Congratulations on hiring an 8020 Consultant for a process efficiency improvement project. As a project sponsor, you are looking at your financial reporting processes and might be wondering how you can reduce a seven-day reporting cycle to a couple of days. But have you thought about how your team is going to view the project? Change is scary, and change management is critical to the success of your upcoming project. Think about one of your hardest working employees who has been in the role for 15 years. How will they receive the news that someone from the outside is coming in to evaluate their treasured, patented, career-long process? This is an extreme example, but the fear of change is almost always apparent. What can you do help minimize the risk to the project and help the consultant keep the project on-time and on-budget and deliver the level of quality you expect?
Start with how you are going to let your team know the project is kicking off. Two possible approaches to informing your team about the project are:
- Engage with your team directly.
- Let the consultant lead the conversation.
Your approach will be different given the scope of the project and familiarity with the team. In the end, the goal is the same: for the project to be successful. Let’s explore the two approaches using my experiences with two past clients.
Option 1: Engage with your team directly.
I once led a project for a consumer-packaged goods company that had been in business for 175 years in the beverage space. The company had more than 30 brands, and some of the employees had been with the company for their entire career. New ownership came in (the company had a few owners over its lifetime) and decided that outside help would be needed to build a streamlined financial reporting, management reporting and analysis capability for the company. First, the project sponsor (CFO) and I met and put together a game plan for the project. Then we met with the entire team to go over the project, and we answered questions.
I was a part of the conversation from the beginning and was able to listen to a lot of upfront concerns. As I met with each team member and reviewed their files and processes, I was trusted enough that the employees would share additional operational issues and suggest how changes in their processes would allow for greater insight and value to the business.
In the end, the company decided to upgrade their financial reporting system, IBM Cognos. They reduced their time in putting reporting packages together from five days to two days and increased their value-added time looking to the business. A lot of success of the project can be attributed to the teams’ input and their willingness to open up to me about issues they had not discussed with the CFO.
Option 2: Let the consultant lead the conversation.
In another change management project, I worked with a family-owned and operated consumer-packaged goods company in the food service industry that been in business for more than 45 years. The CFO had just left the company, and the Director of Finance was promoted to the vacant role. The Director of Finance had not been personally responsible for the accounting team, and his promotion to the new role meant he would need my support to evaluate skill sets of his new team as a starting point for the efficiency project. I started by evaluating if job functions matched to the employee job titles, if there were any gaps in reporting responsibilities, and reviewed the close/reporting processes.
Similar to the earlier example, this was a team that had been in place for a while and had always gotten by “because this is the way we have always done it.” The new CFO and Executive Leadership were looking for a lot of improvement in reporting from the department, and the CFO needed external help to act as a catalyst to bring the needed change to the function.
In this instance, I took more of a lead role up front. In the initial, outcome-focused meeting with the team, I discussed the timeline of the project, expectations for documenting processes and the need for recommendations on how to improve processes—especially the accounting close cycle. The project completed on time, and I delivered very specific action items on roles and responsibilities, the need to build a reporting calendar, update some accounting methodologies, and supplement/change some headcount. (You can learn more about headcount in our blog, “5 Keys to Successful Headcount Planning.”)
The project was a success, but as you might understand, the employees had been wary of the outcomes during the project. I had received very few recommendations from the employees on how to make processes easier and more insightful. As a follow up to the initial project, I recommended a deeper dive into the accounting and reporting systems to build more efficiency for the business.
Change Management: Prepare Your Team
While the focus for the two projects were the same—improving process—whether you prepare your team for the engagement or not will go a long way to achieving success on-time, on-budget, within-scope and at a high level of quality. In looking back, the quality of the second project could have been higher with more insightful input from the accounting team.
To help improve the quality of any consulting engagement, I would always recommend letting your team know what to expect. Here is one example of how you might want to approach the conversation about change management:
“Team, as you may or may not know, our department has been asked to take on some additional responsibilities and find improvements in our current processes. An 8020 Consultant will be working with us to help analyze our current processes and make recommendations on how we can be more efficient—as individuals and as a team. The goal is not to cut back on employees, but rather to help with your current process and continue your career growth.”
A couple of key points to reiterate to your team:
- The consultant is here to help.
- The consultant wants to hear your voice and listen to concerns.
- The recommended improvements will make you and your processes more accurate and efficient.
- Recommended changes from the project will lead to a conversation about career-enhancing opportunities.
Final Notes on Change Management
Change is not easy, but if your team is prepared with what to expect and understands and trusts the change management process, they are more likely to engage openly with the consultant. Taking the time before the project kicks off to walk your team through the process will go a long way to ensure your consultant can deliver value. Help your team by being as transparent as possible, allow them to ask questions and help build trust for the consultant and the process. Empowering your team to trust in the change ahead will allow for deeper insight and efficiency gains. Your employees should understand the recommendations will not only help with their current workload, but also with their career and the future growth of the company.
For more considerations when hiring a financial consultant check out our 8020 Consulting Preparation Checklist. You can also learn more about accounting department efficiency in our new health check guide:
About the Author
Branden has 15+ years of progressive experience in all aspects of finance, accounting and financial operations. His experience includes strategic planning, due diligence, forecasting and budgeting, financial analysis, management and board reporting, systems implementation, month-end close and process improvement. He has worked with a wide range of companies ranging from international start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in hi-tech, biotech, marketing and advertising, online marketing and consumer products industries. Some his past employers and clients include Amgen, Fitch Ratings, Young & Rubicam, Realtor.com, Diageo, Pabst Brewing and Cacique. His expertise centers around long-term planning, streamlining financial operations, financial systems implementations and all aspects of FP&A. Branden received an MBA from Pepperdine.