Careers

Careers

Do soft skills matter during this uncertain time? Sinead Smith tells us that productivity, prioritisation and people skills are key when it comes to an efficient transition back to the workplace. The spread of COVID-19 has dictated that we adapt almost every element of our lives. For many, the most drastic change has been in learning how to work remotely. Gone is the structure of an office, the presence of a team and the productivity pathways that we’ve so carefully laid. Instead, we are working in isolation, at makeshift desks, trying to find the same ability to focus and achieve. While it has been tough, there have been opportunities for growth through autonomous decision-making, developing relationships and dictating your own course. However, it has possibly also thrown some areas for improvement into stark clarity, with productivity, prioritisation and people skills being cited by one Big 4 firm as common struggles for employees. Productivity and prioritisation Improving productivity should be considered a lifelong process. As the demands of work and life change, so too should your productivity levels. Learning how to evolve your productivity and prioritise during challenging times is a skill worth honing and one you can draw on later to demonstrate your work style. "How do I decide what is important when everything is important?” I’ll bet this sounds familiar to you. Poor prioritisation is the single biggest threat to productivity but, once you understand how to improve on it, you will find that your stress decreases and your output increases. There are many time-management courses available, but one of the most accessible tools is the Eisenhower Matrix. Developed by 34th US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man considered to be one of the most productive presidents of all time, the Eisenhower Matrix is a simple box system designed to separate tasks. Tasks are sorted into four categories: urgent and important (do immediately), important not urgent (schedule), urgent not important (delegate or postpone), neither urgent not important (wasted time – move on). Dividing the workday into these four categories provides a visual representation of where to start and where to finish. It alleviates the pressure of deadlines and enables us to give concrete timeframes for deliverables. People skills It is likely that you have already seen the importance of good communication over the last 12 weeks and it would be wise to continue to work on this. Whether managing a team, brainstorming with colleagues or liaising with clients, if you can learn to communicate effectively through the distanced nature of video calls, it can only have a positive impact on your in-person communications going forward. Consider the questions you are asking: Are they purposeful? Will they net the information you require? Listen more intently and work on your listening responses to show that you are engaged, interested and present. Make room for empathy and understanding in your conversations. When well-honed, these skills will buttress every facet of a finance career. Taking the time now to upskill in key areas like these will not only support a more efficient transition back to the workplace, but will also benefit longer term career progression. Sinead Smith is the Director for Newly Qualified Accountants at ACCPRO.

Jun 10, 2020
Careers

Building a culture of inclusion and belonging is now more important than ever. Rachel Power shares her insights from PwC’s experience thus far. Not that long ago, we were all clear on our plans. Our strategies were set, with events and meetings scheduled in the diversity and inclusion calendar for the year ahead. All the behaviours and operating norms we took for granted changed in what seemed like the flick of a switch. COVID-19 has led to new terms in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) world, which we would not have understood just a few months ago. The main one at the heart of PwC’s strategy is ‘inclusive distancing’ – how can we all be more inclusive while maintaining a distance that is outside the norm. Another element that is core to our current D&I work is just how little has changed. While our medium may differ, the core elements of our strategy remain the same around inclusion, wellness and flexibility and focusing on tools and training for the future. Our long-standing D&I values have helped us navigate through this crisis, and this was supported in no small part by our investment in technology.  More important than ever Several items already high on our strategic agenda have helped us navigate and transition relatively seamlessly into this new remote working world, in which building on our culture of inclusion and belonging is more important than ever. Our D&I focus was on three areas before the arrival of COVID-19, and all three ring true during this time: Nurturing an environment of inclusion and belonging; Living our values, putting wellness and flexibility at the core; and Leveraging tools and training for the future. We set these objectives before the pandemic, but they are still as relevant now as ever. Transforming our workforce and the way we work requires us to have diverse, talented people from different backgrounds; people who have different experiences and who bring innovation, creativity, and fresh perspectives. No one size fits all This new era of working remotely – or smart working, as we call it – brings challenges that can present in different ways for our diverse team. We are all different, with distinct personal circumstances, and deal with problems in unique ways. Some people are balancing work and caring for their family; others may be away from their family and friends. Some have family on the front line, relatives who have been sick, or family members who may not be well. A one-size approach certainly does not fit all. While many of us worked flexibly before the crisis, our approach to flexibility has been taken to a new level. Arrangements that worked in the past are in many cases no longer viable, as many of our people now balance many things including work. The new world of flexible working may, therefore, involve doing some work very early and then taking a couple of hours during the day for caring responsibilities or exercise, before returning to work later. It is all about balance and finding ways to make it work. Again, this comes back to having inclusive and values-based leaders and ensuring that the right conversations happen so that the solutions work for everyone. Focus on wellbeing Focusing on the wellbeing of our people, particularly to support those struggling with a diverse range of circumstances, has been at the top of our priority list at PwC. Through our Be Well, Work Well programme, we provide a variety of supports including one-to-one psychologist sessions, parenting, nutrition and fitness classes, and we continue to host regular wellbeing seminars. Communicating regularly with our people, and in different ways, has been vital. From transforming our intranet into a ‘smart hub for smart working’ to regular emails, leadership briefings and FAQs, we continue to foster a culture of inclusion. There is undoubtedly more to do as the end to this pandemic is far from sight. However, our values, strategic direction, and technology will help steer us through this and ultimately strengthen D&I throughout our firm and beyond. Rachel Power is Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager at PwC Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020
Careers

