The political bug has bitten me, so I’m stepping on my soap box to stump for the AP Best Practice Doctrine. Hey, wait a minute……is there really such a thing? Sure there is. Well, why not, as it seems there all sorts of doctrines floating around these days according to CNBC, FOX News & CBS’s Katie Couric; like the McCain Doctrine, the Obama Doctrine, Church Doctrines, Strange Doctrines, Pocket Doctrines, if you’re short on time, et.al., so it’s high time AP has a Best Practice Doctrine, too.
The AP Best Practice Doctrine or The APBPD, (sounds more official that way), challenges us to follow-through on all those great ideas we get when we attend conferences, audio conferences or just happen to be chatting over coffee with our peers. And, who doesn’t want to be the “Best” at something they “Practice” every day, that also happens to be their livelihood? Can you imagine going to a doctor that isn’t using modern day best practices or the latest laparoscopy or implementing microsurgery techniques? So, it stands to reason, the way we’ve “done or not done” something for the last 5,10, even 20 years, needs to be put in the museum of AP history, along with the mercury filled glass thermometer we used to hold under our tongues.
If I may draw on the past from those who shaped us - our teachers, parents, coaches, friends, mentors - they all seemed to chant the same mantra that “practice makes perfect.” So, exactly what do we practice and how can we do it daily, monthly, quarterly or annually, to become the best AP professional or department we can be? ( Cue: the Army recruitment jingle “Be, all that you can be”… further noting, the word “Be” just happens to be part of the word “Best”)
A recent national crisis comes to mind straight from Wall Street. Yep, those fat cats who shall remain nameless decided against “Best Practices” as well as other moral and ethical standards, to come within just millimeters of breaking the law. Surprising as it may seem, ignoring Best Practices has cost “We the People” aka, “We the Taxpayer” dearly, and for a long time I might add. It follows then, if we choose to emulate the fat cat’s model of “Risky Practices” or
“Questionable Practices” we are just tempting the fates.
So, does the same principle apply to glossing over or even ignoring Best Practices in our own “countries” or shall I call them “departments” for the purpose of this blog?
For more than half a decade or so, I have had the pleasure of daily conversations with TAPN & TARN members, those thinking about joining, and those endeavoring to become AP Certified, as well as professionals met at AP conferences. I’m happy to report, most of the time, I have noted a devotion to improving process through best practice. Best practice tends to morph from shop to shop and industry to industry, which is fine. But sometimes, there is a lot of lip service paid to the APBPD but not much action or implementation. Like Congress, who has the lowest approval rating in U.S. history, there can be a lot of finger pointing or filibuster. It can go something like this: I’ll get around to it after quarter end, or in the New Year, or after I hire a new AP staffer, or if my boss mentions it, or it’s been fine like this for 10 years, or once the workload lessens… which we know NEVER happens in AP!
So, just what are some things we can practice and get better at every day, week, quarter or year, to truly be the best at what we practice? Here are some bullet points that have come up over and over again in conversations about what best AP shops practice, including the smallest of AP shops as well.
- Clean the vendor master file annually and update it quarterly (see The AP Network’s Master File Solutions Suite for more information)
- Maintain one, and only one, corporate Vendor Master File and AP should own it
- Ensure your department is always in compliance with federal regulations like OFAC and other debarment lists from U.S. government agencies
- Create a policy and process for W9 submission BEFORE a new vendor is allowed to be set-up and enforce it by getting the CFO behind it
- Use web portals and IWR technology for supplier on-boarding and customer or vender service inquiries
- Make sure your organization is in compliance with state escheatment laws
- Remove employee records from the vendor master file
- Review internal controls annually or quarterly, just like changing the oil in your car, it’s got to be done
- Begin to reduce paper checks; implement a P-card program and combine that with vendor ACH payments on an ongoing basis, and set a target date to hit only 10% paper checks
- Put a fraud busters plan in place with an anonymous fraud hotline
- Have a lunch-and-learn once a month on a new Best Practice you are getting ready to implement
- Certify yourself and your staff, as continuing education and learning are always Best Practices
- Review policies monthly or quarterly to incorporate changes that come up in the year
- If you don’t have policies written down, by all means, get started; strong policies supported by the CEO or CFO are the underpinnings of Best Practice (Templates for select policies are available in The AP Store; a full complement of policy templates are available to members of The Accounts Payable Network.)
- Get rid of paper, anyway you know how
- Image on the front end, instead of the back end
- Create scorecards and benchmark regularly
- Celebrate your progress and goal attainment
A quote comes to mind, “What you measure, improves”. Just ask Weight Watchers, they preach the same thing and look how long they’ve been around as one of the best programs for losing weight and keeping it off. Hopefully, some or all of the aforementioned resonates with you and all professionals trying to implement the APBPD. Now, with the help of your colleagues and staff, go ahead and measure it, comply with it, clean it, do away with it, learn it, control it, limit it, encourage it, fix it, reward it, celebrate it, and I hope to see you out there stumping for the AP Best Practice Doctrine, too!