Templates serve many purposes. When used appropriately, they provide us with a convenient way to do something quickly and accurately. It is particularly useful for areas where following process is important and where the process is repeatable. However, like a lot of things, templates are helpful until they’re not.
What is your template for success?
One of the concepts I work on with my clients is how we make the implicit explicit, so we can be more tactical when achieving our objectives. In an industry where professional scepticism and the ability to make unbiased estimates is critical we also explore unconscious biases that may play out at work. So I was drawn to this Harvard Business Review article, ‘Two Powerful Ways Managers Can Curb Implicit Biases’. The first idea explored was that of a ‘template of success’: an implicit assumption of what 'good' looks like.
It got me thinking about areas where we apply 'templates of success'.
Our template of success during crunch time
When faced with a shortage of time and a lack of certainty we look for shortcuts - tools and templates to boost our productivity and ensure accuracy. I think that one of the shortcuts we take is our ‘template of success’.
It’s fairly simple: our work needs to be (a) complete, (b) accurate and (c) delivered on time. That’s it, right? Yes....and does that template help you when you have compounding deadlines that are conflicting with each other and utilise the same resources? No.
Templates are helpful until they’re not
Upon adoption of any new accounting standard or process, our templates need to be revised to make sure it gives us the right result. Same goes with our templates of success: when the circumstances change and the goalposts move, the template needs to change. The challenge is that when we’re in fast thinking ‘delivery’ mode, it’s hard to lift out of default thinking and redefine what success looks like.
How to update your template of success: the 'what really counts' approach
Ask yourself, your team and your boss 'what really counts'. Acknowledge that you're all high achievers and exceptional quality is the preferred standard. But also acknowledge that in certain circumstances - for example, during crunch times - it's not always realistic. Get clear on 'what really counts' and nail that.
The ‘What Really Counts’ approach in action
I started my 4 years in San Francisco when the Sarbanes Oxley (SOx) legislation was still fairly new. On my first engagement, as all good auditors do, I reviewed all the prior year audit files in detail....all 20 of them. There were reams of paper which included technical memos, process documentation, contracts calculations and invoices. OK, I thought...no wonder they work insane hours. I then moved on to my next engagement where there were far fewer files. Not because the client was any smaller or less complex - it was still an SEC registrant with tight deadlines and the same US GAAS, GAAP and SOx requirements - but the audit team had focused on ‘what really counts’.
In audit, what really counts is that enough detail is included in the audit file to allow the work to be reperformed by an experienced auditor with no prior knowledge of the client. Time spent photocopying, reviewing and signing off on endless documents simply wasn't necessary. Focusing on what really counted saved us time, money, reduced risk and allowed us to get on with completing a quality audit. The effectiveness of this approach was reinforced the following year when the file was subject to a file review by the regulator.
‘What really counts’ for you?
In Finance, compliance, accuracy and timeliness is really important - but not all things are created equal. Ask yourself ‘what really counts here?’ and use that to create your new template of success.
Love to hear ‘what really counts’ for you....
About Alena: Alena works with leaders and their teams to connect technical and leadership skills so they can deliver to deadline without killing their people. She is a mentor, trainer, facilitator and coach. Contact her today on firstname.lastname@example.org