Culture of approval: How finance managers can improve collaboration with other departments

Picture this: You love your job. Your job within the finance department is challenging, fulfilling and exciting. Or rather, it is, as long as strategy meetings don’t give way to an almost athletic activity. Time and time again, you’re chasing invoices by mail or across the corridors. While the individual departments have long since lost track of who made which purchase and when, let alone where the corresponding invoice is, the traffic jam in the accounting department is getting longer and longer. Just like on the highway, the mood sinks to a low point – for everyone involved.

No matter how much you like your colleagues, rifts can open up between finance managers and departments more quickly than anyone would want: because one party constantly has to remind the other of various invoices until both parties are annoyed with the other to the maximum. That’s why it is important to take a critical look at the current culture of approval – and the cooperation between different teams – within the company. After all, it’s not just about harmony among colleagues, but above all about efficiency, transparency and therefore a stable company.

Culture of approval: What exactly does that mean?

With “culture of approval” we are throwing a rather unknown term into the room here – but a very nice one, in our opinion. After all, how approvals are made can reveal a great deal about the workflows within a commpany. To explain the keyword further, we would like to understand approvals as a component of the corporate culture (= approval culture). After all, approvals take place across all teams: not only typically in accounting for invoice approval or budget approval, but also in marketing (e.g. for press releases), in the IT team (for new software or hardware) or in human resources (for job positions). The way in which approvals are given can say a lot about the underlying corporate culture.

Be honest:

  • Does the management have to approve every small invoice for a few euros? Or, on the contrary, does no one feel responsible for anything?
  • Is marketing allowed to launch their own campaigns, or does every piece of content have to be coordinated on C level beforehand and approved for publication?
  • Do the employees in the company have freedom, is there a “trial & error” culture within the teams or is your culture of approval based on hierarchy, within which both large projects and smaller actions have to be decided on C level?

If your workflows are designed in such a way that all processes in the company first have to pass through various stations of approvals, then surely everything is aligned with the corporate standard. At the same time, this kind of culture of approval eats up a lot of time and money, and in the long term could give employees the feeling of lacking trust on the part of the management. This can be a motivation killer and poison the corporate culture in the long run.

How good is your culture of approval? Question your status quo

The solution to a healthy culture of approval? Workflows built on meaningful processes and trusting collaboration not just within teams, but across departments.

Yes, members within individual teams are ideally super attuned to each other. Projects are kicked off, ambitious deadlines are targeted. There is a budget, clear KPIs and business goals. To achieve these, the colleagues work hand in hand. The situation, however, is different when work has to be done across departments. In that case, the understanding for the requirements and dynamics in the other teams is quickly missing.

If collaboration was already challenging before, smooth coordination between departments has not exactly become easier due to remote work and teams distributed between office and home office. This enhances the importance of clear communication and simple structures that every employee can understand. Then also the culture of approval will be built on a stable foundation.

Let’s go back to the scenario described at the beginning of this article. For you as a financial manager, the presence or absence of a good culture of approval quickly becomes apparent in the time-consuming process of searching for, finding and approving invoices. In this process, you tend to fall on deaf ears with your colleagues. But you should all be working for the same big goal. So how can this situation be changed for the better?

How to improve cooperation with other departments as a finance manager

The problem is usually not a working in silos à la “That is not my cup of tea”. There is simply a lack of understanding for the necessities of this type of “paperwork” from accounting. Forbearance with dear colleagues is a first easy step that can spare your nerves. In the long term, you should work with other departments to see how you can improve cooperation across teams. Because, and everyone in the process should be aware of this: A well-functioning accounting department with punctual monthly and annual financial statements and a seamless cash flow forecast is essential for the profitability of the company and therefore also affects the employees in other departments. As a finance manager, you are in charge of ensuring a good culture of approval. In this way, you can improve cooperation with your colleagues:

Clear tasks, workflows and responsibilities

To collaborate effectively, ideally all departments should be aware that each team goal is part of a larger goal. All employees (or at least the respective department heads) should therefore be clear about what the goals are and which measures are necessary to achieve these goals. A clear task definition for the respective teams and transparency in responsibilities can facilitate cooperation across departments.

