What does it look like when effective budget and finance work has been well-established and realized in the daily operation?
The ultimate responsibility for budget and finance plans rests with the agency’s executive team. Establishing the supporting culture and organizational structure at all levels of the agency are the responsibility of department, program and function heads, especially the finance function head. Designing, refining and monitoring key processes are the responsibility of middle management, and daily performance in alignment with the agency’s mission, values and plan priorities is the responsibility of supervisors and front- line staff. Multiple hats are common in smaller agencies.
Working in a Complex System of Authority
There are many complexities within federal/state/county environments, politics and regulatory and funding structures. For example, being in a state supervised and county administered system exponentially increases the number of conversations and negotiations that need to take place to promote both downward alignment and upward flexibility and innovation towards improved services and outcomes. Agency leaders in this complex system of authority determine when and how to align stakeholder interests with agency strategy. Getting to know federal-level and other stakeholders, federal regional office staff and legislators at the federal, state and local levels are all part of making this happen. Agency leaders are trusted and credible within this complex system, and they get timely and accurate information from stakeholders and are able to have open and honest conversations with them. National organizations like APHSA provide related guidance and connection to supportive peers.
Driving Cost Discipline Down to the Worker Level
Specific to budget and finance efforts, program staff members can be engaged to see these activities as strengthening the procurement and use of resources rather than as efforts in compliance or efficiency that may compromise outcomes for those being served. For example, communicating how much the agency spends annually per major budget line item helps staff feel “in the loop” and gives context to decisions throughout the year that relate to the budget. When paired with systems and protocols for making decisions in line with agency strategy, giving each team specific allocations for travel, flexible case funding, out of home care and equipment give frontline staff clear reasons to consider costs when making requests and decisions. In another example, one agency has placed fiscal staff within program areas, teaming with front-line and program staff to meet administrative demands on them while also providing their analysis of what is and is not working. Enlisting staff in creative problem solving to identify ways to use funds effectively and efficiently further reinforces a culture of empowerment and collective stewardship/accountability. It unifies everyone in a common purpose and enhances the credibility of leadership.
In effective agency operations the ongoing communication activities related to budget and finance reinforce the perception that the agency can be trusted and relied upon with its resources. A major part of the role of agency leaders is “selling” the desired programs and services. To do so, agency leaders understand the organization’s practice model, programs, data, trends and financing. Other examples of effective communication include:
Data Collection and Analysis
Information is needed for baseline assessment, root cause analysis, ongoing monitoring of both broad change plans and targeted continuous improvement projects and communication with staff and stakeholders. For effective budget and finance work, information services and technology-related resources must be in place that:
Finance Function Relationships with Other Functions and Vendors
Especially in large or complex agencies and systems of authority, the finance function’s connections and working relationships are critical. Related priorities include:
Monitoring System Integrity
When those being served or front-line staff experience or observe actions by agency staff or private providers that are contrary to the agency’s mission and values, mechanisms must be in place to alert agency leadership. Policies and procedures should be created that align with the rules, regulations and audit requirements of various funding streams. The field of accounting has technical standards in place such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), as well as professional standards to ensure competent, honest, open and consistent reporting of the agency’s financial situation. Staff training and communication programs should be in place to make sure that new and existing staff members understand these policies and procedures.
Providing staff and those served with direct access to an agency ombu sperson or executive when they observe misuse of agency funds is critical to protecting the agency’s integrity and trustworthiness.