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With so many disruptive technologies available, is it possible for to directors keep up with the needs of the business? Kieran Moynihan explains how, with the right NEDs, a company can thrive in a constantly evolving digital world. As disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and emerging payment technologies grow in adoption, many boards are struggling to understand how these will impact customers, market segment and the competitive landscape. Crucially, how can they incorporate these technologies into their overall strategy and business models? This relentless wave of new technology disruption is increasingly upsetting the traditional hierarchy of markets by lowering the barrier to entry for new competitors. Companies need to adapt to harness the opportunities and benefits of these disruptive technologies otherwise it risks being left behind irrespective of its traditional market position. Often, the reason behind this struggle to adapt to technological disruptions is that there is a significant lack of technology expertise among non-executive directors (NEDs). This is further compounded by a serious age diversity problem in boards where, across Ireland and the UK, the average age of many boards is late 50s to early 60s. The vast majority of these NEDs indicate that areas such as cyber-security are problematic for them. This, in turn, impacts their ability to provide high-quality, robust challenge, debate and oversight of the CEO and executive team in terms of how a company incorporates these disruptive technologies into its strategy. In marked contrast, younger NEDs in their 30s and 40s tend to be very comfortable in the digital and disruptive technology landscape, have a strong understanding of how customers’ requirements are evolving and can genuinely challenge and support the CEO and executive team in these areas. In most boards, the traditional approach to selecting NEDs has been focused on a majority of generalists with significant executive experience, and a number of sector specialists, which has led to a predominance of financial and general business skills around the board table. However, as both the pace and complexity of emerging disruptive technologies has significantly increased, this traditional model is breaking down and many of the sector-specialist NEDs are finding it challenging to keep up with the pace of change. Many CEOs and executive teams are struggling to make big calls around technology and business model choices. There is a growing trend of board chairs and CEOs who realise that, in order to thrive, the board team needs to be refreshed with the addition of NEDs who have advanced technology expertise. They will be able to provide ample support to both the overall board team and CEO/executive team, thereby strengthening the ability of the company to embrace disruptive technologies, understand the changing needs of their customers and position themselves for sustainable long-term success. Kieran Moynihan is the Managing Partner of Board Excellence.

Jan 31, 2020
Personal Impact

How can organisations keep the passion going for D&I? Dawn Leane explores how businesses can do more to successfully deliver their D&I programmes.   Diversity and inclusion (D&I) seems like a simple concept: while we are all different, we are all equal. So why has D&I become such a headache for some businesses? Organisations invest significant resources into D&I programmes, such as creating specialist roles, publishing results and setting up employee groups. However, these often fail to deliver the expected return on investment. Without results, organisations can begin to experience diversity fatigue. People become tired of ideas that don’t gain traction and employees can become sceptical that D&I is little more than a PR exercise.   Creating meaningful change To create meaningful change in an organisation, there are a few things you can do: Diagnose the specific D&I challenges the organisation is facing instead of just rolling out a standard set of programmes or initiatives. Find out what issues need to be addressed and how to measure them successfully. Are the organisation’s D&I programmes and initiatives authentic? Unconscious bias training and inclusion workshops can sometimes be implemented in order to mitigate complaints or, when poorly designed, can treat participants as if they are intolerant, which is ultimately counterproductive. Resist the temptation to tag everything as D&I. Most employees don’t want to be labelled as ‘diverse’ even in a positive way as it can create a sense of ‘otherness’. Make D&I relevant to everyone in the organisation. D&I initiatives often focus exclusively on diverse groups and fail to engage a wider audience of people. This can mean that functional and business unit leaders do not know how to support D&I within their individual areas. Embedding diversity, inclusion and belonging requires an organisational culture change – D&I values and associated behaviours must become part of the organisation’s DNA. This can only happen, however, when there is a sustained focus over a long period of time. Often, small changes have the biggest impact. Developing successful D&I programmes is not a one-size-fits-all approach, it is much more nuanced; organisations and the people who work for them are complex and dynamic. Individualised training An individualised D&I training, which involves a combination of coaching and mentoring, can be hugely beneficial to organisations. These sessions create the space for individuals to talk openly about their challenges and ask questions which they may not feel comfortable doing in a group setting.  A coaching conversation elicits, without judgement, the individual’s attitudes, beliefs and any of the issues or questions they may have. A mentoring conversation then takes this further to identify specific actions and behaviours that will make a difference. In my experience, forcing the D&I agenda in an inauthentic manner only serves to make people know which boxes to tick to be compliant. It doesn’t change attitudes or lead to sustainable change, which is essential for D&I to be successful in any organisation. Dawn Leane is Principal Consultant at Leane Leaders, Developing Inclusive Leadership. She will deliver a workshop on Leadership for Professional Women as part of Chartered Accountants Ireland's CPD programme on 25 March.

