Senior VP and CFO Michael Peterson presents financial update information during the Annual Customer Meeting at WAPA Headquarters in Lakewood, Colo., on Feb. 8, 2023.

Financial Operations: Redesign better prepares supervisors

Strategic workforce management. Succession planning. Both represent high priorities for the WAPA Senior Leadership Team and employees charged with carrying them out. 

The Financial Operations group within the WAPA Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s Finance and Accounting team provides a repeatable case study in workforce management and succession planning. Financial Operations handles travel, timekeeping, duty-station changes and relocation, and accounts payable and accounts receivable. Essentially, they process almost all money that goes in and out of WAPA. 

According to Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Michael Peterson, this group manages around 42,000 transactions totaling approximately $3 billion in and out of WAPA a year. That equates to an average transaction of $90,000 occurring every three minutes of each business day. 

Processing funds on that scale requires dedicated, detail-oriented staff. “It has to be accurate down to the penny and has to be timely down to the day,” Peterson said. 

Prior to a recent reorganization, supervisors in Financial Operations struggled with high turnover and an organizational structure that made it more difficult to manage their workforce. 

“When I came in, I had supervisors with a dozen or more direct reports,” said Peterson, who came to WAPA in August 2020. 

“An employee with no supervisory experience who had to manage this many people might feel like they’ve been thrown in the deep end with a weight tied around their ankle,” explained Peterson.  

It wasn’t that they weren’t up to the task, he reflected. Rather, WAPA had not prepared them well to supervise by providing an appropriate number of direct reports. 

To tackle the problem, Finance broke that department down into smaller groups overseen by supervisors, who, with solid performance, have line-of-sight visibility on promotion opportunities to the next level. 

“Rather than having one person managing 12 people, making it difficult for another person to successfully assume those responsibilities, I tried to break the department down, so we have smaller, more compartmentalized and more easily managed functions,” Peterson said. 

Supervisors in the group now have four to six direct reports, allowing them to better manage their people and giving them more time to function well as supervisors and incrementally take on more responsibility.  

With fewer employees to manage, they can focus on other duties like keeping their teams informed of organizational news and priorities, doing performance reviews and participating in training and leadership development. 

As team members get empowered, they become stronger in their capabilities and better candidates for promotion. 

Financial Manager Carolyn Burg worked her way up through the ranks in Finance and, in February 2022, took on an acting supervisory role, which had a large number of direct reports. She helped oversee the transition when WAPA divided the Financial Operations group among multiple supervisors. 

“Splitting the team up into smaller functional groups helped those of us in supervisory roles better manage our people and prepare others to take on more responsibility,” she said. “Not only did I have more time to support and manage each of my direct reports, but I was able to help the future supervisors step into those new positions with more specialized training than they would have had otherwise.” 

As in many offices, individual contributors eventually cap out in the Finance department without reaching the higher GS levels. On the other hand, people who learn to lead others can continue to move up in the ranks. 

“You can do a lot of valuable work if you are someone who I’ll categorize as a varsity player, but you can do a whole lot more if you teach others how to become varsity players,” Peterson said. “In addition to reorganizing the department and teams, we have also prioritized managing people as a mechanism to prepare them for more senior roles.” 

As part of its strategic workforce planning, Finance is preparing to post a position called “Assistant Comptroller” that will oversee both Financial Operations and Accounting and Reporting. The person in that role will gain insight into all WAPA’s accounting and reporting functions, bring a strong financial integrity perspective and carry out additional succession planning.  

WAPA may select an internal candidate to take that role, which would require Finance to backfill. But that’s accounted for in their workforce management plan. 

“Planning for the Assistant Comptroller position, getting ahead of it rather than having a vacancy, I’m comfortable carrying an additional person for a limited period of time,” Peterson said. “This will ensure that an important function can get done and get done with care.” 

The Financial Operations case study reveals just one microcosm within WAPA’s universe of workforce management and succession planning opportunities. 

“I see succession planning across all WAPA positions as one of the cornerstones of wise workforce management,” said Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Tracey A. LeBeau. “We aim to mature our succession planning process as we implement our key strategic initiatives under WAPA’s new strategic plan, Power Forward 2030.” 

PF30’s Objective 2.4 calls on WAPA to advance “workforce planning capabilities and integrate workforce management, program planning and budgeting to better target and align resources.” This includes understanding and cultivating the skills and capacity needed to fill current and future workforce gaps. 

As WAPA employees prepare for annual performance evaluations and formulate new performance plans in the coming weeks, managers, supervisors and team leads should keep succession planning in mind. Sharing knowledge and training others to be able to step into one’s role when needed can ultimately help the whole team. It’s also a responsibility of a good leader. 

“One of the key topics I address with my team is, ‘Okay, if you were to win the lottery tomorrow, who would take over in your succession?’” Peterson said. “I’m not going to hold somebody back if they want to be promoted or anything else, but part of their job is to prepare the next person to do the same thing.” 

Note: the author is a Public Affairs Specialist. 

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Last modified on March 27th, 2024