How can a CFO squeeze more time out of the day?

By Allan Tepper, Co-founder and Senior Managing Partner, CFO Consulting Partners LLC

Did anyone ever tell you that you had to work smarter rather than harder? But how does one do that? Is it even true?

As a co-founder of a CFO consulting firm, I have seen many CFOs who work enormous hours. There was one CFO we were consulting with that arrived before anyone in the office, was the last one to leave, worked on the train to and from the office and worked until midnight most nights and on weekends. In the end, that job ended in failure.
As a CFO, before starting my consulting firm, I too sometimes burned the midnight oil. I sympathize with those hard working CFOs and Controllers. There is a lot of work to do.
When one is working so hard, though, the little ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness just aren’t that apparent. This reminds me of a newspaper cartoon I saw many years ago. In it, the captain in a 19th century battle Is shown leading his troops. The troops are standing in a straight line armed with rifles and bayonets. The enemy is not too far away, also standing in a straight line. Behind the captain stands a water boy with the forerunner of a machine gun, the Gatling gun. The water boy taps the captain on the shoulder, at which point the captain shouts, not now! He says, Don’t you see I have a war to fight?
So, I believe it is true that one has to work smarter and not harder. That means listening to others, having the time to plan and taking the time to think.
Here are some illustrative problems I have seen over the years where one can work smarter:
  • Problem: Not fully utilizing a basic module of an accounting system. One client kept track of accounts receivable on an excel schedule, even though the accounting system was fully capable of handling.
  • Problem: Not setting up recurring entries. I call it, set it and forget it. In most accounting systems, one can set up recurring entries. In essence, you set it once and let the system book the entries automatically. This is especially helpful with prepaid expenses, but has as many applications as one’s imagination.
  • Problem: Too much use of Excel. We have all seen so many examples of this. Often, we have seen the comparison of monthly actuals to budgets all done in Excel. In most every case, this could have easily been done within the accounting system.
  • Problem: Too busy to stop and think how to tweak the process to make it more productive. Some processes you use may work, but may be overly complicated, error prone and time consuming. To fix this, it requires the time to sit back and figure how to do the same task in less time and/or with less errors. It could be as simple as automating one task that opens up a bottleneck.
  • Problem: Staff not adequate trained, and /or incorrect staff in the role and/or staff resistant to change. We have seen many cases where the existing staff just about refuses to do things differently. To fix this, I saw one manager say. The bus, figuratively speaking, will be leaving soon, and it’s your choice to board it or be left behind. Most boarded the bus. He then gave the existing staff new roles and/or tasks, trained in his way. A bit time consuming, but it resulted in significant efficiencies over time.