Burnout is a very real problem, but organisations can ease the burden with some simple adjustments.   Stress, pressure and deadlines are part of the everyday workload of managers. But when the common feeling of stress tips over into burnout it can be a serious problem, affecting not just your own health and performance but that of your team and organisation. Some researchers say that as many as 50% of medical professionals and 85% of financial professionals have been affected by burnout. Others say that as few as 7% professionals have been seriously impacted. While researchers may disagree on the numbers, they do agree that burnout is associated with many negative physical and psychological health outcomes such as depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and increased alcohol and drug use. Burnout is a psychological syndrome that is characterised by a negative emotional reaction to one’s job as a consequence of extended exposure to a stressful work environment. It produces feelings of inadequacy and alienation, which affects personal and professional relationships. Stressed people think they will feel better if they can get on top of the situation, whereas burnout is associated with the belief that one’s situation will never be rectified. How to spot the signs of burnout Burnt-out colleagues are not difficult to see. Once productive and engaged, the quality of their work will decrease; they will come in late to work; interactions with colleagues will become curt; and they will become prone to illness, thus absenting themselves from the office more frequently.  How to address burnout If companies look at their role in creating workplace stress, which inevitably leads to burnout, there is every chance they can eliminate the factors that lead to burnout. Recent research suggests that there are three steps leaders can take to address burnout in organisations: Reduce excessive collaboration The endless rounds of meetings and conference calls, which aim to include every stakeholder in every decision. Very often, this type of collaboration is required by corporate cultures, yet is far beyond what is required to get the job done. Burnout is also driven by the always-on digital workplace. Switching off a personal device lays the emotional impact at the individual executive’s door rather than with the company’s policy. Call off unnecessary meetings There is huge demand for collaboration in contemporary organisations with little in the way of technology and norms to manage it. Left to their own devices, most employees will manage their time in ways that reduce stress and burnout. Companies could also challenge the assumption that collaboration (two heads are better than one) and meetings are the best way to get things done. Recent research on introverts subverts this assumption and provides alternative methods (such as breaking work tasks into individual, pair and small group tasks) to capture the creativity and talent of all organisational members. Stop overloading the most capable employees The best people in organisations, at every level, are overwhelmed by meetings, emails and interruptions. They then cannot do the job for which they have been hired because they are busy collaborating with other people. Giving people the space and time to do their job may be the most important intervention companies make to address burnout and drive success. It is a win-win for everybody. Dr Annette Clancy is an organisational consultant and also researches organisational behaviour, in particular emotion in organisations.

Dec 03, 2018

Emotional intelligence and a high trust quotient are important attributes that result in more effective leadership and career success. How can you use your EQ and TQ to further your career in the New Year? A recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘What To Do If Your Career Is Stalled And You Don’t Know Why’, described how many talented executives careers stall or derail because of what they call ‘pandas’ – issues that may be perceived as innocent, but with powerful jaws that deliver a bite. The top three ‘pandas’ are executive presence, communication and peer-level relationships. Often, individuals are blissfully unaware of the existence of an issue that is blocking their progression.  As we consider our career trajectories going into 2019, it is essential that we familiarise ourselves with the story others tell about us. Having a career goal with insufficient self-awareness is like having a destination without a map of the terrain. Key areas to consider in this respect are emotional intelligence (EQ), our trust quotient (TQ) as well as our capacity to lead with agility. These concepts tie in with the most common pandas. EQ, TQ and agility Emotional intelligence relates to a set of competencies which impact how we engage with others (Table 1). There is a clear connection between these competencies and our levels of executive presence, communication skills and ability to build peer relationships.  TQ is a less commonly known dimension. It is a measure of an individual’s personal trustworthiness; a key to building good relationships. Being trustworthy and ethical may be considered a given in a profession such as accounting, however TQ is slightly different. TQ refers to how trustworthy your team, your peers or your clients find you.  Do they find you credible and reliable? Can they feel safe in trusting you with personal, confidential information and how much do we have their interest at heart versus our own interests? The higher our self-orientation, the lower our TQ.  The third element worth considering is leadership agility®. Leadership agility® is our ability to take wise and effective action amid complex, rapidly changing conditions. Many of us are trained to diagnose a situation and come up with the correct answer – that’s what experts are paid for! However, while expertise is highly valuable, sometimes we can rely on it too heavily and end up narrowing our field of vision and misdiagnosing an issue at hand. A black and white approach can lead to rigid thinking and peers, clients or team members may feel that their perspective is not considered or understood. 360 feedback If EQ, TQ and leadership agility® are areas to be navigated before creating a plan to progress your career in 2019, how can you find out what others say about you in relation to these dimensions? The most traditional way of getting such feedback is through a 360-feedback process. There are many 360 tools available in the market and all of them provide different information depending on the angle they take.  Another option worth considering is to identify some trusted individuals who have your best interests at heart and ask them a few questions: What do you consider to be my key strengths that I can use to build my career?  What could hold me back? If I were to pick one or two areas to develop, what should they be? What role/project would be an interesting next move for me, considering my strengths and areas of development? Career criteria Once you have opened up the conversation about your development, discussions about the next steps in your career will inevitably result. It’s a good time to explore what is important to you right now and in the year to come. Such considerations often include financial reward, career progression, flexibility/balance, learning experiences or meaningful work. Whether we prefer clearly defined career goals or to be opportunistic, having clarity regarding the important criteria for our careers is helpful when going into a new year.  In order for us to maximise our effectiveness and continued career success, it is important for us to understand the story others tell about us (including ‘pandas’) and reflect on the important criteria in our career. Once we have built this picture through conversations with others, we can establish the work we need to do to achieve our career aspirations through 2019 and beyond.Leadership Agility® is a registered trademark of ChangeWise. Eadine Hickey is Founder and Director at Resonate Leadership. QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING YOUR CAREER MOVE IN 2019 As you consider your level of EQ and TQ, what do you believe are your strengths and what areas may require development? Is there a risk that you over-use your ‘expert mindset’ in certain situations and would benefit from taking a broader perspective on issues? Who could provide you with very constructive feedback on your strengths and development areas to support you in your career progression? What criteria and values are important to you as you consider your career for 2019 and beyond? Who could be of support to you in achieving your career goals (mentors, coaches, colleagues, friends)?