Consider how your processes currently are, which workflows are already useful and where they could be optimized. Where can you shorten coordination paths, where does digitalization make sense, what can you perhaps even automate some steps? This will not only benefit your accounting department, but also your colleagues. After all, questions about responsibilities can be avoided through predefined workflows and ultimately a lot of time can be saved.

How to implement new workflows:

  • Identify your current resources and processes (what still happens on paper? What has already been digitized? Which approval processes take effect where?)
  • List the individual tasks that need to be completed – prioritize projects according to importance
  • Determine who is responsible for the individual steps within the projects and assign roles accordingly
  • If necessary, create workflow diagrams to visualize the process
  • Train your team on the new workflow and openly ask for feedback to adjust as necessary
  • Test the workflow you have created over a sufficiently long period of time (for example, to test a coherent invoice approval, it is recommended to test at least for an accounting period, e.g., one month including the month-end closing)
  • Deploy the new workflow and review it regularly for new circumstances (do newly created jobs need to be accounted for differently? Does it make sense to purchase a tool for automation in certain areas to further increase workflow efficiency)?

This triad established by Henry Gantt can help you set up new workflows:

  1. What job needs to get done?
  2. Who is responsible for what?
  3. How much time does the job take?

In financial accounting, a workflow might look something like this:

An employee needs new hardware, such as an external monitor. (1) The job to be done? The invoice for a certain cost item must be approved and correctly booked after the purchase. (2) Who is responsible? Your workflow could look like this: Due to the relatively low amount of less than 500 euros, the purchase request only goes to the direct manager; if the amount was above that, the manager would additionally have to approve the request.

(3) And how long does it take? An optimized workflow, where each employee knows the responsibilities, such an invoice approval should not take more than a day. If you digitize your accounting with a software like finway, employees don’t even have to remember who is responsible for which bill – the roles are saved in the system in the workflows. In general, you can make your approval culture even more efficient through automation: Planned expenses and transactions are visible at one glance, cost center assignments allow you to see exactly which department is using their budget and how, and employees can easily submit invoices and receipts digitally. When you transfer your workflows to the tool, everything ends up directly in the right place – no more searching for responsible parties! And it’s just as easy to check and approve them in the financial operating system. That’s a huge step towards a smooth workflow and the end of the document search in sight, isn’t it?

Flexible Workflows

More ideas for a greater understanding and a strong company culture

Introduce a “buddy system”

Nobody has any clue that the other team members and employees are doing day in day out?  The processes in sales are all Greek to the colleagues from production and the marketing team does not know what is important for you in accounting? Create at least a basic understanding of the needs of the respective departments within your company, e.g. by introducing a “buddy system”. Each employee is assigned a permanent contact person in a different department. Regular joint coffee breaks can promote exchange and give everyone the opportunity to report on their daily work and current challenges. Internal internships based on a rotating system can also help to sharpen the understanding of the work processes and needs of the individual departments – this means that you, as a financial manager, will be less likely to receive blank looks in the future when it is once again time to ask for  a certain receipt.

Celebrate milestones with the whole team

Of course, celebrations should be held – but not in small teams, but rather in the entire company. After all, every employee makes a contribution to the success and should be involved in it. If the sales team celebrates one success after another, while marketing and the product team only come across the photos of the glittering party online, this naturally creates rifts. Still, you want to overcome these in the long run. You can create a sense of community within the company by involving all teams and breaking down the overall success for each department. After all, sales couldn’t run as well without a good product and meaningful marketing, right?

All of these ideas are guidelines that you can use to improve collaboration between departments in your company. Certainly, processes after a while need to be reviewed here and there and readjusted if necessary. But with clear communication, transparency and the idea that every individual counts you strengthen your teams and the company in the long term. A good culture of approval with time-saving workflows and automation can play an important part.