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

Why is a target operating model important to your organisation? Kieran O’Brien explains.To succeed in today’s challenging marketplace, organisations must be capable of a continual process of transformation and renewal. To achieve this, an organisation must have an in-depth understanding of its existing business operating model and how this model can be changed to optimise operations with resulting increased returns on investments, better service delivery for customers, as well as new offerings. Recent studies indicate that optimum business models are most often found in start-up entities. In more established entities, however, operating models are often no longer appropriate for the business and the challenges the unit is facing. Your organisation’s business model may have served you well in the past, but there is no guarantee that it will be successful for the future. Business models need to be continuously reviewed and refreshed to deliver on the organisation’s goals. Technology plays a vital role in supporting your business model. However, it is only one of the pillars supporting your business model alongside organisation/people, go-to-market approach, and process. The reality is that many organisations do not fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of their existing business operating model and are often slow to conduct a deep-dive analysis and embrace an enhanced operating model. In this article, we look at how your organisation might review your current operating model to move to a target operating model that creates a platform for sustainable future growth. Definition Although the term is familiar, there are various definitions for the target operating model (TOM). We would characterise it as a representation of the structures needed for an organisation to create and deliver optimal value for its customers in a repeatable manner while delivering on the organisation’s vision and growth strategy. Organisation, market strategy, process, and technology are the key underlying components of a TOM and are critical to its success. Ultimately, the TOM should provide a visual overview of how a business can be ideally structured to implement the organisation’s strategy by showing how each of the main business activities is represented. Common issues In my experience, TOMs can be ineffective due to several common factors. These include: The inflexible nature of historic business models, which fail to support a business that is evolving its operations (for example, a financing organisation that is moving from supporting large/complex transactions to a flow business operation); In financial services, the continuation of the historic segmentation between ‘front office’ and ‘back office’ when it is evident that both cannot continue to operate independently of each other effectively; and Having an operating model that is not aligned to a specific business operation, with the consequence that the organisation develops functional silos that result in process inefficiencies and poor communication. Key elements There can be several aspects to a TOM, but the critical interdependent elements we consider to be essential are:    1.   Organisation/people;    2.  Go-to-market;    3.  Process; and    4.  Technology. We discuss each of these elements in turn below and outline scenarios or questions for consideration under each category.Organisation/people The objective of a TOM is the development of an organisation that will support the business strategy and has clear roles and responsibilities with measurable skills and capabilities. The organisation should have the right number of people with the appropriate remuneration, expertise and experience across all functions. Also, the structure should be transparent, easy to understand and adaptable to changes that will arise over time.  Before determining the appropriate organisational structure, consider the following elements: Define the existing organisational structure; Review current role profiles, reporting lines and the number of people in each role; Review the type of people in each position (full-time, temporary, outsourced etc.); Complete a competence, performance and experience audit; Analyse performance evaluation methods; Analyse remuneration and incentive schemes; Analyse decision-making and governance structures; Analyse the degree of headquarter control versus local/regional autonomy; In a banking/leasing entity scenario and where the entity is bank-owned, determine the level of bank control versus the lease organisation control for critical functions (e.g. credit, pricing, asset management etc.); and Determine whether the entity is a functional or a product organisation. Go-to-market The successful business model should have a go-to-market (GTM) strategy that delivers a range of products and/or services to its customers on a profitable and cost-effective basis. The various GTM channels should be clearly defined and operate effectively. Let’s take the scenario of reviewing the GTM approach for a leasing/financial services provider with a supporting bank branch network. Areas that could be subject for review before deciding on the optimum GTM strategy include an analysis of: The entity’s commercial approach; The revenue and profitability model by product and service; The sales/operations approach, with a focus on the direct and inside sales route; How the supporting bank branch network operates and is controlled; The distribution routes to market through brokers, partnerships and others, and how this operates and is controlled; The typical customer profile and segmentation; The product and service offerings; Regulated and non-regulated product offerings; ‘X as a service’ and pay-per-usage products and services; Value-added data and customer insights in the customer value proposition; Various product portfolios for cross-selling opportunities; The ancillary product offerings including insurance, maintenance and others; Ancillary product offerings provided by associations, partnerships and joint ventures; and The asset management, end-of-lease operations and systems capabilities. Process Organisations must analyse and define the optimal business processes that support their business objectives. This involves the development of processes that are scalable, repeatable and the performance of which is measurable. An end-to-end ‘as is’ process review is recommended to map out the process suppliers, inputs, outputs and customers, and detail all critical dependencies. An essential element of this analysis is the identification of the core and non-core processes of the business to determine where value is added. Areas that could be subject for review before deciding on the optimal processes include: A review of the existing operational model, and determining whether it is centralised or decentralised; A review of the organisation’s governance and control procedures; Analysis of the processes and services that are supported in-house versus outsourced along with their interfaces and management; Analysis of the level of outsourcing, including the types of outsourcing and whether outsourcing is single-vendor or multi-vendor; Analysis of any shared service centre(s) supporting the organisation; In a bank-owned leasing entity scenario, an analysis of any processes and services supported centrally by the bank; A review of any flow business processes, mass customised processes, and any bespoke solution processes; and A review of the customer interfaces and aspects of online/offline elements of the customer journey and their interfaces. Technology The chosen business model must have the necessary technology infrastructure to support both people and processes. There is a requirement to identify and implement the technological and digital systems required for the optimum delivery of products and services to customers. Areas for consideration include digitalisation, data analytics and services automation. Taking the scenario of a bank-owned leasing organisation, areas for review before deciding on the optimal technology platforms include: A review of the core supporting systems/platforms covering front-end, back-end, CRM (customer relationship management) and reporting; A review of the level of integration, if any, of lease entity systems with bank systems; Analysis of the level of end-customer and intermediary systems linkage and automation; Analysis of the systems for quotation, credit approval and asset management; Analysis of technology capabilities and the technological ecosystem to support new products, especially in the areas of ‘X as a service’, and pay-per-usage models; and A review of the extent and quality of both internal and external data sources and the analytical techniques used to support better decision-making, as well as unlocking economic value and generating customer insights. The ‘Triple S’ approach The design of an effective TOM that supports your business should incorporate the essential elements described above. At the outset, we recommend that you consider what we call the ‘Triple S’ approach. Strategy: what is the overall business strategy, and what are the key underlying elements supporting the strategy? These elements should include the offer (products, solutions and services); go-to-market (the segment/category of clients to whom the offer is addressed); and channel (the route through which the customer will be serviced); Structure: what organisational and operational structure is required to support the strategy? This is the framework of the operating model; and Systems: what operational procedures and IT systems are required to make the structure work effectively? This is the detailed design and implementation of the TOM. Considering that the TOM is the combination of structure and systems, this approach should ensure that the TOM is aligned to a specific business model. However, variations of the model may be required within an organisation to support individual business lines.The benefits An optimised TOM enables your business to implement its vision and business strategy effectively. Working towards the right TOM for your business will identify deficiencies and gaps in your organisation that require remediation, such as redundant roles and role duplication. It provides an opportunity to optimise your business operations and reduce your operating cost by looking at various insourcing/outsourcing alternatives. It also provides a significant level of internal transparency to your staff, giving clarity around roles and decision-making and often accelerating customer outcomes. Before embarking on a significant TOM review, it is worth completing an independent evaluation of the TOMs employed by your peer entities. This can provide invaluable insights into your competitors’ operations and allow you to focus on the ‘best in class’ elements for adoption in your organisation. But beware – making changes to your organisation’s TOM can result in major transformational projects, which requires a robust governance structure. In summary, designing a new TOM provides an opportunity to optimise the size, structure and shape of your business and ultimately, deliver on your organisation’s strategies.Kieran O’Brien FCA is Executive Director at Invigors EMEA Limited (part of The Alta Group).

