personal development for accountants in business - ICAEW

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BUSINESS WITH CONFIDENCE PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ACCOUNTANTS IN BUSINESS A FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT SR32 | MARCH 2011 From the first day that the faculty opened for business the committee members were adamant that we were not going to limit ourselves to financial management. We were aiming to cover the broad range of management skills that we need to develop our careers. One of our examiners described the ACA professional examinations as being like the Olympics. We train our minds to a pinnacle across a broad level of technical proficiency. After that some areas decline, others thrive, and we develop the leadership skills that will see us to the top. Hopefully! Most good MBA courses will not accept candidates without a good few years’ practical experience under their belts. Technical excellence will take you so far but after that we become managers, then directors and leaders. The content of this special report pulls together a selection of our best articles showing how to develop these skills. It is ironic that these are often called soft skills but they can be the hardest skills to acquire and use. They are the fun bit of what this faculty does and we can always guarantee a big audience when we run events on these skills. But putting them into practice is the most difficult part. As accountants, we used to have a reputation for being cold and perhaps more comfortable with numbers than with people. I think that is now history but we can all still get better at the ‘people’ aspect. Our technical needs survey identified ‘managing people’ as one of the topics you most wanted to hear about from the faculty. Perhaps dealing with the most difficult person to manage, oneself, may be a good place to start! I am sure you will remember reading some of these articles in F&M in recent years but few will have read them all. We have organised them to provide a mini-continuing professional development (CPD) course in developing your career. In a time of austerity we wanted to help you fulfill part of your CPD obligation as economically as possible. CHRIS JACKSON PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ACCOUNTANTS IN BUSINESS A special report published by: Finance and Management Faculty Chartered Accountants’ Hall Moorgate Place London EC2R 6EA T +44 (0)20 7920 8508 F +44 (0)20 7920 8784 E [email protected] Chris Jackson Head of faculty T +44 (0)20 7920 8525 E [email protected] Emma Riddell Technical manager T +44 (0)20 7920 8749 E [email protected] Rick Payne Finance direction programme T +44 (0)20 7920 8451 E [email protected] Aude Bezler Services manager T +44 (0)20 7920 8508 E [email protected] The aim of this series of special reports is to provide faculty members with a review of a topical theme within the subject areas of finance and management, offering both analysis of the relevant theory and review of the practical application of appropriate management techniques. Comments and suggestions should be addressed to Emma Riddell. The information contained in this and previous issues of this publication is available (to faculty members only) on the faculty website at F&M SPECIAL REPORTS ... are produced on behalf of the faculty by Silverdart Publishing, 211 Linton House, 164–180 Union Street, London SE1 0LH. T +44 (0)20 7928 7770 Contact: Alex Murray or Hannah Buck [email protected] Copyright © ICAEW 2011. All rights reserved. The views expressed herein are not necessarily shared by the ICAEW’s council or the faculty. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature without prior written permission, except for permitted fair dealing under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or in accordance with the terms of a licence issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency in respect of photocopying and/or reprographic reproduction. Application for permission for other use of copyright material including permission to reproduce extracts in other published works shall be made to the publishers. Full acknowledgement of author, publisher and source must be given. No responsibility for loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of any material in this publication can be accepted by ICAEW or the author(s). ISBN 978-0-85760-215-2 Chris Jackson is head of faculty, Finance & Management Faculty, ICAEW. Emma Riddell is technical manager, Finance & Management Faculty, ICAEW. FOREWORD TAKE TIME TO INVEST IN YOURSELF PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ACCOUNTANTS IN BUSINESS CONTENTS FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT March 2011 01 02 CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CPD PLANNING We provide advice on how to use this report as part of your CPD planning. 03 INTRODUCTION WHY FINANCE NEEDS ‘SOFT’ SKILLS Neil Wolstenholme and Simon Bennett explain the soft skills needed for finance staff to adapt to a range of environments. GETTING TO THE TOP 05 HOW TO SUCCEED IN A SENIOR FINANCE ROLE Headhunter John Collier looks at the qualities required. 08 NAVIGATING THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE Siobhan Soraghan looks at how best to find your way around office politics to achieve optimum outcomes. 11 THE BENEFITS OF WISE MENTORING A mentor can provide crucial support during challenging times. Linda Aspey reveals how to make mentoring work well. CREATING AN IMPACT 13 MAKING THE RIGHT IMPRESSION Why do some people get noticed at work and others overlooked? Val Singh and Susan Vinnicombe explain how impression management can boost your career. 16 NETWORKING – HOW TO GET THE BEST FROM CONTACTS Hamish Davidson offers tips on how to hone this essential skill. WORKING BETTER 18 PLANNING AND PRIORITISING John Niland explains how to avoid distraction and get things done. 20 LEARNING THE ART OF DELEGATION Delegation can be an invaluable management tool. John Niland reveals the art of its application by finance professionals. 21 SAYING ‘NO’ – WHY IS IT SO HARD? John Niland explains why we say ‘yes’ when we know we shouldn’t, and reveals how to say ‘no’ when appropriate. 