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February 15, 2012

By Jane Clifford

Recently on my drive to work, I was listening to a public radio interview of a Detroit factory worker.  For many years, this woman performed the same repetitive tasks, day in and day out, as she assembled automobiles.  And during this time, this employee had many ideas that she wanted to share with her employer on how to make better cars in a better way.  After all, she was in a very good position to identify opportunities to improve the job that she had personally performed over thousands of hours.  Each time that she brought her ideas to her managers, she was met with a similar response, “Just do your job.  We don’t want your new ideas.”  She gave numerous examples of the same exchange.  I have not stopped thinking about her experience.

You see, I was very fortunate and had a very different experience working for another manufacturer.  My employer actively solicited and rewarded our contributions to improving our jobs and the business.  We were all part of the team.  Our ideas mattered.  We made a difference!  My employer attributed much of its strong financial performance to its nationally recognized innovative and positive people practices.  They made it to No. 4 on FORTUNE‘s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America”.

I am struck by the difference between these two company cultures and it has made me stop and think.  How many times do we, as managers, want our staff to “just” prepare their journal entries, reconcile their general ledger accounts, create the monthly financial schedules, or roll-up the budget because the status quo is easier or because we are too busy and don’t “have time” to make improvements or test new methods and processes?

As many of us are being asked to do more with less, I would argue that we have to make the time to not only listen, but to actively ask our staff and try their suggestions on how to do their jobs better.

Start small.

After the next month-end close, ask each accountant for one idea to simplify their most time-consuming monthly journal entry each month.  Perhaps they can “test drive” their improvement during the next close.

Make your staff part of your process improvement team.  Listen to them.  Empower them.  They will likely be inspired to bring you more ideas.  And before you know it, you may be closing the books more accurately and more quickly!  And with happier staff.

Am I creating a culture that encourages new thinking and innovation?

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