Count Me In®

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Summary

Gordon Hofman, VP - Finance at SSA Marine, has twenty one years of progressive experience with a multi-billion dollar privately held transportation company and its technology development subsidiary. He is a people and teams leader responsible for directing financial strategy. Gordon's role includes overseeing financial and operational development of the company, as well as driving process improvements and transforming the company into a more data driven entity. In this episode of Count Me In, he shares what can be done to improve personal productivity and employee retention by creating the appropriate organizational culture. Download and listen now!

Show Notes

Contact Gordon Hofman: https://www.linkedin.com/in/grhofman/

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Mitch
: (00:00)
Welcome back for episode 67 of Count Me In. I'm your host Mitch Roshong, and I'll be bringing you to Adam's conversation with the vice president of finance for SSA Marine, Gordon Hoffman. SSA Marine is a global transportation and trucking firm with operations across five continents. Gordon is responsible for directing the financial strategy of the company and leading people in teams to efficiently move commerce. In this episode he talked to Adam about how organizational culture plays such an important role in employee retention and personal productivity, particularly within his finance function. Let's head over to their conversation to hear more now. 
 
Adam: (00:48)
So to start off, what are the drivers that help to create a culture of productivity within an organization? 
 
Gordon: (00:56)
Yeah, so there's, there's three main drivers that we're really focusing on right now and what those are is, you know, one is just providing meaning in the work that's being done. If you have people that are just showing up and doing tasks, you find that, you know, they'll start to space out, they're not really focused and then they'll get what needs to be done, done. But there's never really any emphasis to go above and beyond that or look for process, you know, to look for ways to improve. And what we've been doing to bring some focus in that is really just trying to create a connection between the company vision and the actual work, which can be a little bit tricky when you're, you're talking about finance and accounting because you know the vision for our company is we partnered to move commerce with efficiency, flexibility and integrity and at top level that's really kind of challenging too say, well, what does that have to do with finance? But from there what we've done is broken that down and, and really made a trail from our vision, which, how does that translate into values? How does that translate into more core long term objectives? And then finally, what are the strategies that help us achieve those objectives? And once you've done those three, four pieces, it's much easier to sit down with your team and say, you know, this is what we're trying to accomplish. This is how it fits with the overall company vision. And that kind of brings people into the company and what we're trying to accomplish. And so it's, that's a bit of a motivational factor that I think is really important to having people engaged and really thinking about how they can improve and how they can be productive and how they can add value. Once you have people engaged at that level, there's, you know, some more, you know, task related items that we really focus on them, which is one maker productivity measurable. Really you need to have some KPIs. I noticed in the past for us, we were on the operation side very focused on KPIs, the business operations side. But when I actually came to finance and accounting, you started asking about what our metrics are and they were, they're just weren't very many of them. Yeah. So once we, once we've really created that motivation and buy in for the company, you know, coming up with ways that you can actually measure your productivity. Cause you know, a lot of the times on the business side you can really focus on your operations. In our business, what's important is how many containers we've moved in an hour. And so a lot of our business was focused around that. But then when we got on the back end of finance and accounting, we stopped doing KPIs. And so we now adjust that. So those KPIs are just as important for measuring productivity within your finance. It really driving and showing people how you're improving. And then the final item on there is just creating priorities and making sure that you're checking into those priorities on a weekly basis. It's very easy, I've found on the finance accounting side, you know, where are the people that fix the problems and you're always putting out the fires and then you boost focus on really what is value adding. So taking some time on, on a weekly basis to readjust your priorities and make sure that you're focused on whatever those top three items or five items are in the coming week that really can add that. 
 
Adam: (04:20)
So now, you know, it seems like everybody in the whole world currently is working from home. How have you been able to kind of implement these things switching to a work from home workforce. 
 
Gordon: (04:31)
Yeah. It's interesting that, you know, we were talking about this probably three or four weeks before covid really started impacting everyone who said we want to, we want to be able to make it so that people can work at home and work remotely more often. Cause you know, especially with the younger generations, this is incredibly motivating for them and it's like a value they see in their business. So it's, it really comes around like, but once again, it's like setting priorities and then setting expectations, and then being able to measure them so that because you can't sit down and have a chat with someone or walk over to their desk and have a chat with them and say, well, how are things going? What do you have on your plate? You have to have other ways to really be able to demonstrate that no, you are getting what needs to be done, done. Everybody's on the same page. So in a way it's more documentation, which is thinking a little bit scary because it feels like you're creating a lot of bureaucracy. But by creating that, that documentation, it forces you into like the third item I talked about like, you know, really doing that weekly review of what the priorities are and then making sure that you're staying on task for them. So it really just, the work from home culture has just reinforced that you need to, you need to do this going forward. 
 
Adam: (05:51)
So do you have some examples to share of, of success? 
 
Gordon: (05:55)
Yeah, so we've got some like really granular levels of examples. One thing that we've found that's been incredibly successful for us is time blocking, where people just, you know, set out like two hours in their day and I'm going to get this done and I'm not going to answer email. I'm not gonna miss chat or anything like that. And you know, when we have people do that and really honor those two hours, the feedback we consistently get is like, I can't believe how much I got done. It's like I was able to knock that out. you know, and it was a lot easier. And I was originally thinking rather than taking what I thought was going to be a full day project, I got done in like two or three hours. So time blocking has been one of the first successes that we've gotten a lot of positive feedback from. The second thing that's been very beneficial to us on the prioritization we as an organization really mix our FP and a or historically we'd mix start FP and a and our accounting groups together in what we were seeing is that there was a lot of conflict in demand for if people's time that that wasn't really effective in actually getting things done. So people were kind of doing both jobs halfway instead of doing one of them completely and we just, we weren't making no, the deadlines that we're expected to make or the quality of product wasn't good. So we ended up really splitting those pieces up and we did that by like just digging into each of those processes and understanding what the bottlenecks were and see that there's, there's not a good resolution for this. If you're putting both of these tasks on one piece, one person's plate, like there's no correct way to prioritize. And looking at those priorities, we were able to say, you know, we have to reorganize this a little bit and put these responsibilities with one person and we'll have someone else really oversee those day to day accounting items. 
 
