Careers

Careers

Becoming a partner in the firm is often the goal when accountants go into practice, but it’s not a walk in the park. Jackie Banner outlines four key steps on the road to making partner. Making partner is the end goal for many who go into practice. The status, financial compensation, and endorsement of one’s skills and expertise are all obvious draws to progressing to this level. Then there is the opportunity to effectively become a ‘business owner’ with responsibility and influence over how the firm is run. This latter piece sounds simple in theory but requires the right considerations and capabilities to execute.  We can’t gloss over the technical competency that is required to make it to partner. Possessing exceptional domain knowledge in your chosen area of expertise is fundamental to any move upwards. Eagle-eyed attention to detail and a holistic view of the business as a whole are also required to consider yourself technically sound. With a rapidly changing business landscape, the burden of knowledge is significant, and can lead a potential partner to focus too heavily on the technical side alone.  The most common missteps that senior level accountancy professionals make in the race to partner have to do with the investment in their own leadership ability,  relationship management and ability to think like someone who’s running a business or a profit-and-loss account. Here’s how to tackle these key steps to making partner. Invest in your leadership ability Over the last six decades, leadership scholars have conducted more than a thousand studies to determine the definitive characteristics and personality traits of great leaders. Out of all the research, not one unanimous, best practice leadership archetype has emerged. Prevailing opinions on the best leadership styles are replaced as quickly as the latest iPhone. However, there are some common through lines in many of them that you can draw from. Whether it’s Six Sigma, values-led leadership, contingency theory (which in itself says there is no one ideal leadership style), communication methods, humble leadership or any number of other theories and best practices, be sure to establish a combination of leadership qualities that best align with you as a person and as a leader.  Signalling that you have the right level of ambition necessary is also required. This is demonstrated by how you carry yourself, your communication style, and interactions and relationships with colleagues and clients. Combine these with that aforementioned oft-ignored investment in yourself to build your own definitive leadership style.  Vision and strategy The most common piece of feedback we hear from nomination committees or hiring partners about unsuccessful final interviews is that the candidate lacked vision in their pitch. At this level, technical competency is assumed. You will be speaking to peers who are equally, if not more skilled than you. They want a business leader to sit alongside them; someone with a new perspective that can bring energy and excitement that will contribute to business growth.  Presenting a forward-thinking, clear vision that will grow not only your business unit but add to the company is perhaps the most valuable thing you can do to be perceived as someone ready to make partner. In practical terms, that vision should translate to an actionable business plan.  When preparing, think strategically about how you’re going to generate earnings, develop a client pipeline, and hit the figures that justify your being chosen as an equity partner. A partner needs to ascertain what those expected figures are for the firm with which they are interviewing. This means crafting a realistic three-year plan to grow revenues at a level that a partner needs to be commercially viable, which is firm dependent.  Relationship management We all need a sounding board to bounce ideas off of or to go to for advice. Therefore, your network and your professional relationships should be a priority on the road to partner. Partners, no matter what age or level of seniority, should have a mentor.  As Chris Outram discusses in his book, Making Strategy Work, you need ‘co-conspirators’ on whom you rely to give their support when it comes to internal decisions and information-sharing across business units. This extends to stakeholder management both inside and outside your firm.   Putting it all together In an increasingly “what have you done for me lately?” world, contextualising the human side of the job is key. Trust your team to deliver while driving them towards a coherent vision by demonstrating effective leadership and building a sustainable pipeline of business.  Sounds easy when you put it on paper, right? There is no doubt it is a huge challenge to make the leap but having a clear idea of what is required and how it should be presented is the first step on the road to partner.    Top tips on the road to partner 1. Have a plan – Set targets and milestones for yourself to track your progress and professional development. Decide what you want out of your career and then work towards achieving it.    2. Invest in upskilling – Find opportunities to develop your technical and soft skills. Invest in as many areas as are available to you.     3. Specialise your skill set – Practice experience is broad and often provides exposure to a wide range of skills and experience, which is great. However, drill down and become a subject matter expert where possible. Be the go-to person in your network for a particular subspecialty.   4. Be flexible – In any business, targets move, circumstances in your or your clients’ business can change quickly. When unexpected events arise or a strategy or project scope moves, always think of yourself as a support for change and not a barrier.   5. Say “yes” – There will always be an element of a job or a particular client you’d rather steer clear from, but don’t. Always say “yes” when asked to take on something new or different.   6. Define your client portfolio and market opportunity – The more distinct your client portfolio is from your peers or your partners, the more likely you are to become a destination for referrals, hold client relationships, and see significant fee income potential in line with expectations for equity partner level.   7. Find a mentor – Find a peer who you admire and who has made choices you respect. Someone who is willing to be your sounding board and provide advice on how to achieve what you want in your career.  Jackie Banner leads Practice Recruitment for Azon Recruitment Group.

