Trust is the glue the holds a local government's financial foundation together, and people have more trust in a local government and its finance office if the approach to financial management is consistent.
To learn more about how finance officers can enhance their trustworthiness, GFOA surveyed the members of two large state/provincial GFOA associations. (1) We asked these members to identify other finance officers in their state or province who they thought were particularly trustworthy. We then conducted face-to-face interviews with the finance officers who got the most nominations, seeking to learn the behaviors they engaged in that helped them to build trust with others.
We then organized our findings into the five elements of trustworthiness suggested by the GFOA's Code of Ethics (www.gfoa.org/ethics). The code is focused on enhancing the trustworthiness of the local government finance office. This article will focus on what we learned about one of these five elements, "reliability and consistency."
DEMONSTRATE RELIABILITY THROUGH TIMELINESS
We were struck by how often in our interviews we heard about the importance of getting back to people's inquiries in a timely fashion. Promptly replying to emails and returning phone calls make a positive impression. It shows that the finance office takes the questioner's concerns seriously and can be relied upon provide answers. Though replying promptly may seem like a small thing, the information requested from the finance office is often critical from the perspective of the people making the requests. If they perceive that finance is "holding up" their work, this will not reflect well on finance office's reliability.
However, in many cases the answer the finance office has is not the answer that the questioner would like to hear. Therefore, a finance officer needs the skills to deliver this kind of bad news and, perhaps more importantly, the skills to look for solutions that meet the questioner's needs while also maintaining a solid financial foundation for the government. For example, at one local government, an employee's flight was canceled while they were trying to return from an out-of-state conference. The next available flight was more expensive, and booking it would be a violation of the local government's, but the employee reasoned that it would be even more expensive to book a last-minute hotel for the night.
Let's now imagine that that the finance office stuck rigidly to the policy and refused to reimburse the employee for the cost of the flight. The finance office would have...