22 HOW TO HONE YOUR NEGOTIATING SKILLS Negotiating skills are particularly important in tough times. Lucy Morrice advises on how to keep yours up to scratch. MANAGING PEOPLE 24 MANAGING VIRTUAL TEAMS – LESSONS FROM RESEARCH Annette Sinclair and Andy Smith define the essential skills needed by effective virtual managers. 28 WHY SHOULD ANYONE WILLINGLY FOLLOW YOU? Jonathan Perks reveals how developing your emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) can boost your leadership abilities. 30 DEALING WITH CONFLICT Conflict management is an essential business skill. Karen Lee discusses why conflict arises in the workplace and how to deal with it. 02 We recommend that you take the following approach to your CPD requirements: reflect, act, impact and declare. Reflect Consider your development needs and how you can meet them, and create a plan of action. Think about: • expectations – what do others expect of you and what standards do you expect of yourself? • changes – the main changes affecting you in your role; • responsibilities – what are the areas of responsibility for your role? • environment – what are the main business environment issues for you? and • knowledge gaps – what do you need to know about? On reflection, you may decide that you do not need to do anything to meet your CPD needs if, for example, you are not currently working. Act The following activities, if relevant to your role, could count as CPD: • technical reading; • learning at work; CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CPD PLANNING This report is designed to help you develop yourself, your career and your future. Here is some advice on how to use it as part of your continuing professional development (CPD) planning. You can also use the CPD planner below to note your actions and requirements as you progress through the articles. • meetings with experts; • conferences; • courses and seminars; • online learning; • workshops with your peers; • reading magazines, newspapers and journals; and • registering for updates and email alerts. Impact Evaluate the effectiveness of what you have done. Are you satisfied that your actions have enabled you to meet your objectives, or do you need more work in this area? Declare Each year you must declare your compliance by making a CPD declaration between 1 November and 31 January. Provide evidence Every year some members are asked to provide evidence of their compliance. We recommend that you keep an online record of your CPD during the year so that you can submit this easily if required to do so. You can set this up by visiting and following the instructions. CPD PLANNER – make your notes on the report’s content here CREATING AN IMPACT • Making the right impression • Networking – how to get the best from contacts GETTING TO THE TOP • How to succeed in a senior finance role • Navigating the political landscape • The benefits of wise mentoring MANAGING PEOPLE • Managing virtual teams • Why should anyone willingly follow you? • Dealing with conflict WORKING BETTER • Planning and prioritising • Learning the art of delegation • Saying ‘no’ – why is it so hard? • How to hone your negotiating skills FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT March 2011 03 INTRODUCTION WHY FINANCE NEEDS ‘SOFT’ SKILLS High-value, experienced finance staff are nowadays expected to operate in a range of different environments, adopting a multi-faceted business partner role. Neil Wolstenholme and Simon Bennett explain the softer skills they need to do so successfully… and how to acquire them. information produced and its uses. Some also believe that they are better equipped culturally and behaviourally to interact with diverse and geographically remote multi- national customers. It is clear that most businesses cannot afford the high overhead associated with rigid segregation of finance roles. They are combining different aspects of the finance role within complex and highly visible ‘business partner’ roles. In some instances even these roles are staffed by outsiders. If finance professionals are not right for certain positions, businesses are becoming increasingly creative and assertive in seeking different solutions. How has finance responded? Behaviour and culture change is perhaps the most difficult management challenge and some finance heads undoubtedly failed to recognise the scale of the task involved. Consequently, they responded with solutions designed for technical skills, which can be learnt and remembered, but not geared for behaviour changes, which must often be practised and reinforced daily. They failed to consult with the business or leverage HR help, and over-relied on a single mechanism for personal development, normally formal training. For these people, the desired self-starting, open-minded culture of change within the finance team remains as elusive as ever. More positively, we now see more and more finance functions actively seeking input from the business to define their overall structure, job descriptions for key roles and the overall ‘competency profile’ for the function itself. Some do this informally, some undertake periodic ‘projects’, and more are looking to implement structured, regularly-used systems for sharing information and developing the ‘finance strategy’. Of the leading finance functions, most work very closely with HR to help develop the service as a whole, and the individuals within it. It is commonplace to see a diverse range of techniques and processes used to manage team development, including organisation-wide competency profiling, succession planning (eg within the finance function), ‘talent’ management and personal development programmes. Formal training is still important, with more emphasis placed on developing the softer skills now recognised as critical building blocks. However, it is often difficult to make such training directly relevant to individual roles, and the benefits diminish fast if people find that they cannot put learning into practice immediately. Partly because of this, other techniques are routinely deployed, such as: • mentoring and personal coaches – where outsiders work alongside key finance staff, helping them make the