Ronan Dunne draws on his experience at the highest echelons of business to share his six leadership lessons. When I first worked in London as a banker, I was promoted three times in a period of about 15 months. I was an eager and highly qualified Chartered Accountant but in the first 12 months I worked late every evening. Then, I started working on Saturday and Sunday. I worked my socks off and for the first year, it was a remarkably successful strategy – but then, I hit a wall. I had no more capacity. It was a completely unsustainable model and it did not take me long to realise that unless I could invent an eighth day in the week, I would need to change my management style. The lessons that follow are based on my experience as a Chartered Accountant in business, and one who often had to learn lessons the hard way. Some may be more relevant to you than others, but I nevertheless hope that you find them useful. Lesson 1: It is not what you do, it is what you make happen When Chartered Accountants start out in their careers, they are largely personal contributors. They have a very specific role and success is defined by the outcome or the output of their particular job. Increasingly, however, we realise that this approach is based on an old-fashioned, hierarchical business model. In modern society, and for millennials in particular, painting inside the lines is not an attractive proposition – even in your first job. So, discover as early as possible in your career that your success does not just depend exclusively on what you do; it also hinges on what you make happen. Your capacity to impact and influence is infinite but your output is simply defined by hours in the day, no matter how hard and fast you work. At every point in your career, you have the opportunity to impact and influence those around you. Key takeaway: Take the opportunity to make a difference when it comes your way. Lesson 2: To be an effective leader, build an effective team The capacity to exceed expectations lies in how you blend the skills and capabilities of those around you. Effective teams do not simply do what any other team would; effective teams harness the unique talent, perspectives, and experience of their individual members in a way that enables the collective to achieve outcomes that would not otherwise be possible. When considering team formation, we sometimes think “I need someone for finance, someone for marketing, someone for legal” and so on. But actually, if you build a team correctly, you create space for each person to bring their own personality and their own unique perspective to the team. That is the secret ingredient to superior outcomes. Key takeaway: Every person within the team has a unique contribution to make. Lesson 3: Exercise judgement as to when to exercise judgement This might sound like a play on words but in my experience, people early in their career often have a desire to impress their superiors. They sometimes seek out opportunities to act decisively, to jump in and make a decision in order to demonstrate that they have what it takes to be a manager or a leader. In fact, they often demonstrate their inexperience by attempting to find a moment to showcase their decisiveness and by consequence, unwittingly illustrate their impatience. Very often, the wisest thing to do is to explain why a decision cannot be made due to a lack of information or context, for example. By all means, look for opportunities to exercise judgement but remember that judgement can sometimes be best exercised by not deciding and explaining why. Key takeaway: When meeting with senior executives, remember that rushing to make an impact may make you look like an idiot. Lesson 4: Leadership should happen at every level In business, decisions are best made closest to the point of impact. An effective organisation therefore ensures that those who make decisions have the right context and the discretion to decide, because hierarchy on its own does not always work. In a team, the most senior member is not always the natural leader on a particular topic or project so to be continually effective, teams should encourage those closer to the issue to take the helm. That means cultivating the flexibility to have junior members lead the way. Indeed, the biggest challenge facing larger organisations is their established hierarchical models. Such companies recruit bright, young, and digitally literate people but in too many cases they leave after a year or two because they get completely disillusioned. Despite understanding more about behavioural trends or other issues that may be affecting the business, their opinion is never sought out because they are three or four levels down in the organisation. Leaders need to empower those people and accept a certain amount of risk. There must be permission to fail but even in organisations with a mild risk tolerance, this concept creates a space in which an organisation’s collective potential can be nurtured. Key takeaway: Acknowledging context is critical to effective decision-making. Couple that with delegated authority and permission to fail, and you have a solid foundation for a highly effective organisation. Lesson 5: Authenticity is the gateway to true leadership My view of authenticity is built on two ideas – one is a personal insight and the other builds on the elements discussed above. I became a CEO for the first time with O2 in the UK when we were on the cusp of a major recession. I had a successful career up to that point but when I took over as CEO, I struggled for the first six months because I spent a lot of time wondering what other people would have done in my situation. In many jobs, you are the subject matter expert but as CEO, you are a jack of all trades and often master of none. Then, I had an almost spiritual moment when I realised that I had 27 years of rich experience. It became clear that the only way I could do my job was to be myself. So, as a leader, you need to ask yourself: who are you? People rarely challenge themselves with this question. I describe myself as chief cheerleader and chief storyteller. I am an extrovert, a joiner-upper, an enthusiast – and I use that to be a front-row leader because that just happens to be my natural style. So ultimately, the best way to be successful in any role is to be yourself. The second thing is that when you are the boss, nobody asks you a question that they know the answer to. This leaves you with a strange obligation to know the answer to everything, but CEOs manage uncertainty amid many shades of grey and it can be quite liberating to realise that the CEO can and should say: “You know what, I am concerned about that as well.” If you do that, you help your people work things out, find solutions, and build answers to organisational challenges with a sense of togetherness. Key takeaway: Know your strengths and acknowledge that you do not – and should not – have the answer to every question. Lesson 6: Know the question before you try to answer it There is massive structural impatience in organisations and as a result, I see much more ‘ready, fire, aim’ than ‘ready, aim, fire’. Too often organisations run towards an assumption of what the question (and answer) is; they are in action mode immediately. But a little time working out the precise nature of the question will invariably bring you closer to the answer. Organisations consistently do two things wrong: they press ahead to answer a part-formed question, and they do not allow talent to flourish because hierarchy gets in the way. Key takeaway: Define the question clearly before embarking on the search for an answer. Ronan Dunne FCA is CEO at Verizon Consumer Group.

