February 6, 2023
Min Read

How Accounting Teams Are Shifting into the Role of Strategic Partner

Today’s leading accounting teams are venturing outside of what the role traditionally entailed, becoming strategic partners and enablers rather than scorekeepers and gatekeepers.
Parker Gilbert
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Today’s leading accounting teams are venturing outside of what the role traditionally entailed, becoming strategic partners and enablers rather than scorekeepers and gatekeepers. And they are doing so all while producing more with less. These trailblazing teams are adopting new tools, ways to work, and a mindset that lets them benefit their companies in new ways while redefining the controllership. 

Give Accounting Teams the Ability to Step Outside the Box

In the past, controllers and accounting teams have been defined by their limitations. Time-constrained. Overworked. Outdated tools and systems. Necessary workflows ate up the bulk of every month and prevented teams from being able to pursue more creative activities and form strategically partnering with the business.

Stretched thin and scrambling to meet their impending deadlines, accounting teams run the risk of their interactions with counterparts being solely defined by their needs. Receipts, estimates, project details, and more. A perpetual flow of asks are made, all without informing stakeholders how providing this information enables them to do their best work. 

Given the right tools and processes, teams can step outside of this box and also act as strategists and catalysts for company growth. They can influence company evolution in valuable ways. However, they must be able to overcome the challenges they currently face in order to have the capacity to serve their organization in more tactical ways.

Challenges Every Accounting Team Faces

The current environment demands that accounting teams do more with less. The industry is short on talent, and higher salaries limit teams. Other common refrains are:

Dealing with more data

The proliferation of data means teams need to administer complex systems. There is the opportunity to automate, but it's complicated. According to Accounting Today, many teams also lack strategies and solutions to capitalize on the data they have. Moreover, it exists in disparate systems, and merging the data can generate unnecessary errors.

Cumbersome systems and processes

If there’s one consistent stigma among accountants, it’s the resistance to change. And while Excel has its place, it also has limitations. Cumbersome systems and processes that have yet to be replaced by new technologies can weigh a team's productivity down.

Hiring or turnover challenges

Securing and retaining accountants is an ever-growing problem. In a recently published Fortune article, there’s an ongoing shortage that leaves companies constantly looking to hire accountants. For some companies, the budget prevents them from hiring more—and working slim demands efficiency. Others have talent churn, which can cause balls to drop.

Pressure to close the books faster

Accounting Today found an increasing amount of teams feel pressured to close the books faster so they can focus on strategic planning. Without the right solutions in place, they are often caught in a repetitive cycle. 

Modern teams are embracing technology and processes that streamline workflows, help team members operate at peak efficiency, and open the lines of communication that support building better partnerships within the company.

How Accounting Teams Can Flip the Script

Provided the right tools and resources, accounting teams can move beyond traditional roles and become strategic partners. Today’s successful teams are restructuring in creative ways. Team members are adaptable, curious, and empathetic. They think outside the box to increase efficiency and productivity. And while accuracy is important, the definition of accurate is more flexible—there are more reasonable estimates. These teams:

Set an operating cadence

The first necessary foundation is clearly capturing and documenting recurring workflows and setting expectations for stakeholders as to when you will deliver the information they need. FP&A, business partners, and others rely on accurate and timely financial information and need to plan their work depending on your timeframe. If and when timelines get extended, or numbers change, communicate early and often. Transparency is your friend, and surprises are not. 

Create detailed documentation and clear responsibilities

Streamlined teams have a canonical record of processes and procedures along with an easy way to track roles and responsibilities. This ensures that balls aren’t dropped during transitions. It also lets a team leader know where they are at any given time and identify any roadblocks to efficiency. Having outlined roles also makes it easier to shift work around, allows people room for growth, and gives a path for development that keeps people from leaving.

Compress the month-end close timeline

The month-end close process should be scrutinized and, wherever possible, shortened, as it can easily eat up too much of the month. One of the best ways to start identifying ways to improve the close process is to ask these questions: What would we need to do to cut the close timeline in half? What work could be done before close? What processes would need to be revamped? Where might tradeoffs to accuracy be OK in order to move faster?

Be proactive about developing partnerships

Today’s accounting teams aim to proactively guide a business and help offer information and make adjustments that have positive outcomes. Spend time with your business partners and understand their goals. Think about what you can do to enable them to be better equipped to reach their goals. Be ready to offer guidance to the organization and leadership as to how various business decisions are going to affect the financials.

Constantly improve your deliverables and data

The best sales teams are always testing improvements to their sales process in order to hit their current month's goals and be in the best position for long-term goals. Don’t treat the accounting period any differently. The best accounting teams are constantly refining the data they provide to business partners, improving their analytics and reporting packages to better provide the users with the data they need in the form they need it in. Make at least one improvement to deliverables every month and communicate this improvement to leadership. 

Avoid prematurely saying no

This might be the hardest change of all. With the unrelenting pressure and overload of work, it can be easy to jump to saying no when additional requests are made for the accounting team. Instead, adopt a service mindset and strive to view internal stakeholders as your customers. It is up to you to provide the best experience possible. Don’t rule out asks until you understand why they are asking and have put yourself in their shoes. Then, help teams identify what they need, especially data.

Implement updated processes and tech tools

Modern teams embrace automations and systems that streamline processes. They adopt technology that provides transparency to people throughout the company while optimizing the workflow and record-keeping. Efficient accounting teams are creative in the way they collect information. They utilize software to streamline and automate data collection and validation to ensure that their recurring work is put on autopilot. 

Being Seen in a New Way

Controllers and accounting teams have the opportunity to implement systems and processes that free them up to be partners. They can be seen as people that want to work with everybody to come up with solutions instead of gatekeepers that just say no.

This fresh approach helps boost business operations. It gives teams more time to focus on analysis and strategic planning. Moreover, it streamlines processes and provides the data for more informed decisions. As a result, team members can flex their creative drive and have more room for growth, which is imperative for retention. Most importantly, building an effective team allows companies to scale efficiently through periods of growth.

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