Maintaining Staffing Equilibrium With a Flexible Workforce

Jay Thompson, Managing Director Business Performance Improvement
Melissa Shipman, Managing Vice President Managed Business Services, Robert Half

Veterans of finance and accounting recognize that as the business world moves forward, an accelerating rate of change calls for similar speed, flexibility and innovation in the finance department. Along with this imperative, the demand for a dynamic and competent workforce continues and, in many cases, becomes even more critical.

Historically, accounting has been a straightforward function. Even in a growing business, the essential tasks of booking transactions, closing the books, analyzing results, and repeating the process each month and quarter has not changed fundamentally. What has changed is the speed with which businesses are reinventing themselves, often by merging with or acquiring another business to stay ahead in the marketplace. Finance leaders are now facing situations they could not have seen coming one quarter earlier, and they encounter this phenomenon with increasing frequency.

Even routine finance and accounting functions like accounts payable and receivable, month-end close, and payroll become nonroutine during periods of change. Most accounting teams under sound leadership perform these tasks admirably on a day-to-day basis. However, leaders in finance and accounting may find that their staff are not prepared to address major business events, because they lack either the capacity or the skills the unusual situation demands.

An acquisition is a prime example of an event that might stretch a finance department’s abilities beyond the limit. Integrating two companies would be difficult even if they were operating the same finance systems, but platforms often differ. As a result, payroll may suffer, with the need to manually cut checks to new employees; payments to vendors are delayed; and closing the books on two different systems becomes an ordeal. It is in situations like this that organizations need specialized skills to bridge any knowledge gaps, pick up the slack and ensure timely payments and closes. Of course, these resources are needed for a finite period.

Faced with the choice of hiring additional resources quickly or pushing through with what they have, some leaders would simply ask current employees to work harder or longer. When heroics are required to become routine, however, people become fatigued, and the risk is that the best employees will leave.

There is certainly a case to be made for navigating important events only with employees who have been with the company a long time. But even the hardest-working, most loyal employee will eventually succumb under a heavy workload, even if that workload happens only from time to time. At the same time, staffing for those occasional peaks is fundamentally inefficient – the expense of underutilized staff during the routine “valley” periods is not acceptable to organizations or their cost-conscious shareholders today.

In an ideal world, enterprises would have a select professional core with deep knowledge of the business. This core would be complemented by a flexible workforce whose composition changes in line with the skill and capacity demands of each major business event. This flexible workforce would be managed by a trusted partner who stays close to the organization at all times and knows its operations so well that it can hire, train and manage the flexible workforce quickly on demand.

Adding this consistent, trusted partner represents a profound enhancement to an organization’s labor model. The organization develops trust in the partnership, rather than entrusting its financials to untried resources each time it needs additional support. Even though the resources leveraged may be different in each peak period, the consistent touchpoint is the trusted third party that knows the business, its corporate culture and the best match for each need. The likelihood of having a rapidly forming, highly performing team increases dramatically with this approach, versus riskier tactics like overworking the professional core.

When finance leaders elevate themselves above the day-to-day staffing struggles and worry less about hiring for the peaks, they are free to be more strategic. From this newfound strategic perspective, leaders can see farther and anticipate what business will be like when they’ve transcended today’s change.

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