Repetition Can Blind You to the Obvious

Like it or not, every business has things that need to be done over and over. Despite the necessity, this repetition can blind you to the obvious. Think about it. When something is repeated enough there is a tendency to operate on autopilot, and when we do that it is easy to overlook things that need to be addressed.

An Example

Not long after taking on a new client several years ago I spent some time with the person who had been doing the things I was contracted to perform. The time it took to become familiar with the routines was minimal, except that to understand the monthly closing steps involved a lot of waiting for documents to record activity. That wait is what alerted me to a possible problem in the closing process. A monthly financial close was taking one and a half to two weeks because of the need to wait on these “necessary” documents. After the other person was gone I began to make a thorough analysis of the closing process and the flow of documents. As it turned out I could use alternative means to acquire the same information as was on those so-called “necessary” documents, and I could do that as soon as the month was over. So, by making some modifications to the closing process I was able to reduce the monthly closing time from the nearly two weeks to about two days. So, in working days that meant that monthly financial statements were now available six to eight working days sooner. Not only that, but in the process of evaluating the old closing process I also uncovered a couple of major accounting errors. I think my predecessor had the best of intentions. I think he just did the same thing so many times that he never took the time to evaluate the process and was oblivious things that needed to be changed. Indeed, this was a classic case where repetition can blind you to the obvious.

Blind Leading the Blind

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s like the blind leading the blind” and likely have seen situations where it seemed that was exactly what was happening as people unthinkingly just followed what others were doing.

blindly-following

Unfortunately that is all too common in business. We get so used to how something is done that we just go with the flow and unquestioningly follow the lead of others who also have not paused to consider alternatives. This is how errors get perpetuated, often remaining undetected for long periods of time. In the financial aspects of a business it is easy to overlook areas where savings can be realized and efficiencies improved. This is one of the values of a Part-time CFO or Controller. Because they are not there all the time this person sees things that the day-to-day employees do not.

Frankly, if you want to minimize the risk that repetition can blind you to the obvious then it might be a good idea to have someone who can come in periodically and look things over. You might be surprised at what is found and the improvements that can be made from relatively simple changes. It’s a great way to get unstuck from groupthink that limits opportunity for improvement.

If you want to know more, contact AimCFO – Contact

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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