Burnout has been creeping into our workplaces and greatly affecting our lives, even before COVID. Noel O’Callaghan outlines how you can identify burnout and manage your work-related stress.Increasingly, we are hearing about how workplace stress is on the rise, especially where work and life both feel uncertain and unpredictable. In a new survey from the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School, 60% of employees in Ireland are feeling more stressed since the onset of COVID-19. As we become so ingrained in the day-to-day routine while meeting the needs of employers or customers, we can miss the alarm bells warning that what was a somewhat natural and manageable stress is now morphing into burnout, something considerably more serious. Work culture seeks to identify and label what they call ‘high achievers’ but, unfortunately, delivering more and more with less and less is often the only criteria needed to earn the distinction. Day to day, month-end to month-end, quarter-end to quarter-end, the relentless pace of work makes it seem impossible for someone to put their hand up and say, “Stop. I need to rest”. If you combine this with a personality that is wholly-committed to doing a good job, has a fear of failure, or is unsupported either at work or at home, then you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive stress or burnout.Signs of burnoutWhat are the tell-tale signs of burnout? Burnout can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of detachment, or a feeling of never being good enough no matter how much you deliver. Are you:terrified of going to work every day?always tired?disinterested in participating in hobbies outside of work?getting little enjoyment in anything and no motivation to seek it?feeling stuck, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel?(Sometimes these can also be accompanied by unusual physical aches and pains.)These are just a few of the more common red flags, but it can be different for everyone. The great news is that burnout is treatable. Taking breaks, knowing your limits, and watching out for situations or people that elevate the stress can help. However, there are also huge benefits gained from working on your relationship with work. I-It and I-ThouMartin Buber, a theorist and 19th-century Austrian philosopher, suggested that humans have two approaches to the way we interact with people, things and nature. One is an ‘I-It’ approach where we objectify whatever we are dealing with and seek to get as much out of it for ourselves as possible and the other is an ‘I-Thou’ approach, where we turn to the subject as a partner and seek to relate more to it for the mutual benefit of both parties. There is a recurring theme that I see is in relation to how people interact with their career and the workplace. A pattern emerges over years whereby one relates to their career, work or co-workers from an I-It standpoint, viewing it as a means to an end, which can cause the relationship with work to become so unhealthy that people become ill. Having a more constructive relationship can alleviate the symptoms of stress and burnout and instil a sense of nourishment into the workday. We should aim to shift the relationship from I-It to an I-Thou and think of work as something to be engaged in, enjoyed or experienced.  Noel O’Callaghan FCA is a qualified psychotherapist. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact the CA support team at CASupport@charteredaccountants.ie.

Sep 04, 2020

As the pandemic continues to rage throughout the world, how are SMEs coping with maintaining their liquidity and cashflow? David Lucas explores finance options that are available to help Irish businesses thrive and persevere. The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely impacted SMEs throughout the country. Cashflow is scant, debt is racking up, and many businesses have yet to resume trading in any meaningful capacity. Those that have recommenced have found a desolate and unfamiliar trading environment. Shops and high streets are empty, many stores remain shuttered, and dented consumer confidence looks unlikely to rebound fully until a vaccine is developed. Supports available to SMEsWithout access to the significant cash reserves available to larger enterprises, liquidity and cashflow are key concerns for many SMEs during this time. Fortunately, there are a number of supports available, and businesses should be doing all they can to avail of the Credit Guarantee Scheme, COVID-19 Working Capital Loan Scheme, Future Growth Loan Scheme, Fund, Trading Online Voucher, Local Enterprise Offices Grants and Microfinance Ireland Loans wherever possible.  Furthermore, the COVID-19 warehousing provisions, in particular, have been a very well-received benefit during this difficult period, allowing businesses to effectively warehouse their VAT or PAYE payments into an interest-free loan for 12 months and a 3% loan for the subsequent 12 months. Quick cashThese measures can provide critical relief and cash supports to businesses, but there are additional measures SMEs can take to meet liquidity needs as repayment moratoriums expire towards the end of the year. For example, businesses can optimise by selling slow-moving stock to generate cash. Debtor management sounds obvious, but assets can become tied up, and the longer debt remains unpaid the less likely it is to collect. People talk about loan-to-value and property, but at the end of the day, it is cash that repays debt.Managing debtIn this volatile business landscape, SMEs may need to renegotiate covenants, or even a complete a full restructuring of their debt. At times like these, open communication with lenders is crucial. Businesses need to be extremely well-prepared as approaching the banks can be painstaking and time-consuming, but they understand the position businesses are in – everyone wants to be able to pay down the debt and keep the business in operation. Further funding optionsFor businesses seeking to access further funding, it is crucial to know the different options that are available on the market. Alternative lenders can be less onerous in terms of covenants. They tend to lend a little bit more than the traditional banks, but they charge greater interest, often up to 6 or 7%.Invoice discounting (also known as invoice finance) has become a very popular way of lending from a working capital perspective. This is a process whereby banks or alternative lenders will lend money based on the business’ debtor book. This gives the lender increased security as there is direct access to the debtor book and no reliance on revenue or cashflow.Private equity is another potential option for SMEs in need of a capital injection. This route has become increasingly popular in recent years as these investors provide experience and growth potential as well as capital.  Many SMEs are apprehensive about selling a piece of their business, but it’s always better to own 80% of a thriving venture than 100% of a failing one.Above is a snapshot of a wide range of options for SMEs looking for ways to finance their business through this uncertain period. Not all options are suitable for every business, but a proactive approach in identifying the best available options will give SMEs with cashflow difficulties the best chance of survival.David Lucas is a Corporate Finance Partner at PKF O’Connor Leddy Holmes.

Aug 14, 2020

With remote working here to stay, people leaders will need to understand the nuances of managing virtual teams and remote workers. Dr Annette Clancy explains.COVID-19 propelled remote working to the top of the agenda for every business. Overnight, virtual meetings replaced face-to-face interaction and have become the primary way in which work is conducted. This temporary solution to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is tolerable because we are in such unusual circumstances.However, some organisations such as Facebook and Twitter are now planning for permanent remote working. We are also likely to see remote working becoming more popular in non-technology businesses. For some people, and some businesses, remote working works. The ability to manage remote teams effectively will therefore be a critical skill in the new working world.What differentiates virtual teams from face-to-face teams? And what skills will managers need to ensure that remote working continues to work into the future?RelationshipsSustaining relationships in virtual teams is always a challenge due to the solitary nature of remote work. Research tells us that members of virtual teams have different ways of engaging with the team; not every member will engage and disengage at the same time. Also, people are coping with different types of emotions. We have seen, during the pandemic, how anxiety has taken hold and people have found it difficult to think. Managers of virtual teams must be attuned to these variances and work hard to help virtual team members generate a sense of belonging, which won’t naturally occur because members cannot meet in person or socially.TrustTrust is a critical issue for remote workers. Can you trust somebody if you have never met them? Recent research (2019) by Breuer, Hüffmeier, Hibben and Hertel tells us that trust is more important for virtual teams than face-to-face teams. The research identifies the factors most relevant for building trust in virtual teams. They are:abilitybenevolencepredictabilityintegritytransparencyThe authors offer some practical solutions to help with trust-building. These include creating a database listing team members’ expertise; providing more information about their ability; online profiles; information in email signatures; and online feedback systems and other processes designed to increase trust and encourage closer cooperation between virtual colleagues.Flexible workingFlexible working arrangements are at the heart of remote working, but this can be challenging for managers who have the job of coordination. In an article published in 2007, researchers Dyne, Kossek and Lobel suggest that collaborative time management processes can be ‘designed in’ from the start. Furthermore, employees can be asked to engage in ‘proactive availability’ where each employee is asked to take responsibility for identifying difficulties and notifying others on the team. For example, if a team member’s existing caring responsibility clashes with a meeting, they tell another team member and send questions/comments in advance to the meeting. In this way, time management and scheduling are organised within the team rather than by the manager.MotivationThe researchers also recommend ways in which managers can bolster motivation. Instead of focusing on how often people are present and available (i.e. virtually present and on camera), they suggest nominating specific events that occur at pre-determined times. Focusing on these events creates more flexibility, particularly for part-time workers, and re-orientates energy on outputs rather than on inputs. This, in turn, is likely to increase motivation and keep people focused on the bigger picture as opposed to who is absent from virtual meetings.Remote working is here to stay, and businesses that offer this flexibility will need to have managers who understand the nuances of managing virtual teams and remote workers. Managing people you have never met is enormously challenging, but there are big rewards for businesses in accommodating how people want to organise their work-life balance.Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at the School of Art History and Cultural Policy at UCD.

