IS YOUR OFFICE A ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’?

 

If you’re not a fan of Kevin Spacey as the devious maniac & master manipulator  Frank Underwood in Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ , let me give you some background. He was a powerful congressman slated to be tapped for Secretary of State.  However, the President’s Chief of Staff ruled him out.  Now he’s been sworn in as Vice-President, after murdering two people who were obstacles to his goals.

It’s a great series but Vice President Underwood is a scary guy.  The congressional in-fighting, the backstabbing and ‘take no prisoners’ mentality is a frightening look into the way things are at some level in too many good companies (and to some extent in Congress).  We’ve seen it on full display in ‘Mad Men’, and the sarcastic and cynical t.v. hit ‘The Office’. So what does that have to do with you as a Controller or Accounting Manager?  If your office is a kingdom of kindness, cooperation, teamwork, and respect…..then the answer is nothing.  But if there are few days that go by that you aren’t dealing with complaints by one employee against another i.e. the  smooth talker, the slacker, the sneaky one……let’s talk!

One of the biggest challenges trained accounting people face is moving into management positions and then dealing with their direct reports.  As a CPA with a BBA in Accounting, I can tell you that there wasn’t one single course available to deal with handling personnel.  I don’t remember ever seeing any CPE offerings on the subject.  We are born knowing how to breathe, but not how to manage. There are stacks of books, reams of papers and countless experts regarding inter-personal behaviors in an office setting.  You may have even found some that have helped guide you in managing your people so at least some work gets done. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about ‘bad bosses’ and that the day of the ‘command and control’ boss is gone.  If you think barking orders will insure they are obeyed you may have a ‘dinosaur’ attitude of days past.  But it is you who is risking extinction.  The collaborative voices of your employees, marshalled against you can cost you your job.  I’ve seen that happen more than once. From my perspective, after having managed as a Controller in a very large privately held company, here are some of the things I believe must happen if you plan on getting anything done:

1)  Meet with your direct reports on a routine basis.  I know it’s not easy but meet at least once a week.  Schedule your meetings at 4:00 p.m. assuming quitting time is 5:00 p.m.  This way people will be less likely to ‘digress’ and you can manage your meeting to a goal of one hour.

2) Make sure when you are hiring that you have a written, very detailed job description available for the candidate.  The better people understand what is expected of them, the less conflict there is about job duties down the road.

3) Be fair and not petty!  The worst kind of manager is one who is petty.  It kills respect for you, it kills morale and it kills motivation.  Enforce the office policies firmly but fairly.  What is petty?  Denying an employee a few hours off to attend their child’s school program because they were late the day before.  Constantly denying people the equipment they need to get the job done because you worked there five years before you had one.  Get my drift?  Petty is small and mean acts against the people who work for you.

4)  During Staff meetings put as much as you can on the table about what’s going on in the company that you can share.  Keeping secrets, knowing more than they do, is also petty in this day and age of fast moving events and storms of information.  If you keep secrets when you don’t have to, so will your employees.  Count on it.

5)  Do not over share personal information about yourself.  If an employee tells you about her husband’s big promotion, or a big inheritance, be happy for them.  But do not share your life on Facebook or Instagram.  Reserve that for ‘family’ only groups.  My sister had a new manager who shared constant pictures of her children to her telecommuter employees, including a picture of her son on the operating table as he was carried in for a tonsillectomy!  But then when my sister needed time off for personal reasons it was denied.  So how do you think she felt about seeing more of her manager’s family pictures?  This is the kind of behavior that drives employees crazy and can lead to serious problems such as being pulled in by HR and questioned about your behavior.

The conversation in the arena of business management and productivity practices is gaining a lot of ground these days.  Do you really want to be like the president of AOL who fired an employee during a company wide conference call?  Maybe he was trying to prove how powerful he was.  He just proved what a terrible leader he is.  As Controllers, Accounting Managers, CFO’s, we can do better than that.

WE MUST NEVER FORGET THE PRICE OF FREEDOM

 

FLAG PICTURE

 

DO YOU BELONG IN THE CLOUD?

 

As controllers, many of you face the daily challenges of making the right decisions for your company.  Hire him or hire her?  Use the small vendor or the big one? Support migrating to the cloud or oppose it?

