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Mortar with fog

The modern day alchemist: Turning busy into time

22nd Feb 2018
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With all the technology we have at our disposal, it’s astonishing that manual processes still take up so much of our time. Kevin Philips looks at how finance leaders can fix this.

Peter Drucker, the management consultant that coined the phrase “knowledge worker” back in 1959, nailed it when he said: “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”

This is the catch-22 companies face today. There is no doubt that companies need to innovate to ensure their future success, but to do this their people need to find the time to think, research, experiment and develop new ideas.

Because we’re in the business of saving people time, last year we ran an informal survey of some finance team members working in a range of industries to find out what takes up their time, and what else we could do to create time in their days.

The results were interesting, to say the least.

Top three 'time blackholes' at budget/forecast time:

  1. Investigations or enquiries from source
  2. Incomplete or incorrect data
  3. Manual processes

Top three time blackholes at month-end reporting time:

  1. Report compilation
  2. Manual processes
  3. Investigations or enquiries from source

The top three time blackholes at other times:

  1. Ad hoc reporting requests
  2. Firefighting
  3. Ad hoc information requests

It’s astonishing that today, with all the technology we have at our disposal, manual processes are still taking up so much of our time. This is a triple whammy: the time taken by highly skilled staff to do the work in the first place; the knock-on effect of errors or incomplete data; plus, very often automation is the first step towards, and prerequisite for, further innovation. So the fact that lack of automation crops up twice in our survey as a drain on time is very worrying.

Ad hoc reporting requests are an indication of an unempowered workforce needing to defer all finance related matters to the accounts team. As well as the drag on time, this means the people at the coalface of the organisation aren’t engaged with the budgets they are responsible for implementing. This can be seen, unfortunately, as a proxy for a wider lack of transparency, ownership, trust and decentralisation of power in an organisation. Time and time again, these factors very factors are the keys that promote an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, while a command-and-control management style is an effective way to shut innovation down.

So where does this leave companies caught in this catch-22?

The companies that feel like they are running just to stay in the same place, but know they need to make fundamental, exponential changes to survive into the digital future.

The range of time blackholes revealed by the survey shows that there is no single culprit, and so no single solution. It’s a complex world, after all. What is clear, however, is that tired, ineffective, dated processes need to be sped up and automated. Your people need to be spending less time compiling the report, and more time analysing and thinking about the outcomes.

Automation will also improve the timeliness of your data for real-time decision making. And if, as part of the fix, you have included those at the coal-face in the process, your data will be more accurate, relevant and timely. Inclusive management also increases transparency and accountability, resulting in an aligned organisation that manages itself better.

So by resolving the catch-22, the outcome is not only winning the time you need to innovate, but also gaining the data, culture and other capabilities you need to succeed in a digital world.

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