Embrace the Madness: 5 Ways to Coach Your Finance Team and Drive Value

Basketball plays and whistle on blackboard

March Madness—often lamented as the year’s most high-profile productivity drain—is about to commence. And well before the opening tip-off, sources are already warning that the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament will cost U.S. employers nearly $2 billion in lost wages as distracted workers fritter away untold hours filling out brackets, checking scores, watching video highlights, and trash-talking with colleagues.

Our best advice? Get over it. Stewing over the possibility of a few unproductive hours masks the broader challenge facing finance teams the other 11 months of the year: lack of time to devote to high-value activities. Tedious ad hoc reporting tasks, manual data aggregation, and hours spent validating formulas and spreadsheet cells leaves little or no time for strategic, analytical, and collaborative work that adds measureable value to your organization. Little wonder that “not enough time” is consistently ranked among the top challenges in our quarterly CFO Indicator survey reports.

Instead of dismissing March Madness with frustration this year, view it as an opportunity to foster an environment in which your team’s working hours are increasingly focused on high-value activities. To help you get there, we borrowed wisdom from some of the college game’s most legendary coaches to highlight five ways to make it happen.

Quality over quantity
“There are 86,400 seconds in the day. It’s up to you to decide what do with them.” – Jim Valvano

Anyone who recalls the late Coach Valvano’s unforgettable speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards knows this was a guy who knew a few things about making the best use of time.  The number of hours that your team is on the clock isn’t nearly as important as what is actually happening during those hours. In fact, a growing body of research is finding that simply working longer hours often hurts productivity and effectiveness. A recent study by Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found that managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who actually worked an 80-hour workweek and those who pretended to do so. The bottom line: Three focused hours on high-value strategic tasks are far more valuable than eight hours doing redundant manual work.

Re-examine Excel
“Push yourself to keep improving or you’ll stay as close to the bottom as you are to the top.”
– John Wooden

Let’s face it, Excel is comfortable and useful. It remains a valuable and familiar tool. But is it going to win you championships? Not likely. These days, Excel alone probably won’t even get you in the tournament. Instead, Excel should be just one of many tools utilized by high-performing finance teams. Reassessing the role Excel plays in your daily work and processes can open the door to new efficiencies, allowing your team to devote more time to analytics and high-value reporting. A study by APQC found 62% of CFO respondents said their FP&A staff are buried in basic duties with limited time for analytical work. CFOs said 77% of their team’s time is spent on data collection and verification, while only 23% is spent on analysis and reporting. The reality is that spreadsheets are often the culprit when it comes to teams being stuck on low-value activities. A more strategic approach that integrates Excel with other tools and new technologies to automate and streamline finance processes can be a game changer.

Define your data
“Confidence comes from being prepared.” – John Wooden

More wise words from Coach Wooden—but the challenge many finance teams face is that it’s difficult to be confident or prepared when you are drowning in data. It’s not unusual for some organizations to have dozens of different formulas to calculate a single metric across the company. Operating in that environment is not only time-consuming, it increases the chance of inaccuracies, drains resources that could be devoted to strategic activities, and can breed distrust of the numbers among business partners. Moving toward a single source of truth is a key step toward allowing finance to spend more time developing insights and projections using data that business partners can have confidence in. It’s time to make a concerted push toward identifying your best data and metrics—and sticking with them.

Outsource and automate
“Learning what not to do is sometimes more important than learning what to do.” – Rick Pitino

Ah yes, learning to let go: an essential step if you want to get to the next level. The simple reality is that the only way your team can truly start focusing on high-value tasks is to get some of the low-value work off their plate. To get there requires taking a deep and detailed dive into how your team actually spends the hours of their workday. Assessing every step of your processes can reveal opportunities to outsource low-value tasks, or introduce or enhance automation to boost efficiency. Through strategic automation, you can also better leverage dashboards in ways that generate more accessible and easy-to-understand insights and analysis and encourage self-reporting.

Increase collaboration
“It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working together.” – John Calipari

Teamwork. It’s always been a no-brainer on the basketball court, but it has increasing importance at the office. As you start to free your finance team from low-value tasks, good things can start happening. Specifically, you gain the opportunity to reposition finance as a strategic partner with other departments throughout the organization.  Over time, your team will increasingly be viewed in a new light, reinforcing the benefits of focusing on high-value work and forging partnerships that create a measurable impact on business performance and results.

Making it happen
“It’s not what you teach, but what you emphasize.” – Don Meyer

All of these suggestions can help move your finance team and organization toward elite status. Yet here’s the thing: None of it happens without a head coach leading the charge. Your team will pay attention to what you emphasize—and activities that you deem important.

No doubt, finding the time to actually make these changes can be a real challenge with the pace of business quickening. Yet, the cost of the status quo with a team mired in low-value work is simply too high.

As Bobby Knight once said: “In order to achieve positive results, one must work for them, not hope for them.”

Looking for more ways to turn finance into a powerhouse team? Download the white paper “4 Steps to Making Your Finance Function an Analytics Powerhouse” to learn the four-step approach for fostering a culture of data-driven decision-making that drives value.

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