Strange times indeed. No sooner have we finished doing something than it is out of date, overtaken by events and the next round of announcements.
Before Christmas I wrote a course for accountingcpd called Managing People in Finance. I was pleased. It felt like I'd done a good job. Then two weeks ago, I came to review the finished version. The learning editors and designers had taken my flat prose and brought it to life. Ordinarily I would be excited to see what they had done, but on this occasion, I approached the task with some trepidation. How would it feel now? Would good advice from three months ago now seem to miss to mark completely?
But to my enormous relief I found that the advice I had written before the coronavirus crisis locked us all down, stood up to the new world we are living in. The answer to the question, "How do I manage a finance team remotely?" is pretty clear. All the good practice ideas that we don't get round to following the rest of the time, are the exact things you must do at a time like this.
As I went through the review, I made a list of pointers for managing remotely. It was quite a long list, but in the end, it all came down to three main points:
You can't communicate too much. You may do it by email, by zoom or google hangout or by phone, when previously you would have done it face to face, but you need to do it more if anything than you did before.
At the risk of generalising, finance people tend to be hard workers. They have undertaken a long and arduous course of study and typically work long hours. So, you probably don’t have to spend too much time on getting them to work hard. But is everything they do lined up with the purpose of the organisation? Is there any wasted effort – reports that are produced but no longer used by the recipients as much as they used to be; KPIs being tracked that are no longer as relevant as they once were?
You get alignment by establishing clear goals for the organisation and then cascading these through the structure, to departmental or team objectives and then on to individual objectives and action plans. At a time when you are not there to spot anyone heading of in the wrong direction, and they can't so easily check in with you, it is even more important that they understand how what they do lines up with what the team, the department and the organisation are trying to achieve.
The second priority of every manager is the effectiveness of their team. It's your job to help them get better at what they do. That can take the form of formal development plans, and there's nothing wrong with that, but more important is the way you perform your role as a coach. Good coaches provide constant feedback on what people are doing. Accounting and finance professionals have traditionally not been great at this. It is quite touchy feely and feels like it is going to be awkward and embarrassing. But it is made much easier if you think of it in two simple parts:
Motivational feedback – that's where you spot things that people did well and encourage them to repeat them.
Corrective feedback – that's where you spot things that you would like people to do differently and you talk to them about they could do them in future.
Notice that both are about the future and it's that emphasis that makes it less awkward. Don't see it as your job to be telling people what they are doing wrong. Think of it as helping them to do it better. Make it future oriented and it becomes a positive thing.
So, there you go. At this time, when we are managing under unusual circumstances, it is more important than ever that you invest time and effort in your people. As finance people, we should understand this: for many organisations the people represent the largest overhead line on the Profit and Loss, so it's worth making sure we get a return on that investment!
Alan Nelson is an author for accountingcpd. To see his courses, click here.