Jul 29, 2020

Instead of counting the cost of the current crisis, clients now need their accountants to help them identify and forge a way ahead, writes John Kennedy.Whatever your age or the stage of your career, 2020 is a year like no other. In recent months, your world, your life, and your practice will have changed in a way that no-one thought possible. This has brought great anxiety, stress, and pressure for many. It has disrupted virtually every aspect of life, and it has changed many long-standing priorities and perspectives.At the outset, every conversation was about COVID-19. Then the emphasis began to shift; the focus started to move to how to respond to our unfamiliar new world, to learn how to deal with a dramatic new lifestyle, get better at cooking at home, become more proficient in using technology, and adapt to meeting online.As the days and weeks went on, this shift in emphasis continued. The importance of taking care of our minds as well as our bodies, and supporting each other, came into sharp focus. It is important not to overlook the far-reaching significance of this evolution in thinking. In a world with unforeseen financial pressures, how we connect with others has taken on a revised and revitalised importance and has become established as holding significantly increased value in so many aspects of business life.Reliable, trustworthy customers and clients you can turn to when the pressure is on matter now like never before. The implications will have an impact on your practice, and business in general, for a long time to come.An important lessonOne of the good news stories during the initial stages of the crisis was the way Irish people contributed to fundraising for the Choctaw Nation. As you may know, during the Great Famine in the 1840s, the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans sent much-needed funds to help with famine relief in Ireland.When the coronavirus crisis struck, the Choctaw nation set up a fundraising website. They were at first surprised, and then amazed when donation after donation came in from the Irish community around the world. In an interview about the donations, one of the contributors told this story about an old tribal chief who taught his grandson about the important lessons in life.“There is a fight going on inside me, a far-reaching fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil; he is anger, frustration, sorrow, regret, self-pity, and doubt. The other wolf is good; he is hope, generosity, sensitivity, understanding and confidence. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person too.” The grandson was transfixed. “Which wolf will win?” he asked. The old chief smiled and said: “The wolf you feed.”This is of crucial importance to your work in the months to come. Helping your client feed the good wolf inside themselves should be a central part of your work, as many of your existing clients will feel overwhelmed. They will have come through months of stress and worry, even the optimistic ones who bear it lightly. Many will need to look again at their finances and their financial planning, as many apparent certainties have been overturned. Much has changed, much of it forever.With so much change happening in their lives, it is vital that as their accountant, your relationship with your clients also changes. Clients often have a fixed view of what they should want from their accountant. They believe that they should look to their accountant to prepare accounts, undertake audits, and give tax and compliance advice. In this time of change, your task is to guide them from what they believe they should want to what they genuinely need most.Feed the right wolfMore than ever, clients need you to help them identify what constitutes success in the months and years ahead. Your value will come as much from helping them think clearly as from the technical tasks you carry out.To fully emerge from the coronavirus crisis will take many years. The phrase the ‘new normal’ is much overused, but it holds an important truth. Things may not be normal, but they are certainly going to be new and this is true for every aspect of your clients’ experience – including how they work with their accountant.For almost everyone, the first half of 2020 has been a time of frustration, stress and doubt. If you let your clients see you as the person who will confirm and verify a deeply damaging period for their business, their finances and their lives in a harsh financial record, you are going to be the focus of much of their stress and angst. Left to themselves, it is all too easy for your clients to focus on and feed the bad wolf.For the foreseeable future, every wise accountant will take an active hand in guiding their clients to think about the things they most need. The greatest problem with the COVID-19 crisis, however, has been fear of the unknown. So when it comes to your role, you must replace the fear of the unknown with clarity, understanding, well-thought-out confidence and a path that takes them to a better place. This is the good wolf.Moving from ‘want’ to ‘need’How often have you chatted with your clients about their life, family, hopes and ambitions before ‘getting down to business’? Instead of getting down to the business of counting the cost of the current crisis, however, they now need you to help them see the way ahead. They need you to shape a clear image of a future they can reach. This is not an invitation to become a counsellor or a cheerleader; it is much more important than that.Your role is to help your clients see the commercial realities and show them how to identify each individual stepping stone to get them to the other side of this whole challenging experience. In the short-term, that may well be about survival. You may need to place a sharper focus on identifying new ways to manage cash flow and to help them understand their options in this new reality so they can more effectively chart a course as the emergency financial instruments are removed.While accurate returns and timely compliance will remain part of your role, your real value lies in helping remove your clients’ fear of a future that is worryingly unclear and unfamiliar. Many clients will need to restructure long-standing business practices, to secure new sources of purchase finance, or to change the terms of access to credit.They will need you to help them understand that this will pass, and it will pass most easily and most quickly for those who know how to plan the practical steps to get to that future. The accountants who focus on the need to actively shape the future rather than count the cost of the past or worry about the unknown will stand apart as a source of uncommon, vital value. This will provide a real, tangible return for both you and your clients in the months and years ahead.By helping your clients in this way, you will significantly improve the likelihood of their long-term financial survival. You will open up new dimensions for your relationship with them, binding them to you for years to come. And these new relationships will survive the evolution of traditional accounting as your role as an adviser continues to grow.This is a time to take a firm hand and raise your clients from what they want, to what they need. It is time to help them feed the good wolf.  John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Jul 29, 2020

Dr Michael Hayden provides the accounting practitioner with some food for thought.The COVID-19 pandemic brings a realisation of the importance of certain sectors in our society. While many businesses cease operations, food producers and farm enterprises are acknowledged as essential services.The economic significance of the Irish agricultural industry is well documented. However, in these unprecedented times, the focus has turned to its social importance. This provides an opportunity for the accounting profession to reflect on how it can best assist and support farming businesses, not only in the current circumstances but in the future.A question worth considering is: does the agricultural community reap the full benefit of the extensive knowledge and skills the accountancy profession has to offer? While acknowledging that challenges exist for accountants in delivering their services to farm clients, there are significant opportunities for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises.Industry contextThe agricultural industry is an integral part of our economy and society. After the economic crisis of 2008, the government primed the agricultural sector to stimulate economic growth and set out ambitious goals for it in the Food Harvest 2020 and subsequent Foodwise 2025 strategy documents. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s 2019 Annual Review and Outlook report outlines the importance of the industry. It claims that food produced in Ireland was exported to over 180 markets worldwide and was valued at €13.7 billion in 2018, which represents 10% of merchandise exports. Additionally, the sector contributed 7.5% of gross national income (GNI) and employed 173,000 people (7.7% of total employment) in 2018.Despite the importance of the industry, when average farm size, farm incomes and dependency on farm subsidies are examined, as well as the average age and training levels of Irish farmers, a picture of economic vulnerability emerges. The National Farm Survey (NFS) is published annually by Teagasc and highlights this vulnerability. The 2019 NFS highlights that 34% of Irish farms were deemed viable, 33% sustainable, and 33% vulnerable. It also reports that the average family farm income (FFI) in Ireland was €23,933 in 2019, which varies significantly across farm types (for example, dairy generated €66,570, tillage generated €34,437 and beef generated €9,188). Furthermore, farming in Ireland remains reliant on subsidies which, on average, accounted for 77% of FFI in 2019.Experts warn of another economic crisis post-COVID-19, and there is no doubt that our agricultural industry will attract renewed focus. Furthermore, Brexit represents a significant external risk for Irish agriculture with potentially far-reaching economic, social and cultural consequences. In this context, it is perhaps more important than ever that the accounting profession supports the agricultural community in developing sustainable farm enterprises by assisting farmers in making informed financial decisions based on sound financial management information.Challenges in providing services to farm clientsBefore exploring the opportunities for accountants to provide support to the agricultural community, it is important to acknowledge some challenges that exist in assisting farmers in managing their enterprise.Despite the economic vulnerability of many farms, research shows that most farmers spend little time on financial management. A dislike of conducting financial management activities exists in the farming community. Indeed, they are often viewed as a necessary evil and do not always fit well with the identity of what farmers see as important farm management activities. There are other identity-related issues: many farmers are quite secretive about their financial affairs; some are naturally reluctant to seek farm management advice; many tend to rely on intuition and experience in managing their business as opposed to relying on financial information.As a result of the lack of engagement by farmers with financial management in the day-to-day management of their business, book-keeping systems can be relatively unsophisticated. There is a tendency to monitor bank balances (cash flow), and only a minority maintain management accounting records.The average age of a farmer in Ireland is 59 years. This high age profile is a well-documented concern for the industry. In terms of financial management, older farmers are less likely to invest in their farm and are less likely to strive for innovation and efficiencies.Historically, farmers view accountants as providing a statutory and compliance role, such as filing annual tax returns, with little focus on value-added services. Also, the cost of such value-added services is a barrier as quite often, farmers are unwilling to pay for such services.This profile of the farming community suggests that there are limited opportunities for accountants to provide value-added services to farmers. However, there are ‘green shoots’ that give cause for optimism.Green shoots to exploreIn recent years, there has been a considerable shift in the industry. This shift is transforming the Irish agricultural landscape and providing opportunities for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises.Policy changes have resulted in some fundamental structural reforms, which have provided opportunities for growth. For example, milk quota abolition under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has resulted in considerable investment and expansion in the dairy sector. While it is acknowledged that farmers tend not to engage extensively and/or dislike financial management, the mindset of many farmers in this respect is changing. In my research, I discovered that where farmers are making strategic farm expansion decisions, there is a considerable degree of engagement with their accountants.Many traditional farm enterprises are diversifying and exploring new markets for their produce. For example, there is an increase in the production of artisan food products directly by farmers, alternative supply chains where farmers sell their produce directly from farm-to-market, and an increased focus on organic food production. These trends and the movement from the traditional farm production system often bring a renewed focus on profit margins, cost management and overall financial management.Farm partnerships and the incorporation of farm enterprises are becoming more widespread in the industry. Such changes in legal structure provide additional opportunities for accountants who have expert knowledge in terms of tax, legal, and succession planning advice.As a result of the above developments, younger farmers are being enticed into the industry. Agricultural courses in colleges and universities have seen strong demand in the past decade, which is very positive. Numerous policy measures have also been enacted to encourage generational renewal, including changes to land leasing arrangements, while tax reliefs/incentives have been developed to facilitate younger farmers entering the industry.These transformations to the Irish agricultural landscape have encouraged farmers to be more open to engaging the value-added services of accountants. This provides opportunities for accountants to develop successful working relationships with farmers, whereby farmers could significantly benefit from the expert knowledge and skills that accountants have to offer.ConclusionThere is vast potential for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises. Navigating the financial challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit are just two reasons why each farmer should look to his or her trusted accountant for support and expertise as the farming community strives to meet the critical societal demands for a sustainable food supply.Dr Michael Hayden FCA is Assistant Professor of Accounting at Maynooth University.

