Find The Best Expense Management Solution By Thinking Outside The Box

This is how not to handle expense management in your business. Whilst a substantial part of managing expenses can be compartmentalised into how people make claims, and how those claims are processed, there are times when you’d benefit from thinking outside the box.

To illustrate the point, I’m going to look at telephones, the way your business uses them, and the way changing that can be part of an expense management strategy. Many years ago, in another life, I asked a senior manager how much he spent on line rental and calls for the fax machines in his business. He didn’t know, and asked his secretary to being in the relevant invoices.

She appeared carrying two large ring binders. Looking at them, he asked her for just the fax machine invoices. She pointed at the binders. “Those are the fax machine invoices,” she said.

He had no idea at the scale of the costs involved, and we immediately set about reducing them. And there’s the lesson: Show me any cost you’re not controlling, and I’ll show you an unnecessary expense.

Of course, fax machines are consigned to history with quill pens and carbon paper, but let’s stick with telephones; we still use those. Here are some areas in which you might be spending too much for mobiles, (and here’s the important part) without being aware of it.

1. Data roaming: Set up a company policy that it should be turned off except for short periods to allow emails to be delivered or sent, rather than being on 24/7. Data roaming charges can be high, and can mount significantly if you have a large number of employees travelling

2. Use one company: Don’t have a series of providers. Restricting services to just one allows you to negotiate better deals for new handsets and connectivity

3. Go for VOIP: For office phones there are lots of ways to use the internet to make calls, giving the traditional desktop phone a new lease of life. VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol, and means there’s no need to have a traditional phone contract, so long as you have good broadband connectivity. Providers of phone systems like this will usually deal with you on a rolling monthly contract, and their systems are extremely scalable, so you can add or subtract handsets almost at will.

4. Be careful with perks. If employees are able to use company phones for personal use (and we’re back to mobiles here), then that permission should be restricted. OK, make short personal calls, but talking for hours to an aunt in Australia, or streaming a box set to a hotel room in Berlin could soon set you back a considerable – and unwelcome – amount.

5. Don’t leave legacies. When an employee leaves the company, make sure to cancel or transfer their part of the phone number, and don’t toss the handset into the back of a drawer. Re-use it, or send it for recycling _ once you’ve cleared any company data from it.

More than just number reduction

Consider the benefits that come alongside mobile phone use, and blurring the distinction between company and private life. When you’ve automated your expenses by implementing a solution based on business expense management software using an app, everyone’s going to need a phone so they can use your system.

Allowing an employee to make personal calls, to that agreed cost limit, might have a payback in loyalty. It might mean they’re more amenable to taking a work-related call out of hours, as part of a bit of give and take – but make sure that you track the benefit so that all the necessary tax is paid. There’s no future in saving money by cheating the taxman.

Applying this kind of thinking to all aspects of your business can make a significant difference to your bottom line, and be a useful ally to your business expense management software.

Preparing an Agenda for Effective Company Meetings

An agenda is a list of meeting activities in the order in which they are to be taken up, beginning with the call to order and ending with adjournment.

Agenda should include:

Purpose of the meeting; and
Order in which items are to be discussed, so that the meeting achieves its purpose. This will later shape the minutes of the meeting. The items of agenda should be arranged in order of importance but routine items, like reading the minutes of previous meeting, apologies etc. are placed as the first item of the agenda.

The agenda may include more or less detail, and contain timings for each item.

The Secretary prepares the agenda in consultation with the Chairman or Managing Director of the company. Agenda serves several functions, before, during and after a meeting.

These functions include:

Helps potential attendees decide whether they need to attend. By setting out what will be discussed, and for how long, it shows potential attendees whether they are crucial to the discussion and whether it is crucial to them. They can then make an informed decision about whether they attend or make their contribution in writing or via another attendee.
Helps invitees to prepare for the meeting. Along with any papers, it allows them to understand what will be discussed and to think about the issues in advance. They can also prepare any facts or figures so that they have the necessary information to hand to make an effective contribution.
Provides a structure for the meeting. It means that anyone diverting from the topic can be brought back to the matter in hand quickly and easily.
Allows the chair to control the meeting. A timed agenda is especially helpful for this, since the chair can move onto the next item when the time is up, asking attendees to continue the discussion elsewhere if necessary.
Gives a way in which the meeting’s success can be judged. Because the agenda includes the purpose, attendees can see whether the meeting has achieved its aim or not. This makes it clear whether future meetings are necessary on the same subject.

Preparing an Agenda

There following areas should be covered in an agenda:

1. Logistics:

This includes date, time and place of meeting, its title, and a list of invited attendees.

2. Objective:

The purpose of the meeting, and any background information such as whether this is the first in a series of meetings.

