Expert Q&A: How Accounting Can Rise in a Time of Uncertainty

3-minute read

Uncertainty, risk, and change all reached new levels recently as companies implemented work from home and other policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, with almost no time to prepare, accounting and finance organizations are facing a quarter-end close with a distributed workforce.

If this challenge isn’t already daunting enough, many professionals are still trying to figure out how to get work done with their kids and multiple adults at home, worrying about job security, and wondering if they grabbed everything they need from the office.

Molly Boyle, one of BlackLine’s finance transformation experts, connected with Aimee Leishure, former SVP of transformation at Laureate International Universities for her thoughts on how to best navigate this time of tremendous change.

Molly: Transformation is prevalent in Finance right now—and rightfully so, as many companies are trying to optimize people, processes, and technology.

What are your thoughts on how leaders should adapt in light of the current crisis?  

Aimee: I think it begins with our mindset. Focusing on the things that need to happen during this pandemic so you’re still taking care of your customers.

The next focus is a short-term plan—what do we need during the next 30, 60, or 90 days to be successful? And then what do I need to do to adapt in the long-term?

In many cases, decisions need to be made as quickly as possible. They might not be perfect decisions, and that’s okay. But decisions that consider people, process, and technology and are communicated quickly will drive success.

Another important note on communication, both internally and externally—if you’re not able to make a quick decision, at least communicate when the decisions will be made. People will be patient, but a lack of communication will create fear and uncertainty. Communication is the backbone of change management and successful outcomes.

Molly: Accounting teams take pride in repeatable processes, regardless of whether they’re manual or highly automated.

Those typical accounting processes have now been significantly disrupted. What do you think are the biggest immediate challenges, and how can teams best manage these in the short term?

Aimee: Among other things, I think visibility into data, access to information, and methods of communication are all immediate challenges.

In terms of how to best manage these issues, I think it comes back to a good communication plan. Have regular virtual standup meetings to define expectations and highlight the most critical deliverables for the day.

Data is power and now more than ever, everyone needs it as quickly as possible.  Finance teams have access to key performance indicators and financial metrics, both actuals and forecasts. Dashboards should be created to provide information so that leaders can make quick decisions. Consider re-assessing roles and responsibilities so that a few team members can focus on new priorities or analyses and the other team members can focus on closing the books.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking care of your people. Your teams aren’t receiving all information and communications are constantly changing. Uncertainty is the norm, in the current situation, and people are going to be worried about their jobs and the health of their families.

If you can assure them of their job security or what to expect, you can at least minimize worry.

Teams are going to be working hard while dealing with unique personal challenges. Be an empathetic leader. Give incentives if you can, like flexibility with hours so those with young children can better balance work and child care or helping older relatives at the same time.

Overall, be cognizant of what people are going through. Define what you need during your morning meetings, and then allow your people to get that work done so they’re able to also meet their other responsibilities. 

People will rise, leaders will evolve, and successful transformation will happen.

Read Part 2 as Molly and Aimee continue their conversation, discussing some of the rare opportunities they’re seeing as a result of this pandemic.