Jul 29, 2020

In 2010, Neil Hughes set out the seven Cs framework to help businesses navigate the great recession. Fast forward a decade, and these principles remain more pertinent than ever.Are you familiar with the old story of the two hikers in the woods? They come across a bear who starts to chase them. One hiker stops and begins changing from hiking boots to running shoes. The other hiker says, “I can’t believe that you think you will outrun the bear just because you change your shoes!” The first hiker replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you!” The moral of the story? When trading through difficult times, those who are best prepared are most likely to survive.Considering that the current community mentality and enthusiasm is likely to fade when the effects of the recession start to bite and businesses are striving to outperform their peers, this sentiment is even more significant. Many business owners are currently trying to adopt the best strategies to save their businesses. A common characteristic in many business failures is mismanagement. Although not deliberate, many people do not take advice, make the wrong decisions, and incur avoidable losses.With so many external factors at play, how can you best position your business on the road to recovery? What course of action do you need to take to ensure that your firm not only survives, but emerges stronger than before? The seven Cs present a blueprint for business owners and managers who are working hard to beat the competition and overcome significant challenges.1. CounselMaking well-informed and rational decisions under increasing pressure and uncertain conditions borders on the impossible, which is why seeking counsel at an early stage is the first step to pivoting a business during a crisis. How has my business been affected by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic? What financial shape is it in? How can I tackle the ‘here and now’ while turning my focus to the future? Avoid falling into the trap of taking unqualified advice; seek guidance from a select group of professionals such as your Chartered Accountant, your solicitor, and your funder. Work with them to formulate a practical and comprehensive recovery plan.2. CommunicationDon’t underestimate the importance of honesty, especially when things are uncertain. Communicate your financial position with the people and groups to whom you are indebted – the taxman, lenders, landlords and suppliers. You will be amazed at the goodwill this generates. Not only are your creditors likely to appreciate your honesty, but it will also take some of the pressure off, which may facilitate better decision-making. Unbridled transparency builds trust, which will help you maintain your integrity. This, in turn, will buy you more time and with time, many things become possible. Start with the truth and go from there.3. CooperationThe current crisis has changed the way we work. With businesses now forced to rely on different forms of communication, relationships between business owners and employees may have changed. Now is not the time for ambiguity. Your staff play a crucial role in helping your business stay afloat during unstable times. Communicate with them clearly and frequently. Be forthright about the condition of your business; they will respect you for it and are likely to show loyalty in return. Failure to secure their cooperation will significantly dilute your business’s chance of survival.4. Clarity of purposeCreate a new business plan that will provide greater clarity on all functions from marketing, finance and accounting to operations, products and services, and distribution. Adopt an entrepreneurial attitude. While there is no doubt that this crisis has presented grave difficulties, it also provides plenty of scope for innovation. Business leaders are stepping out of their comfort zones and thinking outside the box. There are opportunities to be found if you look hard enough. Ask yourself: “how can I ensure my business not only survives, but thrives?” Rediscover the sense of excitement you felt when you first set up your business. This will drive you forward with clarity of purpose.5. CostCost reduction should be a crucial part of your business strategy. Many business leaders will find themselves implementing cost-cutting measures in response to declining revenue, profitability, and reduced access to credit. Instigate a company-wide series of targeted cost cuts. Don’t make arbitrary or general cuts that may adversely impact long-term goals. The main areas for potential savings in any business lie in eliminating waste, seeking out and demanding the best prices for supplies and services, and carrying out certain tasks in-house that were previously contracted out to third parties.6. CashA swift recovery often boils down to one thing: cash flow. Credit controllers work hard to bring in the money and are instrumental in keeping businesses ticking over. Cash control means releasing the ‘lock-up’ of your business (i.e. the latent profit that is locked up in your stock, work-in-progress and debtors). It is a lack of cash that causes many businesses to fail during times of hardship, not a lack of profit. And even profitable businesses will fail if they run out of cash.7. CustomersWith normal operations out of whack, it may be harder for organisations to focus on exceptional customer service. However, now more than ever, customers are exceedingly important. Engage with your customers, ensuring you are adapting to their changing needs. A business owner must strive to continually ensure that the customer’s experience of a product or service is as pleasant, straightforward, and satisfying as possible. During an economic slump, it is your customers who will carry you through.Neil Hughes FCA is Managing Partner at Baker Tilly Ireland and author of Beating the Recession: The Seven Cs of Business Recovery, which is published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 29, 2020

Michael Clohosey considers the economic impacts of COVID-19 based on a series of interviews with business executives in the Zurich region.Switzerland shares some similarities with Ireland. Both are small countries with very open economies and punch above their weight on the global stage. Both economies also have a high reliance on the services sector, with the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry a large proportion of the industrial sector. Based in the Zurich area for almost ten years, I thought it would be interesting to share some perspective from this part of Europe, focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses in Switzerland. I interviewed finance leaders from various industries, and this process provided some interesting perspectives on the current crisis and offered a view of its medium-term impact.The type of industry in which businesses are active is the main determinant of the impact of COVID-19 in Switzerland. For example, one domestic electrical supply company involved in electrical installations for both commercial and residential property felt only a marginal impact on demand. Another company involved in the production of control devices for heating and ventilation systems, and which has a much larger global presence, is forecasting a slight decrease in demand in the medium-term. On the other hand, an international education company suffered an immediate, almost complete drop in revenue. Once countries started to impose restrictions and prohibit essential travel, this required enormous effort and collaboration from their external partners to ensure that their students abroad were safe and could find a way to get home. While facing a severe decline in revenue and an uncertain future, the firm needed to focus solely on the welfare of its customers stranded in locations like South Africa, China and Australia.Business responseThe logistical response of the Swiss Government, including the travel restrictions, is well-covered in other sources. I will instead focus on the Government’s economic response to the crisis, which was quite strong – even if it was not immediate. One must remember that Switzerland is not part of the EU and does not, therefore, have ready access to the financial safeguards and protection the EU provides. In total, the Swiss Government set aside more than €61 billion to support the economy. This will create a massive deficit in the national budget, but the amount that must be borrowed is significantly lower due to the Government’s large cash reserves. Some economists estimate that the debt to GDP ratio will increase from 26.7% in 2019 to approximately 34% in 2020, easily meeting the eurozone’s Maastricht criteria. The Government’s measures, which focused on different target groups, aimed to safeguard jobs, guarantee wages and support the self-employed. Measures were also taken in the field of culture and sport to prevent bankruptcies and to cushion the financial consequences. Furthermore, there were provisions to delay payment and temporarily waive late payment interest on social security contributions and various taxes.Many businesses availed of this support, especially those in the travel and tourism trade. I know of many companies that eased their liquidity concerns by quickly accessing interest-free government loans of up to CHF 0.5 billion. Companies affected were also entitled to apply for what is termed “short-term working”. This was extremely helpful to the restaurant sector, from which employees were made temporarily redundant. Provided employees were still paid full salaries, employers received 80% of the cost from the Government. Rental payments remained privately managed. Some landlords were open to negotiation, especially where there were obvious financial difficulties on the tenant side. This flexibility to negotiate seemed to vary depending on whether the landlord was a private or commercial institution. Solutions found included deferral of rent payment. In an apparent contradiction, there appeared to be cases where landlords were more open to negotiating when they saw that the tenants were granted access to the Government’s interest-free business loans.There were short- and medium-term impacts on business, including the supply chain. One company that supplies leather to Asia for shoe manufacture suffered a drop in production due to the difficulty in exporting raw materials. Ship cargo returning from Asia was almost non-existent, and any possible exports were therefore changed to air cargo. An educational travel company I spoke to needed to review agreements with all educational partners abroad due to the number of re-bookings where students sought to change school. As we see with the airline sector, re-bookings are preferable to cash refunds. However, this is cumbersome in the educational travel industry due to the number of actors involved. Some firms changed their business models. Third-level institutions, for example, were in the main very quick to react. They established management task forces and brought their curricula online. Online education is one of the fastest-growing global industries, and the pandemic has only increased its expansion.Focus areas also changed in finance departments. The old maxim of “cash is king” was never as important as it is now. Companies that were not so well accustomed to short-term cash planning even hired external consultants to create 13-week cash forecasts. Fixed yearly budgets increasingly became rolling forecasts, with new scenario planning to account for the effects of the pandemic.Seven insights from the COVID-19 crisisA comprehensive review of organisations’ state of preparedness for such an unforeseen circumstance, their reactions to it, and the enforced planning for a new economic reality produced many new lessons. It also underlined the importance of established business principles.Business agility: we saw the importance of agility in how quickly some educational establishments brought their curricula online. Many advanced education establishments are already planning to generate a greater share of revenue through e-delivery.Securing the supply chain: it is very difficult to plan for an almost total transport shut-down. However, we saw in the example above of the shoe production company that alternative methods of transport can be put in place, albeit at a higher cost and risk. This same firm also discovered and used shoe manufacturers closer to the source of the raw material.Strong partnerships: strong business relations, especially with suppliers and customers, are more important than ever in times of crisis. One company I interviewed closed one of its largest partnership deals through online meetings. This was mainly due to the trust already created.Working from home: many firms, especially those in the financial services industry, have identified that productivity has not decreased while employees have worked from home. This has allowed them to offer it as an alternative for the future. In some cases, property leases can be reviewed due to the resultant decreased need for office space. It is therefore expected that the dynamics of cities like Zurich, which until now had large office space occupied by banks and financial institutions, will partially change in the future.Discretionary travel: discretionary costs, especially travel, were already in focus before the lockdown. The fact that many businesses functioned quite well without travel has led to a further appraisal of its value.Cash is king: the funds disclaimer says “past success does not guarantee future performance”. However, past success in the form of cash reserves can guarantee business survival in such times. Even more attention should be paid now to short- and medium-term cash planning.Scenario planning in forecasting: we have seen how macro events can have a drastic impact. Businesses can increase their ability to respond by replacing traditional budgeting with frequently updated forecasting models, which include scenario planning for changes in the economic environment. The conventional practice of involving all departments for budgets or forecasts can be reviewed to facilitate the agility required. Responsibility for financial planning and forecasting cannot be delegated from the finance function.A snapshot of the economic impact of the crisisAs Switzerland and Ireland are (at the time of writing) emerging from travel and business restrictions, I thought it helpful to review some key indicators of the financial impact of the recent upheaval. According to projections from the OECD’s latest economic outlook, similar to the world economy, Switzerland and Ireland are not expected to be at Q4 2019 levels of GDP until Q4 2021. This is projected for each of the two scenarios, which they estimate are equally probable. One scenario anticipates a second wave of infections with renewed lockdowns before the end of 2020. The other scenario anticipates the avoidance of another major outbreak. Refer to Table 1 for the historic percentage changes to real GDP and forecasted changes to real GDP based on economic projections for a single wave of infections.Switzerland and Ireland are expected to suffer similar declines in GDP. This perhaps is logical, given that both economies are driven mainly by the services and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors. Interestingly tourism, one of the most severely affected industries, is not a very significant part of total GDP; it represents approximately 3% in both countries. Table 1 shows that Switzerland and Ireland have recorded quite different increases in real GDP in the last 20 years. Switzerland’s growth rate has been very stable at an average of 2% per annum, and almost exactly replicates the growth rate of ‘advanced economies’. Ireland’s growth rates, on the other hand, have been higher and much more variable.Putting recent lessons to workIt is not surprising that the global pandemic has impacted the economy in Switzerland as much as it has in Ireland and the rest of the world. People have changed their behaviours, both involuntarily and voluntarily. I have acquaintances who, up until the crisis, never purchased items online. I am sure that countless others in Ireland have just recently started shopping on their electronic devices.The online education industry is booming. Businesses have been quick to change their supply chains and include alternatives. They have also altered their business models, which we see most markedly in the education sector. Perhaps the increased effective use of video communications tools like Zoom and Skype has brought the possibility of education for the masses to greater prominence.The importance of classic principles, like strong partnerships based on trust and communication, has not diminished with decreased face-to-face contact. In fact, the opportunities for many more partnerships have actually increased in line with people’s confidence in, and use of, the internet. Global industry round-tables can be attended from one’s own home and without all the time and travel that was before deemed necessary. Amid the adverse effects of recent months, let us aspire in Switzerland, Ireland and elsewhere to consolidate and develop the positive aspects and put the lessons to work in our businesses.Michael Clohosey FCA is a senior finance executive based in Switzerland.

