challenges of providing thoughtful analysis and information that empowers your management team and board of directors? Or when asked, will you ineffectively reply,” Well, we’ve run our reports.”
As today’s financial expert, you need to instill confidence in your work by being faster and more accurate with your output, have an informed opinion when asked, and constantly improve processes and quality of information you present to others. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to start your period end processes with the best tools. Here are some suggestions:
- SET YOUR MAIN OBJECTIVES – This may seem obvious, but without a clear, timely, and measurable goal, you and your accounting team run the risk of miscommunication and missing your targets. Candidates for goal setting generally center around speed, accuracy, or analysis. A S.M.A.R.T. goal for your work is especially helpful here in creating a beginning, middle and end of your process. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable with your current resources, realistic and time-driven. Instead of saying you’ll complete your period end process faster, look at your notes from the last period and state something more specific, like “We will finish entering all transactions and balancing all accounts by such-and-such a date, shaving X hours off of last period.” Make sure to write your goals down and share them with your support staff.
- HAVE CLEAR DEFINITIONS OF YOUR WORK – When closing a period define, in writing, what that exactly means. Are you simply going to stop processing invoices and expenses on a given date, run your financial statements and move on, or are you going to go into enough detail that no one in the organization is in any doubt about the scope of your project and what information from it people can use to make wise decisions that may affect everyone in the future?
Your definition of project and scope should be accessible by every person in your organization who has a need to rely on your financial statements. You may choose to use a sharing tool like DropBox, or you may choose to circulate a cyclical document via email. The most important thing to remember is that you must paint the picture that others will interpret. Leaving this undefined is asking for scope creep, inaccuracies in reporting and dissatisfaction at the management level.
- ESTABLISH BEST PRACTICES OR PROTOCOLS – Do NOT rely on the standard, “we’ve always done it this way.” When you rely on someone else’s memory for getting a process complete, you become reliant on memories that may not be accurate, or on people who may suddenly become ill or go on vacation when you need them most. For many organizations, the period end process is enormously complex and has dependencies that cross time zones, funds, and departments. You may not be able to “be there” when a missionary in Bangkok needs to answer a question at 4:00 in the morning your time. If you share procedures, people can carry on, even if you’re not available.
- GATHER THESE PHYSICAL ITEMS – It is a waste of time to try to locate items at the same time you’re elbow deep in some complex balancing activity. Give yourself an edge in period end processing by gathering your materials before you start, have a place where those items belong during the process, and know when and how they’ll be put back in their normal storage places. Here are some of the materials that can easily be overlooked:
- Period-end checklist – This list can be a simple naming of the blocks of chores to complete, or you may go to the trouble of printing a detailed list of to-do items. I prefer the printed list because of the satisfaction I get when physically crossing out items as I complete them. Others will use list apps, spreadsheets with a new tab for each period or even an email that’s circulated to the team. Experiment to find the checklist most comfortable for you.
- Binder of notes – A good accounting professional takes notes on every project undertaken. These notes can be used to explain conclusions made or policies adhered to or changed. You can use a binder with tabs for each period or files on your computer, or even a scratch pad that will later be transcribed for future reference. The key is to take notes as you work your processes so that over time you become more efficient in your work and thoughtful in your analysis. In short, your work will become more valuable over time when a thought process is created and used for a template of your work.
- Office supplies – You’ve heard the expression, “the devil is in the details.” Don’t let the annoyance of gathering office supplies when you need them distract you from getting your work done faster. When you interrupt your work to fetch a new pen, find your stapler, or dig out a scratch pad, not only are you spending time away from your task, but you’re interrupting your thought process and may take wasteful extra minutes trying to get your head back in the game. Start each work session by bringing your tools to your work area (including that essential cup of coffee you may need), and you’ll have more focused time in the long run.
- SOFTWARE THAT CAN HELP – We all know that our financial software is essential for period end processing, but there are other productivity tools that can help with communications, information storage and retrieval, and easier workloads. Maria L Murphy, CPA suggests these that you might consider investing in:
- Microsoft Excel – obviously. But if you invest in learning how to create pivot tables and master some of the macros in this software, you can reduce your repetitive workloads each period end.
- Data Sharing Tools – DropBox and Google Docs or SharePoint help you share notes, strategies, and analysis without having to send emails constantly, or worry about which version of a document you’re working on.
Wishing you every success on your next period end process.*Maria L. Murphy from “Tips for a faster, better month-end close”: https://www.aicpastore.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2015/CorpFin/faster-better-month-end-close.jsp