Jun 02, 2020

Although the weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be challenging, quality should not be compromised argues Fiona Kirwan. Full-year and interim year reporting deadlines are fast approaching for accountants both in industry and practice. Companies’ financial reporting functions and their auditors are getting used to working in ‘new normal’ circumstances. However, these changed circumstances must not compromise the quality of the work we all deliver day-to-day. Here are some issues Chartered Accountants should consider as they seek to maintain the highest level of quality in all aspects of their work. People COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and work. We have heard this phrase a lot in recent weeks, but it remains true. Almost instantly, employees who are used to the rhythm of the workplace became remote workers – many without the chance to prepare adequately. This creates challenges for managers of both finance and audit teams in leading teams remotely. It is more challenging to coach and supervise people who are not physically in the same location. It is therefore important to stay in touch and stay close to your people. Connecting as a community during this time takes imagination. It could mean developing new channels or social tools for employees to share stories; it could mean embracing video calls to create a sense of physical presence. Virtual social events are becoming the norm. Even small investments in building a genuine community can have a significant impact on your employees’ morale. This sense of community helps when coaching teams. People who are closely aligned on a personal level will find it easier to communicate complex information simply and team members will feel more comfortable asking questions and querying essential messages. Teams must be aware that some colleagues may not have optimal ‘work from home’ environments; some are juggling home-schooling with office hours; others are working from their bedrooms in shared living spaces. Organisations should implement flexible working structures to allow teams to deliver quality work while maintaining processes to ensure confidentiality and transparency. Such flexible working structures mean that everyone in the financial reporting process, both finance teams and auditors, must allow extra time to execute tasks remotely. Technology Almost all finance functions and accounting firms transitioned to remote working arrangements overnight, and the quality of an organisation’s technology is critical to day-to-day operations and ensuring business continuity in this scenario. Some organisations may have challenges arising from the fact that their teams are heavily reliant on desktop computers, second screens, or printing facilities that are not available in the home environment. The move to remote working could also leave team members isolated, but this is where the ability to host video conferences, share screens, and collaborate in files in real-time has become vital. Not only do these technical solutions allow teams to communicate internally, they have also become critical channels for communication between auditors and their clients. At PwC, we utilise our combined suite of audit tools – Connect, Aura and Halo – to communicate with our clients and colleagues across the globe. We also use Google’s G-Suite of collaboration tools, and Datashare to help us work with the data of clients with less complex IT systems. The recent uptake in the adoption of these technologies has seamlessly transitioned a lot of this work, which was historically done in person, into the digital realm.  Controls One area where the successful application of technology solutions has become essential is the implementation of internal controls over financial reporting. The appropriate tone from the top is vital; managers need to remind people that remote working might change how controls work, but it does not lower the bar. How companies operate their controls has been amended to allow for remote working. For example, a manual sign-off may now be replaced with a confirmation by email. In these uncertain times, companies will want to ensure that shortcuts are not being taken and rigour – both in procedures and the provision of appropriate evidence to support the implementation of controls – are maintained. Auditors will need to consider whether the controls, as they currently operate, remain fit for purpose and any increased risks that may have arisen from recent changes. Financial reporting The COVID-19 outbreak, and the measures taken to mitigate its impact, are having a significant effect on economic activity. This, in turn, has implications for financial reporting. Companies and auditors must work together to ensure that quality is not compromised – even in challenging circumstances. The following is a sample of the wide range of accounting issues that companies and auditors have considered in recent weeks: Going concern and viability statement: companies must assess going concern at each annual and interim reporting period, with a look-forward period of one year from the financial statement issuance date. Companies impacted by COVID-19 have had to update their forecasts and provide appropriate disclosures to alert investors about the underlying financial impact and management’s plans to address it, including if conditions give rise to uncertainties about the company’s ability to continue to operate; Subsequent events: the consensus is that COVID-19 was a non-adjusting post-balance sheet event for 31 December 2019 reporting. However, the appropriate disclosure of impact on the overall financial statements is a critical element of the financial statements; Measurements of assets: for year-end reporting and interim statements after December 2019, companies and auditors must assess the timing of COVID-19-related events to determine the impact on assets, including goodwill and indefinite life intangible assets, inventories, and deferred tax assets. Companies and their auditors must consider disruptions to the entity’s business or the broader market in determining recoverable amounts of assets. Careful consideration must be given to the net realisable value of inventory and, in the event of a price decline, whether prices will recover before the inventory is sold; Revenue recognition and receivables: identify the appropriate sales price given increases in expected returns, additional price concessions, or changes in volume discounts. Companies and auditors should be mindful that revenue can only be recognised for new sales if payment is probable under IFRS 15; Alternative performance measures: the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has provided guidance relating to the use of Alternative Performance Measures (APMs) in the context of COVID-19. Consistent with previous guidance relating to the maintenance of consistency of APMs from one reporting period to another, ESMA advises that rather than adjusting existing APMs or including new APMs, issuers should improve their disclosures and include narrative information in their communication documents to explain how COVID-19 impacted and/or is expected to impact on their operations and performance; the level of uncertainty; and the measures adopted – or expected to be adopted – to address the COVID-19 outbreak; and Internal consultations and reviews: audit teams face significant additional internal consultations and reviews in the current environment. Early agreement on timetables and collaborations between companies and auditors will ensure that quality is not compromised. As events continue to unfold, the challenges faced by accountants both in industry and practice are mounting. The weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be challenging. However, quality should not be compromised. Supporting our colleagues and utilising our technology capabilities will ensure that control frameworks continue to operate, financial reporting will be clear and transparent for all users, and audit quality will not be compromised. Fiona Kirwan is a Director at PwC’s Assurance Practice.