Dec 03, 2018

When monitoring third-party risks, it is important that entities focus on value creation as well as value protection. Outsourcing is an increasingly a key strategic decision for many businesses, allowing them to focus on core corporate activities. However, when things go wrong in third-party relationships, companies may be exposed to significant reputational, regulatory, strategic and financial risks. There are two notable recent examples of high-profile third-party failures in Ireland: The Central Bank of Ireland imposed fines on financial institutions in relation to the governance and control of outsourced services delivered by third parties; and In 2018, a restaurant chain in the UK was forced to close more than 560 of its 900 outlets as “operational issues” at a new distribution partner left deliveries “incomplete or delayed”. This is estimated to have cost the restaurant chain in question £1 million per day in lost sales. In 2016, the Central Bank of Ireland warned that poor management of third-party relationships is putting banks at risk, citing “very serious failings” in relation to the governance of these arrangements and brandishing some cases as “astonishing”. Specific criticism related to poor management of outsourced arrangements, lack of oversight and a lack of engagement and challenge from boards. Extended enterprises The operational environment of many companies has expanded to include third-party service providers. Taken together, these third parties constitute what we term “the extended enterprise.” We continue to see companies struggle to identify, measure, report and monitor third-party risks within their extended enterprise. This has led to companies being exposed to a variety of risks and failing to maximise the upside of third-party relationships. The challenge for businesses is to formulate an extended enterprise risk management strategy that proactively manages the risks associated with the extended enterprise while also driving performance. In our experience, the answers to this challenge lie in expanding one’s view of third-party risk management to incorporate value creation as well as value protection. For companies to leverage their risk management processes to improve performance, it is critical that they develop an end-to-end approach for sensing risks systematically throughout the extended enterprise so that vulnerabilities can be addressed proactively. We term this approach ‘extended enterprise risk management’ (EERM). Extended enterprise risk management EERM is the practice of anticipating and managing exposures associated with third parties across the full range of operations, as well as optimising the value delivered by third-party relationships. The risk management landscape is often fragmented and decentralised. Many companies have not agreed and documented their risk appetite. They may approach third-party risk management on an ad hoc basis, addressing prominent areas such as cyber risk and regulatory compliance as they arise. Crucially, many companies do not have a broad pan-company view of all current third-party engagements and the associated risks. A common theme that emerges here is a lack of ownership of risks across the company. For example, despite the increasing focus on risk management, some companies still do not have a dedicated risk officer. Additionally, many companies are not appropriately utilising the three lines of defence to manage risk and drive performance across the extended enterprise. The first line of defence is the business unit, which owns the third-party relationship and is accountable for managing associated risks in alignment with policies and procedures. The second line of defence is a centralised governance programme for extended enterprise risk management, which is responsible for establishing and enforcing policies/processes to ensure that third parties are managed consistently by the business. The third line of defence is internal audit, which is charged with administering a robust audit programme aligned to the most critical extended enterprise risks and controls as well as performing independent assessments. In addition to underinvesting in the three lines of defence, many companies focus excessively on quantitative metrics – contract income and expenditure, for example – when engaging a third-party. When assessing third parties, companies should always include appropriate qualitative metrics – vendor quality, technical capabilities, vendor risk profile, control environment, and ability to drive performance, for example. By not having a defined EERM framework in place, many companies are concentrating on firefighting rather than maximising the benefits that can arise from well-managed third-party relationships. Driving value  Companies increasingly need to move toward a holistic approach to EERM that emphasises value creation as well as value protection. This typically involves establishing a systematic and proactive approach to managing risks across the third-party lifecycle and, in so doing, unlocking value and improving business performance. An operating model for implementing and integrating the various components of risk management across the third-party relationship lifecycle forms the foundation of this approach. To be fully effective, such models must be aligned to the company’s overarching risk appetite and risk management framework. The model should link the individual components of risk management to agreed and documented business objectives and the company’s risk registers. Four cornerstone capabilities  Many companies believe they cannot take an end-to-end approach to managing the extended enterprise because securing executive sponsorship and getting people to take ownership can be an uphill battle. Additionally, many businesses think that the task is too vast and they do not have the expertise and resources to build, execute and sustain a comprehensive third-party oversight programme. In our experience, these barriers are more perception than reality. It is neither necessary nor possible to do everything at once. Companies should consider some practical steps to take toward establishing an EERM programme or evolving an existing one. Many companies can get a sense of what those steps might be by considering the extent to which they have developed the following cornerstone capabilities. Strategy and governance This involves the creation of an agile and flexible governance model: Is there a defined and documented strategy and governance model for managing third-party risk? Is there a defined policy to assess third-party requirements prior to entering into relationships? Are third-party risk management activities linked to value drivers agreed and documented? Have you identified, agreed and documented critical key performance indicators (KPIs) for all third-party relationships? Have you agreed and documented how third-party KPIs will be reported and monitored? Are there defined processes in place to identify new and emerging third-party risks?  People This involves managing relationships, compliance and regulations: Is senior management sufficiently invested in EERM? Are the employees charged with responsibility for third-party risk management receiving sufficient and appropriate training? Is there sufficient investment in the three lines of defence to deliver effective monitoring of third-party risks? Are there defined and documented roles for managing third-party risk across the extended enterprise? Process This involves navigating events that shape the extended enterprise: Are there appropriate contracts in place with all third parties? Do monitoring processes allow for the reliable assessment of third-party performance? Does the company react to third-party events or actively seek to prevent them? Are risk management processes standardised across the company and integrated with tools and data? Is sufficient consideration given to how evolving technologies, market trends and disruptive forces present opportunities and challenges to third-party relationships? Technology This involves using data and analytics to make informed decisions: What tools and technologies are employed to make informed decisions about third-party performance? What transactional data are you entitled to access? Does the company’s IT and systems support KPI monitoring, reporting and performance assessment? Factors to consider in assessing your third-party risks   The complexity of the extended enterprise and resource constraints are no longer sufficient reasons to avoid taking an integrated approach to third-party risk management. Wherever your company stands at present in relation to EERM, some practical steps can be taken now to establish an EERM programme or to move your existing risk management model to the next level. The following factors should be considered. Strategy and programme This involves the development of EERM solutions to assess, design and implement a strategically aligned extended enterprise programme. These may include: Conducting an enterprise-wide strategic third-party risk assessment; and Developing the governance and operating model for EERM including KPIs, reporting and monitoring mechanisms. Evaluation and continuous monitoring This involves the selection and application of a suite of solutions to measure third parties and proactively sense and respond to extended enterprise risks and opportunities. These may include: The selection of quantitative and qualitative metrics/KPIs; Third-party risk assessment processes; and Contract compliance mechanisms. Technology enablement This involves the selection and application of technology solutions to transform and continuously enhance EERM. These may include: Systems design and deployment; Data analytics; and Reporting protocols. Conclusion Effective EERM programmes allow companies to align third-party risk management to strategic objectives and deliver enhanced returns on investment by emphasising value creation as well as value protection.  Crucially, there is no ‘one size fits all’ EERM model or programme. Each company faces unique challenges and therefore, EERM programmes tend to be bespoke by nature. Time spent on EERM programme design is rewarded in the longer term. Finally, successful EERM programmes are continuously re-assessed to ensure that the model being applied remains appropriate at all times. Jimmy Crowley is a Senior Manager in Risk Advisory in Deloitte Ireland.