Hire the wrong person and they don’t work out?  Sadly,  you have to terminate them and move on.  Choose the wrong vendor?  It might be a little painful, but search for a new one.  But make the wrong decision for your company about it’s ‘information future’ and the consequences could be far reaching, long lasting and permanently damaging.  What are the risks if you decide to move it all to the cloud….. or you decide not to.

Hand in hand with that decision is whether or not you should just outsource almost your entire I.T. operation.

Let’s take a look back to 2000, the year we survived Y2K.  In those good old days, you could hire one guy to look after your AS400 and even manage your terminals or desktop p.c.’s.  He could pretty much fix anything and here is where you could find a lot of ex-military people working.  You didn’t need a desktop p.c. support person, a network engineer and someone who could go out and run cable, setup and load out all the needed software.  But now you do.  Many small to midsize companies may have one very able tech support person (and why aren’t there any women doing this?).  But we need to examine the upside and downside of that as well.

PRO’s and CON’s of a single support person:

P R O ‘s:

  • Generally less cost than outsourcing to an outside technology company until you have to hire the second I.T. person.
  • Very knowledgeable about your company and its equipment & operations
  • Educated about your software
  • Can potentially be much quicker in responding to problems, especially at the Corporate office
  • They generally are not specialists in a world of technology that is so vast specialization is almost essential.  (would you let your local family physician remove a brain tumor?)

C O N’s

  • Someone must manage their work
  • Rapid changes in technology require continued investment in educating him/her.
  • Less ability to negotiate fair compensation with just one person on board
  • Inability for them to work on more than one problem at a time.
  • Potential for sudden loss of employee and therefore all the information about your systems. (we call this ‘all your eggs in one basket’)

Before you make the migration decision, here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Can I find a Technology company that will help me make the right decisions and provide me with a comfort level needed to cut the cord with my servers and go totally to the Cloud?
  • Am I facing the decision to buy new servers and upgrade my infrastructure versus just taking it all online?
  • Can I be sure the company we choose will be around for the long run and protect our data (this is where your Technology company consultants come in)
  • Will this eliminate all my concerns about back ups and restores? Fire walls, anti-virus software, and maintenance of my equipment?
  • Is there a solutions that can involve some cloud and some data local?
  • How comfortable can I be knowing my financials are in the cloud?

In case you are thinking of doing this yourself, let me remind you what my attorney father always used to say, ‘the man who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer’.

Migrating to the cloud has many benefits including automatic upgrades, lower investments in hardware and some software.  There is the potential for shielding you from malware and cyberattacks such as we have seen at Target.  Remember, what took Target down was that a vendor sending them electronic information was infected and passed on that infection through their electronic invoices.  All I can say is you do not want to do business with a big company like Target unless your system is as tight as it can be.  You may have danced the day you inked that deal, but you may be dancing on your own grave.

So, use a good, trustworthy Technology company to walk by your side as you ascend to the cloud.  You will not regret the investment.

 

FIVE REASONS WHY A MISSION STATEMENT REALLY MATTERS

 

 

Lion Picture for Website

 

 

 

Every now and then I see something that just resonates with me.  It could be a phrase or a video or a picture.  So when I saw the picture of the lions and the tag line ‘Surround Yourself With People On the Same Mission as You’,  I knew I had to write about it.

A few years ago Mission statements were very popular but I don’t see the emphasis on them that there once was.  Maybe your company has one.  If so, do you know what it is?  Do your employees know what it is?  If you were asked to write a Mission Statement for your Accounting and Finance group, what would it be and why does it matter?

I have an admission to make.  I’ve never liked the word ‘teamwork’.  If you’re the Atlanta Braves it’s fine.  But a group of professionals should be encouraged to think independently.  The ability to problem solve should be valued even more than the ablity to get along with everyone in the group.  Independent thinkers don’t always have the best social skills but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent people.  I will admit they can be somewhat difficult to manage but Controllers & CFO’s should interact with them on a more frequent basis to make sure they won’t self destruct inside your group.

Let’s face it, every day those of us who roam through Linked In, Facebook, e-mail, text messages, etc. are bombarded with advertisements, white papers, webinar offerings, etc.  We want to stay up-to-date but how in the world can we and still do our job.  I believe that we should first put a top priority on information that helps us align with our Mission Statement.