Feb 10, 2020
Careers

What better way to start a new year than with a new career opportunity? Fiona Richardson explains how you can make a career change this year. January can often be a catalyst to making changes in your life, whether it’s hitting the gym, tailoring your eating habits or making those all-important New Year's resolutions. It comes as no surprise that changing job is a common theme during this time of self-reflection. If making a career move is a serious consideration for you in 2020, these key steps will ensure a successful transition  Consider why you want to make a move  Before you consider changing jobs, it’s important that you are clear in your own mind why you want to make a career move. Don’t move on an impulse. Analyse what you like in your current role and what you would change if given the opportunity. Ask yourself: What do you want to see in your next role? Is there a way for you to achieve this in your current organisation? We advise candidates to have these discussions internally before looking externally. This will hopefully avoid the sticky situation of  considering a counteroffer after going through the interview process with a prospective future employer. Write your CV or update the one you have This is often an intimidating task, but just do it. It takes time to get right, but it is so worthwhile once you get it done. Focus on your skills, key deliverables and achievements rather than just your operational outputs. Remember your skills and experience are transferable to other industries, so don’t undersell or limit yourself. Make sure to review job descriptions to familiarise yourself with the language being used and get a sense of what employers are looking for. Your CV should include a short and succinct personal profile/statement focusing on experience, skills and key successes. Once you complete a final draft, it is much easier to re-edit it for different roles that may come your way. You will usually have to adjust your CV for each role to emphasise what is important and highlight your suitability for the position. Your CV should be a working document that you update on an ongoing basis as your role and responsibilities evolve. Once completed, seek feedback from a mentor or your recruitment partner. Put yourself out there Once you have decided that you want to move, you must put a plan in place to ensure that you are positioned in the way of potential opportunities. Update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your most recent position and partner with a recruitment specialist and meet with them so they fully understand your background and what you want to achieve in your next move. Take their advice. As industry specialists, they should manage expectations and provide insights into the job market. Finally, the most important part of the plan is one around your personal brand and broadening your networking activity. Have you joined relevant institutes? Are you attending industry events? Is your company a member of a local chamber of commerce and if so, are you attending events? How you present yourself to the market, your CV, your LinkedIn profile, your attitude, your communication skills, dressing appropriately – all these things matter. Changing careers is exciting, and the decision to do so will dictate the foreseeable future of your professional life. Take time with it, be considered and when you are offered the role you like, be decisive. Fiona Richardson is an Associate Director of Accounting, Finance & Legal in Morgan McKinley.

Jan 03, 2020
Careers

Like our personal New Year resolutions, work-related goals will slip unless they become embedded in our daily routine, writes Teresa Campbell. At the start of a new year, it is natural to think about what you want to achieve over the coming 12 months, both personally and professionally. We set goals for ourselves and our teams, often investing much time in the process. However, even with the best of intentions, we often slip back into familiar routines, missing out on opportunities to make the most of the year ahead. Getting into the habit When setting out to achieve new goals, it can be useful to focus on developing new habits that can help us succeed. In 2009, Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at London’s UCL defined habits as behaviours that are performed automatically because they have been performed frequently in the past. Their research found that it can take much longer than many people think to form a habit, and perseverance is the key to success. According to Lally and her colleagues, to form a habit, one should be very clear with themselves about what action they will adopt and in what situation, and then carry out that action consistently. Lally says that, over time, it will require less effort. Likewise, in the workplace, when managers are encouraging teams to form new habits (be it good time management, better organisation or to adopt a more independent working style), they need to be clear about what they want the team to achieve, encourage the group along the way and have regular check-ins to be sure these new behaviours are happening consistently. Do as I do Managers also need to reflect on how their work habits impact on team members. Do you lead by example? Do you make time to get to know your team members? Do you give credit where credit is due? Do you take regular breaks, manage your stress and prioritise your health and wellbeing? Do you communicate your expectations clearly and set realistic goals and deadlines? These are essential habits, which all persons should develop to become a productive team member – but your team will struggle to embed them into their lifestyle if they don’t see you doing the same. Consistency is key I suspect that if you were to ask each of your team members and managers about the good habits they would like to nurture in 2020, you would end up with a long list of aspirations covering everything from better time management to cutting back on social media to giving higher priority to health, wellbeing and community involvement. Whatever their goals for the coming year, remind them that persistence is vital. While they may slip for a day here or there, they should try to be consistent and prioritise getting back on track. That way, there’s a good chance their new habit will continue to benefit them throughout the coming year and beyond. Teresa Campbell FCA is the People and Culture Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.

