Never before has hygiene been under the spotlight. Every day we're reminded at a very human level the potential consequences we face if we don't practice good hygiene and it's confronting. We're faced with the realities of when there is poor leadership with respect to factors concerning hygiene and in particular, the uncertainty, angst and anger when there isn't a common purpose or shared goal around the importance of it.
How hygienic is your finance team?
Having just emerged from the Australian financial reporting season, many of you would have recently faced the realities of poor hygiene factors in your finance function. What do I mean by that?
How well do your accounts area reconciled?
How effective is your control environment?
How much does your team really know about the work they do?
Poor hygiene is an impediment to high performance.
Unfortunately, however, there is quite often a disconnect between the definition of 'hygiene' and good processes (how many times have you heard, 'this is just how things are here'). It is this disconnect that leads to the embedding of poor work practices and once exceptional talent becoming mediocre.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept
- David Morrison, Lt. General and Chief of the Australian Army (retired)
Indicators of poor work hygiene
• Late nights that become the norm
• The feeling that you're fighting fires all the time
• Curly questions from audit committee and board
• Audit overruns
• Manual workarounds in an automated process
• You aren't doing your job, but that of your staff
• Starting, but never finishing strategic projects
What could your team look like if you got your hygiene right?
Why people aren't motivated to get their hygiene right
So like washing your hands, and covering your mouth with your elbow when you cough, why don't people make the effort to simply just get it right?
1. They're short on time: this is possibly the single biggest barrier to anything for leaders in finance. Whether it's a real shortage of time or the perception of a shortage of time, time becomes a roadblock.
2. They always manage to squeak by somehow: we've all experienced that feeling where we breathe huge sigh of relief once the Audit Committee is over, or the financials are relieved and we're back to 'BAU'. Despite the pain of crunch times, we know that we're going to get there...there's just going to be pain involved. Because we know we will always make it (and we always do), there really isn't that much impetus to change. Especially when faced with the next deadline.
3. They're short on resources: leaders in finance want to do the right thing. One thing that all finance professionals have in common is a fierce commitment to quality and integrity. The challenge that sits alongside that, however, is that as a typical 'cost centre', resources are always a premium and most teams are never quite 'complete'. This poses a real challenge.
To sum it up, and really understand why people don't make the change and fix their hygiene factors, it may be helpful to look at the Beckhard-Harris Change equation:
Which of these factors is most prominent for you and your team?
Dissatisfaction: How bad is the status quo? We can all sit back and have a whinge, but just how bad is it? Is it bad enough to warrant the disruption and pain of change? As I mention above, because 'we always get there', it is easy - especially with the passage of time - to recall...'you know, it wasn't that bad. We survived.' Sound familiar, Alena? Just how much are we willing to stress about the fact that we have to carry the risk that our control environment doesn't 'really' cut it to support our growth aspirations, or that we are constantly putting our key staff members under pressure during peak season?
Vision: Do we know what the vision is? Does our staff share our understanding of this vision and how bought into it are they? Are they on the bus? Does the vision excite them enough to change? When people are bought into a vision that they truly connect to, and understand how it's integrated into their work, it's funny how quickly the hygiene sorts itself out. Focusing on a compelling big picture vision has the ability to get our staff out of the weeds and drawing on their innovation to fix the problems.
First Steps: Do our staff know the first steps they need to take to move toward the vision and execute a the change towards a better future? Towards their vision? It's a bit when we learned how to ride a bike - we had our parent holding the back of our seat for a bit to get us going, and then they let go. Do they simply need that helping hand?
Once you've assessed those inputs into the equation, how does the scale tip when weighed against the:
Resistance to change: Humans don't like change. Inherently they will do everything they can to avoid getting uncomfortable and into foreign land. Even those of us who confess to loving change at times, crave stability and certainty. Given the current climate where there is so much uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding us, it's understandable that some calm is wanted.
So...what are the success factors to getting your hygiene right?
Here are 3 steps to get you started:
1. Create a shared understanding of the definition of hygiene and break it down to its lowest denominator. This includes:
Time management: do your team know how to prioritise and determine what activities they should be focused on
Calendar management: how well do your team use their calendar and assist in managing yours?
Meeting etiquette and discipline: are agendas used? Outcomes defined?
2. Commitment to doing it. Spend time on the vision and purpose of your team. You might assume that your team know it and are bought into it, but here's the litmus test. Are they delivering what you expect? Do they go the extra mile for you? Do they come up with new innovative ideas to move you forward? If the answer isn't yes across the board, it's likely an indicator you need to spend time making sure they are committed to the cause.
3. Knowing when it's complete. How long is a piece of string. We can take hygiene to the nth degree, but that isn't practice. Whilst quality and accuracy are our imperative, we don't need for everything to be perfect. We need to know when to draw the line. Have a conversation with your team to determine your 'definition of done', so you can get your BAU done AND progress your strategic business partnering work.
Hygiene - how do you get it right, so you can achieve high performance?
Love to hear your thoughts...