Peter Nesbitt is COO at Teampay, the top distributed spend management platform giving finance control and visibility into spend.
Perhaps it’s just in our nature, but finance people like rules. That’s why they usually have a very well-thought-out expense policy. The problem is that, according to a report by Ardent Partners, roughly 37% of spend is not under control.
Employees not following these guidelines is frustrating and is usually where the shame and blame game begins.
But why aren’t the guidelines being followed? Are they not clear? Do people need more training?
Have you tried asking employees? With so much noncompliance, it’s time to rethink how you design finance processes and move away from the assumption that humans are rule-following machines toward a more human-centered approach.
What Is Human-Centered Design?
“When you understand the people you’re trying to reach—and then design from their perspective—not only will you arrive at unexpected answers, but you’ll come up with ideas that they’ll embrace.” — IDEO, The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design
Human-centered design has been embraced by software companies for years. Apple has built a nearly $3 trillion company based on making products that “just work,” while fulfilling the emotional needs of a wonderful user experience.
Human-centered design focuses on the users’ experiences, especially their emotional ones. To understand the user experience, you need to understand the problem from the customer’s, employee’s or other stakeholder’s perspective. Only then can you work to design a process that solves their problems in an intuitive, and even fun, way.
Applying Human-Centered Design To Finance
Ultimately, guidelines and processes that finance thinks are adequate may not be immediately intuitive for employees (while losing control of an estimated 37% of spend). Instead, finance and employees should work toward designing a better process together.
A design-led approach could look something like this:
Immerse yourself in the problem: This does not mean just having an all-hands call with the finance team to brainstorm. You need to immerse yourself in the day-to-day work of your employees to see how finance fits into the way they do their job. What’s the purchasing process like from the employee perspective? What problems should finance help them solve, and why is finance not able to solve those problems today?
Instead of thinking “Why can’t Jim follow our purchasing guidelines?” adopt a more curious and empathetic mindset about why Jim might not have the receipt for something he bought three weeks ago. Take the blame off of Jim, and place it on the fact that he was forced into a purchasing process that wasn’t actually built for him, or any average human for that matter. But remember, this stage is about problem discovery, not solutions.
Build an employee “journey map” for your purchasing process: Designers use journey maps as a way to visualize how people are using their products or services. This helps them identify friction and improve the user experience at each touchpoint.
In the previous step, you spoke with employees to understand their problems. Now you’re looking at how employees move from A to Z in making a purchase. Where does the process begin? What are the friction points? Making a map is a great way for your team to visualize the processes and the problems at each stage.
Brainstorm: This is where your team gets together to figure out how to solve the challenges employees are facing. You’ll be tempted to keep this as finance only, but I encourage you to have team members outside of finance in the room to help validate some of the assumptions you are making.
Build, Learn, Iterate: Once you’ve brainstormed possible solutions, now it’s time to build a new process based on the needs of your employees. However, this is not a “one and done” exercise. Designing human-centered finance processes means iterating over time based on user feedback and ever-changing needs.
Human-Centered Finance In Practice
Let’s take a look at every employee’s favorite process: expense reimbursement.
Today’s process: An employee needs to buy something to get the job done. Let’s say they need to print one-pagers for an upcoming event. Because time is of the essence, they decide to use their own card and provide what amounts to an interest-free loan to the company. They print the one-pagers, head to the event and get some leads. Awesome work!
But they’re already resentful for needing to use their own money for company purposes. And now the real fun starts—they need to file an expense report. Which software do they need to use for that? What’s the login? Where did they put the receipt?! Now they start the back and forth with finance on why this was needed and how to get reimbursed. It’s a frustrating user experience, which causes undue stress, resentment and frustration. Not the emotions we are aiming for in human-centered finance.
Human-centered approach: After learning about the employee’s frustrations with paying out of pocket and how difficult the whole process is, your team builds a map of today’s user journey with those key pain points. Then the brainstorming takes place, including employees outside of finance to validate possible solutions.
In this example, your first solution may be to implement a more proactive system that doesn’t require employees to use their own money. You enable pre-approvals, allowing employees controlled access to company money. You launch this solution and it appears to solve a lot of the prior issues. But you learn that employees still find it painful to log into the system, leaving room for improvement.
To iterate, you decide to integrate the finance software into the company’s collaboration tool (think Slack or Microsoft Teams). This allows employees to handle things in a more conversational manner without the need for separate logins. Another pain point down—great!
And then that same process of build, learn and iterate continues.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the processes you are building are for people. And in order to get people on board with what we need, you must take their needs and experience into account.