Dec 03, 2018

Overcoming imposter syndrome can be challenging, particularly when it spirals into persistent negativity. BY DR ANNETTE CLANCY Have you ever felt that you don’t belong? That you’re a fraud? That it’s just a matter of time before you’re found out? If so, you’re in very good company including Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein and Meryl Streep. Research tells us that almost 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome (a feeling of incompetence despite all evidence to the contrary) at some point in their lives. This feeling is particularly prevalent among high achievers such as CEOs, who have deep-seated fears of looking ridiculous, of being humiliated and of losing face. Imposter syndrome is also accompanied by the anxiety that others will find out that you’re not as smart, creative, clever or capable as they think you are. You will be humiliated, shamed and ultimately deemed to be incompetent, thus confirming your inner fear of being unsuitable for this challenging job into which you have been promoted and for which you have worked so hard. So many of us spend so much of our time trying to be perfect or, if not perfect, getting so close that it makes no difference. Work cultures that foster a zero-deficit mentality further exacerbate this drive for perfection. Imposter syndrome also masquerades as other personality types: Perfectionists set extremely high standards for themselves. They tend to be critical, risk-avoidant and may suffer from overwhelming anxiety as they attempt to do the impossible. It’s a self-defeating proposition. Add this to a work environment that extols the virtue of perfection and you have a heady recipe for defensive behaviour and poor decision-making; Experts need to know every detail about a problem or situation before they feel confident about giving their opinion. They suffer from ‘paralysis by analysis’ and are afraid of looking stupid. They instead strive to know all the details about a problem before committing to a solution; and Micromanagers are unable to delegate and must oversee the smallest details of every project. Even when they do delegate, they are disappointed with the results and end up re-doing the work to their own standards. Other people’s efforts are never as good as their own. Overcoming imposter syndrome can be challenging, particularly when it spirals into persistent negativity. The following techniques can help to manage it and its symptoms. Break the silence Fear of humiliation keeps many people from talking about imposter syndrome. Yet, keeping it to yourself only escalates the anxiety and increases the stress. Tell somebody (anybody) about your fear and you may find that you meet another one of the 70% with a similar story to tell. You won’t be alone and you may even give someone else permission to articulate their fear also. Is your boss an idiot? Didn’t think so… you have been appointed to this position because your boss has evaluated your credentials and qualifications and has made a judgement call that you are the best person for the job. If you don’t trust your own judgement, at least trust theirs. You deserve the position, you are the right person for the role and you deserve to be here. Talk about mistakes Companies that operate no-blame cultures where employees are encouraged to talk openly about mistakes and problems are more likely to be supportive of staff wanting to relinquish attachment to their inner imposter. Focus on the positives Finally, take comfort in the fact that imposter syndrome is a symptom of success. If you feel like a fraud, more than likely you are an over-achiever and have very high standards. You didn’t get to where you are by wishful thinking and an accident of fate. Dr Annette Clancy is an organisational consultant and also researches organisational behaviour, in particular emotion in organisations.