3. Housekeeping:

This should include welcome and introductions and any apologies for absence. It should also cover approval of previous minutes, and any matters arising from them that are not dealt with elsewhere in the agenda.

In a formal meeting, housekeeping will also cover any amendments that are necessary to the last set of minutes, which should be formally documented in the minutes of this meeting.

4. Items:

Each item should have a number, a title, and a presenter/lead. It should also have a suggested time limit on the discussion.

Timing can be hard to ascertain without previous experience of the meeting. The secretary may need to ask the presenter/lead how long they think a particular item will take, and then discuss it with the chair. The final allocation should be based on the item’s importance to the objective of the meeting, and its level of controversy. A very controversial item that is incidental to the objective of the meeting should be postponed for discussion elsewhere.

5. Any Other Business:

Many agendas end with an item on ‘Any Other Business’ or ‘AOB’. This can be an opportunity for attendees to flag up something for inclusion in a future agenda. Attendees can use AOB to hijack a meeting for their own purposes and change the whole feeling of the meeting. A well-run meeting, with a well-prepared agenda, should mean that nobody wishes to raise any other business.

It is recommended that either:

Do not include AOB as an agenda item at all; or
If you do include AOB on the agenda, you agree that it will only be as a way of raising issues for discussion at a future meeting, or elsewhere.

Offer attendees the opportunity to suggest items for inclusion on the agenda ahead of time. However, the chairperson in consultation with the secretary gives final decision about which items should be included.

6. Close:

This should include the chair’s summary of the meeting, the date and time of the next meeting, and any actions agreed and who is responsible.

Breaks in the Agenda

Some meetings, for example, formal board meetings, or away-days, may go on all day, or even over more than one day.

The agendas for such meetings will obviously need to include breaks, usually at least one break in the morning and one in the afternoon, as well as a lunch break.

However, even a shorter meeting may benefit from one or more scheduled breaks. These offer the opportunity for discussion between two or more participants outside the main meeting, and also allow a meeting to get back on track if one or more item has taken more time than expected.

Empower Employees To Be Experts

Many employees in the workplace are skilled, competent, and high-performing. They take pride in their jobs, and have unmatched knowledge at their craft. It seems though that when approached, or asked about their job, they are timid with their response. This timidity identifies underlying issues. Lack of confidence seems to play a role in this issue. It is an issue because this lack of confidence stems from a certain degree of uncertainty, either personally or professionally.

Recently, I engaged an employee about the steps to take to complete a job. I had no experience in this job, but deferred to him because he did the job proficiently on a daily basis. When asked about the steps, he deferred me to his manager. This seemed odd to me, an employee who performs well at their job, defers questions on execution to his manager. He also went on to tell me that his manager did not care how he did his job, just that it got done.

This is alarming, because it does matter how you do your job. This manager has a boss, and I suspect his boss does care how this job is executed. It is also alarming because the worker seemed to have no confidence in his abilities. Now I had zero previous knowledge of this job, and only wanted direction in doing things the right way, but I discovered in addition to a lack of confidence, that there may be managerial issues at play also.

The culture of the environment in which we work is integral to sustained, long-term performance. Managers play a pivotal role in the promotion, and consistency of that culture. I have been a part of positive, active listening cultures, and also negative, you are just a number cultures. I guarantee the positive culture is more productive.

Managers should encourage their team members to take ownership of not only their job, but of the company as a whole. In order for employees to take this ownership, management must create, and promote, an open, welcoming environment. When management practices strong communication skills, team members feel more empowered to make a positive impact. Managers that tell their team members it does not matter how they do their job, may as well say they do not care about the team member. This also makes the team member vulnerable when approached by higher levels of management.

Managers have to encourage their team members to be the experts of their jobs. They must provide direction, and be willing to listen, and act on any suggestions that may help the job process. This style of management behavior will promote a welcoming, comfortable environment, for the team member to communicate. Suppression of team members and their ideas only lead to a negative environment. This also leads to decreased productivity.

As I processed the reasons why this team member would not take it upon himself to explain to me the job, I pondered the confidence level this employee had within. Did he not believe in himself, even though he knew the job process proficiently? Was he worried that I would possibly make a misstep and blame him? Was he told to just work, and defer any questions?

Managers have the ability to promote and encourage a positive work environment, but they also can impact the self-confidence of a team member. It was possible this team member just had low self-confidence. Regardless of his consistent performance, he had convinced himself that maybe he didn’t know the job well. Managers who pay attention to their team members can pick up on this. When this is recognized, managers can approach the person with an encouraging dialogue, ask for feedback from them, and possibly give an evaluation, if applicable, stressing the good job the team member has performed. Being consistent in this approach will positively affect the employee.. Empowering employees to be experts can lead to productive, positive work environments, but most importantly it can lead to increasing one’s self-confidence, which can positively affect their personal life.