Tips and Best Practices that Can Help Improve Tribal Operations

Tribes of all sizes share some of the same operational challenges to efficiently and effectively serve their members. There are operational strategies that can help tribes improve service delivery and outcomes. In this article, we describe some of the most common challenges and how to overcome them in a straightforward manner.

Silo Mentality

When tribes function as a silo organization with different departments operating separately without communication, programs can be inhibited from achieving their full potential.

This is especially common between the finance department and program management. The finance department controls when checks are paid, how invoices are received and processed, what vendors are hired, how payroll is processed, and other responsibilities. Program managers, on the other hand, focus on program execution and may view some of these processes as impediments to providing seamless services.

Build Knowledge

To fix these challenges tribal leadership needs to ensure that each department understands how the other functions. Tone is important, so being patient and open-minded can help form better relationships between departments and lead to stronger communication and implementation of new processes or deadlines.

For example, if a program manager wants to know why the finance team needs to control purchasing or the approval of new vendors, the finance department should explain it’s an important safeguard that protects the entire tribe and that centralized processes increase consistency and reduce risks. Program managers should also clearly articulate when deadlines or financial processes are negatively impacting the services they’re providing. A collaborative approach will enable the needs of both groups to be met.

Schedule Meetings

Your tribal leadership can easily assess the effectiveness of the relationship between your finance department and project managers by determining if these departments formally meet on a periodic basis. If they don’t, then plan to schedule an initial meeting with finance and program management to brainstorm ways the departments could better support each other. Also, establish a regular meeting rhythm to identify and resolve challenges.  

Lack of Policies and Procedures

Many organizations don’t have a comprehensive set of updated policies and procedures. While these are important documents, organizations, including tribes, often have difficulty finding time outside of day-to-day activities to focus on them. As such, organizations face the potential for noncompliant activities, which could create financial, operational, and reputation risks.

In addition, institutional knowledge can be lost through retirements, which is becoming an increasing risk as members of the Baby Boomer generation retire. Organizations should always be prepared for the loss of an employee from an operational perspective. If an employee leaves a tribe, how will their replacement, temporary or permanent, know how to perform their roles and responsibilities? They will need policies and procedures to guide their activities.

Develop Guidelines

It’s imperative for all tribes to have a comprehensive set of policies and procedures to guide day-to-day operations. A systematic approach to strengthening policies and procedures encompasses:

  • Conducting an inventory of policies and procedures
  • Comparing them to best industry practices
  • Defining a program to develop and update policies and procedures and implement these changes, which typically spans a multi-year period

Late Follow-ups on Financial Matters

Untimely or ineffective follow-up with budget overruns has a much larger cost than typically realized.

Plan Time for Reviews

Plan to assess these overruns early and accordingly. If accounting systems aren’t reconciled and closed consistently by the 15th day of the next month, then any meeting to discuss budget overruns won’t be a productive use of time.

If you consistently see adjustments to previous months or significant efforts are needed to reconcile the year-end in preparation for the audit, then budget overruns are likely to eventually occur that could have been corrected if identified earlier.  

Family and Employee Conflicts

It’s common for tribal family members to work together as employees of tribal operations. In some cases, one might supervise the other. Unfortunately, this may create an unhealthy work environment. Employees might perceive the supervisor as playing favorites and respond by not performing their job duties, spreading untrue rumors and gossip, or worse.

Create Guidelines

Putting policies in place that address nepotism and conflicts of interests when working with family members can help prevent these situations. Special attention should be placed on situations in which conflicts of interest exist due to one family member supervising another.  

Independent Advisory

Operational efficiency and effectiveness are critical to meeting the needs of your members. Adhering to policies, timely follow-up on financial matters, and resolving conflicts are only three common examples of challenges that tribal operations face. It’s often helpful to bring in independent advisors to review business practices and identify best practices that can be practically implemented within your organization.

Independent advisors are positioned to provide an objective, third-party assessment and practical recommendations. Routine meetings can become more productive when they involve stakeholders from other departments. In most cases, family members shouldn’t be able to oversee the duties of each other. More communication, not less, is a great start to capitalize on opportunities for improvement for your tribal operations.

We’re Here to Help

For more insight into how to help improve your tribe’s operations, contact your Moss Adams professional.