Jun 02, 2020

Richard Day and Alannah Comerford look at how Chartered Accountants can explore the potential for robotic process automation using UiPath. In this series of articles, we are exploring the power of visualisation and data analytics and the benefits it can bring to Chartered Accountants. As you may know, the FAE syllabus was recently updated to include data analytics concepts and tools such as Tableau, Alteryx, and UiPath. Previous articles dealt with the concept of data visualisation and the value it can bring to an accountant, and most recently we covered the data processing tool, Alteryx, and the significant advantages it affords when performing data transformations and calculations. In this article, we will move to the more advanced area of automation. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an acronym you are probably familiar with, as more and more businesses seek to streamline their operations and exploit the advantages of automation. UiPath, which has been selected by the Institute, and similar tools enable RPA at a practical level. UiPath is a software solution that acts like a robot, programmed to perform the various activities in a process just as a human would. The tool can be used to run without human supervision or can work as an assistant. Automation without human supervision is extremely difficult and may not be the answer for complex processes that require significant judgement, reasoning or analysis from the person performing them. In such cases, automation may still support the person who is completing these tasks as an assistant, but human intervention is vital. However, if we consider those processes that are suitable for automation, they can usually be described as highly repetitive, manual processes where the employee does not exert judgement. All decisions are made based on business rules and pre-defined logic. Significant value can be derived from automation where there is interaction between multiple systems, but the inputs required are standard, making the process tedious and time heavy. Similarly, when the current manual procedure is inadequate for standardising a process and remains subject to error, automation – which has the power to perform the process accurately every time – can be invaluable. As an accountant, you might think that opportunities for automation should fall under the remit of those working in IT. Accountants, with their holistic knowledge of how a business operates and analytical nature, are ideally placed to identify potential automation opportunities and act as a key stakeholder throughout the process. Automation at work Consider a simple process whereby you are required to run reports or extracts from different systems and perform some data transformation and analytics on the information to produce an output, perhaps in the form of a reporting dashboard. Alteryx can be set-up to run workflows to deal with inputs from different systems and produce the desired output. However, you would still need to run the input files and refresh the dashboard manually. Incorporating UiPath can automate the process even further. UiPath can log-in to each system and can be used to run specific reports from different systems at set times, replacing the need to download data manually. It can then load this data into Alteryx, run a pre-defined workflow, and produce the desired dataset. This information can then be brought into Tableau to refresh a dashboard with the current information. In this way, UiPath can be configured as an interface between systems to offer a fully integrated solution. These processes can be as simple as taking a list of suppliers from one system, along with balances from another. UiPath can automate the production of these lists and balances for processing in Alteryx to produce a customer statement. This statement is then converted to a named PDF document and emailed to each customer. In an audit context, where proof of delivery can provide recognition of a sale, client records can be reconciled with those from a third-party delivery company, exceptions identified and presented for further investigation by the auditor. A business can reap many rewards from automation. While efficiency and time-saving with a shorter cycle time immediately spring to mind, increased quality and compliance as a result of a reduction in errors and an increase in accuracy are also often seen. Unlike mere mortals, robots never sleep and processes can operate autonomously 24/7, driving real-time transactions and analysis. While certainly more challenging to measure than the benefits outlined above, increased employee satisfaction through a focus on higher-value activities and a reduction in time spent on menial, repetitive tasks is a clear benefit. It helps shift the priorities of the employee to innovation, strategy and activities that add value to the business proposition, resulting in a happy and productive workforce and consequently, higher output. While the benefits that automation can bring when applied to appropriate processes are clear, we must bear in mind that, while automation can reduce hours in the long run, up-front investment is required to get it right. Also, control-aware accountants would know that any automated process requires ongoing review. A successful move towards automation requires the skills that accountants use all the time. For example, detailed process maps that are validated by walk-throughs are essential as well as thorough testing with scenario analysis. Consideration of the impact on controls, appropriate training, procedures, and user manuals are also required along with a measurement of actual versus expected results and periodic performance assessments. Accountants are likely to be key stakeholders in each of these activities. Admittedly, we have only just skimmed the surface of the potential of UiPath and what it can be used for. Still, given the myriad of considerations included above, this is hopefully understandable. We hope we have sparked a reflection on potential use cases in your own business and perhaps demonstrated areas where Alteryx alone may not go far enough. We encourage you to consider these use cases, investigate whether your organisation has the necessary experience and consider a proof of concept. In the world of RPA, do not be afraid to consult and draw on experience.   Richard Day FCA is Partner, Risk Assurance Leader, at PwC Ireland. Alannah Comerford ACA is Senior Manager, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020

How can SMEs prepare for the severe economic shock that is going to hit? Ger Foley outlines how businesses can adapt and continue in a different way. I will not pretend to be an advisor who has all the answers for business owners on this. I absolutely don't. However, as a business owner myself, I can relate to all the uncertainty that business owners are facing. Short-term actions Things are clearer when viewed in front of you – on a spreadsheet or even just on paper – it doesn't matter what you use, but it is essential for business owners to make the financial state of their business visible. This will help with the decision-making process and will continue to be critical in the future. You should approach this by: Determining the cash reserves of the business. Finding out how much is owed to you from customers, and what exposure you have to debtors that are unable to pay in the short-term. Finding out the sales pipeline or order book for the short-term (three to six months). Risk profile this pipeline based on the customer, their industry and how their business might be impacted. Determining what the profit margin will be on certain sales. Finding out the current fixed weekly/monthly costs of the business – rent, lighting and heating, insurance, etc. Ignore wages/loan repayments for now. Establishing your payroll cost on a weekly/monthly basis. Determining business loan repayments on a weekly/monthly basis. You are now armed with data to allow you to make decisions. It may be possible to defer or get some extension from suppliers concerning the fixed costs mentioned. The banks will help, although this situation is evolving clarity is needed on exactly what this help will look like. Contact your bank and tell them you are trying to understand your position and will need support. Request a holiday or some other short-term reprieve from your loan repayments. Have a very transparent and open conversation with your team regarding payroll. Allow them to look at the numbers and ask for suggestions or input to the discussion. Longer-term actions We are in for a severe economic shock in the short-term. We are all in the same boat. All we can do in the immediate term is to survive but, more importantly, help each other and our communities. Business owners need to have practical positivity and approach the next chapter with the same level of enthusiasm they had when they started their business. Businesses have been built to where they were pre-COVID-19 so they can be built again. Will they look the same? Possibly not, but the SME sector is excellent at being agile. There are certain approaches that can be followed by the business community: Show leadership as business owners in following HSE advice and return to work protocols. Support their local economy where possible by using local products and services. Local businesses able to operate also need to support the community, e.g. ease of access, quality of service, coming up with innovative ways of ensuring the community has access to the products and services they want. How do you make your product or service relevant in these new circumstances? Businesses that remain strong have a responsibility not to take advantage at this time. They need to pay suppliers quicker than they have previously. Local and national government need to continue to help business owners with whatever supports are needed. We need a period where SME owners can focus on reinventing and adapting their business without the immediate pressure of cash flow and liquidity concerns. Over the coming weeks, as we understand more about what the medium-term future environment will look like, all business owners are going to have to consider their business models and how they can adapt to a new environment. Ger Foley is a Partner at Comerford Foley.

