How Efficient Are Your Internal Controls?

Category: Financial

How Efficient Are Your Internal Controls?

March 20, 2024 | 7:27 am

Internal controls are one of the most important values a chief financial officer (CFO) can bring to an organization. Yet many assume business process improvement and the imposition of internal controls are the same thing or that they can’t exist together. The truth is that when controls are both efficient and effective, their value goes from good to great.

Perceptions

Internal controls—the accounting and auditing processes used in a company’s finance and operations departments that ensure the integrity of financial reporting and regulatory compliance—are a key component of financial success. Whether CFOs’ focus is on separation of duties, reconciliations, or approvals, they spend hundreds of hours a year designing, training, and enforcing internal controls.

Because of this investment in process considerations, some believe internal controls and business process improvement are the same thing. CFOs who think this way might say, “We have good controls; therefore our processes are solid.” Others believe that streamlining and speeding up processes by removing third and fourth reviews will make controls weaker. Their theory is that making controls more efficient means that some “control” corners may be cut.

But successful CFOs know that every process needs to be well controlled if results are to be delivered while maximizing resources. For example, the accounts payable process must function smoothly so that valid payments are made in an accurate, timely, and efficient manner. The path to well-controlled, efficient, and effective processes is what business process improvement is all about.

A Process Example

Recently I talked with an organization that had received many concerning comments in its external audit. The newly hired CFO immediately installed new and more expansive internal controls. One addition required that a purchase order be created for all items over $50. This purchase order needed three levels of approval. Invoices for the ordered items needed to be approved for payment by three levels. And checks in payment of the invoices had to be reviewed by four levels. As a result of the new internal controls, the organization’s negative audit comments disappeared. Yet these new steps slowed the process down.

In this organization, program operations employees completed these purchase orders and invoice reviews. They were the same employees taking heat from the board of directors for not serving the community fast enough or well enough. Adding more approval steps was achieving an appropriate degree of quality control, but it was also expanding the staff’s workload. How could the organization both serve the community as needed and maintain tight controls?

This team used business process improvement to solve this conundrum. First, we outlined the goals of the process, including the need for airtight internal controls. Then the team rebuilt the processes, identifying value-added steps and waste. Some of these wasted steps were the creating and fixing errors, commonly called rework. The process went from 110 steps to 64 steps despite internal controls increasing significantly. Assured that their concerns had been appropriately addressed, the auditors signed on off the new process. With a well-founded, secure process in place, both the organization and the community achieved a win.

Conclusion

Every organization needs to have solid internal controls in place to fulfill its mission with confidence and integrity. Business process improvement is an excellent way to build controls into work steps without compromising effectiveness and efficiency.

About Lee Kuntz and Innovation Process Design

As founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Lee Kuntz has spent over two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges faced by leaders of complex service organizations. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. Contact Lee with questions or to talk about your situation and what you want to achieve.

Streamline Through Effective, Paperless, Electronic Payments

January 14, 2021 | 1:27 pm

Did the pandemic impact your grant payments? Are employees moving paper from location to location to get checks out? Are they working extra-long hours? Does it take more time to get checks out? What feedback is your organization getting from grantees and vendors about paper checks?

One organization looked into their busy season and decided to proactively take action to help employees and the community thrive. Here is their story:
Streamline Through Effective, Paperless, Electronic Payments Case Study.

Turn Remote Operations Risk into Amazing Results

March 17, 2020 | 12:47 pm

Is your office in remote mode? So many teams are now working from home as we collectively battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work can reduce personal and community health risk. Yet it can be unhealthy for your organization. Remote work can be slower and less accurate, impacting your organization and your community. A key question in this transition is: With this big change of unknown duration, how will your team continue to serve your community in a seamless way?

Key Risks

Teams that move to remote work find key risks.
o Paper piles of work are no longer visible, resulting in stalled or forgotten work.
o In-person double checks and communication may not happen, resulting in errors and embarrassment.
o Quickly made process adjustments to fit remote operations create the risk of errors and missed steps.
o Back-and-forth online communications may slow work down, consuming already tight capacity.

The Solution

Remote work is an opportunity to redesign your processes to regain capacity, maintain quality, keep up speed, and preserve your reputation. Some organizations are using proven process transformation tools to achieve these goals. For example, as a result of our process transformation work, one foundation recaptured time while delivering error-free results for three years. This group became an effective cross-organization team, performing better and accomplishing more in a consistently high-quality manner.

