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December 28, 2023
Min Read

Navigating Your First 30 Days: A Checklist for New Controllers

We've rounded up everything you need to tackle in your first 30-days to make an impact in your new Controller role.

Parker Gilbert
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The interviews have ended, and you're now the newly-minted Controller at your company. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part.

You must score quick wins while learning the nuances of your position. You must also make a good impression so that executive leadership views you as a strategic asset, not someone who merely crunches numbers.

What you achieve during your first 30 days is critical in this regard. But where do you get started?

In this article, we walk you through what you must do during your first 30 days as a new Controller. Download the checklist template here.

Begin with the Job Description

As you know by now, Controllers don't have standardized job descriptions, every company has different expectations. With a bit of investigative work on the job description your company posted, you'll begin to understand the expectations of your role.

Here's how you can leverage the job description:

  • Dig deeper into expectations
  • Identify key stakeholders
  • Build relationships

Dig Deeper into Expectations

Your job description has clues about what executives want to see and forms the base for deeper questions about role expectations.

Pull up the original description for your position and scan for named deliverables, challenges you’re anticipated to overcome, softwares explicitly mentioned, and reporting that’ll be required.

For example, what data points do executives want to see in your reports beyond standard financial statements? Engaging them early and often about their expectations here is crucial to making a good first impression.

Identify Key Stakeholders

Controllers sit at the intersection of several business processes. Your job description will list the processes with which executives expect you to interact.

Use it as a foundation to explore the nuances unique to your company. For instance, what’s the process for accounting for sales commissions? Would speaking with a Sales Ops leader clarify?

The Institute of Managed Accountants and Deloitte surveyed 800 Controllers who identified the following roles as the most important stakeholders.

An image showing the controller's most important stakeholders. 34.1% of respondents identified the CEO, followed by 32.9% for business line leaders, and 13% each for audit committee chairs and other finance leaders. 5% identified the CIO while 1.4% identified human resources as key stakeholders.
The Controller's most important stakeholders. Credit: Deloitte

Cross-reference this chart with your job description, and you'll identify with whom you need to build relationships.

Build Relationships

As a new Controller, no one expects you to be an expert on every business process.

However, you must be willing to learn how they affect your stakeholders' jobs. Instead of asking what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they track, ask why they track those specific KPIs. The chart in the previous section and your job description are good starting points for identifying stakeholders.

Dive deeper and show those people you're there to present their performance in the right context. Schedule coffees or Zoom calls to get to know them better and understand the rationale behind their work processes.

Lay a strong foundation for good relationships early and you’ll have an easier time communicating with company departments down the road.

For example, connecting with the CTO or engineering leaders at tech companies early on will help you understand how their software development process impacts software capitalization.

Asking the right questions goes a long way, according to Annie Thompson, CFO at CorneaGen.

Writing in Going Concern, she lists a few questions she asked in her early days as a Controller. "I asked questions like: Why is this information important to you? What decisions does this information help you make?"

"Recognizing how the information we produce is used became the foundation of conversations with my new team."

Communicating these responses to your team will help them understand how their work fits into the bigger picture. In turn, this will help you fulfill executive expectations and make a great impression quickly.

Dissect Order-to-Cash (O2C)

What better way to score a quick win than helping your company understand topline revenue growth faster? Here are a few ways you can get started:

  • Understand revenue recognition
  • Review accounts receivable and cash reconciliation
  • Review deferred revenue

Download the 30-Day Checklist for New Controllers

Get Started

Understand Revenue Recognition

Understanding revenue recognition processes in your company should be one of your first tasks as a new Controller. Dive deep into the products and services your company offers and how ASC 606 guidelines impact you.

If your new company operates on a SaaS or recurring revenue model, you’ll have plenty of nuance to uncover. Accounting for nonrefundable upfront fees and performance obligations (POBs) are just a few examples of these nuances.

Speak to stakeholders in your company to understand the implications of each revenue decision and address any deficiencies or documentation gaps you might find.

Review Accounts Receivable (AR) and Cash Reconciliation

AR efficiency dictates cash flow timing. Examining it for efficiency is a great way to accelerate cash flow. The good news is that AR is usually plagued by manual processes, giving you ample space to improve it.

For example, AR teams often send emails when following up with customers and can lack centralized data.