May 21, 2020

The hospitality sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adrian Crean explains how, with innovation and forward-planning, this sector can overcome the challenges it faces. As a well-known boxer once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. March’s lockdown announcement saw the hospitality and food service sectors decimated, a sector that employs 260,000 people, over 10% of total employment, and significantly supports regional employment. According to the CSO, 70% of these businesses ceased trading temporarily or permanently. Protecting staff, minimising ‘cash burn’ and managing liquidity became the immediate priorities. Even with the phased re-emergence from lockdown, it’s clear that things will be much different to before. The health crisis has become an economic crisis, and many businesses will not see a return to their 2019 levels until 2022, at earliest. Others will not return at all. Businesses are having to think, plan, adapt and act fast. The impact of COVID-19 Higher unemployment, less disposable income, reducing consumer confidence and much lower overseas tourism numbers will have a significant impact on the hospitality and food service sectors in the months ahead. If our own domestic travel restrictions could be safely lifted during June rather than July, it could provide a meaningful and much needed domestic tourist season. As it stands, however, significant planning and investment is being invested to give customers and staff the reassurance needed that the sector will be employing the highest operating standards in a safe, hygienic and welcoming environment – even if it comes at a cost. For example, the implications of social distancing on businesses are enormous. Michelin starred chef, JP McMahon, recently highlighted that at his Aniar restaurant in Galway, setting a two-metre distancing rule in the restaurant will see capacity reduced by approximately two-thirds. Even a one-metre distance will see capacity reduced by one-third. Social distancing in restaurant kitchens and back of house will result in simpler menus and reduced staff numbers. These SMEs will have accumulated four months of debts without any trade and face many more months at subdued levels. Businesses will not be financially viable without burden-sharing on fixed costs, especially rent and rates. Landlords, local authorities, government, and business will all need to participate. Innovating In times of great crisis, we also see great innovation. Customers will need to see a renewed emphasis on value for money. People will be more careful where and how they spend their discretionary income. All businesses should be considering three tiers to their offer – value, mid-tier and premium. The adoption of click ‘n’ collect, curbside collection, grocery and delivery are great examples of channels that hospitality and food service businesses have opened to allow them to reach their customers, but partnering with delivery aggregators is expensive. Charges typically range between 20% and 30% of sales value. This might be manageable of it’s 10% of your business but not at 50% of it, as businesses are now facing. Home working is here to stay. With office capacities reduced by 30% to 40%, expect businesses to rethink their location strategies. This will benefit more suburban and regional locations. Also expect to see leases with rents pegged to turnover becoming the norm. They are a far more equitable solution. Lastly, businesses must invest in their brands. Authentic and memorable storytelling that excites and engages their customers communicated across the right platforms has never been as important. As CS Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Adrian Crean is a non-executive director with LEON Ireland.

May 21, 2020

In these uniquely challenging circumstances, how can accountants support non-profits? Patricia Quinn and Paula Nyland tell us that thoughtful and clear-eyed planning is needed to mitigate the challenges facing these organisations. Stories from the non-profit sector can paint a bleak picture of services threatened, vulnerable people at risk, fundraising decimated, and mature non-profit businesses facing unprecedented challenges to their viability. The emergency €40 million funding package provided by Government for the non-profit sector will go a ways towards buying some much-needed time, allowing these non-commercial businesses to take stock, regroup and renew their operations. If you look at the thousands of non-profits listed on Benefacts public website, you can see that the sector is highly diverse. At one end, there are heavily staffed health and social care service providers that derive most of their funding from the State in exchange for providing essential services. At the other end, there are thousands of small, local associations and clubs that rely mostly on donations and volunteer effort. These are uniquely challenging circumstances for non-profits and accountants have an important role to play in supporting them – whether as professional advisors or as voluntary Board members. As analysts of sector data, these are the kinds of situations Benefacts has encountered: Dependency on fundraising and donations is high, with almost €0.9 billion reported in the most recent financial statements of all the companies in Benefacts Database of Irish Non-profits. The pandemic has decimated traditional interactive fundraising in its many forms – whether event-driven, church gate collections or calling to homes to sign up to direct debits. Some high-profile campaigns have mitigated this, such as Pieta House, which raised €2 million after a push on social media, but this is only a third of the €6 million raised by last year’s ‘Darkness Into Light’ walk, with no alternative project to fill the €4 million gap. Online fundraising simply does not have the same impact. Many non-profits do not hold an adequate level of reserves. A good rule of thumb accepted by some Government funders is 10 weeks of operational expenditure. Sadly, few non-profits enjoy this level of security. In fact, many Government funders actively discourage the holding of reserves, with the result that several non-profits operate a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence in terms of cash. Although the cost base of larger non-profits reflects the labour-intensive nature of their work, Benefacts analysis shows that in the case of many smaller non-profits (i.e. less than €250,000), non-payroll expenditure amounts to some 70% of their cost base. This means the COVID-19 subsidy will be of limited value. The demand for services is higher, and the costs of delivery will increase with the cost of delivering care with social distancing restrictions still active. This will have far-reaching effects in homelessness services, respite, residential care, and many more service areas dominated by non-profits. In the voluntary housing sector, income support payments have helped maintain rent payments but, without a further injection of funding, it will become harder to meet the demand for housing given the likely consequences for the coming recession for the building sector. Inevitably, the current focus is on the immediate issues, but for the medium-term, thoughtful and clear-eyed planning will be needed. Directors and trustees need to be looking at cash flow projections, potential increases in demand, and commitments to continued government support. Without this, sector leaders are telling us that tough decisions may be needed to cut services as early as Q3 2020. Although the emergency fund is very welcome, many organisations will need an early commitment of future government funding into 2021 and beyond to maintain essential services. The alternative could be closures, with all the unthinkable consequences for the most vulnerable in our society.   Patricia Quinn is the Managing Director of Benefacts. Paula Nyland is the Head of Finance at Benefacts.