Jul 29, 2020

How can you keep the momentum going on recruitment and selection during the pandemic? Shay Dalton offers tips on how to maintain your employer brand and attract the best candidates in a digital space.During these uncertain times, recruitment and selection is still a priority for organisations who are trying to maintain revenue and growth targets. Keeping recruitment going through these times will place firms in good stead. Here are some helpful tips for recruitment during the pandemic.Getting hold of candidates may be easierOne distinct positive from a hiring perspective reported on by the BBC is that recruitment firms have found that reaching candidates has been easier than usual. With many employees working from home, or not able to work at all, phone calls are more likely to get answered, and interview scheduling is much easier than usual. What is more, many companies have put their recruitment efforts on hold for the time being, meaning that there is less competition for top candidates. This makes the current time ripe picking for growing firms, and a great opportunity to attract some of the best candidates.Develop a streamlined virtual process for remote interviewingWith expert predictions suggesting that COVID-19 may continue to cause disruptions for weeks and months to come, getting an effective online recruitment process up and running is crucial. With governments reporting that social distancing restrictions may be in place for some time, it is safer, more convenient and beneficial for companies to have a streamlined process for online recruitment.Move group interviews to shorter one-to-ones with key members of the teamUsing video conferencing apps for group interviews can be somewhat challenging. People inadvertently talk over one another, which can make it difficult for interviewees to keep on top of what is going on. Instead of conducting group interviews, you might consider shorter, one-to-one calls with interviewees. It is also worthwhile testing your audio and video before the call, to avoid hiccups that could look unprofessional or detrimental to your brand.Employer branding is keySelling the employer brand to would-be new recruits is somewhat harder without the ability for the candidate to visit and properly meet the team. To get beyond this problem, make sure that all online information is up to date and accurately represents both the employer brand. Following government guidance for businesses is essential for maintenance of a good brand reputation. Firms that flout guidance are being vilified in the media and are less likely to be considered good options by employees. Make sure that press reports of your firm stay positive!Focus on communication and transparencyManaging expectations will be an important part of the process. Companies that are hiring need to communicate to candidates that they will be using remote interviews for decision making. Expectations should also be set around the fact that more and more roles are likely to commence remotely at first, and this will mean remote onboarding of the successful candidate.Shay Dalton is the Managing Director of Lincoln Recruitment.

Jul 23, 2020

By Teresa Campbell The last few months have been a difficult time for employers and their teams. Many employers had to avail of government incentives as businesses were forced to deal with the lockdown brought about by COVID-19. Some employees working from home have struggled with feelings of isolation; others have experienced pressure due to crèches and schools being closed, and those caring for elderly or less able relatives have found that many of their usual supports were unavailable during the lockdown. Workplaces that remained open, or are now reopening as restrictions ease, have had to implement changes to keep staff, clients and other visitors as safe as possible as we learn to live with COVID-19. Concern about the impact of the pandemic, along with the emotional and economic pressures that many people are experiencing at present, makes it more important than ever for leaders to reassure, inspire and motivate their teams. The six Cs of confidence, clarity, communication, cooperation, community involvement and celebrating success all have a role to play in this regard.   Confidence: to successfully motivate your team, you must inspire confidence. With so much uncertainty and change at present, it is important to be flexible so that you can adapt quickly to overcome challenges and grasp opportunities. While you may have fears about the impact of the pandemic, it is vital to remain calm and show that you have a realistic plan to take your business forward. Prioritise wellbeing by implementing effective health and safety protocols, both in the workplace and for employees working from home. Clarity: set clear, short-term goals and empower your team to manage their own contributions. Recognise that people are working in a changed environment, and be open to allowing people to find new ways to solve problems. Monitor performance, and seek and give regular feedback to ensure everyone stays on track. Communication: clarity and consistency are essential when it comes to communication. This helps ensure that employees, clients and other stakeholders share the same understanding of how your business is responding to the changes ahead. Don’t over-rely on email. Face-to-face, voice and video communication channels should also be part of your communications mix. Cooperation: when we work together, everyone achieves more. Teamwork, collaboration and a shared sense of purpose are great motivators. Organising virtual coffee breaks for remote teams and encouraging individuals to share tips on how they motivate themselves is as relevant now as it was at the start of the pandemic. Community involvement: many leaders today want their businesses to be socially responsible. They recognise that encouraging teams to give something back to their community enhances motivation and helps strengthen employees’ pride in the organisation they work for. Celebrate success: recognise and reward successes – whether that’s achieving a goal, winning a new client, raising funds for charity, or individual achievements, such as passing an exam. People are at the heart of every business and leaders need to be supported by teams that are committed to their individual roles, focused on exceeding client expectations and capable of identifying future business opportunities. Now, more than ever, motivating your team is crucial as you adapt and drive your business forward. Teresa Campbell is a Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd.

Jul 09, 2020

How can we support the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace? Alexandra Kane details what it means to be an ally and how it can make a huge difference. “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde The quote above sits among the desks on the fourth floor of the Grant Thornton Dublin building. It’s a poignant reminder and struck me a little differently reflecting on this year’s Pride month. What would it feel like if I couldn’t be myself in the office, that I had to hide a part of my life from my colleagues? What if I were afraid that a part of my life would create a backlash, negative reaction or possible career repercussion? The place we spend most of our time, albeit virtually and on video calls in the current climate, should be one of welcoming and support. To me, as a LGBTQ+ ally, there is not a single reason that anyone should feel that they can’t be who they want to be, who they identify as, and not face any adversity in doing so. In my organisation, there is a huge drive to stand as an ally with our friends and colleagues through our Ally Programme and Embrace initiative. We have marched in the Dublin Pride Parade for the last four years and, took part in BelongTo's ‘Come In’ campaign last year. This initiative flipped ‘coming out’ on its head by promoting the positive message that everyone should be able to come in and feel welcome as they are, rather than having to ‘come out’ as anyone other than themselves. To be an ally An ally can come in many forms, but should always come from a place of support, openness, kindness and ready to do the work. From recent global events in the Black Lives Matter movement, I have learned that it is safe to speak out and say that I didn’t know how to support or say the right things – and that is accepted when it is accompanied by a willingness and promise to learn, educate and support. It’s never too late to educate yourself, even if you have to start at the beginning. Learning about the Stonewall Riots, listening to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of colour, and asking how you can support others is an important step to allyship. We can never under estimate the power of support in any form that it comes in, be it going for a coffee to listen to someone’s concerns, wearing rainbow colours in solidarity, attending the Pride Parade, and actively showing support to colleagues and friends in the workplace. Some recommended viewing for allies: Disclosure, found on Netflix. I recently attended a webinar ‘The L to A LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA’ which explored the ‘lesser known’ letters of the LGBTQ+ community. It discussed why gender identity and sexuality are intrinsically linked. The key take away I received from the webinar is that language is ever changing and our identity is a personal preference. The pronouns or letters we choose is exactly that: our choice. If being an ally makes one person feel more comfortable, supported and accepted as their true selves, I couldn’t encourage being an active ally more. Alexandra Kane ACA is a Manager in Financial Services Advisory at Grant Thornton, a Grant Thornton Ally and member of the Grant Thornton Ally Programme.

Jun 25, 2020

With no party or march this year, how are businesses showing meaningful support for the Pride movement? John McNamara tell us how can we adapt to actively support the LGBTQ+ community in a virtual space.  So how did you celebrate Pride this year? Yes, we are approaching the end of June, the month where people from all demographics, race, religion and, of course, sexual orientation take to the streets to come together and celebrate acceptance, and agitate for the rights still being fought for. (Unless you live in one of the 73 countries where that is still illegal.) Except, of course, we didn’t march this year thanks to the non-discriminatory nature and reach of COVID-19. Most businesses quickly scrambled to develop virtual programmes to keep staff awareness and engagement alive. Another Zoom call, another webinar, why not? But there are lessons still to be learned that are applicable across the full inclusion agenda, many of which will have the potential for positive enduring business impact. Year-round support Every year there is heated debate on the ‘corporatisation’ of what is, essentially, a protest movement. It will now be very clear which businesses do little else in this space except throw money at Pride parade participation. Now is the time for employees to call out this performative participation in the movement and encourage their organisations to refocus budgets on both active staff collaboration and engagement and support of community organisations throughout the year. LGBTQ+ young people are four times more likely to experience anxiety and depression, three times more likely to experience suicidal ideation and that happens in December as well as June. Creating long-term change If there is no party this year, there is the opportunity to develop meaningful digital messaging, to focus more on staff connection and conversations and to place a stronger focus on advocacy. We have shown more curiosity, shared more of our own lives, and our understanding about our colleagues’ personal circumstances is much deeper than when we sat in the office together. I have heard more conversations on mental health recently than at any time I can think of. The pace of change in many of these issues has historically been too slow. In recent months, however, we have shown our ability to quickly build new business models and our flexibility in remote working. How can we sustain these new ways of working that can, for example, access more women working from home rather than leaving the workforce or accept that highly talented people with neurodiversity need not be present in an office environment to shine in their roles? Intersectionality This year also brings greater awareness of intersectionality which, simply put, means we are complex beings that cannot be defined by one characteristic alone and, depending on the hand you have been dealt, can be disadvantaged by multiple forms of oppression, isolation or exclusion or, conversely, benefit from white privilege. Black Lives Matter is here to stay. The LGBTQ+ community is acutely able to recognise inequality of treatment, that sense of not belonging, and our allyship is evident through activism, protest and sharing the platforms we have through the month and beyond. Do better Most of us do not wish to emerge from this crisis without changing something for the better. We have perfected banana bread, know too much about Joe Wicks and got as far as we could on Duolingo. How about we become proactive in making a personal commitment to ourselves to do more? Become a volunteer, train as a mental health ambassador, develop charity trustee or board experience or become a visible LGBTQ+ ally at work. Do it and you won’t look back. Now that would be something worth celebrating. John McNamara FCA is Managing Director of Canada Life International and a member of the Chartered Accountants Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He is chairperson of the NGO behind SpunOut.ie and 50808.ie, the newly launched free crisis text messaging service funded by the HSE. He a member of the fundraising committee of BelongTo, which supports young LGBTQ+ people.