Oct 01, 2018

The success of any change programme will depend on an organisation’s ability to get a small number of things right. BY DR GERRY McMAHON If today’s workplaces are to survive and prosper into the future, change must be accepted as a normal part of life. The drivers of organisational change are many and varied. They are also constantly increasing due to influences such as globalisation, competitive pressures, political and economic developments, and ongoing technological improvements. As a result, ‘change management’ covers a host of initiatives including mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, entering new markets, developing new products and services, introducing new technology, changing organisational processes, upskilling, upsizing, downsizing and the re-organisation of work. Employee resistance and the law Employee resistance is the most common problem faced by management when implementing change. Such resistance frequently manifests itself in an appearance at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Labour Court, though it spans a continuum from passive withdrawal from the process to actively sabotaging the change, thus ensuring its failure. Of course, in general, changes cannot be made to employees’ terms and conditions of employment without their consent. Many employment contracts contain a ‘variation’ or ‘mobility’ clause that may allow amendments to be made to the contract without employees’ consent. However, these clauses are limited in that they will only allow the employer to make reasonable changes to non-material terms and conditions. Hence, for example, if an employer fails to engage or consult in respect of the change, an employee could resign and claim constructive dismissal. The claim would be that the organisation acted unreasonably and/or that the organisation breached its contracts of employment by amending the terms without consent. Should consent be sought but not forthcoming, an organisation would find it difficult at that stage to proceed with the changes across the board. In deciding on these claims, the WRC will usually examine the extent to which the employer acted reasonably by engaging and/or consulting with staff and whether employees’ consent was unreasonably withheld. The reasons for employee resistance to change include the following: People are satisfied with, or prefer, the status quo; The change is seen as a personal threat; The cost of the change seems to outweigh the benefit and the change isn’t going to be a success anyway; and Management is perceived to be making a mess of the change. Related thereto, organisational change is often associated with significant risks to employees’ health and is equated with high levels of stress. Hence, it should be no surprise that all of the effective ‘change models’ acknowledge that: People take time to accept change; They experience a psychological and emotional process in doing so; During this process, feelings of emotional distress, helplessness and meaninglessness are common; and Employees eventually accept the change(s) and may even find meaning in their revised role or setting. However, it is also well known that many change initiatives fail to achieve their objectives as they are undermined by employee sabotage, falling morale, lost productivity or industrial action. To enhance the prospect of successful change, the following guidelines therefore warrant consideration. 1. Specify your ‘change’ objectives At the outset of the process, list the objectives of the change programme. This list of specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound (SMART) objectives should be framed in terms of both business and employee outcomes. What are the perceived advantages of the change programme? What are the assessment criteria and targets? 2. Involve employees from the outset Research confirms that the best way to avoid negative consequences is to involve staff in the decision-making from the very outset. Related thereto, empirical research reveals that good communication increases acceptance, openness and commitment to change. It is also true that a deeper strategy of participation allows for an array of options and opinions to be elicited and considered. By being involved, employees are more likely to understand the rationale for – and to influence the nature of – the change, thus reducing their anxiety and resistance levels. A common approach is to clearly outline the business case for (and inevitability of) change and to invite the employees\union to help in the search for a solution. This has merit in helping to minimise any negative fall-out that would accompany a process which simply tells employees that their terms and conditions (and job security) are under review. By engaging the union’s support in creating both clear business and people objectives, the change path should be smoother and completed more quickly. For example, a practical output from such a process may include supporting or financing individuals facing redundancy in finding new employment or developing new skills. For those employees opting to leave, the provision of career transition support to help them identify other suitable employers and roles will ensure that they feel supported in moving on, protect the employer’s reputation and minimise the prospect of the employee becoming disengaged and\or disruptive. Of course, in these circumstances some organisations take what’s termed the ‘co-optation’ route, where they pay off the leaders of a resistance group by giving them a key role, seek their advice to enable their approval and emphasise the value placed on their opinions. This is largely a ‘needs must’ combination of manipulation and participation. In a similar vein, some organisations prefer to progress change via coercion, as they apply direct threats or force on the resisters (e.g. threats of redundancy, transfer, loss of promotion, negative performance appraisals or bad references). Dimensions of this approach were identified in an ESRI study, which found that employers who faced employee resistance were more likely to increase their use of part-time workers and job rotation techniques. However, the fall-out from such a strategy should be carefully considered (e.g. reduced trust levels, declining morale and productivity, and labour turnover). 3. Tune into the employees While engaging key staff (and, if applicable, their union representatives) is essential, the prospect of success is likely to be significantly enhanced through a good communications strategy. By extending communication across all areas and levels, misinformation and misinterpretation can be minimised. Hence, fora should be provided where employees can share their concerns and be listened to. By encouraging questions, listening to employees and reflecting appropriately thereon, staff concerns can be allayed as they gain a better understanding of the necessity and format of the change – and how their issues are being addressed in the new order. Success in implementing change is normally associated with those who must live or give effect to the change. It is therefore important to view the change process through the eyes of the most crucial participants in the process including the managers who establish the priorities, devise the strategies, control the resources and manage the performance levels. The appropriate response is to listen to their concerns and think constructively and creatively, rather than defensively, about how to respond to them. Employees need to know what is happening, why it is happening and how it will impact on them. This has major implications for communication, training and follow-up with staff. At the most fundamental level, this is about helping employees to view or redefine their value in terms of the range of skills and competencies they have to offer, and to find opportunities for deploying their abilities. 4. Select leaders and support managers Some organisations recognise that there are proactive and open-minded managers and staff who embrace change willingly and effectively. Their identification and engagement throughout the organisation can help ensure that it’s not perceived as just a ‘top down’ or executive onslaught. Dr Gerry McMahon is Managing Director at Productive Personnel Ltd., a human resources consultancy and training company.