Jan 24, 2020
News

Let’s apply portfolio diversity principles to our workforces to help drive their success and close the gap on gender parity in the workplace, says Darina Barrett. Investors devote considerable time and skill to ensure that our investments are suitably diversified, and we firmly believe in the portfolio value of sustainability and diversification.  Who among us would consider an investment without including those fundamental elements for success? Why, then, are we not moving forward at a greater pace in bringing these critical qualities to our workplaces? In my view, organisations must do much more to ensure that they are building sustainable, diversified enterprises. A deliberate and concerted shift in this direction will unquestionably enhance the value of businesses and their prospects for future success. This mindset is becoming critical, given the intense competition for top talent and the vital skills that will define their success – even survival – in the digital age. Just as diversification and sustainability help safeguard the future of our investments, businesses should also adopt this approach to shape their workforces through the gender-parity lens, and now is the time to act. The best person for the team In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, Klaus Schwab highlights the growing urgency for action against inequalities in the workplace. “Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for all of society, grow our economies for greater shared prosperity or achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalised world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.” We have spent enough time and energy addressing gender-parity and examining it from every angle imaginable. It is time to turn ideas into action. Let’s apply the power of diversity to gender parity just as we have applied diversification to investing and value enhancement, understanding that the results will be the same: stability and vastly heightened prospects for future success. At the same time, amid the growing race for talent and critical new skills in our rapidly transforming workplaces and workforces, let’s replace our pursuit of the ‘best person for the job’ with a quest that seeks the best person for the team. Turning ideas into actions We believe and live by the modern portfolio theory – look at the whole portfolio rather than one investment. Let’s put that thinking – from a diversification perspective – into concerted action for a new future of gender-parity and the heightened prospects for success that it holds. Darina Barrett FCA is a Partner in Investment Management in KPMG.

Jan 23, 2020
News

Diversity and inclusion have become part of business strategy, but how do you measure their success? Mark Fenton outlines the key areas organisations need to assess when determining the effectiveness of their D&I initiatives. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) have shifted from being two HR buzzwords to key components of business strategy for many of the world’s best and most innovative companies. Businesses recognise that all organisations share the same three strategic challenges that either inhibit or enable success over the longer term: How to hire, retain and develop top talent; How to understand and connect with clients; and How to outsmart the competition. There has been a myriad of initiatives developed for organisations seeking to embrace and integrate diversity and inclusion programmes into their office culture, with a view to create a more attractive brand that will appeal to future top talent, as well as encouraging and strengthening the existing team. It will also enable organisations to understand clients better, and generate an increasingly innovative workplace to get the jump on competitors. Measuring success However, despite all of these initiatives, less attention is being paid to providing organisations with specific success measures for their D&I programmes (including quantitative and qualitative key performance indicators [KPIs]), and identifiable changes that should follow. Here are nine areas that are worthy of consideration when looking to measuring the success of your D&I initiatives. These are best assessed over time, across several diversity areas, such as gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and age (with the consideration that some may be subject to restriction around data capture availability).  Representation Look at representation in areas across governance (boards, committees) and hierarchical levels. Look at the promotions that have been attained and by whom. Recruitment Assess your applicant pool, who is brought in for an interview and who receives a job offer. It’s important to also assess the diversity of your selection panel. Remuneration Conduct a gender pay gap analysis of all employees. Financial savings Analyse the budget savings attributable to your D&I initiatives such as the utilisation of remote working (which can reduce office footprint and associated costs), the promotion of internal talent (which can reduce hiring costs and talent turnover expenses) and the improved employer brand (which can be effectively generated through day-to-day engagement and word of mouth without expensive marketing campaigns). Employee turnover Assess employee turnover rates and career break returners following parental, care, illness, sabbatical or other leave. Employee resource groups Determine the level of engagement in employee resource groups. Training Check the completion of D&I training such as unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and cultural awareness. Also, investigate the level of access employees have to these programmes. Policies and procedures Assess the policies and procedures in the organisation to ascertain whether they are supportive of gender and minority groups, parental supports and workplace agility programmes including flexible and remote working, talent sponsorship and codes of conduct. Voice Collect feedback on your D&I programmes from employees (via staff surveys), customers (through net promoter scores), and suppliers (utilising supplier diversity policies). In parallel, KPIs can be applied that cover, for example, employee churn rates, performance ratings, employee engagement/job satisfaction, absenteeism, union feedback, grievances or industrial relations-related issues. This data can be further enhanced by overlaying the empirical research that correlates integrated D&I practices with improved financial performance and increased brand value. More than a buzz word An awareness of the power and influence of D&I on corporate culture in conjunction with a framework to tangibly measure and communicate its ability to overcome key business challenges around talent, clients and competitors make D&I much more than a ‘buzz’ issue within the corridors of HR. It is the business strategy for 2020. Mark Fenton is the CEO and Founder of MASF Consulting Ltd. 