May 14, 2020

How can business leaders and entrepreneurs take pole position after COVID-19? John Stapleton explains how they can thrive in uncertain times and drive competitive advantage from the emerging new normal. The Irish Government issued its Roadmap for Reopening Society & Business over a week ago. So, Ireland has a plan. Sometimes plans raise more questions than answers – but it is a plan nonetheless and a lot more than many other European countries have in place. For business leaders in general, particularly entrepreneurs, any form of a plan is a good thing. A plan delivers clarity. A plan removes (at least some) uncertainty. This plan comes with lots of caveats (e.g. that infections and death rates remain under some degree of control) but businesses can at least now figure out some scenarios of how to prepare for recovery and re-instigate their businesses given the enforced eight-week hibernation. I can imagine financial directors and controllers up and down the country have been pumping out spreadsheets outlining scenarios ‘X,Y,Z,’ given the different effects the lockdown relaxations will have on their particular business and how quickly they can take advantage of the new business and market ‘freedoms’. While some industries have been more affected than others, all our feeling the impact of COVID-19. My industry is food and drink. Many think this has been booming during COVID, but it depends on your route to market. If you supply food service (e.g. hospitality/restaurants/events), you have been in a very deep hibernation. If you supply retail, it is a mixed bag. It’s all going to be a different story for each business across all sectors. One thing for sure is business will not return – ever – to what it was like in January or February. Everyone’s behaviour has been significantly and suddenly affected. While the rules are about to relax and, with them, our behaviours, many new attitudes will stick, at least in part. Just like empty retailer shelves in March were not really driven by panic buying, but rather by every shopper placing a few extra items in their basket (because everyone was cooking at home significantly more). This shows that a slight shift in behaviour by many people can have a profound effect; ultimately, we all need to figure out what this means for our industry and our business going forward. Working within the new normal One thing that unites all entrepreneurs, however, is that we are used to adversity. We court adversity – even in the good times. Entrepreneurs also tend to be quite good at seeing the opportunity in uncertainty and turning that uncertainty into competitive advantage. The status quo favours the corporate, who has the resources to drive efficiencies and growth in more certain and predictable times. Entrepreneurs are much more agile and can react and take advantage of new market forces. The real trick for entrepreneurs now is to understand what is coming round the corner – to begin to define the “new normal”. How many people will continue to work from home – just one day per month more than they did before? How many people will continue to work out at home to something they streamed on YouTube in the last few weeks? How many businesses will decide they don’t need such a large, swanky office in the centre of town and down-size, move to the suburbs or decentralise? How many businesses will reduce travelling to physical meetings and move to web-conference? Do you really need to physically be at that quarterly meeting in New York, or will an annual visit do just as well while the rest are held on Zoom? You only need many people doing a few of these things 5% of the time to move to a “new normal”. These days, I work with a range of small, early-stage businesses. My message to them is that the Government’s plan is great (and it is great), but the Government doesn’t run your business. That’s your job. This is the time to take control of your business’s destiny. Take the time to define what the “new normal” means for your industry and position yourself to take best advantage of this shift. Entrepreneurs are agile, so play to this strength. Entrepreneurs thrive in uncertain times, so take the opportunity this presents to get to into pole position to be able to kick on purposefully and drive competitive advantage from the emerging new normal. You don’t need to be the best in the world; you just need to be better than your competition (who haven’t recognised the new normal yet). John Stapleton is an entrepreneur and speaker. He is also a business adviser for Bord Bia.

May 08, 2020

As exit plans for the COVID-19 lockdown start to emerge, businesses need to focus on how best to manage the ‘new norm’, says Teresa Campbell. Remote working became normal for thousands of office workers in recent weeks as businesses turned to modern technologies to continue operating during the COVID-19 lockdown. As restrictions are lifted, a priority for businesses in the coming months will be to provide a safe environment for employees and customers. However, it will also be important to not lose sight of the overall culture within the business. Undoubtedly, the quick shift to remote working has caused anxiety within workforces. The right culture within a business needs to embrace this change, recognise the new challenges employees are facing and provide the right level of support and encouragement. As working from home is likely to continue, at least for some workers, this will be a new challenge for businesses whose culture up to now may not have involved managing remote teams. Good communication will be more important than ever with regular check-ins between managers and their teams. Team engagement mechanisms will also be needed – for example, virtual team meetings, virtual coffees and other social interactions. This is important to ensure that staff do not feel isolated and everyone feels part of a team. While technology is the key enabler of remote working, it also presents risks that need to be identified and managed. Homeworkers may be targeted by cybercriminals seeking to gain access to an employer’s network, routers may be attacked, data may be compromised, or video conferencing security may be breached. IT teams will likely need additional resources to protect data, defend against cybercrime and ensure policies are up-to-date and communicated to staff. Returning to the workplace Employees may feel anxious about returning to work while there are still cases of COVID-19 in the community. Employers will need to be sensitive to these concerns and put procedures in place for a phased return of staff. At a practical level, office spaces may need to be reconfigured to accommodate physical distancing between workstations, in meeting rooms and common areas like canteens and coffee stations. Perspex screens between workstations may need to be installed along with hand sanitising stations. Staggering return dates and working hours may also be necessary, depending on operational needs.  Looking to the medium- and longer-term, businesses may need to move away from open plan, accelerate the adoption of new technologies, and introduce processes such as thermal screening to monitor employees and visitors and keep workplaces safe. Changeable working environment Retaining culture within the “new normal” workplace will have to recognise that the new working environment will be a mixture of home, office and online. Interacting with staff through the use of collaborative tools, supporting staff with more flexible work patterns, and communication practices will all be key to enable staff to adapt their personal work structure and routine, which will ultimately be productive and effective. The most successful businesses will adapt quickly to the new norm and the challenging demands COVID-19 presents, by putting measures in place over the coming days and weeks, positioning their business to respond faster than competitors to the rise in demand, once restrictions are lifted. Teresa Campbell is the People and Culture Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.

