As many people now realise, no individual in a business is an island. You cannot operate in isolation as a department or individual, with just your processes and technology of choice. One department where this has become even more prevalent in recent years is finance and in particular the tax departments. However, if you’ve already won the argument with the board on how to transform your tax, accounting and general finance practices, secured budget and identified the right technology for the job, you may find there is one last hurdle to cross. You now need to win over your team.
When we’ve talked to finance practitioners in the past, we’ve found that overcoming cultural barriers is a very real challenge. Quite often they’ll report that their team is conservative in its behaviour and attitudes. If Microsoft Excel has done the job until now, albeit with its associated risks, why isn’t it good enough today? To respond sensitively to such questions, in a similar way that you’d work with IT to deploy your new technology solution, you should also work with your colleagues in HR to help de-escalate any concerns arising due to cultural barriers.
Despite the adherence to spreadsheets and other manual processes causing considerable pain, it is possible that some members of your team will feel it’s a case of better the devil you know. The processes themselves are designed and driven by them – the experts in finance and tax – and ultimately, accountability for errors large and small can typically be traced back to a human source. Furthermore, remedying situations arising from human error also rely on tried and trusted human interactions, with peers in management, HR, legal, and operations.
However, when the processes become fully automated, where does the responsibility, accountability and, above all, the liability for an error sit? The complexities that arise when these human, automated, and robotic processes merge have significant implications. The importance of retaining “humanware”, the knowledge that binds finance process and quality together, is critical, but it can’t overbear on the transformation of your practices.
By involving HR at an early stage, you can get help to align your team’s function with the business in terms of broader IT strategies and planning for the skills mix needed for the future. It is not feasible to have qualified accountants bogged in transactional detail; they need to be freed to add value, whether they like it or not. Processes that can be offered, managed, and monitored in a uniform way are ripe for standardisation and automation. They should also recognise that this is where the risk of errors can be reduced and productivity improved. You need to help them to understand they’re being freed to think more and add value to the business.
The future vision of finance and tax teams matters because millennials already account for at least 50%¹ of the workforce, with the Gen Xers following hot on their heels. These individuals were born into the digital world. They expect enterprise-grade, consumer experience apps available to them from anywhere at any time, in a flexible, supportive work environment. If you can offer this or, at a minimum, can demonstrate a clear strategy to move with these times, you will attract and retain that talent. And importantly, you will win out over the other employers that can only offer slow, manual, frustrating processes that prevent this generation from feeling they are making a positive difference at work. This means technology, combined with trusted information sources and real-time data, needs to be at the core of the finance function.
In summary, your colleagues in HR are your crucial partners in helping to co-ordinate the planning and collaboration required to modernise your team. Together you can overcome challenges, encourage engagement and identify skills gaps for training or recruitment. Taking these cultural changes seriously will help ensure you have the right people with the right skills to address financial requirements this year, this decade and beyond.
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