"Automation gives us the ability to spend less time booking entries and more time looking into the stories behind those numbers," CorneaGen's Thompson says.

"Focusing on automating these processes [issuing invoices and paying vendors] has improved our cash flow," she continues, "and our customers and vendors are more amenable to these changes now than they might otherwise have been."

Cash reconciliation is also a good place to begin. Most companies use a mix of manual and automated systems, which can create reconciliation issues. Check internal data against statements and identify any gaps.

Most importantly, what are both processes’ sources of truth and how does data flow into your ERP? Examine these processes for gaps and plan new controls if needed.

Review Deferred Revenue

Deferred revenue reconciliation deserves its own book, but begin by examining your company’s practices here. How comfortable are you with them and are you confident these practices are sound? How are additions to deferred entity captured and are there any customers in a net debit position within deferred (indicating a potential revenue adjustment)?

If your company relies on manual accounting methods (like spreadsheets) errors are inevitable. Consider the advantages of an automated solution if it’s within your budget. Also examine the frequency of deferred revenue audits and the amount of training your staff need in this regard.

Prepare to Offer Strategic Input

Companies are demanding new outputs from their CFOs, and aligning yourself with their needs as a new Controller is critical. According to Deloitte's survey, more than 90% of Controllers say their CFOs expect strategic advice from them.

91.9% of controllers at least strongly agree that their CFOs want strategic input from them according to Deloitte's survey. 3.8% disagree, 8.6% don't know, and 0.7% strongly disagree.
CFOs expect Controllers to play strategic roles. Courtesy: Deloitte

Start laying the groundwork that aligns you with this goal and positions you as a strategic partner. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Get to know your technology and data
  • Review your processes
  • Build a bridge to FP&A

Get to Know Your Technology and Data

Connor Foran, former Controller at Squarespace and currently our Solutions Lead, believes understanding the context behind data is critical.

"Take a step back and connect with department leaders and other financial stakeholders (your CFO, FP&A, Internal Audit, etc.) to identify your key data sources that impact the close and the company's ability to forecast timely and accurately," he says.

Discover which platforms your company includes in your tech stack and how they pull data from your ERP. Understanding the timing behind these data pulls is crucial too.

For instance, what streams of financial data, like credit card transactions or employee spend, are integrating directly into the GL and with what lag time? When does your Financial Planning Analysis (FP&A) team typically begin reporting on data from your ERP? How does that impact executive reporting?

Collaborating with your CTO or IT staff will help you understand these data relationships better.

Review Your Current Monthly Close Process

While understanding data sources is critical, examining underlying processes and identifying gaps is critical.

For instance, the month-end close is usually a process ripe for an overhaul. "I'd previously tried to control the period end via a series of spreadsheets for my team and had wasted a lot of time over the years, updating these spreadsheets and redesigning them as circumstances changed," says one of Numeric's customers.

"This situation became unmanageable as our group of companies grew and the number of businesses I was expected to report on every month, went from three to seven."

For your first month in the new role, benchmark the time to close, identify what tends to hold up closing faster, dependencies between tasks, and the breakdown of work across the team, jotting down any initial process improvements that come to mind. Read through our tips on improving the monthly close here.

Proposing a solution that enables a faster close will help you stand out quickly, demonstrating your ability to think strategically.

"You may have to come up with ideas to rework the timing of these processes, the teams involved, or the software needed," Connor Foran says. "Come to meetings with solutions but be prepared to listen and adapt those solutions to the needs of your stakeholders."

Related Content: How to Build the Best Month-End Close Checklist

Build an FP&A Bridge

Resist it all you want but building a relationship with FP&A is critical to understanding finance's strategic side. Here are a few topics to get you started on the right foot as you set up time with the team:

  • What data should both sides share?
  • How often should you communicate?
  • Who is the best point of contact for which questions?
  • What revenue recognition standards do you want them to follow?
  • When will those requests occur and what are the response SLAs?
  • When are the FP&A reporting deadlines?
  • Do they clash with the monthly or year-end close?

You may think that accounting's retrospective and FP&A's forward-looking stances will always clash. But really, they're two sides of the same coin and equally important.

Related Reading: The Keys to a Great Relationship Between Accounting and FP&A

Your Checklist for the Next 30 Days

Your first 30 days offer you the chance to make a great impression and position yourself ideally for further growth in your company.

Download this checklist as a template in Excel here.

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