right decisions both from work and personal development viewpoints; Judging the finance function solely on its technical expertise, analytical skills, independence and integrity is no longer enough. Although these traditional accounting- based strengths remain its bedrock, the environment in which finance operates has changed rapidly. Moreover, it will continue to evolve faster as companies seek to respond to increasingly dynamic marketplaces. Today, competence in the ‘softer’ skills more common to HR or marketing – influencing, negotiating, communicating, visioning, people management and coaching – is a prerequisite for finance professionals if they are to be effective in roles that nowadays can range from scorekeeper through to steward, analyst, adviser and partner. They also need to manage the interdependencies and potential conflicts between these different roles. However, cultivating soft skills without sacrificing the core technical and analytical skills of finance can be a significant challenge for both individuals and finance functions. To meet that challenge, major companies such as BP and Unilever, and some individuals, are employing a range of mechanisms, which we will come to shortly. First, some context. How is the environment changing? Finance has become geographically and functionally fragmented with the development of shared services and outsourced business centres, often offshore. Traditionally, these have focused on transaction processing but increasingly organisations are pooling other capabilities into ‘centres of expertise’, such as management information and reporting, or technical specialisms like tax, treasury and audit. Finance people will naturally often staff these roles, but some businesses also deploy non-finance resources. Reasons given for deploying non-finance staff include the view that they have a better understanding of the Neil Wolstenholme is a partner with Kurt Salmon. [email protected] Simon Bennett is a director with Kurt Salmon. [email protected] ‘Actively seek opportunities to broaden your horizons and take on fresh responsibilities’ 04 • self-directed learning – eg ‘e-training’ (which has been around for years but is often not used effectively). Companies look to individuals to use a variety of self- accessed learning materials, internally and externally, to develop themselves, and also, importantly, to reflect that development in their career planning as well as validating the learning during performance reviews; • rotation and on-the-job development – where finance people are moved into different roles inside and outside finance as part of a multi-year development plan. By gaining exposure to sales, marketing, operations, etc, individuals develop a broader business appreciation, expand their network, develop communication skills and increase their business value; and • targeted recruitment – which remains an important way to add new skills. Increasingly, companies are moving away from simply employing bright young accountants in more commercially-focused finance business partner roles, and hiring those who have more ‘grey hair’ through wider exposure to different roles and businesses. Recruitment firms are also now better attuned to the broader skills expected from candidates. What can the finance professional do? ‘Behaviours required of a finance business partner’ (below) shows the behavioural traits and skills of today’s typical finance business partner. There are numerous things you can do to obtain them and ensure you thrive in this fast-changing environment. Here are just five: Network effectively Cultivate relationships within the organisation, as well as former colleagues and contacts, and seek advice when you encounter ‘difficult’ situations. Typically finance professionals can feel uncomfortable when faced with emotional arguments, conflict or demands for ‘certainty’ from colleagues. Actively seek advice, at the time and afterwards. Reciprocate by sharing your own experiences and offering advice. Look and learn Watch, speak to and learn from those outside finance. Individuals in operations or sales and marketing will often adopt different approaches and tackle issues in different ways. Open your eyes and be aware of the benefits of adopting different strategies in particular circumstances. For example, people who work in sales and marketing often naturally focus quickly on ‘visioning’ desired outcomes and this can open up totally different perspectives than those gained from a detailed, analytical approach.* Take time to invest in yourself Participate in web seminars, join communities of practice, read widely, and increase your own intellectual capital. Make structured and targeted use of the self-directed learning from your company, the Finance and Management Faculty of ICAEW and others. Have a skills-focused development plan Reflect your objectives in your personal development plan (create your own if your company does not use them). Decide where you need to develop, agree specific actions with your management and make sure you follow them through. Demonstrate what you have done and how you have transferred what you have learned into practice, and ensure this is recorded in appraisals. Embrace change Actively seek opportunities to broaden your horizons, take on fresh responsibilities outside your comfort zone, get involved in projects and move through different roles within the organisation as part of a structured career development plan agreed with the company. Summary Businesses today need their high-value, experienced finance staff to operate in a range of different environments, effectively executing the many different facets of increasingly complex and diverse business partner roles. An individual career journey might now embrace shared services, centres of excellence, technical specialist and business facing roles. It is a significant opportunity. Using the advice offered here, an individual will develop the business knowledge, technical and behavioural skills required for a rich and rewarding career; with their value fully recognised by employers. BEHAVIOURS REQUIRED OF A FINANCE BUSINESS PARTNER Be proactive Anticipate risks and opportunities Challenge