Adam: (07:51)
You know, I think those are some great successes, but with every success comes, downfalls. Are there any pitfalls that somebody should look out for and they're trying to implement some of these suggestions that you've made? 
 
Gordon: (08:03)
Yeah, the big one is don't try and implement a perfect system on day one. You, you'll get a massive revolt from your people. you know, there are some accountants I would say that really want a lot of structure in their place, but once you move away from public accounting, a lot of people are trying to get away from, you know, keeping their time and you know, having to log every single hour that they do. And so as soon as you start creating that structure again, there's this just feeling from a lot of people that it's like, Oh no, you're trying to put a lot of control on me and that's really not what we're trying to do. And so, you know, start small and just take like very high level activity that say, I just want to understand. Yeah, there's these seven tasks that we do as a group throughout the month. So high level tasks, let's just record how much time you're spending on each one. Those, once that starts to become comfortable for people, what you ended up then started seeing as you know, all those seven tasks aren't enough or I want to break those seven tasks down. And so you just have like an iterative process where you build out this tracking system. And prioritization system. And over time you can get more and more detailed, but you're not shocking anybody on day one that here comes big brother. We're going to be watching everything you're doing and we're going to be micromanaging you. What ends up happening is people start micromanaging themselves because they see this productivity and this focus and it's like, well, I need to get this done and I want to get that done. I need to prioritize this over this. And they start creating it all on their own rather than having like a top down. The other thing is, is that, you know, one productivity methodology is not gonna work for an entire group. So you need to be flexible on that. When I first started on this journey and I was just doing some research on it and I found that there's something like 20 different philosophies on productivity help there, and there's a lot of overlap between them and you can pick and choose between one or the other. But one of the ways that I read that it's described as you got some people that are very visual, visual, like they just want to have a chart that they can see and it's all written out. Other people are very tactile. They want to be able to move note notepads around or they want to be able to scratch things off. So they actually want to have stickies on a wall where they move one piece to another and another to another. And then there's abstract people that end up doing a lot of it in their head and they just need a couple of reminders here and there. And so if you try and force one of those mythologies on any one person, and it doesn't fit for them, once again, you're going to get a revolt. So you need to be flexible and really focus on what works for each individual and then bring that all up and take themes that come from everyone. And that's kind of your overall philosophy for your group.
 
Adam: (10:52)
I think those are some great things to look out for. Just especially the reminder to say, Hey, everybody doesn't learn or go through projects the same way that the next person does and you have to adapt your system so that each person can be successful. 
 
Gordon: (11:06)
Yeah, I think that's, that's probably one of the most important things that, you know, you have a lot of individuals in your group and you want to have that diversity in your group, but it makes it a little bit more challenging as a manager because then you have to still, you have to manage to each one of those personalities rather than trying to have just one philosophy for the entire group. 
 
Adam: (11:31)
So then how can you ultimately use this culture to drive employee retention? 
 
Gordon: (11:37)
So we've been doing some study on retention and you know, like I was talking about earlier it's really, there's this desire for people to work remotely already and the problem that you run into with working remotely like historically has been that people, it's like how do you hold people accountable? how do you know that people stay productive? Cause there's this thought like if you're sitting in the same room with people that you can really stay on top of them and, and that's just not, that's not desirable anymore. People want to be able to work remotely and clearly we're, you know, we're four weeks into coven now and we've been working remotely. We went through our year end audit and we actually added an additional audit to the process and we basically only added one day to the overall audit process and we were one day late and we never worked remote before. So it shows that yes, you can work remote, you can stay productive and so you just have to have these metrics and prioritization and having that available. You've then free people up to get the work done when they, when they can get the work done and still within the timeframe and whatever requirements that you have. The other thing that this helps with, with, retention is really creating more time to work on interesting projects because as you create productivity, you know, it frees up time for people. And I've actually used that as very much as a motivating factor for doing this as a site. But you don't have to be working 60 hours a week. A lot of that time is, is nonproductive time. It's stuff that, you know, we feel like it's important or someone's telling me it was an important, but at the end of the day you can find out, you know, maybe I didn't need to work on that or someone else could have resolved that or you know, it can wait two weeks and I can focus on these other items now. and so we're not, you know, you tell people we're not trying to be big brother here. What we're trying to do is create more time for you and whether that is, you know, to take on more interesting products, projects, or have more time to stay at home with your family, that's really what's more important and meaningful to people. And that's what we're trying to help people do. We're not trying to squeeze that, that last down to every ounce of effort out of them and you get more out of them. That's what we want to create this more work life balance or meaningful balance and interesting projects because there are always going to be projects that are a little bit mind numbing in accounting. There's no way around that, but the less amount of time you could spend on them, the better. And that really gives you time to grow and really enjoy your work. 
 
Announcer: (14:24)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org

What is Count Me In®?

IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) brings you the latest perspectives and learnings on all things affecting the accounting and finance world, as told by the experts working in the field and the thought leaders shaping the profession. Listen in to gain valuable insight and be included in the future of accounting and finance!