May 08, 2020

Business is never going to be the same after COVID-19. How can we prepare for the aftermath? Eamon Murphy offers us lessons to cope with the future ‘new normal’. I was working in Milan when the authorities announced the lockdown of a few small towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions in late February. The action was designed to prevent the spread of the virus to the industrial north of the country and beyond. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and the square outside Milan’s famous Il Duomo cathedral was filled with tourists (some masked) and well-fed pigeons. The Milan fashion week and three Serie A matches had just been cancelled. I did not feel that I was sitting in a front row seat watching the start of a pandemic outbreak, but I was. Since then, I have returned to Ireland and have witnessed how this most democratic, pernicious virus has planted itself among us without any sign of leaving. Governments around the world have struggled to respond to the scale of the health and economic collapse. It is a wartime endeavour with the frontline shifted to attack the most vulnerable ­­– the elderly in nursing and care homes and those who are already dealing with health concerns. The economic impact has been swift and brutal. Thriving enterprises have seen turnover fall to zero overnight. In Ireland, the numbers dependent on state support has rocketed to over one million. All conventional economic forecasts have been jettisoned in favour of scenarios – educated guesses as to how bad the deficit, unemployment and contraction might be. This is where we find ourselves in early May – just two months after the first tentative Italian lockdown. We are unsuspecting innocent travellers who find ourselves caught up in this terrible car crash of history. As professionals in business, we have no choice but to confront our historic appointment. There will be a post-COVID phase and it’s time we prepare for our ‘new normal’. I have been working remotely for the past few months and would like to offer the following lessons from lockdown: Do not assume that your business post-COVID future will be just like it was in the past. Events of this scale always leave behind great change. Even if you think your business will not change, your customers and supply chain will. Act now. Do not wait for the crisis to end. Normal business rules have been suspended. Be bold, imaginative and innovative. Create your own future. ("What did you do in the Great War, Mr Joyce?" "I wrote Ulysses. What did you do?") Help is available. Maximise assistance from the Government schemes and agencies – wage subsidy, unemployment support, Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland loans, Sustaining Enterprise fund and financial planning grants. Find someone to talk to. Cash trumps everything. Forecast early and often. Remote working works. Trust your staff to work from home. (Right now, you may have no choice). Ask yourself if you really need all that office space when this is over. Online meetings are not the same as in-person meetings. They are filled with peril for wafflers and the unprepared. We miss the social interaction cues. These meetings require more than an effective broadband and technology. Above all they need an effective chair with excellent listening skills. Go online and find Andrea Bocelli singing on Easter in the empty Duomo di Milano. Soul music. Eamon Murphy is a member in business and of Chartered Accountants Interim Managers.

May 06, 2020

Worrying over what will happen in the future is not a proactive use of time or energy. Pat Divilly gives us two tools that can help manage our stress. At a time where we are dealing with unprecedented levels of external uncertainty, it’s essential that we invest in ourselves. Now is the perfect time to cultivate mental fitness through simple, daily practices that develop confidence, clarity and consistency. A fundamental need for us all is the need for certainty; feeling some level of routine and control. Though this has been thrown up in the air with recent changes in our external environment, we do have the opportunity to bring about more structure and certainty from within.  Mediation and journaling are two very simple tools that I have been encouraging for years to help bring calm to the busy mind.  Meditation Simply put, meditation is about bringing awareness to the present moment rather than living in the future or past. In times like these, it’s easy to fall into fear, which is always a future-based experience; a case of misuse of the imagination. None of us know what's coming in the weeks and months ahead, but it is clear that worry is not a proactive use of our time or energy. As a starting point for meditation, consider setting a five-minute timer and performing the ‘box breath’ for five minutes. For this breath, place a hand on your belly and inhale through your nose, breathing deeply and expanding your stomach. Inhale for four seconds and then hold the breath for four seconds. Now exhale through your nose or mouth for four seconds, then hold for four seconds. That is a box breath. Repeat for five minutes and watch how quickly your body and mind settles. Do not have any expectations about clearing your mind or getting rid of all thoughts. Instead, see this as a chance to calm the body through slow, deep breaths. After a number of days of practice, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how it impacts your feelings day-to-day. For best results, practice for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. Journaling The second tool worth implementing during this time is the practice of journaling. Most of us have a busy mind. Throw a pandemic and huge amount of change into the mix, and your busy mind can be overwhelmed. Journaling is about taking some of the mental noise from our heads and putting it onto paper to turn mountains into molehills.  Consider spending 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening with pen and paper. Keep it simple. In the morning, write down your top three priorities for the day and three things you are grateful for. These two prompts narrow your focus to what’s working in your life and what’s important for the day ahead. In the evening, write down your mini-wins of the day and what you learned. Confidence comes from seeing our progress but often we move through life so fast we don’t stop to acknowledge what we’ve achieved in the day. Recognising your mini-wins is about shining light on what you’ve done well. Asking the question “what did I learn today” allows us to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work in the day and consider some small changes we could make going forward. The journaling and meditation practices shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. They are easy to do, but also easy not to do. I do know they will make a great impact in helping you maintain structure, keep you feeling grounded, and provide clarity in unsettling times. Consider giving this game plan a go for two weeks and see what happens!  Daily routine Morning 5 minutes box breathing. List 3 things you are grateful for.  List 3 priorities for the day ahead.  Evening 5 minutes box breathing. Recognise 3 mini-wins from the day. Reflect upon what you learnt from the day.  Pat Divilly is an Executive Performance Coach at PatDivilly.com.

Apr 24, 2020

Will companies be able to find the time and resources to focus on sustainability after COVID-19? Laura Heuston is positive that they will. COVID-19 has sent shock waves through the business community with most companies reeling from the immediate impacts. In the short-term, these companies will need to focus on survival – trying to stay afloat, minimise staff layoffs and keep supply chains going. This may mean temporarily diverting attention away from sustainability efforts which, until now, had been gaining traction as the business world realised its potential to lead the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. The key question now is, will companies ever manage to find the time and resources to focus on sustainability again? At SustainabilityWorks, we firmly believe they will. The business community had already reached a tipping point where the corporate profit motive and environmental and social agendas were increasingly aligned, and we predict that as soon as businesses are over the initial shock, the COVID-19 crisis will bring the concept of sustainability into even sharper focus than before. Social sustainability issues that have come to the fore during the crisis include the consequences of the gig economy and the advantages of remote working. There is also a clear link between the crisis and climate change as scientists have warned for years that the risk of pandemics is growing as rising temperatures damage fragile ecosystems, which act as 'containment' systems for our planet. The mindset that believes sustainability will disappear from the corporate agenda due to the pandemic is the same mindset that used to underpin the description of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors as “non-financial”. However, there is an ever-increasing body of evidence that shows just the opposite – that ESG issues have a clear financial impact, with research proving a positive correlation between a company’s performance on material ESG issues and good financial performance. This positive impact is reflected in share price performance and in a lower cost of capital for those companies. Investors know this, which is why investors with over $80 trillion in assets under management have signed up to the Principles of Responsible Investment, the world’s leading proponent of ESG investing. In fact, the pandemic has already been reported by the Wall Street Journal as leading investors to ask more questions about employee pay and benefits, supply-chain management and other ESG priorities. Companies should expect more questions and more focus on these “non-financial” issues post-crisis – not less. And while there is a broad range of ESG issues that attract attention from investors and the financial sector, it is climate change that is really focusing minds. During his time as Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney consistently highlighted the threat to global financial stability associated with both the physical and the transition risks of climate change. This led to the announcement of climate stress testing of banks and insurers by the UK financial regulator, while other regulators globally are collaborating on the issue as part of the Network for Greening the Financial System initiative. There is simply no going back on the awareness of these climate-related financial risks at this point – not by the regulators, the banks and insurers they regulate, nor by investors. Finally, there are numerous examples of the current crisis bringing out the best in many businesses, with small distilleries becoming hand sanitiser producers, grocery stores paying staff unexpected bonuses and An Post bringing communities together with various initiatives from free postcards to free check-ins on our most vulnerable citizens. These actions will not be forgotten and they show the important contribution that businesses can make in response to societal challenges. This underscores one of our core beliefs in SustainabilityWorks: engaging strategically on sustainability simply makes good business sense. As policymakers and corporates call for stimulus packages to be “green deals”, the businesses that rise from the ashes of COVID-19 will be the ones that embrace sustainability as part of their core business and, in doing so, lead the emergence of a fairer, greener, more resilient world. These businesses will also become resilient themselves, something which will stand them in good stead for the bigger shocks to business-as-usual that are coming down the tracks from climate change in the coming years.  Laura Heuston is a Co-Founder of SustainabilityWorks, a boutique sustainability consulting firm that offers a unique blend of skills and experience across sustainability strategy, finance, policy and communications.