the business Be accountable Provide insight Be analytical Be flexible Be pragmatic Be control-orientated Constantly identify opportunities and generate ideas to drive value for the business Balance short-term demands with longer-term growth consideration Engage senior management to ensure options are evaluated and business decisions are robust Be willing to stand by decisions made Constantly identify opportunities and generate ideas to drive value for the business Bring evidence-based rigour to decision-making and the tools/methodologies to support the key business processes Always look for the simple, practical solution to issues Again, always look for the practical solution to issues Understand the stewardship role of finance and that the business partner role enables the development of preventative controls * This type of ‘visioning’ typically deploys a range of mind- mapping techniques to open out an issue and develop broader perspectives on, for example, desired outcomes of different stakeholders. It can often result in identification of new opportunities and approaches to even familiar issues. This article was first published in F&M156, June 2008. FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT March 2011 05 GETTING TO THE TOP HOW TO SUCCEED IN A SENIOR FINANCE ROLE Are you wondering how to achieve – and then succeed in – a senior finance role? Headhunter John Collier looks at the key qualities needed, and the right route to take. In 2007 I wrote an article in Finance & Management (F&M 142) about the essential qualities needed for success as the chief financial officer (CFO) of a large listed company. Below I offer some further advice, updated for the effects the 2008/9 financial traumas have had on the business world. Again, my main focus is on the knowledge and skills necessary for success in a listed company. But I also make reference to the CFO role in other large businesses, including those owned by private equity. I make suggestions about the best career path for arriving at a top job in the first place and, crucially, I give tips on how to get noticed – so that headhunters like me will call to discuss the sort of job you really want! The market There is always a demand for good CFOs; the precise skills needed may shift over time but the core requirements remain the same. CFO appointments with large public companies have a high profile (and therefore need people who can cope with the pressures that can bring), but roles that are not always in the public eye can be just as demanding and rewarding. This was, until recently, especially the case in highly- geared companies backed by private equity (PE). Prior to summer 2008, it felt as though the business world would soon be controlled by PE. Large listed companies were being taken private on a regular basis using cheap, readily available debt to gear up. The businesses were then run for maximum returns, the objective being an early exit making fortunes (if things went well) for the equity investors – of which the CFO could well be one. Hence such a CFO needed the ability to manage the information needs of the PE investors, to reduce costs and to maximise short term profits. Ideally they would also have prior experience of a successful exit – probably an initial public offering (IPO). Now the supply of cheap debt has all but dried up, and the opportunities are different. Good CFOs are still needed – but this time with the ability to handle complex financial re-structuring and manage for longer term sustained growth. Driving cost savings and increasing efficiency – often through small incremental initiatives – are often what is needed. So different skills need to be honed and showcased for this different market. The FTSE larger listed companies sector There are also important differences within the larger listed companies sector (as the analysis, below, shows). So it is helpful to have a realistic goal. Some companies in the FTSE 350 will not be for you… ever. But others might, if you manage your career in the right way. Take a note of the CFO abilities each sector division requires. FTSE 30 – the top 30 companies These businesses are huge and global. Their scope is vast and their boards often quite large (up to 20 directors or more) – including people from each of the major markets where the group operates. Some of them are listed not only in London but perhaps New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong as well – different markets with different reporting requirements and cultures. Balance of the FTSE 100 The next grouping is the balance of the FTSE 100. Again most of these are organisationally large – although occasionally market sentiment may ramp a share of an organisationally more modest-sized one so that on market value it creeps into the bottom end of the FTSE 100. Boards tend to be smaller (up to 12). FTSE 250 And then there is the FTSE 250 where companies vary hugely in size and complexity. Market capitalisation can be a poor determinant of what really goes on within each business. But these companies, just like the FTSE 100, have to comply with the UK Corporate Governance Code (previously known as the Combined Code) or explain why they are not doing so. They do feel different and act differently from many of the remaining 2000 or more UK listed companies. Main requirements If you are setting your sights on a job as CFO of one of the larger listed companies, here is what you should be: • technically strong and up to date; • prepared to be a business partner to the chief executive officer (CEO); • prepared to be more strategic; • able to communicate, persuade and influence; John Collier is a director of headhunting firm Clive & Stokes International. He has also been secretary general of ICAEW and a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. [email protected] ‘If you do not think you will get on with the CEO then do not join the company’ 06 and understandable way – beginning with your CEO, then the wider board and your investors, not forgetting the press and other media. How do you deal with journalists, what do you look like in a webcast and how much can you say to members of the public? Often the medium really