Jun 25, 2020

To truly embrace diversity, businesses must view inclusion through an intersectional lens. Deborah Somorin explains why this is so important, both personally and professionally. Intersectionality was first coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, and has gained common usage since. According to Womankind Worldwide, a global women’s rights organisation, intersectionality is “the concept that all oppression is linked… Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc..”. In 2015, ‘intersectionality’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. What does that mean? While Pride is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, it is also a protest, and intersectional Pride continues the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the rights of all marginalised communities in Ireland and around the world. Intersectional Pride Flag You’ll notice the Pride flag on the street and in some corporate Pride logos, such as LinkedIn and Chartered Accountants Ireland, look a little different this year. In 2018, designer Daniel Quasar started a movement to reboot the pride flag to make it more inclusive and representative of the LGBTQ+ rights we are still fighting for. According to Dezeen magazine, “Graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on ‘inclusion and progression’. The flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalised LGBT communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. Quasar’s design builds on a design adopted by the city of Philadelphia in June 2017.” Intersectional allyship To quote a recent GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) statement: “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional”. If we want to celebrate Pride in our profession in an inclusive way, we must make an intentional effort to celebrate intersectional Pride. If Pride doesn’t include the acknowledgement of other marginalised other communities, it is performative. The LGBTQ+ movement doesn’t need performative allies – it needs authentic allies who care about making the communities we work and live in more inclusive of all races, genders, class, physical advantage and sexual orientations. I’m a gay, black woman who happens to be a Chartered Accountant. If your organisation or community is choosing not to view inclusion through an intersectional lens, you are unintentionally choosing not to include people like me. Deborah Somorin ACA is a Management Consultant at PwC, a member of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Committee and founder of Empower the Family.

Jun 25, 2020

The Irish economy has taken a blow because of the pandemic. How can we go about restoring it? Foreign Direct Investment is an important key to recovery, argues Thomas Sheerin. COVID-19 has had a severe impact on the Irish economy. Activity and employment have dropped sharply and this is expected to continue for some time. As Ireland begins its recovery, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) sector will play a significant role from an employment, activity and financial contribution perspective. Continued and sustained investment in multiple sectors such as technology, pharma, medical devices and financial services will greatly assist the rebuilding of our economy. FDI’s contribution to the Irish economy has been significant, with over 1,200 overseas companies directly employing over 200,000 people. In addition, FDI contributes significant tax revenue and generates commercial activity across the wider economy. FDI drives investment in research and innovation, with strong linkages to Irish third-level education institutions. During the pandemic, many FDI companies engaged in the production of hand sanitizers, ventilators and vaccine research. These positive contributions will prove more valuable than ever as Ireland emerges from a substantial economic downturn. In particular, the local impact of FDI and its links to domestic businesses will assist recovery across the country. The key attributes that have assisted Ireland’s success in attracting and retaining FDI remain very strong. These include a skilled workforce, a competitive business environment, a strategic location, EU membership and a competitive stable tax regime. Notwithstanding the current challenging economic climate, continued success in the FDI space is reflected in recent job and investment announcements from Bearing Point//Beyond and Udemy. Overcoming the challenges As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, businesses are feeling the human, social and economic implications. Businesses must continue to manage and mitigate the disruption that COVID-19 brings to every aspect of their operations. From working with our clients, it’s clear that key challenges arise in the areas of supply chain, travel, workforce and tax, trade and regulation. The effects of COVID-19 are particularly felt by organisations dependent on supply chains for products and materials. Businesses have been forced to act quickly to map their entire supply chains. This provides the visibility and information needed to make critical decisions in real-time and to identify alternative supply chain strategies. From a workforce perspective, new employee welfare and engagement challenges have emerged. Technology needs to be adopted quickly to ensure that teams can work remotely while staying connected and productive. Returning to the workplace needs to be managed effectively with clear processes in place – early engagement, clear communication and provision of alternative working arrangements are key. As a small, open economy, travel plays a fundamental role in how FDI investment is secured, sustained and developed. COVID-19 restrictions have brought international travel to a standstill, presenting a significant challenge for FDI. However, proactive adoption of technology and utilisation of video and web conferencing technologies has enabled the necessary connections to continue to take place during the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought additional complexity and risk from a tax and regulatory perspective. This requires FDI businesses to consider the broader economic, political and societal context in which they operate to ensure informed, tax compliant decisions are made which drive the business forward. While the economic outlook for Ireland has changed dramatically in recent months, the road to recovery is underway. Similar to our emergence from the 2008 financial crisis, FDI should  prove to be a key feature in that recovery. Thomas Sheerin is a Tax Director in PwC.

Jun 18, 2020

How can we safeguard our economic future through digital opportunities? By investing now, we can create a better Ireland going forward, says Erik O’Donovan. Digital tools are essential services to our economy and society. They have enabled us to connect, work, study, shop, and access public services in these challenging times. Digital tools and data are even assisting and enhancing healthcare provision during this public health emergency. Ireland had made progress in its digital development going into the COVID-19 crisis. However, some gaps remain in our relative readiness to access and adopt existing and emerging digital opportunities for future growth and well-being. Accessing these digital opportunities has been a challenge for some, while the attainment of digital skills and bridging regional digital divides have grown in importance. The ambition of the National Broadband Plan and opportunities presented by 5G technology must be realised. Criminal elements have also sought to exploit the crisis using digital tools, underlying the need to preserve trust and protect our essential services, businesses, and people online. Finally, this emergency has shown the value of government, agencies, businesses and citizens working together, both at home and internationally, to drive positive change in difficult times. A digital recovery plan Our economic future is intrinsically linked to the ability of our health and wider governance systems to confidently model and plan for the phased re-opening of the country. Furthermore, our economic future must be robust enough for the potential re-emergence of such emergencies in the future. Trustworthy digital tools and data, used in conjunction with a suite of health measures, offer the opportunity to assist Ireland and Europe in transitioning from this emergency to providing better public services, economic growth, quality jobs and enhancing well-being. The European Commission’s COVID-19 recovery plan for the EU is based on a more digitalised Single Market and green growth. It has been estimated that, under certain conditions, a more digitalised Single Market could provide annual gains of up to €178 billion to the EU economy until 2030. Ibec research indicates there has been a business move towards more online sales (31%), coupled with greater use of remote working (73%) and increased investment in technology (42%), pointing to a more digitalised way of conducting business in the future. So, how should Ireland ensure it is at the forefront of this digital future? Given the scope of the challenge, the government should appoint a Minister dedicated to digital affairs to work with national and EU stakeholders and drive a coordinated approach to our further digital transformation. Protect services, business, and citizens, and preserve trust online. Ensure national cybersecurity and data protection capabilities are adequately resourced. Signal and enable further digital opportunity across our economy. Deliver new roadmaps on digital and artificial intelligence. Finally, invest in supports, research, infrastructure, and skills necessary to help government, public services, businesses, educators, and individuals to lock-in positive digital developments, as well as access and adopt further digital opportunities. As James Joyce noted, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today.” It is time to reimagine tomorrow. Read about Ibec’s Reboot and Reimagine campaign at www.ibec.ie. Erik O’Donovan is the Head of Digital Economic Policy at Ibec.

Jun 18, 2020

How can you best prepare for a phased return to work? Anne Phillipson outlines the five stages businesses need to take to ensure the safety of their employees and clients. The past 100-days have been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our working lives. Thankfully, we are beginning to see light at the end of this tunnel and, although the virus is still with us, it seems the efforts of the public have kept it under control. This is good news for the economy, as many businesses begin to prepare for the return to work, and aim to make up for lost productivity. However, as most business leaders have already realised, it is much easier to shut an office down than to reopen it under these conditions. The key for a successful return to work is through careful planning, clear communication, and staff training. Five stages to return to work All businesses must be able to implement measures that minimise the risk to their staff and customers, and put safety at the top of the agenda. People will be apprehensive as they emerge from lockdown, and will want to know that they can return to work safely. It is the employers’ job to not only care for their employee’s physical safely, but also create psychological safety by reassuring and informing staff that precautions are in place with their well-being in mind, and that new standards and procedures are being implemented and followed. It is important that business leaders don’t simply focus on the next few weeks – we are going to have to live with this virus for some time, and strategies that go beyond the immediate return-to-work and look to long-term change will allow businesses to realise the opportunity to build back better. The process should happen in five stages: Anticipation – the planning begins Honeymoon – people are excited to return to some sense of normality Integration – the new practices are tested and begin to embed Performance – focus is back on the business and distractions are minimised Growth – opportunity to realise the benefits of new ways of working Anticipation Right now, we are in the anticipation stage. Within this stage, there are three critical steps: Preparation: plan for reopening and specific requirements for each location. An employee survey will provide useful insights into how your employees travel to work, the distance of their commute, health issues of the employee or anyone in their household, social distancing planning of workspaces, which functions can remain remote, etc. Execution: ensure that employees and customers understand and comply with new practices. Steps here include a COVID-19 health questionnaire, return to work online training to educate employees on what to expect on their return, identify and train ‘social distancing marshals’ for each location, etc. Reopening: continuously review and improve processes during the phased return to the office. Employee/client access by location, ensuring adherence to guidelines, and ongoing communication and engagement of staff will be important in this step. Putting yourself in your employees’ shoes – understanding how they’re feeling, the messages and training they need at each stage – will go a long way to ensure your return to work strategy decreases your employees concerns while increasing your productivity and potential. Anne Phillipson is a Director of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton.

