Innovation is the Key Trait Needed to Rise to the Top

John Krautzel
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Accounting innovation can be something as simple as upgrading one piece of office software to run more efficiently or as complicated as constructing an entirely new office to compete in the 21st century competitive landscape. Innovative ideas in every department are what move firms forward and get companies noticed.

A recent survey published by Robert Hall Management Resources revealed only 31 percent of chief financial officers polled believed accounting innovation is a strength of their staff. In fact, 59 percent of CFOs said their firms were only "somewhat innovative" and needed to improve in that regard.

Fostering an environment where innovative ideas are welcome does not have to be difficult. The rewards may far exceed the effort involved once an accounting innovation is put in place. It all starts with the attitude of the CFO. Trying new things must be part of the culture in finance, and the person in charge of the department can lead the way by creating a process designed to elicit new ideas and look at how to do things differently.

Possible areas of improvement might include closing books faster at the end of accounting periods, filing reports more quickly, analyzing data better and purchasing new software. The key is to build efficiency while reducing errors. Some innovations, such as enterprise software, may be expensive at first but become a valuable time-savers later. An accounting innovation does not have to be that all-encompassing, but bold changes reap the biggest rewards.

New accounting technology is one potential avenue of innovation. Many companies have benefited greatly from cloud computing and software system integration. CFOs should help synchronize customer data so everyone knows who talks to what client and when. Video conferencing or video chat with valued clients can enhance communication.

CFOs must allow employees at all levels time for the creative process at work. Stifling a valuable accounting innovation can cost a firm clients, resources and market share. Plus, fostering a forward-thinking spirit where employee ideas are valued improves morale and increases employee retention.

Too much bureaucracy and old-fashioned attitudes stall possible innovations. If an idea has to be approved at too many levels before it can be implemented, one link in the chain may nix a great idea before it even reaches the light of day. Adhering to the principle that "this is the way we've always done things" stamps out innovation before it even starts.

CFOs should schedule regular brainstorming sessions to hear any concepts. For example, he could hold a casual lunch one Friday per month in which the free exchange of ideas is not only allowed but actively encouraged. When the meeting takes place outside of the normal work routine, employees may become more apt to talk more openly.

Accounting innovation can come from anyone's "aha moment." However, the overall culture of a firm is a reflection of its leadership. CFOs in the 21st century must be forward-thinking enough to realize a great idea can just as easily come from a 30-year veteran or the entry-level clerk who just started two weeks ago.


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