is the message. How you say something as a CFO is sometimes nearly as important as what you say. 5. Prepared for greater exposure to the investment community Your shares will be more widely followed, and by better analysts, than those of a smaller listed company. Most analysts following big companies are deeply knowledgeable technical accountants who have followed a particular sector for years. Can you hold your own with such people? It’s vital that you do. 6. Able to handle audit committee formalities and forge a good relationship with its chairman. There is no doubt that in the last few years the audit committee has introduced another significant dimension to the CFO’s working life. Not only are you a part of the team led by the CEO, not only does the board chairman look to you as the keeper of the numbers round the boardroom table but there is now an audit committee chairman on whom the other, non-financial members of the board, increasingly rely. An audit committee chairman knows this, has a public profile and has a report in the annual report and accounts – so they will take a very close interest. Whatever the size of the business, the audit committee chairman’s relationship with the CFO is a critical one. But this is particularly so within a FTSE 350 business. You will have to accept a degree of formality not found within smaller companies. Some audit committee chairmen make a point of keeping some distance from the finance director; others see it as more of a mentoring role. This is another relationship you will need to weigh carefully before taking a job, and work hard on after doing so. The best career path? It is also worth considering how many moves you should make to gain experience in a range of roles and sectors without giving the impression of failing to stick at anything for very long. Even if you achieve the ‘right’ number of moves on your way upwards – what is the ‘right’ route? Internal audit, subsidiary finance director, group financial controller, and then group CFO, for example? Or straight from a smaller company CFO role (mid cap or even AIM) to the top? There is no ‘right’ answer, but if newly qualified in a Big Four firm and planning my future, I’d probably work my way up in a bigger corporate environment. If you start with small companies you tend to stay with smaller companies whereas there is greater movement from larger to smaller. • able to handle greater exposure to the investment community; and • able to handle the formalities of the audit committee and to develop a good relationship with its chairman. Let me take each of these in turn. 1. Technically strong It is rather taken for granted that you will have laboured over International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs) and the ever-increasing complexity of our corporate tax regime. You will be up to date with the Listing Rules, the requirements of the Companies Acts, Sarbanes Oxley (perhaps), the UK Corporate Governance Code and any special regulatory requirements. You will probably not be company secretary as well as CFO (as is often the case with smaller companies) but unless you have a lawyer on the board or as an integral part of your senior executive management team the board will look to you as a first point of call on most legal matters. 2. A potential business partner to the chief executive This is normally the key relationship for a CFO. Whatever the other attractions, if you do not think you will get on with the CEO then do not join the company. On the other hand this can be a highly rewarding relationship. It does not always mean playing second fiddle to the CEO. Not all CEOs are outgoing and charismatic (though lots are). There are a number of examples where the CFO is the public face of the business especially where the CEO is based overseas (usually the US). Who else on the board or within the top executive team has the same breadth of knowledge across the whole of the group’s span of activities? Yet you must never lose your independence of mind or be afraid to speak up. If the CEO seems to want a ‘yes man’, think twice before taking the job. 3. Prepared to be more strategic You will no longer be seen as just a numbers person, and will need to be able to work with others on the board as a team. However, do not totally believe the cliché that modern technology frees up accountants from the drudgery of number crunching and enables them to contribute across the whole range of a business activity. If the annual report and accounts plus the 10k is 300 pages long, you are the one board member who does have to know what is in there. It may be a huge business but look round the board table and ask who else will have done so – certainly within the executive team – and you will have your answer. 4. Able to communicate, persuade and influence This ability will be more important than ever. Being technically up to date is not enough. You have to be able to communicate technical complexity in a straightforward ‘Do not totally believe the cliché that modern technology frees up accountants from the drudgery of number crunching’ FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT March 2011 07 When the ‘ideal’ route is not possible The ‘ideal’ route is not always possible, though. What should you do if you are out of work, or feel the way forward is blocked? There may be all sorts of reasons why you are out of work – a takeover, rationalisation involving closing your part of the group, a family or personal illness. So how do you get back in? Applying for advertised jobs (increasingly online, though the Financial Times' Thursday supplement is also good) is one route. But be warned: good-sounding jobs can attract literally hundreds of applications. You need to make sure you meet all the requirements listed and try and do something in your application to make you stand out a bit from the crowd. Taking an interim role is clearly another option and might give you the experience you want but, again, be warned: experienced interims are usually preferred over people who are really looking for a permanent job. If you are employed and the way forward seems to be blocked then your best bet is to make the most of what you have