Jun 02, 2020
Careers

Richard Sheath and Susan Stenson share 12 practical tips to help your virtual board meetings operate smoothly in times of crisis. December seems a long time ago.  Back then, as a team of board evaluators,  we set out to imagine how boards would work by 2030. Suddenly the virtual board meetings we perceived as futuristic have arrived, forced on us all by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As boards strive to respond to the many new challenges, board and committee meetings must now work better than ever. And given the unprecedented breadth and difficulty of the issues presented, excellent communication, constructive discussion, and clear-cut decisions are vital. Postponing decisions is not an option, and confusing outcomes will undoubtedly be unhelpful – potentially destructive. Yet these better-than-ever meetings have to be conducted remotely, working with a management team that is likely similarly dispersed. Because we are in contact with many boards that are now meeting virtually, we see what works well and where things go wrong. Based on what we have learnt, here are some practical tips to help your virtual board meetings work well. 1. Get to the point Work even harder with the executive team to ensure that all briefings and presentations are to the point – the point being what the board needs to hear about, now. That means the board and committee chairs going through the possible meeting business and cutting it back to what is essential – whether it is crisis-related or business as usual matters that cannot be postponed. Then, help managers understand that a virtual meeting requires precise points communicated clearly in literally just a few minutes. 2. Set the scene succinctly Ensure that the pre-read papers are clear in terms of what is being asked of the board and that the “overview” page works in the way it should. This overview should include critical background information; a quick reminder of the story so far; the risks; what the board needs to discuss; what is proposed – and all on a couple of pages at most with effective signposting to any essential detail. 3. Draft your agenda from scratch Be extra vigilant in preparing the agenda. Stick to the essential discussion points and ask yourself: can some items be decided by written resolution instead, put in a ‘consent agenda’, or postponed? Start with a clean sheet; do not merely roll-over the usual agenda with some tweaks because that is unlikely to be enough to break the mould. Be clear about the outcomes you need to achieve, and how best to meet them. 4. Prioritise and pace Keep the meeting focused and put what really matters at the top of the agenda. Maintaining concentration for more than a couple of hours is going to be even more difficult than usual, so the essential items need to be addressed first. If there is not enough time, split the meeting into two or three blocks with long-ish breaks in between – long enough to stretch your legs, get some air, and return refreshed. 5. Choose video over audio  Insist on video participation to the greatest extent possible, as it makes a big difference – especially as those on audio-only are often forgotten. That means testing beforehand with each participant, with a co-ordinator (probably from the company secretariat) becoming the expert in how to make your chosen system work. Ask everybody to join a bit early so false starts and broken connections do not sap time and patience once the meeting has officially started. 