Oct 01, 2018

Amatino’s Barry Kieran shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing small- and medium-sized practices. What trends do you see in terms of evolving client needs? Sectoral trends are very important in the current market where nuances can have a significant impact on the bottom line. More than ever before, clients need access to accurate, timely information that takes into account the various internal and external factors that influence their ability to compete and grow their businesses. For some time now, Amatino has noticed a trend where clients – particularly in the SME sector – are demanding more specialised services and advice in areas like finance, funding and working capital facilities. Businesses increasingly want to benchmark their own performance so they are looking for advisors with sectoral expertise. We see a growing trend of businesses seeking to outsource finance and payroll so that they can focus on their core business activities. Many small businesses have outgrown their existing accounting systems and outsourcing is attractive both from a cost perspective and because it frees up internal resources while helping businesses keep abreast of changing regulatory and legal requirements. Small businesses making the transition up to medium frequently need to rethink their approach and formalise and upgrade their management information system.  How are you responding? Priorities for Amatino include being watchful and responsive to clients’ working capital needs, Revenue practices, foreign exchange fluctuations and other sector specific trends. We recruit specialist staff with the industry experience to deliver the sectoral expertise that clients increasingly expect. Keeping pace with technology is vital so we continuously invest in our IT platform and systems. Cloud, scanning, artificial intelligence and client apps help us meet client demands for on-the-go access to live information. As a border-based practice, what is your sense of preparedness for Brexit? The sense of preparedness is still poor because businesses have no certainty about what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like. Very few businesses have developed a comprehensive plan. SMEs, particularly smaller businesses, lack the time and resources to prepare for different scenarios. Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices are promoting a scenario-based modelling technique covering areas like tariffs, lengthened supply chains, and labour and financial restrictions – but most businesses still need a more comprehensive plan. We are encouraging all clients to talk to us so that we can help them put strategies in place that will see them through the next couple of years, whatever the eventual Brexit outcome. Is your firm experiencing any pressure points? In common with most practices, our experience is that finding people with the right training and experience can be difficult in the current market. Clients are experiencing the same recruitment pressures – that is one of the reasons why some clients are choosing to outsource their finance function. We have addressed this through training and the skills we seek in new people. What is the biggest obstacle facing small- and medium-sized practices? Talent acquisition would be one of the big obstacles, particularly for smaller firms. Practices can’t afford to stand still, but it can be difficult for smaller firms to secure the expertise and resources they need to thrive in a very competitive marketplace. Also, very few smaller firms seem to prioritise investment in their website, brand and digital services; failing to do so sends a message to clients and potential clients. It’s important to stand out from your competitors and not let yourself down when prospects or future staff check out your online profiles. What single piece of advice would you give to your fellow practitioners? If you haven’t done so already, embrace technology. The right type of client appreciates the efficiencies and benefits of a real-time management information system. Understanding the live position of their business enables them to make good decisions that maximise opportunities and minimise risk. This also makes lots of sense to the accountant in practice working with the client. It is also especially important for good real-time and regular communication, and to improve efficiencies.    Barry Kieran FCA is Managing Partner at Amatino, which has offices in Dublin, Cavan, Monaghan and Carrickmacross.