and, for example, get involved in preparing for investor presentations, attend audit committee meetings (and making a good impression when you do) and do important, high-profile project work to get the experience and to get people’s attention too. Getting noticed But whichever route you take, you definitely do need to get noticed. I recommend: • networking; • public speaking and talking to the media; • impressing your non-executive directors; • taking on a non-executive director role yourself; • impressing the City; • being part of a ‘success story’; and • taking calculated risks. Networking This comes naturally to some, but for most of us requires application and effort. At each stage of your life you get to know people, often very well but then you (or they) move away or get promoted and in spite of your best intentions contact gets reduced to Christmas cards (or e-cards) and then fades away altogether. The best thing is not to let relationships fade but, if you do, take heart. A call out of the blue to someone you have not spoken to for years will almost certainly be warmly welcomed and a lunch together can be arranged – and then away you go. Public speaking and talking to the media It is far better to be proactive and manage your own profile than it is to be noticed for the ‘wrong’ reasons, eg for being highly paid although your profits and share price are going sideways. Impressing your non-executive directors Impressing your non-executive directors (NEDs) (and especially your audit committee chairman) always helps. Although the days of large non-executive portfolios are mostly behind us, many non-executives (usually retired from full time executive work) have more than one appointment and inevitably compare the performance of the executives in those different businesses. Taking on a non-executive appointment yourself The upside of becoming a NED yourself is that it lets you see another business and increases your exposure to other senior business people. The downside is that non- executive work can be very demanding especially if you are not only required to serve on the audit committee but to chair it as well. Impressing the City Impressing analysts and your shareholders is vital. Even if you are not a natural presenter and are not too confident on your feet you must work at gaining confidence and using PowerPoint really well. Striking the right balance between confident candour and sticking to the precise line set out in your PR material or the public statement is an art, and getting it right can do you a lot of good. When people like me are later taking soundings on your suitability for a prospective senior role, we will hear positive things. Being part of a ‘success story’ If at all possible, be part of a success story. If you have chosen the right company to join, are working in a business sector with potential, and have a good CEO then some of the positive ‘halo’ for your business in the market will reflect on you. So as part of your career route, think before you join, get in at the right time and make sure you respect the CEO. Taking calculated risks Be prepared to take risks – but only calculated ones. If you believe a business which has been going through a bad patch may be about to turn, or you believe in an (as yet) untested strategy, or you think you can work with the CEO – then go for it. And finally… ask around However strong your desire for a senior finance role, you do need to do your due diligence before taking any post. This may seem obvious but if you are offered a big step up your objectivity may suffer. So ask friends, colleagues and people you know in the investing community and listen to what they say. ‘It is better to be proactive and manage your own profile than to be noticed for the ‘wrong’ reasons’ This article was first published in F&M177, May 2010. 08 ability to influence and collaborate. This is particularly useful today, when professionals have to integrate quickly and effectively within a series of organisations over the course of their career. Furthermore, with progressing seniority one’s network of colleagues and stakeholders becomes more complex, so being adept at navigating through diverse organisational landscapes pays valuable dividends for all. The approach I describe will help you decide with whom it is important to be connected, and how. In other words it can help you develop a high degree of political intelligence. A rich network of threads A useful metaphor for the political complexity in any working environment is that of a fabric composed of a rich network of threads between the various key figures. Each of these ‘actors’ (those active in your landscape) has a power position relative to that of others that is not necessarily obvious. In entering an organisation (eg as a new recruit or a partner/stakeholder), or embarking on a new project that spans parts of the organisation unfamiliar to you, you will need to grasp this and weave yourself into the existing fabric, choosing wisely which new threads to create such that your professional and personal objectives are best met. Your own priorities To begin with you need to be very clear about your own priorities, and your needs in relation to these. For each project or contract, you need to keep in mind your key objectives, the resources required to address them and the key obstacles likely to get in the way. This will make it easier for you to highlight the key players relevant to your objectives. Win-win outcomes However, this is far from being enough. The people whose support and input are critical to your goals may have completely different agendas from yours, even if they are working in the same organisation and towards the same goals. To maximise your influence and gain effective collaboration you need also to pay exquisite attention to their objectives and needs, and seek win-win outcomes together. A pragmatic and powerful approach The ‘political insight mapping tool’* provides a pragmatic and powerful approach to making sense of your political landscapes (see Figure 1, opposite). Here is an outline of how to use it. 1. Think of a key project in which you are currently involved. List the main relevant ‘actors’. For