6. Manage the transitions Sharing documents on-screen can work well on a video call, but the operator needs to know how to do it – and have rehearsed, if possible, knowing what to highlight and where to go. Practise switching between people and a document and back again before the meeting. Switching back is essential – you must get talking heads back on the screen if you want the discussion to flow. 7. Explain the meeting etiquette Establish and communicate the meeting etiquette. That might include the following: mute when not speaking; turn off your video if you need to be interrupted; how to intervene, and the hand signals to do so; how to vote where voting will be required. A chair who typically takes a quick look around the table to assess consensus may need to make this more explicit (for instance, asking everyone to give a thumbs-up). 8. Facilitate input The chair must call on individual directors for their input, rather than leaving them to find their own opportunities to contribute. More frequent stops to take the temperature of the meeting are also needed. 9. Encourage down-time Have comfort breaks at least as often as you would during an in-person meeting. Allow some time during the breaks for chit-chat; social engagement is more important than ever. 10. Stay security conscious Keep an eye on meeting your organisation’s security requirements. Ensure that the Company Secretary monitors who is on the line and remind participants who are not alone in their home offices that they need to use headphones and speak no louder than necessary. In any shared facility, there is a risk that someone may overhear – even through a wall. Screens must be shielded too. This may seem obvious, but we do see and hear things going wrong, resulting in embarrassment at best or a severe breach at worst. 11. Meet your legal obligations Check the legal formalities for your meeting (quorum and location requirements, for example). Take a roll-call at the beginning and if you are tight on numbers, keep an eagle eye on the quorum in case somebody falls off the call. 12. Gather feedback Set aside five to ten minutes at the end of the meeting to ask people how the meeting went and to gather ideas for future virtual board meetings. Alternatively, you can use a short questionnaire if time is short. A checklist for virtual board meetings Here is a list to help you consider the elements of a productive virtual meeting. Be extra vigilant when preparing the agenda and pre-read material Stick to the essential discussions and focus the agenda. Eliminate long verbal presentations. Make sure the pre-read papers are clear on what is being asked of the board. Check the legal formalities for your meeting (quorum requirements, location, etc.)   Check the technical logistics Include a video link and encourage all participants to be in ‘video on’ mode. Ask all participants to join five to ten minutes before the start of the meeting. Test the document sharing facility, if needed.   Set the ground rules Instruct participants to wear headphones and prepare their meeting environment (lighting, camera angle, wi-fi connection, security/confidentiality, etc.) Instruct participants to use mute, turn off video if leaving the room, and take calls elsewhere. Take a roll-call and ensure that everyone knows who is present and who has joined. Secure the meeting – check all joiners and flag confidentiality continually. Set out the rules on how to intervene. Define the use of the chat function or oral questions to facilitate questioning. Work out a mechanism for voting and indicating agreement or dissent.   For the chair Call on individual directors more for their inputs. Stop periodically to take the temperature of the meeting. Include comfort breaks and encourage participants to interact socially during this time. Encourage participants to be respectful, present, and engaged if bad behaviour becomes apparent. Check with participants after the meeting to gauge their experience. Richard Sheath is a Director at Independent Audit Limited, the board evaluators. Susan Stenson is a Director at Independent Audit Limited, the board evaluators.

