Monday, 9 August 2010

Why it is in every Company’s interest to train their operational managers in finance.

A recurring theme I’m getting from many of my clients centres on the role of their operational managers and their ability to perform back office functions around their duties.

To me, an effective operational/area/regional manager should operate as any business person would and have a full grasp of at least the spectrum of business basics.

Unfortunately, it seems that far too often, some people operating at this management level want to focus solely on the operational delivery of a service or product line and avoid the paperwork and administration associated with this management role (and therefore also the performance measurement and monitoring of their team and its activity).

Situations that result from this lack of back office focus include purchase orders not being raised (or even worse from a financial control perspective, raised in arrears), invoicing left until the end of the month (the company is losing out on the collection of cash in a timely manner) and paperwork returned for amendment of basic errors or left in “in-trays” for long periods of time. Furthermore, these are all common causes of month end issues in revenue recognition, payment applications and the late collection of debt adversely impacting on the working capital position.

The easy responses to these issues include, “Do nothing – they need to remain focused solely on operational output”, or, at the other extreme, “Let’s get them on a structured Head Office course on Finance for non-Finance Managers”.

My solution would be neither of the above, but to visit these managers in their field centres, therefore in very small groups, and give them a basic business grounding at local level in Profit & Loss, Cash, Budgets & Forecast etc and perhaps even the basics of what a Balance Sheet is.

A formal Head Office training course often involves a presenter talking at a room full of delegates for the majority of the day, but doesn’t really allow you to gauge the level of knowledge transferred to this mass gathering. Attention soon wanes until the main area of focus is on what lunch will be provided and how soon will it start!

Small groups at a local level allow you to tailor learning requirements to the manager’s level of knowledge and needs, with the managers able to use the IT at their centre and to demonstrate that the training received on purchase orders, invoices, new starters etc. has been properly absorbed to the trainers standards (or an immediate refresh of the process can be run through again very quickly to compound the knowledge of the procedures). It also gives the managers the chance to ask questions in a more informal setting (which they may not ask in a more formal Head Office training room) and brush up on other areas that they may not be quite up to speed on.

Another frequent grey area in the field (and, more worryingly, sometimes at higher levels too) that needs covering off is the difference between a profit and loss item and a cash item – for non-financially trained people, this can often be quite confusing. And as for the Balance Sheet – I’ve seen the very mention of them cause some manager’s eyes to glaze over in an instance.

One basic piece of logic that all operational managers should be encouraged to take on board is the concept of the basic reality check on their business unit’s monthly activity. Is the revenue stream at the level it was expected to be at in the latest forecast? If not, why not? Have all the costs gone through in the period and been recorded in the profit and loss account or are there other costs that the Finance Department and/or Head Office need informing of in order that they can be reflected in the final set of management accounts (often highlighted in the GRNI report (goods received but not invoiced) and in the purchase order wash-up process)? Have HR been informed about any new starters and/or leavers?

The bottom line really is the bottom line – do the draft results for the month make sense? If not, this needs investigating and explaining or amending before the final monthly accounts are published.

The aim of finance training for operational managers is not to produce a multitude of accountants all around the business – the goal is to have all round business savvy operational managers managing effectively at the sharp end of the business by taking the responsibility as well as the authority for their own area of the commercial enterprise.

For a professional manager in an enlightened business, that should not be too much to ask – and for many businesses this could make all the difference between success and failure!!!

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