Jan 03, 2020
Careers

Chartered Accountant, John Morgan, explains his five steps to becoming a trusted finance business partner. On 22 September 2002, I was in Croke Park to witness my home county, Armagh, win its first All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final. Two years into my Corporate Finance career with EY in London, it got me thinking: it’d be great to get home to witness Armagh’s inevitable decade of domination! Having completed my Chartered Accountancy training with EY in Belfast, I was given the opportunity to join a newl y formed team in London that focused on pre-acquisition due diligence for private equity clients. I spent two years in that team, working with amazing people on fascinating deals. My favourite aspect of the role was getting underneath the forecasts in the information memo and working with operational management to understand and challenge revenue and cost forecast assumptions. Getting beyond the numbers and dealing with operational management was something I relished, but it was frustrating to never see whether forecast assumptions materialised. I wanted to not only review and challenge such assumptions, but also work with the management team on implementing the plan. Lesson 1: understand the business I then returned home to Northern Ireland to join BT as a Finance Business Partner, which gave me the opportunity to work with the Operational Director to manage a budget and drive business performance. I immediately got stuck into the detail and came up with money-saving opportunities. BT in the early noughties perhaps still had low hanging fruit, but I immersed myself in understanding the business – both from an operational and strategic perspective. In 2003, the Ireland CEO stood on stage at the company’s annual management conference and spoke about the difference broadband would make to both BT and the country. He seemed convinced that this was a game changer, so I took time out of my day job to spend some time with engineers understanding the network. This taught me lesson number one – to be an effective business partner, you must understand the business from an operational and strategic perspective. This helps on two fronts: first, you gain credibility with the senior operational managers you are attempting to influence; and second, you can become more than a number-cruncher and begin to add value. Lesson 2: build relationships A key lesson for me in the early stages was how to manage key stakeholders with different priorities. Learning to balance conflicting interests is crucial, and this manifested itself with my Operational Director and Finance Director. My first Financial Director wrote on my annual performance report: “has a healthy disrespect for traditional views in BT”. However, my Operational Director did not consider my disrespect “healthy”. He felt that I was not working in partnership with him, so be conscious that your stakeholders may have different priorities and react to your recommendations in different ways. So, lesson number two taught me that unless you can constructively work in partnership with operational management, you won’t succeed. What helps in this respect is objective alignment – you should be on the same side; both striving to drive the business forward. Lesson 3: simplify complex financial data Perhaps one of my first successes was working with my operational Managing Director on driving a material improvement in the cost of installing telegraph poles. The key was being able to distil complex data in a user-friendly manner, which helped drive operational decision-making. My superior felt we were inefficient, so I armed him with some simple unitary analysis that articulated clearly these inefficiencies for both the trade unions and our procurement team. This was critical in negotiating better third-party rates and gaining union agreement to outsource the function. So, lesson number three was the importance of translating complex data into simple, operational language that supported decision-making. I’ve always found unitary analysis really useful in this respect. Lesson 4: be relentless and resilient The bigger the decisions you get involved in, the higher the stakes – and in the early noughties, I learned that you don’t always get it right. Mistakes happen and when they do, the best thing you can do is pick yourself up, brush yourself down and move on. So, lesson four centres around the need to be both relentless and resilient. Lesson 5: do less, coach more As the teens progressed, I started to manage bigger teams, and this leads me to my next key lesson: being an effective leader is the key to success in a senior business partner role. In the noughties, I had more of a solitary role. Now, leading teams of up to 30 people, the balance of time changes significantly as I have evolved from a ‘doer’ into a ‘leader’. It is perhaps my biggest challenge, but unquestionably the most rewarding experience of all. So, lesson number five is that, to excel in senior finance business partnering roles, you need to become an effective leader. Conclusion If you master these five points, you will become a trusted finance business partner. This is what separates a good business partner and a great business partner – moving from merely commentating and recommending, to leading and driving decisions, playing a leading role on some key commercial and strategic decisions, building the business case, and being part of the sign-off on big investment decisions. The line between being a finance business partner and an operational manager can get a bit blurred, which is perhaps when it works best – when you are being asked by the business to step in and do things that you feel is a bit over and above the day job. In the mid-2000s, I led a significant acquisition in Northern Ireland. In the late 2000s, I led the fibre broadband investment business case. And over the last decade, I have signed off on BT’s largest public sector customer bids. When I joined BT in 2003, I never envisaged the fascinating work I would get involved in – from the broadband revolution to leading on some of BT’s largest public sector long-term contracts. But perhaps the most rewarding was building, and being a part of a high-performing team. It all worked out perfectly. Well, almost. What ever happened to that second All-Ireland for Armagh?   John Morgan FCA is Local Government & Health Finance Director at BT Enterprise.

