I’m working for a rather large client right now to help them build out a corporate infrastructure in a newly created headquarters operation.  There is a lot of involved,  in depth accounting required.  However, because of turnover they have realized that they must document their accounting and finance processes, policies and procedures.  This is an enormous job that we will be undertaking.  Many businesses, large and small, simply do not have an accounting manual or anything close to that.

Let’s imagine that tomorrow, your boss comes to you and says you need to create an Accounting Manual and an Operations Manual and you have three months to get it done.  Where would you start?

First, don’t start from ‘Ground Zero’.  Take a look at Steven Bragg’s work which can be found at http://www.wiley.com.  I have his Fifth Edition of Accounting Policies & Procedures and it is a great publication.  Use its’ many templates and forms and customize them to your particular company.  You will be light years ahead of starting from scratch.  There are other manuals you might already have on your bookshelf.   Many of them are really very good.

Second,  don’t think you can just copy  your documentation verbatim.  To document processes and procedures, you have to spend time interviewing people who are involved in the work you are documenting.  You will quickly find that not everything in a book you are using relates directly to your line of business.  You must CUSTOMIZE, CUSTOMIZE, CUSTOMIZE.  That takes time.  However, if you don’t you will be caught in the act of short cutting your way through the project.  USER input is critical.  Users will need to test your processes & procedures  for relevance and accuracy.  Users will have to keep you updated on changes in a process, policy or procedure.  You might consider forming a USER Committee to help you build the necessary manuals.

Third, three months is an ambitious timeline for such a large project.  If you have a Microsoft Exchange Server you might want to use a shared drive to put your documentation out there for employees in an electronic form. (Always check with your I.T. department before you begin uploading to the drive).   If you have a website, take a look at getting your employees behind a locked door requiring log-in with user name and password required.  (Be sure you get the o.k. from your I.T. Department).

Fourth, you must realize that an Accounting Manual or Operations Manual cannot become a static set of documents.  Don’t pat yourself on the back and think ‘job well done’ when the deadline is met.  The end of the project timeline also means the beginning of a commitment to update, edit and modify the manuals you and your committee  have created.  Obviously, it would be much easier if it was all in electronic form.  Doing the same for printed manuals is almost impossible in a big company because of the large number of books that may have to be updated, reprinted and distributed.

It’s quite a project but the payoff should be substantial.  Truthfully, you may have a working manual at the end of ninety days,  but you probably still have work to refine it.  Remember, as controller, you simply don’t have the time to do it all.  Delegating some of this work, with your oversight, will be key to meeting any deadline you might have.






NINE SCORPIONS IN A BOTTLE and other workday issues!


It’s said that the former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to the nine sitting Supreme Court justices as ‘Nine Scorpions in a Bottle”!.   Why?  Because each is expected to render an opinion and thus form the basis of a vote for or a dissent against the issue or case at hand.  Have you ever had a staff meeting and felt that you were dealing with people that were motivated solely by their desire to destroy you?  It may be that they just have strong opinions (i.e. they are a scorpion)!

I touched on this subject in my post ‘House of Cards’ (great for re-reading).  I’m starting to think that we need to earn a psychology degree along with our accounting degrees.  What I do know is that there are so many problems that can be avoided by structured and routine communications between you and your people.

I subscribe to some newsletters, both written by business coaches.  Their newsletters are of the ‘Dear Abby’ format where employees and employers write-in about their work problems.  One of the most common themes I see is the one about ‘my manager won’t manage us’ or ‘we have too many meetings’.   Sometimes the complaint is ‘we never meet’.

As a controller, no matter the size of your staff, you must communicate with them on a regular basis.  However, even more difficult is to hear the dissenters during these meetings.  Even the people who feel it cannot be done.  Have you ever been involved in a major software or system upgrade or new implementation.  When you start meeting with the users of the system, you will almost invariably meet with strong opposition.  Can your staff also carry the flag for that implementation and help you meet that resistance.  Do they know enough about why it is important.  If you find you do not want to deploy them as your ‘PR’ people because they really don’t understand the why or the how……………you have failed to communicate it properly.

Are you reading the accounting magazines, articles, blogs, etc. all talking about the changes we are going to see as we evolve towards the cloud?  Are you seeing articles about why we shouldn’t trust the cloud?  What about articles asking if you really need to buy a new server? Print these, or cut them out of a magazine and present it at your next staff meeting.  Get opinions,  and ask for their frank opinion.  These kinds of subjects are not fraught with politics or hidden agendas.  They are what they seem to be and the issues they raise…………you are going to be faced with them sooner rather than later.

‘Nine Scorpions in a Bottle’………….how does the Supreme Court ever render a decision?  At some point there is consensus for them at the end of the day.  They render their opinions, deliver their verdict and move on.  So it is in our line of work.  There is room for philosophical discussions regarding accounting methods and practices.  Spend some time hearing what your staff people really think.  It’s just another learning process for everyone.


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