Apr 17, 2020

An economic downturn will be inevitable after COVID-19. How can organisations weather this storm? Having strong ESG risk-management practices in place is key, explains Lorraine McCann. At a time of fragility and loss of life, our sense of what matters changes. Significant events like the COVID-19 crisis force us to reflect and to examine what’s important personally, for our businesses, communities and society. At times when we’re faced with a lot of uncertainty, it is important to think about our purpose, the value we create and deliver, and for whom. For many organisations, sustainability for them right now means surviving; however, as we emerge and begin to recover from the current crisis, purposeful and sustainable direction can help us all navigate the uncertain and potentially winding roads ahead. Sustainability during the 2008 recession While many assumed the sustainability ‘trend’ would be shelved in the last recession, it was quite the opposite. A need to cut business costs created a mindset shift towards operational and resource efficiency that put sustainability centre stage in the recovery. Businesses that managed a much wider range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks were more resilient, and more capable of responding to rapidly changing market conditions. Companies quickly realised that focusing solely on financial value creation for shareholders was not enough to protect against the effects of the downturn. Leading with purpose and values, that extend beyond the financial and consider wider societal values, is now a key component in any business growth strategy. It was only through a complete collapse of the financial system that we were able to realise the true importance of sustainability impacts on long-term value creation of business in society. ESG and risk management is critical According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risk Report 2020, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood are all environmental, including: extreme weather events, climate action failure, natural disasters, biodiversity loss and human-made environmental disasters. Understanding that another recession is upon us, every business should be critically factoring ESG risks into its risk-management function. There needs to be a recognition of the interconnectedness of environmental, social and economic risks, as a failure to do so could result in material business impacts including profit-loss, operational impacts and potentially losing social licence to operate. It’s imperative that ESG is not seen to be separate to the business but integrated and connected in how a company generates long-term, inclusive growth for its shareholders. Strong ESG risk-management practices include: Governance structures for sustainability, ensuring management is responsible for sustainability risk, with the right skillset, knowledge and expertise in the business to appropriately manage this risk; Identification, assessment and management of risk to protect and create value; and Reporting publicly on the policies, practices and performance relating to sustainability risk management. Investors demand information relating to ESG factors In the EY 2018 Global Climate Change and Sustainability Services study of over 200 institutional investors, there was global consensus that ESG information is now critical to investor decision-making, and assessment of long-term value creation. “Investors believe that ESG factors can provide downside risk protection – 89% say that ESG information is somewhat more valuable (80%) or much more valuable (9%) in investment decision-making in a market downturn”. It’s important that organisations are clear on what is material to their business – that is determining which metrics will yield the most useful view of risks and opportunities that drive long-term value. Greater transparency and consistent, comparable data on these topics can also help restore trust and confidence in business at a time when credibility and brand may be at risk. Lorraine McCann is a Senior Manager and Leader for Climate Change and Sustainability Services in EY Ireland.

Apr 17, 2020

What does COVID-19 mean for climate change and sustainability? Dr Diarmuid Torney tells us how we can keep the conversation going about a sustainable future despite the pandemic. We are in the midst of an epoch-defining moment in history. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global tragedy, but what does it mean for efforts to tackle climate change and create a more sustainable future? Over the previous 18 months, climate change and sustainability were front and centre in government, business, and society. Greta Thunberg and the ‘Fridays for Future’ global school strike movement had captured the world’s imagination, drawing attention to increasingly dire predictions of climate scientists. Suddenly, climate change has disappeared from the news headlines. The world is understandably consumed by a different sort of crisis. Our current moment is what social scientists call a “critical juncture”. Most of the time, societies are more or less locked into particular economic, political and societal pathways. But moments of crisis – critical junctures – provide spaces for otherwise unthinkable changes in direction, and this critical juncture can provide opportunities for new conversations about climate change and sustainable development. Here are three ways we can take advantage of those opportunities. Managing systemic risk The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the fragility of our interconnected world and our vulnerability to systemic risks. The pandemic was an unforeseen risk, but the climate crisis is an entirely foreseeable risk. It is right and proper that the focus is currently on covid-19, but in time we will need to reflect on the lessons of the current crisis for managing systemic risk.  Climate change will have far-reaching, indiscriminate, and non-reversible society-wide impacts. We need to learn from the current crisis that governments have a responsibility to manage this risk and pay greater attention to warnings from scientific and other experts. Having been maligned in some quarters in recent years, experts and expertise are in demand once more. Adapting COVID-19 has enforced abrupt changes to how we work and live our lives. Although hugely challenging, many are finding new and innovative ways to adapt to this new reality. Coming out of the crisis, some of these changes should stick, and we should have more confidence in our ability to change our lives to accommodate more sustainable-living practices. We may become more selective about international travel and flexible working, for example, both providing benefits for combatting climate change. Government action and support The state is back in fashion. As a recent Financial Times editorial put it, “Radical reforms – reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades – will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy.” Governments across the world have intervened in unprecedented ways to support their national economies. So far, the focus has been on supporting workers and businesses that have been required to shut down temporarily, but attention is now shifting to the types of stimulus measures governments will put in place to restart their economies. There is an opportunity to align these stimulus packages around climate and sustainability goals. South Korea did this during the global financial crisis, devoting 80% of its stimulus package to green measures. There are significant risks, as well. Interest in sustainability has historically tended to wane during economic downturns, and government funding may be cut for sustainability initiatives. It is impossible to know at this point which of these futures will prevail. The COVID-19 crisis provides a potential critical juncture, but the outcome will be determined by the decisions we take collectively over the months ahead. Dr. Diarmuid Torney is an Associate Professor in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

