The Finance Department: Make It a Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Jun 28, 2022

pa-cpa-journal-the-finance-department-make-it-a-place-where-everybody-knows-your-nameWhat if colleagues shouted your name every time you entered the office? You’d probably feel a lot like Norm Peterson in the classic TV comedy series Cheers. 

One of the key features of the characters in Cheers was the fact that, despite having very different personalities and backgrounds, things clicked on many levels and there was an underlying respect among them all. Here’s a quick refresher of the motley characters who form an unlikely network of support and trust: 

  • Bar owner Sam Malone is a former major league baseball relief pitcher. 
  • The bartender, Coach, is a quirky former coach full of wisdom and life lessons, delivered in sometimes unorthodox or winding logic. 
  • The servers, Carla and Diane, could not be more different and often are at odds due to their vastly different perspectives. 
  • Regular patrons Norm and Cliff are treated as part of the bar family. Norm is a down-on-his-luck accountant who escapes to Cheers every day after work. Cliff is a friendly, know-it-all mail carrier who shares obscure (and more-often-than-not wrong) points of fact and observation. 


Similarities to Real-World Scenarios

Having rewatched the show recently, I began to see parallels with the functionality of a modern finance or accounting department. In my professional experience, these departments succeed not through homogeneity or group think; instead, the most dynamic and impactful groups thrive on diverse perspectives and encourage team members to process issues through their unique lenses. This approach frequently leads to better outcomes and new solutions to obstacles and challenges. 

The interactions between the Cheers staff and patrons often resemble real-world scenarios that finance leaders encounter. We have to manage departments, personalities, and assignments while continuing to improve output to our internal customers. Accomplishing finance objectives would not be possible without our fellow team members. Speaking from personal experience of building a team and making modifications along the way, not all things need to look the same or fit neatly into an ideological box. 


Finance’s Cast of Characters

Think about the makeup of your finance department. Are all the team members cut from similar cloth? If so, can you imagine how the department could be stronger with more diverse backgrounds and perspectives? I’d guess that most finance leaders would say their teams have strong similarities with a few individual differences. That’s understandable. A tendency toward shared similarities results from the natural human impulse to surround ourselves with people of shared viewpoints. After all, accounting is a profession of discipline and technical skill sets. Just about every accounting or finance department needs team members to process payroll, taxes, accounts payable, accounts receivable; perform reconciliations; and prepare financial statements. But that is not all it is: it also requires so much more, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, forecasting, and so on.

Yes, each finance department role has a required skill set, but what breaks the uniform “sameness” of a team are the personalities, unique perspectives, and previous work experiences. These attributes can have a dual benefit within the department: they offer colleagues learning opportunities and they help leaders view tasks, challenges, and situations through different lenses. This is important to building a more dynamic and future-ready finance team that can interact with and consider the perspectives of other departments when helping to solve business challenges. 


Rethink Hiring and Recruiting

Businesses are experiencing a workforce environment unlike any in recent memory – one that is heavily weighted toward employees, with a high level of demand for those with accounting backgrounds. The labor pool seems tighter than ever as fewer candidates sit for the CPA Exam. These factors make now the perfect time to challenge long-held hiring assumptions and reconsider the traditional hiring process for finance department team members.

The overarching goal when hiring new finance professionals should be continuous improvement of the department’s contributions to the organization. Finding talent with a variety of perspectives, work experience, and backgrounds that complement workplace culture while also challenging convention is a great place to start. 

We should evolve our hiring process to nurture diversity of thought within our teams. After all, if we hire more people who think or act just like us, how can we expect to keep moving forward? A range of opinions and life experiences are valuable tools to improving finance team performance and driving more value to our organizations. 

 


Michael F. De Stefano, CPA, is chief operating officer for RKL in Lancaster and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at mdestefano@rklcpa.com.
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