Oct 01, 2018

While business continues to hope for the best, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit appears to be strengthening. BY MICHAEL FARRELL More than two years on from the Brexit referendum, the business community still has no clarity on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. In recent months, rising political tension in the UK has contributed to anxiety among businesses that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit appears to be strengthening. A July white paper set out the UK’s approach to economic partnership, security partnership, cross-cutting cooperation (in areas such as personal data, cooperative accords in science and innovation, and fishing opportunities) and institutional arrangements. It said that preparations for a range of possible outcomes, including a no-deal scenario, should continue and “given the short period remaining before the necessary conclusion of negotiations this autumn, the Government has agreed that preparations should be stepped up”. Within days of its publication, the white paper heightened political division in the UK Government with Prime Minister Theresa May’s difficulties compounded by amendments to the UK’s Trade Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament. These included an amendment ruling out the UK sharing the EU’s VAT area, which could threaten the avoidance of a hard border in Ireland. At the time of writing, while much is undoubtedly going on behind the scenes, things are relatively quiet during Parliament’s summer recess. However, the Conservative Party conference at the end of September will stir tensions again and may impact the UK’s negotiating stance ahead of the next EU Council summit in October. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed While Brexit may mean Brexit, despite the political to-ing and fro-ing, we’re none the wiser as to what Brexit will eventually mean for businesses. Currently, the draft Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU is 80% agreed, with a 21-month transition period envisaged whereby the UK would stay in the Single Market and Customs Union until 31 December 2020 to give businesses and administrations time to adapt. However, all we know for sure is that this could still unravel since nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Indeed, if anything, the prospects for a no-deal outcome seem to be growing stronger. In June, the EU urged member states to step up preparations for a potential no-deal outcome while, more recently, UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox, quoted in The Sunday Times, put the odds on the chances of the UK leaving without a deal at 60/40. Meanwhile, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains a major hurdle. While the UK and Ireland have both said that they will not erect a hard border, it is difficult to see how customs checks and border police can be completely avoided in a no-deal scenario. Even if a border is somehow avoided, there will be customs and border issues to overcome as EU member states will not want unregulated goods entering the single market. It is also likely that there will be customs skills shortages. Speaking after a Cabinet meeting in Derrynane, Co. Kerry in July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland could have to hire around 1,000 new customs and veterinary inspectors to prepare Ireland’s ports and airports for Brexit and, earlier this year, over 550 border force roles were advertised by the Home Office, including some Belfast-based roles. Worryingly, an InterTradeIreland survey of 751 businesses carried out in June/July 2018 showed that only 20% of respondents anticipate having a Brexit plan ready by March 2019. Of the businesses surveyed, 30% predicted a negative sales impact and 24% are deferring investment plans. The survey also showed that businesses face challenges in areas such as overhead costs, energy costs, new competitors and difficulties in recruiting. Where businesses have plans in place, we are beginning to see estimates of the potential cost impact of various Brexit scenarios. This is particularly true of larger businesses. Bombardier, for example, recently estimated that it would cost their Belfast plant, which operates a ‘just in time’ supply policy, around £25-30 million to hold a number of months’ worth of material to avoid stopping its lines in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Useful reading material For Chartered Accountants, an interesting paper to review is the recent publication by the Tax Strategy Group (TSG) on the taxation and customs impacts of Brexit. This notes that traders may use a customs agent for deferred payment of VAT and excise, and for assistance with customs clearance procedures. The paper points out that such services come at a cost to business. “In 2016, over 1.3 million customs declarations were submitted to Revenue by 140 agents on behalf of numerous Irish traders, whereas only 75 individual businesses submitted declarations on their own behalf. This suggests that a significant portion of third-country trade is facilitated by agents and this is also likely to be a feature of trade with the United Kingdom post-Brexit.” The TSG paper states that customs formalities on trade with “third countries” are currently managed through Revenue-approved authorised economic operators who pay duty and VAT on a monthly basis rather than at the point of import. Ireland has 144 authorised economic operators, which account for 89% of third-country imports. Revenue has identified 38,000 traders who have regular dealings with the UK and a further 100,000 who have less frequent trade. It is the larger group, with infrequent trade, that is at risk of significant changes in processes as they are less likely to have authorised economic operator status, the paper states. Other useful publications include a seven-point fact sheet setting out what businesses across the EU 27 need to do to prepare for Brexit. It warns that businesses will need to make all necessary decisions, and complete all required administrative actions, before 30 March 2019 in order to avoid disruption. It also covers responsibilities under EU law in areas such as the supply chain, certificates, licenses and authorisations, tax, rules of origin, restrictions on the import and export of goods, and the transfer of personal data. Bord Bia has published a guide for current and potential food and drink exporters, which aims to help identify operations partners, establish more efficient distribution channels and devise strategies for reducing supply chain costs. Chartered Accountants Ireland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales have also jointly published a guide to help businesses prepare for the post-Brexit trading environment. Dangers on the horizon As well as trading and supply change challenges, other dangers include a weaker Sterling and recruitment difficulties. Businesses in Ireland and Northern Ireland are not alone in facing skills shortages – recruitment difficulties are also being felt by employers in the UK. According to the latest quarterly Labour Market Outlook from the CIPD and the Adecco Group, labour supply is failing to keep pace with demand, exacerbated by a “supply shock” of fewer EU nationals entering the UK. The number of EU-born workers in the UK increased by 7,000 between Q1 2017 and Q1 2018, compared with an increase of 148,000 from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017. As we move into the last quarter of the year it is frustrating that, more than two years on from the referendum, there is still so much uncertainty. Chartered Accountants will be helping businesses review budgets and plans for 2019 in the coming weeks. As is always the case in uncertain times, cash and costs will need to be the focus pending greater clarity on what the future holds.   Michael Farrell FCA is Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd., a service provider for InterTradeIreland’s Brexit Advisory Service.