each of GETTING TO THE TOP NAVIGATING THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE Getting good business results is not purely about learning your trade. Below, Siobhan Soraghan explains how best to find your way through the hidden ‘political’ issues in your office, to achieve optimum outcomes... A consultant colleague called me recently to cry on my shoulder. He had upset one of his major clients and was asked to leave the assignment early. As someone strongly influenced by the results of his most recent project, he was feeling completely deflated. Piecing the story together it emerged that, despite the quality of his work, my friend had failed to spot the signals preceding his demise. The managing director (MD) for whom he had been conducting the project had felt threatened by its conclusions and resentful of the direct manner in which they were delivered. My friend, not realising the prevailing ‘command and control’ culture in which people deferred to their MD, had diminished him in front of his senior team. Gradually realising that he had been exclusively absorbed in the technical aspects of the task, my friend began to accept that he had another duty to himself and to his business – that of developing an intelligent, proactive approach to what he would have in the past referred to disparagingly as ‘politics’. Meeting your own and others’ needs So what is ‘politics’? Definitions include ‘the use (or misuse) of power to achieve goals’, and ‘the study of influence and the influential’. I like to define it as the interactive process through which people seek to meet their own and others’ needs. These needs can be professional and/or personal in nature, and they can change over time. People are not always consciously aware of their needs; and even when they are, they might choose to articulate them. The tool I offer below provides a method for gaining valuable insights into the unique cocktail of needs of each key figure in your political landscape, to optimise your * © Siobhan Soraghan 2007. Siobhan Soraghan is founder of Active Insight, working with leaders and executives on strategic thinking, collaboration with peers and sustainable management. [email protected] ‘A useful metaphor for the political complexity in any working environment is that of a fabric composed of a rich network of threads between the various key figures’ FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT March 2011 09 them, consider carefully their ‘power’ in the project from your perspective, and make the size of the circle to represent them on your map reflect this. Then consider how easy it is for you to access them. They may be at a distant location yet your paths may cross regularly. They may be in the office next door yet rarely free to meet you. The distance you put between them and you on the map should reflect their ease of access for you in real life. Similarly if any actor deals frequently with another and/or they have a strong connection for other reasons, show this by placing them close together on your map. The key players are plotted around you at the centre, and you could colour code the specific stakeholders (or the team/department) to which they belong. 2. With each player, draw a line between you and them, its thickness denoting the volume of communication traffic between you. Show the quality of the communication by the colour of the line, eg green for good, amber for vulnerable or shaky, red for poor or damaged. Your map starts to look something like Figure 1. 3. Look carefully at your map. It should now be possible to see whether all the ‘threads’ are optimised for the successful achievement of your goals. Straight away you can begin to see the areas of criticality. In the fictitious example below, you can guess that the poor connection with Pete poses a problem and that the relationship with the client (Chris) is less healthy than the ideal because the communication is sparse. In my friend’s example, he had underestimated the size of the MD’s power in relation to his own, and had assumed a good connection by virtue of his own sense of integrity and his quality work. You need to think of the quality of the relationship through the other person’s eyes. Looking at the map again, you may spot that a key person has possibly been neglected. You may also spot positive opportunities, eg someone you know well may be close to a difficult-to-access key player and might offer an alternative route to them. On the other hand, you might realise that someone close to you who is not that vital to your goals may be taking an inordinate proportion of your valuable time and effort, highlighting that you need to manage your boundaries. The relationship is a joint creation between you, and it is possible to influence it yourself by what you choose to do from this moment on. 4. Now let us add a level of sophistication to your map. Take in turn each of the relationships or ‘threads’ that require your attention and try to answer the following questions for that relationship: • name the ‘actor’ and their job title; • why are they important to your goals (eg their possible access to resources; their relevance to the key obstacles)? • what are the top three outcomes that the organisation expects the role this person occupies to deliver? • what are the top three priorities and/or concerns for the person inhabiting this role at the moment: – professionally? – personally? • how might your goals be relevant to theirs? • in their relationship with you, what might be their current needs and their hoped for desired outcomes? • what are yours? (If, in the above exercise, you find that you have insufficient information then you need to undertake some further exploration.) By now you should be getting a sense of how attractive it is for each of these individuals to engage with you in achieving your goals. Often their attitudes and behaviours towards you will have little to do with you as a person and more to do with the wider span of what is going on in their world. If the attraction for engaging with you is low, you need to work hard to make it important and attractive enough by communicating its significance in terms of what matters to them. 5. Now do a reality check. In the relationships on your map, how well are each party’s needs and expectations actually being met? In light of this, do any of the lines’ colours need to be amended? An appearance of bonhomie does not mean that all are satisfied with the Mark, Chris’s colleague Julia, Chris’s 2nd in command Chris, the main client decision- maker Anna, Pete’s 2nd in command Pete, the key subcontractor Stakeholder A: a subcontractor Stakeholder B: your organisation Stakeholder C: the client Simon, Pete’s boss Jim, a close peer Your boss, the CEO Mary, a helpful peer You ‘You need to think of the quality of the relationship through the other person’s eyes’ Figure 1 THE POLITICAL INSIGHT MAPPING TOOL 10 exchange. Likewise, a tough exchange does not necessarily mean failure to deliver what was required. 