Jun 10, 2020

Your employees are your most valuable asset; neglecting them will be detrimental to your business. Dearbhla Gallagher outlines how to invest in training and development during these difficult times. As businesses face the economic effects of COVID-19, many are implementing cash management and cost-saving measures. In these conditions, the temptation may be for businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to reduce or eliminate training and development expenditure. There is certainly a need to manage cash and spend carefully at this time, but extreme caution should be applied when considering cuts to training and development programmes. While there may be a short-term benefit for a business in taking such a step, the longer-term consequences may be to the detriment of the business. It is widely accepted that investing in training leads to more highly skilled employees, increased motivation, and more engaged and stronger performers. It is also important to consider the effect on employees of curtailing these programmes, right at the very time that many may be feeling somewhat vulnerable due to the current COVID-19 world. Employees are the most valuable asset that a business has; in a difficult economic environment, the flexibility, creativity and skills that employees bring can greatly assist a business in working through challenges. The longer-term benefits for a business investing in its employees are also obvious: valuing and investing in the workforce generally leads to higher retention of staff. Prepare now for tomorrow  So, how can organisations manage training and development requirements in these difficult times? Now is the time to re-assess your training methods and the delivery approach. Make greater use of your in-house experts for learning and development purposes to deliver practical and relevant content. Technology is essential in helping us stay connected. Online communication tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are an excellent way of delivering learning and development initiatives to remote working staff. With many employees either working from home or laid-off part time, this might be an opportunity to use the available time to focus on training and development. Use it wisely! It is also the time to consider external online offerings. Trade bodies, professional services bodies, accounting institutes and many other organisations offer a considerable range of online courses that make learning and training accessible and flexible. Some of these courses are also free. Evaluation is key Take the time to evaluate training courses and training and development needs. Consider how best to spend limited resources in the current environment. Evaluating training courses that have already been provided is also vital as this enables a business to check that staff are being equipped with the right skills and development, and that the training is value for money and aligned with the business’ strategy and goals. Stay safe while training! Dearbhla Gallagher is the Learning & Development Manager at Baker Tilly.

Jun 10, 2020

Caroline Pope considers the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and their relevance as a framework to rebuild resilient companies as the economy emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. At present, the full impact of COVID-19 on the Irish and global economy is not yet clear. However, the ability of society to work together towards a common goal has been recognised and should form part of the recovery. In 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) were adopted by all member states. Their purpose is to coordinate efforts to improve human lives, protect the environment, and ensure the sustainable development of our societies. Sustainability may not be the most obvious lens through which one should assess the abnormal events of recent months. Yet trends are emerging, which may make business leaders think more deeply about sustainability in the context of their organisations. Below, we outline three of these factors. The UN SDGs drive increased resilience. There is growing evidence that businesses that have already aligned their strategy with the UN SDGs are more resilient to an economic shock. The UN SDGs are not going away. The future business landscape is uncertain, but increasing evidence points to an operating environment that favours businesses that align with the principles of sustainability. A business strategy aligned with the UN SDGs can create value. Aligning a business strategy with the UN SDGs may seem like a daunting process, but there are well-understood methodologies that can be applied. The UN SDGs drive increased resilience  Businesses that align their core strategy with the UN SDGs (also known as ‘sustainable businesses’) take a broader, stakeholder-based view of their activities. As a result, these businesses tend to demonstrate a deeper understanding of oft-overlooked or under-valued areas of their companies, such as supply chains, and their degree of interconnectedness with society in general. This broader understanding, which is the result of UN SDG alignment, can position them to respond more rapidly to the threats that COVID-19 represents to their stakeholders. In particular, supply chains are coming under increasing pressure due to the global nature of COVID-19, combined with the increasingly international scope of business. The advice from supply chain experts such as Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield University, is to “urgently review their supply chain to find out how exposed they are… it’s still common for businesses to just deal with a central HQ of a supplier and not know what route the supplies they need are taking”. Full alignment with UN SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities, will drive businesses towards total supply chain transparency; they will know each factory where their inputs are processed and all the intermediate steps along the way. These businesses are in a much better position than those rushing to uncover their true supply chain risks amid a crisis. This seemingly serendipitous point illustrates a key feature of SDG alignment: it is consistent with well-managed operations. Alignment with SDGs has also made companies more resilient. For example, there has been a paradigm shift for many businesses since COVID-19 emerged as they have sought to facilitate organisation-wide remote-working to prevent activity grinding to a halt. Contrast this with sustainable businesses such as Vodafone who, in recent years, saw remote working as a means of advancing Goal 5, Gender Equality, and have already invested in the infrastructure to facilitate this. Finally, sustainable businesses enjoyed a higher degree of investor confidence before the economy shut down and seem to continue to enjoy a higher degree of investor confidence as the shut-down continues. Figures published by Funds Europe suggest that values of European sustainable funds dropped by 10.6%, compared with the “overall European fund universe” which declined by 16.2%. Robeco, the global asset manager, has also found a positive relationship between lower credit risk and sector alignment with SDGs. The RobecoSAM Global SDG Credits strategy outperformed the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Corporate Index by +90 basis points in March of this year. To compound these data points, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) membership group recommends that all signatories (which represents $86.3 trillion in assets under management) support sustainable companies through the crisis in the interest of public health and long-term economic performance, even if that limits short-term returns. The UN SDGs are not going away The existential threat of COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus other threats of a similar scale, such as climate change and social inequality. The global response to COVID-19 has shown that there is a willingness to embrace long-term changes and drive towards a common goal. This sense of spirit will likely fade as the crisis abates, but it is unlikely to disappear totally. Companies that genuinely embedded purpose before March 2020 are likely to experience favourable trade winds from an upturn due to the opportunity for reflection (and social media opinions) by customers and employees during the lockdown. As societies get over the initial shock of the pandemic and the focus shifts from lockdown to restart, the critical question is how to put the economy and society on a trajectory that lasts. There is a growing consensus in Europe, for example, that the required economic stimulus will have a green hue. In April, the Government of Ireland indicated that it fully supports the EU Green Deal proposed as the central tenet of an economic recovery plan, aligning with 16 other member states. The EU Green Deal provides a roadmap towards a clean, circular economy, restoring biodiversity and cutting pollution. The proposed EU direction of travel is very much aligned with the UN SDGs and this political environment should create an opportunity for businesses that choose to swim with the current. Investors, such as Blackrock, have signalled that regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still expect companies to continue with their ESG (environmental, social and governance) targets. Blackrock has pledged to vote against the directors and boards of companies that fail to meet its expectations to manage environmental risk in 2020 and called for companies to report in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework. The asset manager expects companies to publicly report how sustainability risks and opportunities are integrated into business strategy. In an Irish context, the UN SDG Index report, released in 2019, shows significant challenges to Ireland meeting several key metrics, including SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 17 (Partnerships). This is due in part to an absence of information, but also reflects our known challenges on climate action. This was a negative result for Ireland, and there will likely be an emphasis from the Government on these three SDGs as part of the recovery package. While we are all preparing for a change in dialogue and a focus on climate action once the new government is formed, SDG 12 (which focuses on responsible consumption and production) presents a similarly large opportunity. In particular, companies that have already implemented a more circular model for resource management and waste streams are benefiting from a first-mover advantage in the circular economy. A business strategy aligned to the SDGs can create value  Given the significant opportunities and risks associated with the UN SDGs, companies that excel at identifying and incorporating these issues into their strategy enjoy a competitive advantage in the marketplace and among institutional investors. It is increasingly clear that sustainability and return on investment are connected. To help boards understand and shape the total impact of a company’s strategy and operations externally – on the environment, the company’s consumers and employees, the communities in which it operates, and other stakeholders – and internally on the company’s performance, I suggest a five-part framework (refer to Table 2). This framework for board oversight recognises that creating long-term value increasingly requires companies to understand the impact of their strategies on key stakeholders – investors, employees, customers, and communities – as well as on the natural resources and supply chains that the company relies on, all of which are fundamental elements of the SDGs. An integrated commercial strategy encourages companies and boards to widen their aperture for a fuller view of sustainability, strategy, and long-term performance. Wherever the company is on the sustainability journey, this framework can help to drive a robust conversation about what sustainability risks and opportunities may impact the company’s key stakeholders, corporate strategy, and long-term performance, and how they will be addressed. Aligning with SDGs will help businesses identify risks and opportunities that may have been omitted from previous analysis and will also provide them with a better understanding of their stakeholders and their relevance to those stakeholders. By communicating their progress towards SDGs, companies can enhance their reputation both internally (with employees) and externally (with the broader public); this transparency contributes to enhanced trust and confidence in the companies’ operations and contribution to society. The improved trust may then result in more robust and sustainable economic, environmental, and social performance. Companies that identify and incorporate these issues into their strategy will stand apart as forward-thinking organisations, future-proofed, well-managed, and able to recover quickest in a post-COVID-19 environment. In conclusion The changes we have experienced in the first months of this year will have a devastating impact on the global economy, but this in no way diminishes the relevance of the UN SDGs despite being conceived in a more stable environment. Businesses that have already aligned their strategies and practices have shown enhanced resilience – sometimes in unexpected ways. In the absence of a crystal ball, it is hard to predict the next six months, let alone the next decade. Still, there are many indicators that the operating environment will be even more favourable to businesses that effectively integrate sustainability into their core business strategy. Organisations that rise to these challenges and show leadership will be rewarded by their stakeholders and gain access to new opportunities. Those that fail to act may put their margins and even their business models at risk.   Caroline Pope is Associate Director at KPMG Sustainable Futures, a cross-functional team of experts who help corporate and public sector clients plan and execute programmes addressing environmental, social and governance topics, decarbonisation, and long-term value creation.