Jun 02, 2020
Careers

John Slattery shares his simple three-step process to help you make a career choice you will not regret. In adulthood, bar sleep, we spend more time at work than anything else. Our career will have a massive bearing on the happiness, success, and fulfilment we experience in life. It is critical, therefore, that we make the best career choice possible at every professional junction. Making a career choice is a complex process, and there are many nuances to consider. Inspo’s three-step guide to making good career choices is designed to steer you toward the right decisions for you. The three steps are as follows. Step 1 Create an uninhibited list of career choices One measure of success around career choice will be the absence of any regret upon deciding. For this to be the case, we must identify all possibilities that appeal to us as possible career choices. This will enable us to feel confident that we are choosing from a complete list. You may be able to identify all possibilities yourself. Alternatively, you may need to bounce it off one or more people to help you formulate the list. If so, chat with someone you know who will give you a genuine opinion as to what career options they think would be worth considering. You must also ensure that you build an understanding of what each role entails. You can then make an informed decision as to whether to pursue or discard each option (more on that in step three). The end-goal for step one is to feel that you have identified a complete list of career choices and to have an informed understanding of each option. Step 2 Self-reflect To decide on the suitability of each option, you must self-reflect. You will use the output of your self-reflection to evaluate each option that has emerged in step one. There are three elements of self-reflection to carry out: Vision Positive psychologists Scott Barry Kaufman and E. P. Torrance claim that inspiration is the attempt to realise a future vision of oneself. Making career choices that align with our vision can, therefore, create a sense of inspiration in our professional lives. Research also suggests that making a career choice that is connected to our vision can lead to higher levels of productivity, motivation, and positivity. Therefore, our vision is a critical evaluation criterion. Strengths and interest areas This focus area of self-reflection derives from a definition of meaning by positive psychologist, Martin Seligman. He defines meaning as “using your signature strengths in the service of something greater than you are”. Seligman’s research identifies meaning as the most significant contributor to happiness. Strengths and interest areas are a simplified extraction of Seligman’s definition, but tapping into these two areas will give us excellent access to meaning and joy through our work. So, as with vision, strengths and interest areas are crucial evaluation criteria. Priorities Our career choices must be grounded in the priorities that exist in our lives at the time we make a choice. They might be personal, such as a desire to travel or buy a house, or they might be related or separate financial priorities. Honouring our priorities through our choice gives us the best chance to meet our goals, ambitions, and desires. It is the final critical element of evaluation. Our end-goal for this step is to have a clear vision, a sense of what our strengths and interest areas are, and an understanding of our priorities in life. Step 3 Evaluate, pursue, and decide In the final step, you first evaluate each option against the self-reflection criteria. For each option, you decide whether you are going to pursue or discard that option. This will leave you with a shortlist of options. From here, you pursue each shortlisted option further by furthering your understanding and actively exploring opportunities related to each career option. As you do this, you check-in with yourself regularly as to which prospect feels like the right one. You continuously repeat this check-in exercise during this final stage of exploration until you feel ready to make your career choice. I wish I could offer you a process that guarantees success in your career choice. Alas, neither I nor anyone else can do so. What I can say is that I have seen, through my work, that this process helps people make good career choices – and I hope it can do the same for you. The referendum effect Career choices are an imperfect process simply because the ‘perfect choice’ is rare if non-existent. So here is a concept I call the ‘referendum effect’ to help define success when it comes to career choices. Let us look back to the two most recent Irish referendums – the same-sex marriage referendum and the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. In both cases, there was high-quality information available and thorough debate and discussion on the merits of both sides of each argument. This allowed people to make an informed choice at the polls. In both scenarios, the consensus was that the right outcome was achieved. However, in both cases, more than 30% of people voted against the outcome. For me, these referendums are a good metaphor for what you should hope for with your career choices – that is to collect high-quality, accurate information regarding your options, to self-reflect, and to discuss the issues with people you trust and respect. At the end of the process, you will hopefully have a substantial majority for one choice. That for me would be the best outcome you could hope for when making a career choice. There is another side to this metaphorical coin. Consider Brexit – the quality of information shared with the UK electorate was of questionable quality and clarity. In some cases, the information was alleged to be factually incorrect. Voters therefore went to the polls with much higher degrees of uncertainty and a narrow, unconvincing majority voted in favour of Brexit. It has taken Britain several years to make any type of progress on the back of the referendum result and all the while, a vast cloud of doubt looms over the outcome itself. This is a good metaphor, in my view, for a poor career choice – poor or incorrect information, lack of clarity on the options available, and a very uncertain choice. Given the importance of our career in terms of our overall happiness, fulfilment and success, there is only one approach to take. Take the right one. Given the importance that we’ve discussed our career has in terms of our happiness, fulfilment and success – there is only one approach to take of these two shared in the Referendum Effect. Take the right one. John Slattery ACA is Founder of Inspo.

