The Paper Invoice’s Dilemma
Early in the New Year, I drove my daughter back to Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, about a 10-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the way, we listened to a book on tape, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an insightful look at today’s food industry.
Here’s a brief summary. If we are what we eat, we’re all “corny” to some extent. For those who eat meat, grass-fed beef is a healthier choice than farm-raised salmon. And it’s a good idea to boost your consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids at the expense of Omega 6. (Hint: Eat more fruits and vegetables, and lay off the processed and packaged foods and fast food meals.)
In accounts payable, the healthy choice is to encourage the submission of electronic invoices at the expense of paper invoices. Few organizations would contest this, but the fact remains that there is still way too much paper coming into AP.
What’s holding you back? More than likely, it’s the change management effort. In our personal and our business lives, change is hard. Inertia, and familiarity with the old way of doing things, often stifles a desire to move forward, even though the tools are there to facilitate the transition.
To overcome inertia in your organization, let me recommend another book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, written by the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan (to my knowledge, no relation to the eponymous candy bar). The book explains how the conflict between the rational mind and emotional mind can thwart efforts to change, and then provides insight on how to move forward.
According to the Heaths, to succeed you must direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. Put another way, the book encourages business leaders to clearly define and direct the change, motivate all involved, and create situations that remove obstacles to making the change. The many examples in the book do a great job of explaining how to put this theory into action, with dramatic results.
One section in the book, “Find the Bright Spots,” is especially insightful. In it, the authors argue that the typical problem-focused approach, “What’s broken and how do we fix it?” may be planting the seeds of failure. Instead, the authors encourage organizations to ask, “What’s working, and how can we do more of it?”
Today, many organizations are making electronic invoicing work for them. Talking to these industry leaders can be invaluable as you embark upon your own journey away from paper. Attending webinars, conferences, and events such as Ariba LIVE—where companies like UPS, SunTrust, Waste Management, and American Express will share the challenges they face on these fronts, along with strategies and tactics they’re using to overcome them—present opportunities for you to learn what’s working for different organizations, and how you might follow their lead to better align your finance organization with the networked economy.