Dec 06, 2019
Careers

Dr Annette Clancy explains why the granting or withholding of control over employees’ working conditions has a knock-on effect on their physical and mental wellbeing. Do you go to work in an office? Or, perhaps you sit behind a desk in a large space divided up into cubicles. Do you have a large desk or a small one? Is there a window in your office? Or, perhaps an air conditioning unit? Do you display photographs of your family or does management supply posters with pithy quotes such as “the only way to guarantee failure is to never try”? You might wonder why these questions matter, but in recent years psychologists have become interested in why some office  designs make workers happy and others do not. Organisational psychologists are increasingly interested in how work environments affect performance. Research suggests that the size of our desks, how we decorate our workspace and the amount of privacy we have or, if we have a desk at all, contribute to contentment, comfort and productivity. Office optimisation Office design is not a new concept. In the early 20th century, an American engineer named Frederick Taylor conducted a study of efficiency at the Bethlehem Iron and Steel Company. His published study, The Principles of Scientific Management, has become so influential in management studies that it is still widely practised and cited today. He invented the concepts of piece rates, assembly lines and time and motion studies. He was also a proponent of optimising workplaces for efficiency – extraneous equipment, people and furniture had to be moved out of the manufacturing or work area in order to achieve maximum productivity. These principles have been adopted for today’s work environment, in which large spaces can be quickly reorganised by partitions into cubicles or dispensed with completely through hot-desk systems. In 2010, two researchers at the University of Exeter – Alex Haslam and Craig Knight – became interested in office design. They focused specifically on cubicles, investigating how much freedom workers had to design their own spaces and whether the look of the cubicle influenced the work that got done. To conduct the research, they designed four different layouts and asked people to do an hour’s worth of work in each. The layouts were as follows: The first was the ‘lean’ office – a spartan space with a bare desk, swivel chair, pencil and paper; The second was ‘enriched’, which had all of the basics and was decorated with plants and art; The third was ‘empowered’, in which people could rearrange the plants and art any way they wished; and The fourth was ‘disempowered’, in which the respondents were allowed to decorate, and then researchers undid all the personal touches. Office customisation The findings from the research are interesting. A pleasant work environment is important, but on its own it is not enough. People in the ‘enriched’ office worked about 15% faster than those in the ‘lean’ office. Productivity and wellbeing increased by about 30% in the workspaces that people customised themselves. When people’s choices were overridden (in the disempowered office), their performance and wellbeing dropped to the same levels as those in the lean office. The findings from the study show that autonomy to customise the work environment is even more important than the physical environment itself. The bigger issue highlighted in the study is one of control. Granting or withholding control over employees’ working conditions has a knock-on effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. Whether it is shared offices, cubicles or hot-desking, what appears to be a simple exercise in space-saving or cost reduction may also result in productivity issues if not considered collaboratively with employees. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy. Annette’s research focuses on emotions in organisations.