Jun 02, 2020

John Kennedy explains why knowing too much can harm your practice, and where you should apply your focus instead. When I ask Chartered Accountants to make a list of the problems that hold them back from getting new clients, I am sometimes surprised at the issues they include. One point never makes the list, yet it is often a challenge – they just know too much. How can that be a problem? Surely every client wants a highly knowledgeable accountant, someone who is on top of all of the details and knows all of the angles?This is partly true, but it hides how you can inadvertently damage your practice. Unless you take time to step back, think clearly from the perspective of the client and shape your words to meet their needs, you can quickly lose their attention. This problem is compounded by the assumption that your clients pay you for your knowledge of accountancy, but that is not why clients pay you. Why do clients pay you? This is a deceptively simple question. Is it because of the things you know or because of the things you do for them? Or is it because your qualifications mean you are empowered to authorise documents? Each answer constitutes some part of the reason, but each also obscures a vitally important point. There are two crucial distinctions. First, clients do not pay you for the things you do; they pay you for the value you deliver. Second, the value you provide is only partially expressed in monetary terms. The fundamental truth is that, in many cases, clients most value the way you make them feel. Where your real value lies When you were studying as an undergraduate, the emphasis was on increasing your knowledge. You bought textbooks, you attended lectures, you completed assignments and the focus was always on what you knew – more facts, more information, more knowledge. Your exams tested and confirmed your knowledge; the more you could prove all you knew, the higher the grades. And the more you knew, the better you felt and the better you were regarded by the training firms for whom you hoped to work. With this relentless emphasis on knowing more and more, it is unsurprising that you came to assume that knowledge was where your value as an accountant lay. Then you became a trainee Chartered Accountant in a firm. In your application, your interview and all of the tasks you were given, it was assumed that you had the knowledge required. At this point, the emphasis began to shift to the things you did. You were given specific tasks; what you did and the time it took was captured in timesheets. The emphasis of virtually every aspect of your work, your day and your value revolved around recording your activity in your timesheets. And then you set up your own practice. By now, the emphasis had become so engrained – entrenched even – that you assumed that the key to building a successful practice revolved around turning what you knew into what you do, and recording that in timesheets to bill your client. This focus transferred to your client, but the truth is that this is not where your greatest value – nor your greatest opportunity – lies. Your client wants your value, not your time To build a successful practice, you need to move your thinking – and the focus for your client – beyond what you do and towards the value you provide. This involves two steps. The first step is to consciously move the emphasis from the things you do to the value you deliver. This first step is widely accepted but poorly implemented in practice. The second step is perhaps even more critical if much less understood. To build a practice with strong bonds with long-term clients, you need to move the emphasis from facts to feelings. Human beings like to believe that our species is more rational than it really is. We believe that we see or hear something, we analyse it rationally, and we decide. But do you suppress your feelings at work and give dispassionate advice? Are you always logical and provide clients with clearly thought-out analysis? This is what we like to believe, but it is often untrue. The reality looks much more like this: we see or hear something; we filter it through our emotions; we interpret it and tell ourselves a story; and on that basis, we decide if it is right or wrong. This filtering process happens all the time and while every client wants the facts dealt with, they assume that this is the minimum level of service they will receive from their accountant. The bonds that make clients work with you and generate referrals are forged beneath the level of conscious thoughts. Even in business, the way we feel is of enormous importance so you can create a genuine edge by understanding and applying this. The positive feelings generated by your work include peace of mind, increased confidence in decision-making, or the anticipation of a comfortable retirement. These are important sources of value, yet few realise just how vital these submerged feelings are – even in the most dispassionate business transaction. Every interaction has a submerged, and usually unstated, emotional aspect. As a practice owner, you must understand this and use it to your advantage. When making the shift in focus from the things you do to the value you deliver, you must take account of the genuine feelings at play. Value is about more than money Feelings are always there and are an important part of the value provided by a Chartered Accountant – no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that it is “just business”. Everyone has clients they like and clients they do not like; phone calls they look forward to making and phone calls they hate making; tasks they like doing and tasks they hate. We are very skilled at telling ourselves stories that turn these feelings into apparently rational explanations supported by facts to support our conclusions – but there is no avoiding the reality that feelings are very powerful, and this is the same for your client. Let us take an example that shows just how powerful this concept is. Complete this sentence: “More than anything, I want my children to be…” I have used this example for decades and the answer is almost always “happy”. Occasionally, the respondent will say “content” or “fulfilled”, but in each case the answer is an emotion. It is never a financial or factual answer. This is a simple example of just how important feelings are. How to gain an advantage Gaining a client does not begin and end with you making clear all of the things you will do for them. For an individual to act, they must first feel confident that you understand what they want. And more importantly, they must also be convinced and motivated to the point that they are committed to working with you. Being convinced and motivated depends on your ability to address the feelings that so often remain submerged, unexamined, and unaddressed. I have heard about all the effort accountants put into planning and preparing for meetings with potential clients, often spending hours crafting a well-designed and high-quality document and accompanying presentation. But they then go on to tell me that, even as they are discussing the document or giving the presentation, they know it is just not working. Almost everyone has experienced this in some way, but many simply continue as if the submerged feelings are not there or are insignificant. The habitual pattern is to press on with more information, more facts, more details. The result is that you completely overlook the reality that the submerged feelings are the decisive factor in the ultimate success of any relationship. It is much more useful to bring these feelings to the surface. You do this by using questions to draw out how the work you are discussing with your client will make them feel. The truth is that few clients care about exemplary management accounts or pristine submissions. Some do want to use their cash more effectively or to have a clear tax plan in place, but everyone wants to feel the peace of mind or sense of security that these actions bring. Yet, many accountants spend too much time talking about the surface facts, the facts that – even when they are dealt with well – are, at best, efficient and uninspiring. The often-unacknowledged truth is that the feelings you create in your clients are just as valuable in building long-term relationships as the work you do. When you deal with the surface facts well, but the submerged feelings are left unattended, there is the illusion of progress, but the relationship is merely routine with little enthusiasm. New clients in particular will sometimes engage you as part of their initial wave of enthusiasm, irrespective of the work you have done, but that will undoubtedly be a passing phase. The worst-case scenario is where the factual, practical aspects of the relationship are not adequately clarified and addressed, and the submerged feelings are also poorly dealt with. If this is the case, the client may accept you as a necessary evil, and you both bump along for a short time until your client moves to another practice. Even if they stay, these are the clients that are difficult to deal with, slow to pay, and frustrating to have. Only when you take control of, and actively deal with, both the surface level factual tasks and the submerged feelings do relationships take off. When this happens, it is of real value to both you and your client. These are the client relationships you want – you are both in step, you both work well together, and you both feel positive about the work. Too often, however, this kind of relationship is left to chance because the influential role of submerged feelings is seldom acknowledged, discussed, and actively addressed. But you can make these positive and rewarding client relationships a matter of choice. Just get into the habit of raising your clients’ understanding of the importance of the positive feelings generated by working constructively with you as their accountant. Ask about the areas they want to be confident in; probe how putting their affairs in order will reduce stress; and test and draw out the peace of mind they will get. As you become skilled at eliciting and addressing these submerged feelings, you will set yourself apart from your competitors. Move your emphasis from what you do to the value it brings, and then take the critical step of drawing out and addressing the submerged feelings that are most important to your client.   John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Jun 02, 2020

Dr Annette Clancy explains why employees’ mental health should be the organising principle for businesses in the 21st century. 20-30% of us will experience mental health issues during our lifetime. Could the quantity and quality of work have something to do with this?  A recent study conducted in the UK shows that one-third of us are not happy about the amount of time we spend at work. More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems. As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness, worry and anxiety. Employees’ mental health is affected by their roles. For example, we might expect to see mental health issues in workers who deal with trauma and violence every day, but studies also show that workplace culture, bullying, disciplinary processes, and toxic workplace relationships all contribute to deteriorating mental health. Many businesses have policies for mental health and workplace wellness, but for those who are trying to cope with challenging workloads and suffering at the same time, policies may not be enough. Very often, people hide what they are feeling for fear they will be stigmatised or punished. Policies need to be backed up with empathetic intervention by managers who have the right combination of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. Yet, managers are rarely trained to either recognise or manage conversations with team members who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. So, what can managers do to de-stigmatise mental health issues? 1. Create an organisational culture where there is respect for people. This sounds simple, but in practice, it rarely is. Most mental health issues arise from toxic relationships, bullying, harassment or power dynamics. Changing the culture around this would go a long way in helping to eliminate some mental health issues. 2. Train all managers and team leaders in ‘soft’ skills. Help people develop the ability to listen to what is not being said and read body language so that they can pay attention to those they manage. Stress and anxiety are felt, not spoken, so managers must be attuned to how it is expressed. 3. Encourage a culture of openness about time constraints and workload. Employees must feel able to speak up if the demands placed on them are too high. Also, ensure that employees’ jobs are manageable within the time for which they are contracted. Expanding job creep is one starting place for stress in organisations. Monitoring this aspect of an organisation’s behaviour alone could impact significantly on mental health. 4. Allow staff to attend counselling and support services during working hours, as they would for other medical appointments. This proactive initiative sends an important signal that mental health is a priority in your organisation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “the state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. The WHO definition provides a policy template for organisations wishing to create a culture in which the mental health of all workers is prioritised, not only those with mental health issues. It offers an interesting insight into how an organisation might be structured if mental wellbeing was the organising principle. As mental health issues continue to increase both within and beyond the workplace, perhaps the WHO definition isn’t so far-fetched. Putting people at the centre of organisations used to be the way we did things; putting the mental health of employees at the centre of organisations may be the way we need to do things in the 21st century. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Jun 02, 2020