Apr 17, 2020

In this uncertain environment, now is the time to conduct a strategic review. Brian Crowley explains how in four key steps. Life and our professional lives have changed fast in the last few weeks. In order to plan for the future, we need to assume that it could be the end of the year – or even later – before we return to ‘normal’ (although we can continue to hope otherwise). No doubt you will have plans in place to provide ongoing support to clients, employees and other stakeholders, while keeping  a close eye on your cashflow. Your business continuity plan should ensure that you continue to comply with all legal and regulatory requirements. However, it is time to conduct a strategic review. Develop strategies in waiting The usual starting point for an organisational strategic review is fleshing out the elements of a future long-term vision of success. But these are unprecedented times and the usual rules don’t apply. The best you can do, and should do, is develop a number of possible future scenarios with your leadership team and discuss what the strategic response will be to each scenario for input to contingency planning.* Document assumptions associated with each scenario carefully, so that they can be modified on an ongoing basis over the coming months. The output of this process is a number of potential ‘strategies in waiting’ to get you over the next 12 to 18 months, pending a full strategic review in due course. * Maybe you should be encouraging your clients to similarly prepare for the future. Assess your key clients  An assessment of the likelihood of your key clients surviving and thriving when the crisis passes will be a key input to scenario planning. Some sectors should be relatively unscathed (food retailers, farmers, some medical, pharmacies and other essential services), some we already know will struggle at least in the short term (sectors dependent on international travellers), and some probably have good bounce back potential if they can ride out the storm (pubs, restaurants, hairdressers). In carrying out this case-by-case review, you need to look at client end-to-end supply chains, the quality and resilience of management, key dependencies, and their financial resources. Stress testing Stress test for different recovery periods and specific sectors/businesses that will return to ‘normal’ quicker than others and include this key variable in your modelling. Monitoring what is happening to different sectors in countries further along the curve to recovery may be insightful. Watch what is happening in China, for example. Look at your own business model Reflect on different scenarios emerging and the possible implications for your business model. Is your current business model sustainable? Do you need to ‘up your game’ in terms of systems integration/automation? Are further operational efficiencies required to remain viable? Do you need to embrace virtual working and virtual communication full-time? Should you exit certain sectors or cease to provide certain services? Are there new evolving sectors that you should plan to target? What new services should you consider providing? In some cases, the outcome of this analysis may be to trigger an orderly wind-down of the business (e.g. for those approaching retirement age), or a total repurposing. At the end of the ‘pause’ in business as usual, you want to be able to say that you used this time to prepare as best as you could for whatever future business environment emerges when the fog of uncertainty lifts. Brian Crowley is a Business and Executive Coach and Facilitator at The Alternative Board.

Apr 02, 2020

How can we lead people through these uncertain times? Wendy McCulla explores how managers can use the four stages of change to better understand and support their teams. COVID-19 is having a profound impact on the way we live, work and interact. The situation is extremely complex and continually evolving. No one can predict what will happen, so how can we support our employees through these uncertain times? Managing the process of any change is relatively straight-forward. Leading people (and their emotions) through that change is what makes the difference between success and failure. Most people do not like uncertainty. More so, a sense of loss of control. Employees may be feeling worried about their current and future job security, and even angry at decisions that management are being forced to make. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve (Denial, Anger, Exploring, Acceptance) is helpful to better understand employees’ reactions and identify how managers can best support them at each stage of the cycle. At the end of each stage, I’ve suggested some questions to think about. Stage 1: Denial When news of COVID-19 started to make the news, it seemed like something that was happening ‘over there’ and would not affect us. However, the situation has rapidly evolved and is now impacting on every aspect of our lives.  Any changes that are being implemented in the workplace need to be clearly communicated to employees. This can be difficult given the speed at which decisions are being made. Use all available channels of communication (team briefings, one-to-ones, emails, intranet) to ensure the facts are being shared. A lack of information causes fear and the grapevine will fill the void with its own versions of ‘the truth’! Ensuring that employee health and well-being are a priority in any decisions being made will help build trust with the team.  Ask yourself: How can I best communicate with my team, so they have the information they need to feel safe? What information do they need to explain any changes in direction? Stage 2: Anger As the reality of the changes in working conditions, workflow and job security becomes clear, employees may express anger. This is a natural reaction to the sense of unfairness of the situation and the feeling of lost control. Talk to your employees and, just as importantly, listen to their concerns and suggestions. Amid all the uncertainty, it is vital to make yourself available to support them. Enable employees to feel heard and valued. Ask yourself: Am I listening to my employees as well as giving them information? How can I role model the behaviours for constructive dialogue with my team? Stage 3: Exploring  As we settle into this new reality, talk to your team to identify how you can improve ways of working and servicing clients/customers. Perhaps employees can be trained in other skills or tasks to help them expand their knowledge and experience during the crisis. If work is slower, perhaps they could be encouraged to watch webinars or listen to podcasts related to their work to spark ideas for improvements. Many companies are now using technology to enable remote working and virtual meetings.  This will have an impact on how we work after the crisis ends. Ask yourself: How can we adapt the way we work? How can we keep employees connected (mentally and emotionally) over the coming weeks and months if many are working from home? What might we be assuming that is limiting our potential? How can we improve how we deliver for our clients/customers?What do they need from us right now? What can we learn from other organisations and industries that will help us evolve and survive? Stage 4: Acceptance  Offer plenty of encouragement to the team and publicly recognise creativity and collaboration (or any of the other positive behaviours you want to encourage). Share ideas for improvement and generate a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. This is also a great opportunity to review your business strategy with the team and identify possible changes in direction based on what you have learned.  Ask yourself: What can we learn from this experience? Knowing what we do from this experience, what could we do differently to be better prepared for any future big changes? While there is uncertainty in the current situation, it provides us with a great opportunity to pause and reflect on what ‘good’ might look like for the future. As Winston Churchill said, “It is not what happens that defines us, it is how we respond to what happens to us”. Managers who stay connected with their team and work together through this crisis will be best placed to hit the ground running once we get through to the other side. Wendy McCulla is a Leadership Coach at Aspire Learning & Development

Apr 02, 2020
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