Jan 23, 2020
News

Companies are not only talking about sustainability; they are also beginning to act. Elise McCarthy explains how companies can support the Sustainable Development Goals through their business activities. Companies are beginning to recognise the role they play in creating a sustainable society and how, by doing so, they are also driving business growth and productivity. Many organisations are looking at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guide. Any company considering how it can support the achievement of the SDGs through their business activities should begin with these five starting points Understand the SDGs In 2015, the world leaders under the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals for nations and businesses alike to solve the world’s most significant challenges by 2030. Seventeen goals address the global challenges we face by moving to eradicate poverty, promote peace and equality, allow sustainable prosperity and protect the environment. The SDGs are built on 169 targets, which are measured against 232 indicators. It’s a good idea to review the targets and indicators when considering which SDGs offer the most opportunities for your business. Understand your business Looking upstream along your value chain, where does your company source raw materials and staff? How much of these resources does it purchase? This type of information will indicate where your company can make a change and have an impact. By taking cues from the SDGs, your company can set down specifications for suppliers and the resources it purchases.  Alternatively, your organisation could look downstream along the value chain. What products or services does your company make and supply? Are your distribution or logistics as clean and efficient as possible? Could you recycle goods? Would redesigning some products or services make a significant impact on the SDGs? Look for opportunities  There are business growth opportunities in the SDGs. For example, one report identified $12 trillion in savings and new opportunities by achieving the SDGs. The goals are not just branding for what society is already doing; they are goals that require new thinking and an appetite to see change. They are meant to challenge us to think about the world we want to live in, to play to our strengths and to use our power to make a change – even if it is under just one goal. If we all play our part, we will get there. Engage employees These days, most people are interested in sustainability and are trying to implement changes in their personal lives. Tap into that interest and enthusiasm among your colleagues by helping them to play their part at work. Show them that, as a leading employer, the company is also thinking about making smart changes to practices and procedures, and that it wants to involve its people in the journey. This user-friendly guide to the SDGs can help with internal communications and awareness.  Decade of action In September 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General called for more leadership and local action within countries and among individuals to meet these ambitious 2030 goals. Every day events – fires, storms, drought, waste mountains and growing inequality – are reinforcing the urgency of this mission. The clock is ticking but we excel when we put our minds to it. Elise McCarthy is a Senior CSR Adviser in Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI). BITCI has published a detailed guide for business on the SDGs.  

Jan 19, 2020
News

Social entrepreneurs are a valuable and necessary part of society and economy, providing much-needed social and environmental change to communities. Fiona Smiddy outlines how accountants and finance professionals can help support these local social enterprises. Social enterprises are businesses whose core objective is to achieve a social, societal, or environmental impact. Poverty, climate change, anti-social behaviour, housing and health are just some of the problems that Irish social entrepreneurs are attempting to tackle. We need to embrace and support social entrepreneurs as they are a valuable and necessary part of society and economy. Social entrepreneurs often come from range of backgrounds. They tend to see a problem in their local community and devise an innovative solution to help. However, many will run before they can walk, carried by their passion and energy. Below are just some ways that accounting and finance professionals can support their local social enterprise. Provide mentoring services As accountants, we can lend an objective mindset and critical thinking to social entrepreneurs to ensure their enterprise is set up for long-term growth. As in many entrepreneurial scenarios, the main workload often lies with the founder. However, it can be difficult to self-critique when your passion and belief in the solution to your social issue is so strong. A second set of eyes and ears, or the offering of a hand to review a business plan would be welcome support. Improve access to finance Due to their nature, social enterprises often seek alternative methods of funding. EU and government-backed programmes such as the Social Enterprise Development Fund can go a long way to support them. This €1.6 million fund was created by Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) in partnership with Local Authorities Ireland and funded by IPB Insurance and the Department of Rural and Community Development. There is opportunity for similar funds to be created. With the right financial backing, combined with supportive mentoring programmes, social enterprises can provide much-needed resources to local communities. Open a co-working space With the high costs of rent, many social enterprises are born and run from kitchen tables and inefficient workspaces. Your workplace could provide a platform for social change by opening a boardroom or co-working space on a part-time basis to local social enterprises. Provide training through CSR programmes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes can go a long way to support social enterprises. Many of the skills that accountants and finance personnel possess are in demand by social enterprises. Work with your employer to identify training needs of local social enterprises and develop training programmes to assist these mission-driven businesses. Make connections and provide visibility We need more social entrepreneurs to help us find new routes toward social improvement. If you know a social enterprise through your connections or in your local community, use your platform to promote them either via LinkedIn or other social channels. You can even invite them into your workplace to promote their product or service. Social entrepreneurs are drivers of positive change. As accounting and financial professionals, we play a part in their success and must support them in creating positive change for all of us. Fiona Smiddy ACA is the Founder of Green Outlook.

Jan 19, 2020