Teresa Stapleton explains how senior leaders and managers can create a high-performance culture with loyal, engaged, and motivated employees. An estimated two-thirds of companies still conduct annual performance reviews, despite extensive research and employee feedback which suggests that they are outdated. What most companies hope to get from performance management is engaged, motivated, high-performing employees and business success. But the reality is that annual and bi-annual reviews fall well short in supporting these aspirations. They typically involve time-consuming and detailed write-ups of past performance, which have little impact on future results. More and more companies are questioning the value of analysing past performance based on goals set 12 months ago and rating individual performance on a scale to determine rewards. Most managers and staff dread the whole process. Research by Willis Towers Watson found that only 48% of employees report that performance reviews have helped improve their performance, and just 52% think their performance was accurately evaluated. There is widespread consensus that ongoing performance management and the provision of feedback and coaching is a better approach to creating an engaged, motivated workforce. However, the challenges involved in replacing the annual review process, which has been embedded in organisations for many years, can seem daunting. Over the last ten years, several companies have successfully done just that – transformed their performance management processes to re-energise their organisation and employees. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, the following themes are worth considering when re-thinking performance management. Performance management philosophy The starting point for changing any process is deciding what you want to achieve. Defining what specific behaviours, values and results you want to encourage, and whether individual accomplishments or team collaboration – or indeed, a mix of both – will be recognised and rewarded is a good first step. Many companies share their vision, values, culture, performance management philosophy, and employee development approach on their websites as it is where prospective candidates go to get a feel for the company and whether it would be a good fit for them.  The traditional levers for recruiting and motivating employees are attractive pay and benefits, competitive bonus schemes, job security and career development prospects. Also, employee engagement and employee experience are increasingly recognised as being of equal importance to attract talent and drive productivity. Some companies have adjusted their rewards model to empower managers to offer smaller incentives more regularly when goals are achieved. Others offer training, educational support, or development programmes to reward strong performance. Providing a positive working environment where employees feel that their work is meaningful and their contributions are valued is now seen as central to attracting and retaining talent. Senior leaders and managers have a critical role to play in building an environment and culture where their teams enjoy coming to work and are committed to delivering exceptional results. Performance appraisal model Companies often adjust their performance management approach over time to reflect changing economic conditions and the latest thinking on business leadership. The bell curve system of performance appraisal, which was widely used for decades by large companies, has been abandoned by most. This model forces managers to rank employees into a bell-shaped distribution curve, with 20% high performers, 70% middle performers, and 10% low performers. The advantages of the bell curve model are that it helps managers differentiate rewards based on contribution and forces them to tackle low performers. However, the drawbacks of the model are generally believed to outweigh the benefits as it can create unhealthy internal competition to be a top performer and get high rewards and undermine collaboration across teams. It was also viewed as unfair and demotivating to employees pushed into the ‘middle’ or ‘low’ categories to hit the numeric requirements of the curve if this does not reflect their actual performance. Many companies have replaced the bell curve model with less rigid approaches that focus on continuous performance management, providing real-time feedback and coaching to improve performance and support personal development. Some companies have even dropped performance ratings altogether as they focus performance discussions too much on past events, shifting instead to highlight learnings from past experiences and create personal development plans for each employee to increase future impact. Objectives and key results There is a real art in setting meaningful and achievable targets that motivate staff to deliver great results. The biggest challenge is often distilling the broad range of activities each employee is responsible for to highlight the objectives that will contribute most to the overall success of the business. All too often, individual commitments or goals are a long list of activities and deliverables, making it hard for employees to see what is truly important and creates the most impact. Including granular details of job responsibilities or adding broad commitments that apply to all employees, while well-intentioned, often dilute the focus on clear, meaningful, personalised priorities. A growing number of companies like Google, Intel and LinkedIn have adopted the ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKR) framework to align company, team and individual goals and set targets. The process involves defining three to five objectives for each individual, with key results that are usually stated as numeric targets or other clear measures to track progress. While setting clear expectations upfront is essential, it is just as important to update them regularly to reflect changing company priorities and business direction. Regular performance check-ins Managers play a crucial role in setting their teams up for success by getting to know the strengths and capabilities of each team member and matching each individual’s skills to meaningful goals. Open communication is essential to set performance expectations, stay aligned on progress, and provide real-time feedback to address issues before things go off course – or to capitalise on opportunities to do things quicker or better. Performance and development discussions should take place on an ongoing basis and not be reserved for a formal review meeting once or twice a year. If regular check-ins are happening, there should be no surprises when it comes to performance assessment and rewards discussions. Most companies have performance management tools to track and monitor performance processes. Automated systems can also help streamline the process of capturing peer-to-peer feedback, highlighting blind spots or behavioural issues that managers should address. Conclusion Modernising performance management requires re-thinking the whole employee/employer value exchange. Employees want to do meaningful work, aligned with their values, where they feel they can grow, flourish and be justly rewarded. Senior leaders and managers have a critical role to play in creating a high-performance culture with loyal, engaged, and motivated employees to sustain business growth and long-term success. Teresa Stapleton is an Executive Coach at Stapleton Coaching.

Jun 02, 2020

The accountancy profession needs to engage with  how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence will disrupt traditional career pathways. By Dr Patrick Buckley, Dr Elaine Doyle, and Ruth Gilligan Information technology has become inextricably embedded in virtually every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Data about what we do, what we are interested in, with whom we communicate and where we go can all be captured and stored at a scale unimaginable even five years ago. Technology giants such as Google, Amazon and Alibaba are engaged in a competitive race to capture the data generated by this new reality, lending credence to The Economist’s claim in 2017 that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. The data captured is valuable for several reasons. For one, traditional activities such as advertising can be personalised and optimised to a revolutionary degree – think of Facebook. Data also allows companies to build entirely new products. For example, the utility of Google Search results depends on analysing what information others have found useful in the past. A further value assigned to these data streams is linked to the development of artificial intelligence (AI). A host of mathematical and algorithmic tools – some novel, some more mature but turbocharged by the advent of big data – has propelled the development of AI. Leaving aside philosophical questions such as to what extent these systems are intelligent, every-day and now familiar examples of AI (Siri and Alexa, for example), are demonstrably practical and effective. These visible successes, combined with the breakneck pace of development, pose a multitude of questions about the impact of AI on our future – not least its impact on the future of work. The future of work Concerns about automation and jobless futures are not new. Two centuries ago, Ricardo proposed that technology caused unemployment. In the 1930s, Keynes predicted that new technologies would reduce the demand for human labour. In the 1980s, Leontief compared the role of a human in the modern economy to that of a horse in agricultural production – first diminished, and then eliminated by automation. Until the advent of AI, the consensus was that such predictions were overly simplistic. While new technologies can have a destructive effect on a particular industry or sector, their introduction often leads to increased opportunities in other areas. The overall effect is to change the structure of the jobs market, rather than result in a reduction in the work available. The jobs eliminated by new technology are replaced by jobs requiring higher-order cognitive skills (e.g. a robot replaces a welder but requires a software engineer to program it). Though this can be frightening and stressful for individuals, at a societal level, as long as education and training enable people to adapt to changing conditions by acquiring new skills, the long-term impact of technological change on the jobs market should be positive. The rise of AI has disrupted this consensus. In brief, the suggestion is that the human monopoly on tasks requiring significant cognitive processing is being broken. Education and training may become ladders to nowhere if AI systems that match or surpass human cognitive abilities are feasible. A glance at the world today demonstrates that many tasks humans once performed are being automated by AI systems, with virtually all studies showing that the process is accelerating as the capability of AI systems improves. For example, two Oxford economists, Frey and Osborne, predict that 47% of jobs in the US will be automated by 2030. The impact of AI Investigating how this disruption is likely to impact the accountancy profession, our research profiled the tasks that practitioners perform at different stages of their career and at three levels: trainee/junior, manager, and director/partner. We then calculated the probability of each task being automated by aggregating information from a range of sources, including academic studies and reports from professional, industry and government organisations. Our analysis makes it clear that, taken as a whole, accountants perform an enormous variety of tasks for their clients and employers. Some tasks, such as preparing accounts or tax returns, are considered extremely vulnerable to automation. Others, such as designing effective financial control strategies for clients, building relationships, or mentoring juniors and trainees are not. This feature of the profession has two implications: Given the enormous variety of tasks performed and roles fulfilled by accountants, assigning a single probability and suggesting that this represents an objective assessment of how vulnerable the profession as a whole is to automation is a simplification to the point of absurdity. The large number of tasks not vulnerable to automation means that for the foreseeable future, the profession as a whole does not face an existential threat. Tasks like designing effective tax strategies or the financial structures of businesses will require a mix of quantitative and soft skills as well as a deep, strategic understanding of the world beyond the capabilities of AI. Career pathways However, this does not mean that the profession can afford to be complacent. Analysing the potential effects of AI at different stages of a traditional career pathway reveals that the tasks vulnerable to automation belong predominately to early career stages. This is particularly the case for trainees/juniors, but also applies substantially to certain work at manager level. Therefore, while accountants may always be needed, the current economic case for most trainees and some managers may disappear. This presents challenges for the profession. Most obvious is the need to redesign career pathways in response to these trends. A traditional career pathway through the profession follows the well-worn path of trainee to manager to director to partner. A key question for firms and the profession is how to replenish senior ranks if the bottom rungs of the career progression ladder are removed. If there are no trainees or junior staff, where does the next generation of managers, directors and partners come from? A second, related issue is that of skills and knowledge development. Generally, the more experienced individuals in organisations perform the more cognitively demanding tasks. The tasks most vulnerable to AI automation are often seen as repetitive and undemanding. At first glance, the automation of such tasks may seem a positive development for employers and employees alike. However, this perspective takes no account of the knowledge and skills gained by performing these tasks in a real-world setting. For example, designing effective tax strategies requires experience that can only be acquired by spending time working on basic tax compliance. It may be possible to develop the skills and aptitudes required by more senior practitioners without a long, real-world apprenticeship. However, there is no evidence to support this position. At the very least, it seems likely that the entry pathway to the profession will need restructuring, with substantial changes required to curricula and entry requirements. In an extreme case, firms may face severe skills shortages a few years after engaging in significant automation. Higher-order skills may atrophy and disappear due to the lack of entry-level positions rupturing the supply pipeline of employees capable of performing higher-order tasks. Perception of the profession A third potential issue is the attractiveness of the profession to new entrants. If some of the tasks traditionally performed by managers are automated, then this will presumably have the effect of reducing the total number of individuals required at this level. The profession may evolve towards a position where a relatively small number of individuals (say 5%) do high-value, well-remunerated work while the other 95% are relegated to low-value, poorly paid tasks. A rational and risk-weighing decision-maker, the very type of intellect the profession seeks to attract, may select away from careers where the odds seem stacked against being able to access opportunity. In the long run, this selection bias may have a significant adverse effect on the profession’s ability to attract high-calibre candidates. The future of the profession Forecasting the future is a notoriously uncertain endeavour. Any predictions regarding the impact of AI on the accountancy profession (including those in this article) should be treated with scepticism. Reports of the imminent demise of the accountancy profession are, in all likelihood, greatly exaggerated. However, it would be equally short-sighted to discount the potential impact of AI on the profession entirely. It does seem likely that in the medium-term, the traditional career pathways associated with accountancy will be significantly dislocated. Responding to this will require meaningful, profession-wide dialogue and debate about how the next generation of accountants will be recruited, educated, and motivated.   Dr Patrick Buckley and Dr Elaine Doyle lecture at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, and Ruth Gilligan is a Tax Associate at PwC Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020
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