Oct 01, 2018

Being a people-pleaser and being an effective team player are two very different things.   Does your office have a people-pleaser? The person who just can’t say no? Every office has one and regardless of how often they say yes, they will rarely be appreciated for their efforts. People-pleasers yearn for attention, external validation and the approval of the group. Their self-esteem is tied up with this effort to be seen as worthy of inclusion and living up to the expectations of others. This type of behaviour can get out of hand and before it does, it is important to ask some basic questions about how it started in the first place. How do we become people-pleasers?  More often than not, it’s a characteristic that goes back a long time. We learn over time that being helpful, pleasing, attentive and reliable brings rewards. Our sense of accomplishment and achievement becomes tied to the external validation we receive from others. Being a people-pleaser often makes us the ‘go to’ person. It also means that our colleagues take us for granted and we are viewed as the office doormat. People-pleasers see themselves as only existing in the service of other people. Children learn that they are a good girl or boy at a very early stage in life. Being ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is determined by the emotional effect they have on the adults in their lives. It is an early lesson that small children learn very quickly. They know that they can gain their parents’ attention by being compliant or defiant. Compliance brings better rewards.  To stop being a people-pleaser we have to address the anxiety that pleasing assuages. For many people-pleasers, the idea of stopping being a pleaser raises enormous anxiety. At its core, that anxiety relates to our very sense of self: will I have any function or worth if I am not externally validated? So what can you do to stop pleasing and start progressing? Address the anxiety: put yourself first. Ask ‘why am I doing this?’ There’s nothing wrong with being helpful, but it’s not always appropriate. Practice saying no: imagine a number of scenarios where you would normally jump in to say ‘yes’ and then practice saying ‘no’. Observe how this makes you feel and rather than squashing that feeling down, stick with it and try to understand what it’s telling you. Recognise that your self-worth isn’t tied to other people: it’s perfectly normal to be ambivalent about others and it’s equally normal for them to feel ambivalent about you. It’s not possible to be positive or helpful all the time. You will disappoint: you will disappoint others, and they will disappoint you. If we are not disappointing and disappointed, then we are not having real, mature relationships. The workplace cannot function without real emotion: in the fantasy workplace, everybody is happy. People are kind and helpful, and our colleagues rarely have an ‘off’ day. No workplace is like that (just as no family is like that). Being a people-pleaser robs individuals of their self-esteem and reinforces the idea that being ‘nice’ means being helpful. Sometimes it’s better to say ‘no’ and stop being the office doormat. Try it sometime, you just might like the new feeling! Dr Annette Clancy is an organisational consultant and also researches organisational behaviour, in particular emotion in organisations.

