Face it: most of us dread paperwork. Filling out forms and filing reports is a chore we have to do, a formality we love to let slide– preferably onto someone else’s desk. But we also need to face the fact that our jobs require us to create and maintain a permanent record of tasks, transactions, or communications. Our company’s stakeholders– customers, suppliers and vendors, co-workers, management, investors, and agencies who oversee our business– rely on the accuracy of those records to make business decisions. Every one of us is responsible for truthfully and accurately recording required information, within the recommended timeframe.
As busy people, we may face situations where it’s tempting to skirt the procedures to save time.
Do any of these situations sound familiar?
- A delivery deadline looms. Missing the deadline means risking our relationship with a prime customer, but that’s what will happen if we take time to complete all the paperwork for our quality checks. At the eleventh hour, you ask, “What does my boss want, an on-time delivery or a bunch of forms?”
- Some transactions require several forms to be completed and signed. You’re in a hurry so you fill out one form and make a copy for everyone who needs it. That not only saves time, it seems to you that we’re avoiding the chance of mistakes by not duplicating information.
- Just back from a hectic business trip, you’re in a rush to file expense reports. It’s such a pain to sort expenses into the right category, so you combine a few here and there. It’s all coming from the same place, you reason, so “it’s a wash.”
Quality is the Only Choice
The first situation is not really about forms at all, it’s about what they represent: quality assurance. By taking the time to perform and sign off on proper tests and procedures, we protect our customers and our reputation. Never interpret a desire to meet a deadline as an invitation to skimp on quality. If goals are missed, we may need to readdress our planning process or revisit our procedures to improve our performance for next time.
All Data Is Not Created Equal
Our jobs involve a variety of data, used by many different people for unique purposes. Our reporting process is designed to route the proper information to appropriate people. In the second example above, one form may contain general personnel information, while the other may contain more sensitive information such as medical facts or payroll data. Sometimes, customer or patient signatures may be required on multiple forms that reflect different uses for data. Though it may seem that you’re being asked to duplicate information, there is always a good reason for the request. Be sure to fill out all required forms and route them as requested.
It’s Never “A Wash”
In the third example, it’s incorrect to assume “it’s a wash” because expenses remain the same no matter how they’re reported. Expense reports–just like budgets– sort expenses by category in order to track the cost of doing business. This level of detail is needed for our company to accurately assess its position and plan for the future. In addition, the company may get certain discounts for spending levels– from airlines, hotels, or travel companies, for example– which might be lost without accurate information.
The same standard holds true when billing or collecting money from customers, or reporting revenue. Never bill or accept payment for services not rendered. Be sure all invoices and bills have the required level of detail, including accurate dates.
The Consequences Are Real
The consequences of failing to file accurate and truthful information are very real. Fraudulent reporting of books, records, or other written communication violates our company policy and possibly the law. Our company could be fined or prevented from bidding on new contracts or doing business with certain entities. Inaccurate reporting can cause serious problems for investors, customers, regulators, and fellow employees who depend on this information to make decisions. Delays in reporting can result in loss of revenue or new business.
Don’t assume that problems caused by inaccurate records are “way above your head” or that you aren’t responsible. Accurate reporting is important at all levels and is critical to our reputation and success.
Paperwork is not just routine. Accurate records are a critical part of our company’s success.
Question & Answer
Last week, I entered a transaction for an associate. I had several questions about the way the deal was done and even though my supervisor could not really answer the questions, she assured me that it was all “on the up and up” and I should just plug in the numbers as requested. What should I have done?
It’s your responsibility to understand every transaction you enter, since you may need to answer questions about its accuracy. You were correct to ask your supervisor for advice. Even though she approved the transaction, if you still have questions related to the integrity of the transaction, you should feel free to ask a higher level of management, Human Resources, or your Ethics Officer for advice.
When I travel I don’t keep receipts for the small stuff since I often eat on the run. Is it OK to just lump expenses together on my report?
A certain amount of discretionary expense may be allowed, depending on the local policies in your department or region, but if the expenses add up to a significant amount they should be recorded in proper accounting categories. Check with your supervisor or with accounting for guidelines.
We bill our clients based on the number of hours worked for them each week. We’re supposed to record this on a time sheet, but one person in my office says he just “makes it up” every Monday when timesheets are due. Should I report this person?
Remind this person that our timesheets result in bills to customers, and that if our bills are not accurate our relationship with the customer is at risk. If their behavior persists, speak to your supervisor or Human Resources.