Is this what you are looking for?

If your team is going remote, connect with process improvement coach Lee Kuntz about a live, online checkup for your key processes. We use our proven process transformation coaching, training, and tools to help you mitigate risk and deliver upon your organization’s commitments. Checking up on small processes can be done in a couple hours.

Contact Lee to discuss how your team can create a seamless transition to remote processes while maintaining and growing great results.

Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

October 19, 2022 | 2:05 pm

Have you been part of a process improvement project that required an investment of hours upon hours over months or even years? Was a process improvement effort stopped because the team could not agree upon which improvement ideas to implement? Or an improvement initiative that made things worse instead of better?

With results like these, no wonder leaders hesitate to authorize process improvement initiatives. Yet some leaders are achieving impressive results from redesigning processes. They cut the work time to serve their customers in half, recapturing and repurposing thousands of hours. At the same time, they deliver better outcomes to their communities, boards, and partners.

These diametrically opposed outcomes beg the question: What creates the big difference in results?

What is Process Improvement?

The difference in results stems, in part, from the varying working definitions of process improvement. One website defines process improvement as “a systematic approach that can be used to make incremental and breakthrough improvements in processes.” While this approach sounds promising, it falls short of bringing transformational change.

A process redesign project that focuses only on improving how work is done will not significantly improve outcomes despite taking many hours of staff time. For example, one team shared that they worked on an improvement project for eighteen months. They met for two hours every month and talked about a host of cutting-edge ideas. Yet the team could not come together behind any idea they were willing to try. After they had invested more than 400 work hours generating ideas without implementing any of them, people started dropping out of the project. Then the CEO identified a new initiative and the team switched its focus to that priority.

Start at the End

I view process improvement more holistically. I see it as a tool to improve outcomes in a broader sense. It can be leveraged to enhance quality, customer experience, accuracy, compliance, or any other key process outcome. When leaders start by identifying the specific outcome(s) that must be improved, they make it possible to achieve impactful process improvement results.

Recently, a chief operations/administration officer (COO) became aware that her organization was incurring significant late-payment penalties. Phone calls about the late payments from both internal managers and external partners were eating up her team’s time, and the organization’s financial resources were being squandered on paying the penalties.

The COO talked with her team about what she saw and then initiated a process redesign project with the specific goal of getting payments out on time. She leveraged my team’s process improvement training and mentoring to help the team better understand what was actually happening. Once her team saw that they could solve the pain they were experiencing, they eagerly stepped forward to be on the redesign team. This team used their new process improvement knowledge to reduce the payment process from 110 steps to 60 steps. Now they are implementing these new ideas and have shortened the time to get payments out. They will no longer be plagued with collection phone calls and can reinvest their time in helping the organization fulfill its key objectives.

Achieving process improvement results starts with identifying the needed outcome(s) first. After all, would you start a road trip without picking a destination? With no destination, you may end up in Alaska, rather than California. Or on the side of the road, out of provisions for the journey. Only through setting a clear destination can your team succeed in achieving the improvement they need.

Focus Delivers Process Improvement Results

As a coach and a trainer, I have opportunities to influence leaders as they seek to achieve process improvement results. Therefore, I first ask which outcomes need to be improved.

When leaders focus on improving specific process outcomes, they foster employee engagement and leadership support. Starting with a particularly painful outcome is a great first step. For example, a director of donor relations received calls from three donors who said they received someone else’s gift acknowledgement letter. After awkward apologies were made and the letters were corrected, the director called me to learn how she could quickly address this situation so it would never happen again. I coached her and the team through a four-hour rapid process improvement event. I encouraged the group to kept one essential outcome in mind: Gift acknowledgements must be sent out to the correct donor every time.

Being clear about the goal helped galvanize the team to take action and be laser-focused in their redesign work. This focus shortened the time needed for the improvement work, as there were no side trips that consumed valuable team time and energy.

Your Next Process Improvement Results Project

When your team needs to attain a given process outcome and is missing the mark, think process improvement. Whether your issue is an unhappy customer, overwhelmed employees, or a board demanding answers, start by identifying the specific outcomes needed. Communicating with employees about the missed mark and committing to resolve it can begin your journey to achieve impressive results.

Some organizations have built their process management skills and routinely fix inadequate outcomes successfully and quickly. You can, too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to talk through how your team can undertake rapid improvement that achieves process improvement results and promotes organizational success. Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

Contact Lee today to discuss your challenge.