One of the most prevalent, dangerous, and hard to break habits that exists at an organization is its peoples’ obsession with using Excel for everything. Even if the software has become smarter in the past years and has become more useful when paired with Microsoft Power BI, the continued use at your organization is creating more problems than it solves, and it’s important to break this bad habit before it’s too late.
The Science of Bad Habits
Most bad habits start out innocuously enough. Most smokers start out as “social smokers.” Gamblers often start out small, win a few times, and keep up the habit. One can of soda gives you a nice caffeine and/or sugar rush, and a scroll through your social media newsfeed makes you feel informed. Unfortunately, the occasional cigarette turns into a pack a day, a $2 win bet at the Kentucky Derby turns into larger and more exotic bets, the can of pop turns into ten, and that once-daily scroll through your newsfeed turns into a once-hourly scroll of your newsfeed.
The same goes for an Excel habit. Years ago, your “Excel person” created an amazing spreadsheet or set of spreadsheets to handle the finances of your small company. They put hours upon hours of work to make something, and it felt good when an input resulted in the desired result. This good feeling, this small rush of dopamine, set the stage for decisions to come. Today, they have become reliant on Excel for all financial management activities, and are clinging to the software—even as it endangers your company.
The Dangers of Spreadsheets
This bad habit would be fine if it was harmless. Unfortunately, the error-prone use of the software is posing risks. One error could go undetected for months or even years, because without effective controls in place, the error becomes a part of the spreadsheet, and all future data are based on this error. Now, as with any bad habit, there is the person who has succumb to the habit, and the people around this person—the enablers.
In the words of Meta Brown, Forbes contributor and author of the trilogy including Fire Your Excel Expert Today, 3 Reasons Why Replacing Microsoft Excel Is Worth Money To A Boss, and First Step To Kicking Your Microsoft Excel Habit,
“Microsoft Excel users make mistakes. That’s not remarkable. Programmers also make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. […] Mistakes in spreadsheets [are different than writing]. Accounting and other mathematical calculations are even easier to get wrong than spelling, and much harder to detect and correct.”
The mistakes add up, and with so much risk involved, it’s only a matter of time before one gets noticed—or worse.
Having the Discussion with Your Spreadsheet Person
Is your spreadsheet person defining him- or herself as a “spreadsheet person”? Do they get defensive when you say that there may be a better way? Do they guilt you into keep using the products as a matter of trust?
It’s actually quite common. As we discussed in our blog on our blog, “Are you passionate enough about Excel to lose your job,” many organizations have faced backlash when they tried to rid their finance of spreadsheets. However, there comes a time when you just can’t afford the risk, and you need to have the tough conversation with your spreadsheet people about the risks they pose.
According to Meta Brown, “the first step to kicking your Microsoft Excel habit is to sit down and think about what you really need to know, and why.”
This should be one of the first steps in any software decision. However, the reason you’re still using Excel is because you haven’t asked this question enough. You’ve let your spreadsheet person convince you that Excel was enough to handle all of the needs of your growing company. Per Brown,
“The more effort you put into understanding your own specific needs, the less aggravation you’ll have in fulfilling those needs. Put in that planning effort from the start, to make it easier to kick your Microsoft Excel spreadsheet habit.”
Kick the Spreadsheet Habit in 2018
If your organization is struggling with spreadsheet abuse, it’s important to work with the culprits to understand why they feel it’s necessary to use the software, and show them that there is a better way—one that they will enjoy more, that will make their day easier, and will reduce the time, effort, and risk.
We welcome you to learn more about the risks of spreadsheets by reading the rest of our series below, and learn more about your journey to advanced financial management software in the cloud by contacting us for more information.
- Are You Passionate Enough about Excel to Lose Your Job?
- The Self-Destructive Charge of the Spreadsheet Brigade
- Stop Relying on Spreadsheets and Luck—There’s a Better Way
- How SMBs are Meeting Today’s Top Accounting Challenges
Looking at the rest of 2018, we will be writing many more blogs on the pitfalls of using Excel for finance—as well as its partner in crime QuickBooks—so be sure to subscribe to our email list for all the latest. We have a lot of great posts coming up, including advice on moving from the tool-based mentality to the goal-based one, and a few ideas for what your employees can use spreadsheets for once you banish Excel from your company.