If you’re like many of the AP professionals we talk with, one of your greatest concerns for the future of your department is talent. You probably have a few people who have been with the organization for years who are a walking repository of all the layers of tribal knowledge that have been accumulated. They know which approvers get which invoices and which invoices should have purchase orders. They know which vendors offer early pay discounts and which vendors enforce late fees. They’re everyone’s go-to for answers and solutions, and you don’t know what you’d do without them.
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You may also have a number of long-time employees who are content with the repetitive tasks of manual processing. They know all the unusual transactions and exceptions off the top of their heads. They’re perfectly happy spending their days receiving, sorting, entering, coding, matching, and routing documents.
In this situation you might think that the greatest concern would be efficiency or even risk prevention. But, astute AP managers know, while those are areas that cannot be ignored, the greatest threat to the success of their department is wasted talent, employee disengagement, and turnover.
So how does an AP automation project help you engage your current staff while preparing for the inevitable transition from long-term employees to new talent?
Evaluate, Refine, and Document Your Processes
It’s a project that seems to be always on the list but never a priority. The way you’ve always done it is getting the job done, and getting the job done takes all the time and resources available – and then some. Maybe you’re so overwhelmed and/or understaffed now that exceptions aren’t being researched, or you’re paying late fees because no one has time to chase around all the invoices that are manually routed for approval before they are due. So how can you expect your already overstretched people to find time to make sure processes are updated and documented?
That’s a valid question, especially if there is no immediate return on having those processes documented. But if your people don’t have time to document the process how will they have time to train the process? And that’s assuming that the people who would do that training are not the people you’re having to replace. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced your new hire is, if there is no current and accurate documentation and no automated workflow to guide them, they won’t be successful in their new job.
A properly managed conversion to an automation solution will capture all that tribal knowledge by making it part of the automated workflow. It will also result in upgrading to best practices and closing loopholes that could expose you to fraud and other liabilities. This process alone can protect you from the inconsistencies that naturally arise when multiple employees manage a process from personal experience rather than documented systemization.
It also streamlines the knowledge transfer during the new hire training process. Make sure that your chosen automation partner includes the training of new staff as part of your maintenance and support so that knowledge transfer isn’t all on your shoulders.
Uplevel Roles and Tasks for Greater Engagement and Job Fulfillment
While some employees may find joy in manual processing, putting out fires, and chasing down documents, most will only be fulfilled when they accomplish more each day and contribute to higher level outcomes.
We often hear that AP processors fear that their jobs will be threatened by automation. The reality is that automation frees them to be more valuable to the company. They will now be able to investigate exceptions and ensure that invoices are accurately matched to purchase orders and properly coded in the ledger. They can take control of unnecessary late fees and take advantage of early pay discounts. They can target and correct duplicate entries before the invoice is paid. They can leave each day less frazzled with the satisfaction of having contributed to the bottom line instead of barely getting through the work load.
Employees who have the capabilities for relationship building or financial control might take on challenges like improving vendor relationships, auditing transaction data, analyzing spending patterns, or expedited preparation for month-end closing and finance forecasting.
As your experienced team members retire you’ll likely bring in other hires who expect everything to be done electronically and who will quickly burn out on putting out the same fires day after day. Having the opportunity to perform challenging, meaningful work and make a substantial contribution will be especially important to engaging and retaining employees of the Millennial generation who will expect to use technology for repetitive tasks in order to devote their talents to critical problem solving.
Whatever the size of your AP department, if you aren’t using automation to your advantage, it’s almost a sure thing that you have employees who are overwhelmed, disengaged, underutilized, hoarding vital information, burned-out, or even (knowingly or not) opening the door to fraud. And that means you are costing your organization time and money and possibly risking losing a great deal more. That sounds harsh, but we’ve seen it so many times that I feel confident that it is true.
While an automation project takes time and resources, if properly prepared for and executed, it can protect and enhance the greatest asset your organization has – your people.