In the U.S. news this week, two stories have been dominating the headlines – the Republican Convention, and Hurricane Isaac. I’ll leave politics to another blog, but the hurricane has me thinking about my own experiences with natural disasters – from the earthquakes I grew up with in California to the hurricane I experienced while living in Miami.
With hurricanes, the days running up to the storm are a fraught time of constant attention to the news, stockpiling food and water, boarding up your home and fear of what’s to come. Normal life goes on hold. On the other hand, earthquakes are a different breed because there is no warning whatsoever. However, as they last just seconds, the fear is short-lived, and within moments you can assess the level of damage. My heart goes out to those in Hurricane Isaac’s path because even if they are lucky enough to avoid much damage, they still will have had to deal with the trauma of the long run up to it.
So you ask… what does this have to do with Human Resources?
Well, it made me think about a situation a client found themselves in after making an early announcement about their intended finance transformation plans. With the best of intentions, they recently announced that the accounting operations will be re-located to a low cost country…. in two years time. The effect of that announcement has been extraordinary. The accounting team has effectively boarded itself up. Despite a real need for the accounting operations to participate in other business needs, team morale is presumed so low that the business accepts “nothing will get done”. The ultra-long preparation time that may benefit the transformation team is unfortunately backfiring as the current team are fleeing their jobs now (thus requiring the business to hire long term temp staff) and those with a business reliance upon the existing team find them reluctant to help.
That got me thinking back to the earthquakes. California has enforced specialised earthquake building codes for decades, meaning that the building infrastructure generally withstands even strong quakes. Normal life resumes quite quickly, even after big ones……..So I ask, would it have been possible for HR to help Finance build a better, stronger employee infrastructure to help it better weather such a big shock? For example considering how to retain and motivate the impacted team before making the announcement.
Let’s explore how a close working relationship with HR can help Finance build and sustain a strong employee infrastructure at the 3 key stages of a planned finance transformation.
Pre-Announcement/ Preparation Stage
The announcement of an impending SSC or outsourcing transformation will be a major blow to morale for most of the Finance staff, regardless of their own individual future circumstances. And despite system automation and embedded controls, at the end of the day it’s trust, cooperation, and the willingness to go the extra mile that get the books done on time or the accounts fully reconciled… and that’s in short supply in a downsizing environment. A finance organisation that has previously worked with HR to deploy Smart working strategies will likely find that staff can bounce back quicker if they have a foundation of trust that management will “do the right thing” by treating affected employees fairly.
Theoretically it should be rather straightforward to migrate heavily process-driven accounting operations such as Accounts Payable. But whereas strong process and solid systems provide the foundation, it’s ultimately staff knowledge that keeps things running smoothly. Knowledge transfer is a recognised critical part of migration, and the best companies leverage their L&D team to help design this aspect of their migration program. The finance team may already be aware of such common techniques of job shadowing, process documentation, and job aids, but HR L&D professionals are better placed to consider the need for more sophisticated techniques.. They are also more likely to incorporate sustainable foundations into the migration plans to enable ongoing learning and development in the new organisation.
Once the Finance team has transitioned to the new operating model, there will be two organisations whose members will have very different needs. The retained organisation is likely to be worried about career succession in a much smaller environment (and perhaps still sensitive over matters such as who got a retention bonus versus who didn’t), whereas the shared or outsourced may be more concerned about the lack of connection to the business, or individual skill development in a process-driven organisation. Successful organisations will deploy talent management strategies suitable to the two teams. Those strategies may incorporate secondment tracks across the finance organisation to nurture talent and develop individual skill sets, thus also helping to keep the culture unified.
So all in all, it’s clear that Finance can benefit from a strong working relationship with HR. The shared service and outsourcing trends in recent years, and the accompanying people impact both pre and post transformation, means that even those who tend to think in terms of numbers recognise that a focus on human capital is invaluable. It may take time, but building a strong team infrastructure is an investment worth making to allow a company to withsatnd any future ‘Hurricane’ transformations along the way.