Just a few years ago people were saying accounting jobs were dying out – about to be killed off by automation.
The 20th-century dream of “untouched by human hands” is looking pretty unlikely – for a while yet at least. Turns out it’s often more expensive to automate than for a person to do it.
The trick with automation is to embrace the low-hanging fruit, once you know for sure the solution works, and to avoid buying a Ford Edsel. In other words, beware of the hype.
GET YOUR CAR WASHED HERE
Freakanomics uses the example of car washes. 20th-century automated car washes in the suburbs have been replaced by hand washes at cheap city unused lots. Workers are cheaper and more reliable than expensive machines.
AUTOMATIC ACCOUNTS SUPER ROBOTS
There are so many separate tasks to do in an accounts department that automating them all would be a total waste of time for the average business – and a big headache for a big business.
Often doing something by hand is safer and more reliable. My dentist puts down the power tool and picks up a manual one when something needs special attention.
We are specialists in payroll that cannot be automated, if it wasn’t complicated our clients wouldn’t need us. We are cheaper too, because of economies of scale. Our clients use us so they don’t have to employ a specialist in-house.
HOW DO YOU EAT AN ELEPHANT?
So how do you choose which tasks to automate, which to get done by a person, and which to outsource? You need to deconstruct your accounts department roles into separate tasks, then decide what to do task by task. You should start with the most important.
I PROMISE TO GET TO THE POINT
My view, for what it’s worth, is that the sort of person that will make a great accounts person in your team is fundamentally well organised and hates chaos. If they think the job is, and will continue to be, an endless stream of stress and problems, they will be unhappy and bail on you if they can. And right now there are plenty of companies that will gladly take them.
Accounts staff are usually loyal and hard-working but when they break you have lost them forever, and they rarely give you any warning. They will give the minimum of notice and be ready to bolt out the door.
If you want to keep your good accounts people you have to give them the tools they need, and crave, to ensure they have order and predictability in their work life. You might hate that idea but you are probably not suited to being an accounts person 🙂 You, or someone suitable, need to jump in and help your accounts people document all the tasks in their role – documentation that includes step-by-step instructions. We use Jira.
Documentation is obviously squarely in your interest but a lot of people don’t understand that accounts staff really want it. You just have to help them. They are doers, not strategists.
HOW DO YOU ATTRACT GOOD ACCOUNTS STAFF?
Assure them of these things:
- All the role’s tasks are fully documented
- You will have the support you need to get the job done
- You won’t be left to sink or swim
- You will have a nice, safe and quiet place to sit
- You will be able to take on extra tasks when you want to so you can grow and learn
- If your tasks are done we are pretty flexible about how you want to work
- We treat our people with compassion and respect
- This is a safe place to work
- YOU WON’T BE BLAMED FOR THINGS THAT AREN’T YOUR FAULT