Jun 02, 2020
Careers

Becoming a specialist in a particular sector isn’t reserved for large firms only and is far easier than you might think. Mary Cloonan tells us how. The professional services market in Ireland has changed in the last five years and, after this COVID-19 crisis, they certainly will again. Professionals might be starting to think about pivoting to a particular service or sector, and becoming specialists who know the ins-and-outs of that sector and are better positioned than general practice (GP) accountants to advise their clients. In the past, this may have been an option for large firms only, but the Irish market is small and built on connections and relationships, so displaying your expertise in a particular sector is far easier than you might think. I work with a number of mid-sized practices that focus very successfully on specific expert areas. In turn, they compete successfully with GP accountants. Picking a specialist area When thinking about pivoting to a specialist area, think very carefully about where you want to focus and remember: picking a specialist area does not prohibit you from working with clients and prospects in other areas.   Research in the US indicates that high growth, profitable firms are focused on having clearly defined targets. The narrower the focus, the faster the growth. The more diverse the target audience, the more diluted your marketing efforts will be and, in turn, less effective. Some things you should consider: Is there potential for you in the sector of your choice? Is there already enough support for this sector, or are potential clients looking for professional advice and guidance? What is your commitment level to this change? Are you ready to focus on this sector? Are you committed to building your profile as a specialist? Will you enjoy working with clients in this sector? Experience and connections Since you became an accountant, you have been networking within the industry and have been working diligently for the clients you already have. Take a look at your network to see if you have clients or connections in your chosen sector who can guide you through any issues, become potential referrers of new contacts and provide testimonials, links to associations or groups in the sector. Building your profile Once you’ve established who your target audience is, use these key methods for building your profile with them: Social Media Create a profile on LinkedIn that clearly focuses on your expertise, then connect with stakeholders, follow relevant groups, businesses and influencers of the sector. Website Your website is your virtual 24/7 presence, and the single most important development tool. This is where your audiences learns about what you do. Prospective clients are not likely to choose you solely based on your website, but it is a critical validation point. Prospects will easily rule you out if your website sends the wrong message. Networking and events People do business with people they know, like and trust. So, if you are trying to do business in a particular sector, let the sector know you. Most industry sectors have an association so go along to events, seek to write in their publications, find opportunities to speak at events and exhibit, if that’s an option. Comment Ensure you are well-read and understand the issues of your sector. Set up Google news alerts and subscribe to magazines about the sector. This will ensure you are staying up-to-date on the issues relevant to your potential clients. You can then comment on the latest news on the industry and post via social media and write short pieces. Get connected to the journalists involved and offer commentary. Repeat Most importantly, when establishing your profile in a specific area, ensure you are consistent and repetitive. I see large and small practices start very enthusiastically, but only those who maintain focus will reap rewards. Mary Cloonan is the Founder of Marketing Clever.

Apr 02, 2020