6. Now prepare to act, first identifying the critical relationships. Management guru Stephen Covey talks about the ‘emotional bank balance’ of each party in a relationship. He explains how trust is built when each person makes deposits into the other’s account. A deposit is all the more valuable if it is chosen carefully to be of particular worth to the recipient. It is easy to make unintentional withdrawals – which, ironically, can occur through offering something that is not valued by the recipient, or behaving in a way that does not meet the expectations of the other party (easily done, if they are from another culture). So if you are finding a particular relationship challenging, consider whether there has been an unwitting withdrawal. If that is the case, it is critical that you put it right – even if it was not of your own doing, eg your predecessor having broken a confidence – or it may remain a barrier. Another useful tack is to find common ground with the other person (eg shared goals of the organisation or project) and remind them that you want the same things. Given your understanding of their key needs, what can you offer them that they value? Also, look for latent opportunities. Has any ‘credit’ been building – and if so, what requests might you wish to make? It is important that you do ask for what will help you, so long as it is realistic, appropriate to what others have to offer, and not a demand. Be prepared to negotiate. 7. Finally, after all your quality thinking, what do you conclude are the most important things that need to happen? And what are you going to do next? Conclusion Using the above approach you can gain vital intelligence about critical relationships in your political landscape. The resulting insights should then enable you to build more respectful, collaborative business relationships for the mutual achievement of desired outcomes. ‘An appearance of bonhomie does not mean that all are satisfied with the exchange’ This article was first published in F&M159, October 2008. FINANCE & MANAGEMENT SPECIAL REPORT March 2011 11 GETTING TO THE TOP THE BENEFITS OF WISE MENTORING During challenging times it can be invaluable to have a mentor for support and guidance. Linda Aspey offers some ideas towards making mentoring work well for everyone involved. Who comes to mind when you think of a mentor? A teacher? A peer? A wise old uncle? A former boss? In fact, anyone can be a mentor – young or old, from personal or professional sources, on a formal or informal basis, individually or within a group. However, mentoring is mostly performed on a one-to- one basis, where a less experienced person turns to a more experienced one for support and advice. Imagine that you have just started a new job and you are navigating the unclear waters of the organisation. Or you are preparing for an initial public offering (IPO), learning how to deal with and make credible presentations to the banks. Or you have been given the new and daunting task of implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. In such situations, chewing things over with a mentor can help. Who makes a good mentor? Whether seeking a mentor, or interested in being one, certain things are required. The first of these is impartiality. A mentor’s focus should be solely on a person’s learning and development. So, while line managers can support, coach, guide, and advise, their primary responsibility for the performance of those they manage means they lack the ‘distance’ to be true mentors to those they manage. Some core personal qualities are also important. Research amongst finance professionals, conducted in 2008 by Aspey Associates, showed the following five main qualities to be considered important. 1. Trustworthiness Being able to speak freely in the knowledge that you will be taken seriously, that your mentor has no agenda other than your success, that you can trust their judgement, and that what you say will not go further, is essential for an effective mentoring relationship. (Remember, though, a key element of this mutual trust is defining and agreeing its limits at the start – so that later, particularly if a risk is highlighted, you both know what is regarded as confidential, and what the proposed course of action is when something cannot be kept so, legally, morally or financially.) 2. Experience People generally want their mentor to have faced, and successfully overcome, similar problems to those that they themselves face. The mentor does not need to know the mentee’s job inside out, or even to work in finance, but they do need an awareness of the likely issues and the wisdom to know how to manage them. In reality, most mentoring conversations are around dealing with relationships, developing political ‘savvy’, solving problems, making decisions, developing broader business awareness, becoming an effective leader. The mentor’s role is to listen, ask shrewd questions and offer alternative perspectives. 3. Honesty Equally important is the mentor’s ability to be a ‘critical friend’ when needed: offering challenge, feedback, drawing attention to blind spots, and providing a fair balance between support and stretch. 4. Humility A skilled mentor is a mixture of coach and adviser – using a coaching style to help the mentee think effectively for themselves and, only when relevant, offering direct advice. If a m...