Here are my FIVE REASONS WHY:

  1. It focuses everyone in your group on the meaning of what  each member should be doing.
  2. When hiring it sets the stage for who it is you really need to add to your group (can they live by your creed?)
  3. It explains to others what your group does (and hopefully why)
  4. It provides a philosophy for the group to live by
  5. It becomes the driving force behind what you do

Sample:  Our Finance Group’s Mission Statement -‘ To report the historical & map the future by using the best data we can’ …. or ‘to support our corporation using the right numbers’ .  I will leave it to you to come up with the right mission statement.

Let’s face it, most people know what the mission of the Credit Department is (collect all the money) or the Mail Room (deliver all the mail) but Finance and Accounting  departments are not that transparent to most people outside the finance and accounting functions.  And maybe it isn’t even clear to some of your new hires either.

Finally, get your group together around the conference table and start brainstorming it.  And if you’d rather keep it private among your group then incorporate it into your group meetings and correspondence between each other.

I don’t know if the Lions in the picture have a written mission statement posted somewhere in their den, but you can be sure they are all on the same page in this picture (most likely food!).  How do I know that?  Because they are all headed in the same direction.

 

 

 

EIGHT REASONS YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO HAVE YOUR PC FAIL!

 

It started yesterday morning, my busiest day of the week (Monday).  When I walked into my office my pc screen had a message that my computer had been restarted and was sitting in ‘Safe Mode’.  The screen was frozen.  I had no choice but to perform a Shut Down.  My computer came back up (very slowly) but to my dismay would not connect to the internet.  After 3 1/2 hours on the phone with my Premium Microsoft Account support people there was only one thing left to do.  Wipe it clean and start over.

After a recent scare a few weeks ago related to the same p.c. I got out my External Hard Drive and backed up my p.c.  Once a week I refreshed my backup so that the drive was very up-to-date.  Of course Monday was shot when I hung up with Microsoft at 3:40 p.m.

This morning (Tuesday) I sat down to my computer and proceeded to restore my data and, thank heavens, it worked!  But then there was refreshing my Office 365 account and several others.  But that was a small price to pay compared to what it would have been had I lost all my data.  So, my dear Controller friends, whether you work exclusively from the same laptop for work and personal, or you have a different p.c. in your home office let me advise you why you need a reliable backup, whether it’s in the cloud or an external hard drive:

  1. Tons of travel and family photos
  2. All my spreadsheets I keep on my home P.C. related to some complex tax returns I prepare for my husband and I as well as other family members.
  3. A CPE Log I have kept for years of all the CPE classes and credits I have obtained to comply with the requiremens of my CPA license.
  4. My Client Files with their financials (I would have hated to have to ask for them again)
  5. Writings and drafts of articles and papers I have and am submitting to various websites I provide writings for.
  6. Cost basis tracking for my husband’s stocks he buys and sells.  Finally this year brokerages are required to provide cost basis but if we were audited, I would desperately need these files.
  7. Three years of Turbo Tax programs and files
  8. Downloads of various documents related to my consulting practice

As I restored from my external hard drive my stomach was in a knot.  I was terrified that even though the drive had assured me it had completed backing up, one never knows.  The absolute relief I felt as everything restored beautifully was indescribable.

Can you imagine losing all your data at work because even though you are connected to the network, there are no authorizations installed to backup your desktop’s hard drive.  Don’t think this can’t happen because it has and it does.  Your I.T. people are concerned about backing up the servers but not necesarrily any of the desktops or laptops that might be periodically hooked up to the network in a docking station.  Do not assume you are safe.  Check in with your I.T. folks.  And as far as at home, perhaps in a home office setting, please be sure you have a way to backup by making a full backup first and then updating at least weekly.  I use an external hard drive which you can buy for probably under $100 depending on how much data you have to back up.  But it is easy to use.

While I can’t prove it, my fatal issues began after a nighttime Microsoft update.  After that installed, my computer was not able to function correctly.  Since the wipe and restore, it’s working great.  Really, I’m kind of glad I restored because it was a great opportunity for some clean up and speed up on my p.c.  But it could have been a sickening disaster!

 

 

 

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