Dec 03, 2019
Careers

Work-life balance can have enormous value in any organisation,  but meeting the needs of a broad spectrum of employees is more art than science. By Ed Heffernan For well over a decade now, work-life balance has been part of the conversation. The 2019 Leinster Society Salary Survey cited, perhaps unsurprisingly, that 86% of respondents said it was a key factor when considering an external move. Surprisingly, however, some 52% of respondents cited they would sacrifice up to 10% of their financial reward for better work-life balance. What is this mysterious, evasive thing that the majority of accountants would take a pay cut for? How is work-life balance defined? Sometimes things are more easily defined by what they are not, rather than what they are. Here’s an example: Work-life balance does not mean equality between work hours and non-work hours; Work-life balance does not necessarily mean working fewer hours than you are working now; Work-life balance is not a one-size-fits-all matter; it means different things to different people and will have a varied meaning over time for each individual; and Work-life balance means different things to different generations; for some, it’s a nice-to-have while for others, it’s an expectation. More often than not, work-life balance comes down to three things – flexibility, achievement and enjoyment. Flexibility is doing your job at the times that work for you. We all have different commutes and different responsibilities outside of work; the employers that recognise this as a fact of life are the ones who retain their people for longer and get more return for their people’s time. For example, some employers will: Allow some degree of flexibility on start and finish times to allow for commutes, family responsibilities, sports commitments or even to make sure that when someone needs to finish a little early, they feel that they can; Allow people to work from “not the office” and trust that they will. Numerous studies suggest that the worst possible place for employee productivity is the workplace – there are just too many distractions. Enabling certain types of work, especially the type of work that requires uninterrupted focused activity, to be conducted outside of the office can lead to substantial  increases in productivity; and Giving a little can mean gaining a lot. If one of your team has a medical appointment or another one-off event, allowing them the freedom to be away from the desk without deducting the time from their holidays, or stating that they have to make the time up, can have enormous reciprocal effects in the future. Small, random acts of kindness are more powerful than any policy. There is a catch, though. Even if a company does manage to create a flexible working environment, it is still not going to please all of the people all of the time. When it comes to flexibility, some people at certain stages in their life will need a little more; others a little less. Implicit to the flexibility component of work-life balance is that it means different things to different people at different stages. Companies that create a culture of flexibility as opposed to enforcement often get the best results. Achievement is the cornerstone of human ambition. Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of what they need to achieve in their role and to be recognised when this achievement occurs. This can be weekly, monthly or even annually. It must be measurable in some way and it must be recognised, either intrinsically (for example, a simple ‘thank you’ for a job well done) or extrinsically (for example, some type of financial reward – a token, an unexpected gesture, a bonus, or even a salary increase). Everyone needs to feel that they are achieving something in their role and it is ultimately up to their direct manager to ensure that achievements are recognised. Those who feel they are achieving something tend to feel like they have work-life balance and in many cases, they feel this way regardless of the hours they work. Enjoyment is a less tangible, but equally important, part of work-life balance. Enjoyment does not just mean having fun – that’s only part of it. Enjoyment has a much wider definition when it comes to work-life balance. It’s how you feel about what you do; it’s how it feels to work in your team; it’s feeling that you are working towards a shared goal; it’s respecting and learning from the people you work with; it’s celebrating success and learning from failure with your colleagues; it’s the opportunity to help others learn; it’s the opportunity to work in a business that you believe in for a cause you admire; and it’s a whole lot more. Flexibility and achievement are the easy ones to define and create a policy for – enjoyment is the piece that is really personal, and the piece that many managers often get wrong. Work-life balance can have enormous value in any organisation. Get the mix of flexibility, achievement and enjoyment right, and your people will work harder, be happier, be more productive and will stay longer. Get it wrong these days, and you will end up with the opposite. It’s that easy. Why authentic leaders listen For some people, it isn’t the work component that creates the imbalance; it’s the life component. At certain times, we all come under stresses that have nothing to do with work. Some people make work the escape from these stresses; other people bring these life stresses into the workplace with sometimes devastating consequences. People don’t change without reason. If someone on your team begins to submit work that isn’t up to their usual standard, uncharacteristically misses multiple deadlines or just seems ‘off form’ in the office, don’t get annoyed – get curious. Sometimes it might just be listening; sometimes it might be arranging some extra flexibility or a reduced workload on a temporary basis. Regardless of the situation, every time you engage and, where you can, offer to take action, you will not only make a difference for that person, but you will create longer lasting, deeper bonds between yourself and your team. You can create the space your people need when life causes an imbalance. And from experience, that’s where the real magic happens. It’s easy to ignore the problem, but it takes bravery to ask the question. Which type of leader are you?   Ed Heffernan is Managing Partner at Barden Accounting and Tax.

Oct 01, 2019