Aug 01, 2018

Chartered Accountants can help businesses translate abstract Brexit scenarios into strategic planning. Another significant milestone on the road to Brexit came and went at the end of June, leaving businesses none the wiser about the future shape of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Then, in July, at a meeting at Chequers, the British Cabinet agreed on a plan for negotiations with the EU. Briefly, this envisages maintaining “a common rulebook for all goods” but not for services. The UK is proposing a “combined customs territory”, one benefit of which would be to prevent a hard border in Ireland. However, at the time of writing, due to political developments in the UK, the prospects for this plan are unclear. It also remains to be seen how the detail of the plan will be received by the EU. Meanwhile, a survey conducted among local communities in the border region between March 2018 and May 2018 found that most respondents (59%) now think that a ‘hard’ border is more likely than they previously anticipated. Since the last issue of Accountancy Ireland was published, both houses of the UK parliament have agreed on the text of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017–19. This legislation enables EU law to be transferred into UK law and allows work to begin on preparing the UK statute book for Brexit. The bill now awaits royal assent, when it will become an act of parliament. Readers will recall that when the draft legal text of the withdrawal agreement was published by the EU in March, it included a “backstop” solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and avoid a “cliff-edge” Brexit by creating a “common regulatory space” where goods could flow back and forth without border checks. Subsequently, on 7 June, the UK Government published a technical note proposing that “in the circumstances in which the backstop is agreed to apply, a temporary customs arrangement should exist between the UK and the EU.” The UK said this temporary arrangement should be “time limited” pending finding a solution to the border question, which it expects to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. However, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the backstop cannot be extended to the whole UK because it is designed for the specific situation of Northern Ireland. More recently, in the run-up to the EU Council meeting at the end of June, UK and EU negotiators issued a joint statement stating that both parties recognise that the backstop requires provisions in relation to customs and regulatory alignment and are committed to accelerating work on the outstanding areas. Negotiations will continue over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, frustrated by the slow pace of the negotiations, various UK businesses and representative organisations have been highlighting the practical problems this creates for businesses. Accountancy Europe, the organisation that represents one million professional accountants, auditors and advisors from 37 countries, has warned that Brexit-related disruption in audit services could threaten the stability of markets. A recently published paper entitled Implications of Brexit on Cooperation within the European Audit Profession stresses the need for a favourable regulatory framework post-Brexit, where the European audit profession can continue to cooperate effectively and efficiently in the provision of statutory audit. This position is supported by Chartered Accountants Ireland. A Moore Stephens study of 653 owner-managed businesses in the UK, published in February 2018, showed that 94% of respondents feel that the UK Government ignores their concerns on Brexit. When asked about their specific Brexit-related worries, 38% of owner-managed businesses said that the introduction of trade tariffs was their biggest concern. 30% fear a loss of EU labour while 23% are concerned about loss of European customers. Only 33% said that they had no concerns around Brexit. In a risk assessment published in June, Airbus said: “While an orderly Brexit with a withdrawal agreement is preferable to a no-deal scenario, the current planned transition (which ends in December 2020) is too short for the EU and UK governments to agree the outstanding issues, and too short for Airbus to implement the required changes with its extensive supply chain. In this scenario, Airbus would carefully monitor any new investments in the UK and refrain from extending the UK suppliers/partners base.” The ongoing uncertainty appears to be slowing the UK’s commercial property market according to business lender, Capitalflow, which has said that some UK developers and investors are now looking to invest in commercial property in Ireland and “unlike their Irish counterparts, who are still having difficulties accessing finance from the Irish pillar banks, UK developers typically have access to multiple sources of finance”. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of Brexit-related reports from official and other sources. One of these, published by the Irish Government in June, looked at the firm-level impact of Brexit on the most exposed sectors of the Irish economy. A list of 20 potential impacts were presented and firms were asked to rate their level of concern for each and to comment on how they understood and evaluated the risks presented. Across all sectors, fear about changes to the free movement of goods was the top concern, followed by fear of reduced freedom to trade in services. Levels of concern varied within sectors. Of the 15 sectors analysed, the chemicals/pharmaceuticals sector expressed the highest level of concern about the impact on their business while firms in the rental/leasing sector expressed the least aggregate concern. In another report, also published in June, the Irish Government’s Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) addressed the skills need arising from the potential trade implications of Brexit. The study deals with skills such as customs clearance, logistics and supply chain management, which will be needed in a potentially more restrictive trading environment with the UK, as well as skills to support diversification of trade to non-UK markets such as international management, sales, marketing, design and development, foreign languages and cultural awareness. The report makes eight recommendations, with 46 associated sub-actions, aimed at enhancing the pool of trade-related skills available to Ireland-based enterprise. At a practical level, skills shortages are a growing problem for businesses across the island of Ireland. EY’s Economic Eye Summer Forecast projects growth of 236,700 net additional jobs in the period 2017–22 across the island of Ireland and reveals that since the day of the Brexit referendum result, 21 financial services organisations have confirmed that they will move all or some of their operations from the UK to Dublin. This positions Dublin as the most popular post-Brexit location ahead of Frankfurt (12), Luxembourg (11) and Paris (8). While the employment rate is currently high, InterTradeIreland cautions that it may be at a plateau and “we are beginning to enter a critical phase of the economic cycle, with businesses across the island taking a collective pause on many key decisions”. Worryingly, InterTradeIreland says that the level of business preparedness around Brexit has improved, but continues to be low with just 8% of cross-border traders having a plan in place. Chartered Accountants have a vital role to play in helping businesses translate what can appear abstract and difficult Brexit scenarios into their strategic planning, focusing in particular on highlighting solutions that could work in specific sectors. Politically, tensions are likely to intensify over the coming weeks and there must be a question mark over whether meaningful progress can be achieved ahead of the next significant milestone, which is the EU Council meeting in October. Michael Farrell FCA is Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd., a service provider for InterTradeIreland’s Brexit Advisory Service.

Aug 01, 2018

Connectivity exposure is the new IT risk many businesses are ignoring at their peril. Utter dependence on a single telecoms circuit for connectivity is the IT risk that the vast majority of Irish businesses are ignoring. They do so at their peril. With even the most basic systems and processes tied to the internet, a network fault has the power to bring companies shuddering to a standstill within seconds. As professional advisors, accountants and auditors must be cognisant of their clients’ vulnerability to costly disruptions and educate themselves about network resilience, or ‘redundancy’, as a means of mitigating risk, improving controls and guaranteeing business continuity. Why network outages are the new IT risk Accountants and their clients are acutely mindful of the threat posed to their security by viruses, malware and fraudulent phishing scams. Yet, even the most informed business owners persist in ignoring single circuit connectivity as their biggest IT vulnerability.  The move to the cloud has been touted for so long, we would be forgiven for presuming we all work in one centrally located nirvana by now. There are many legitimate business advantages associated with moving to the cloud, but cloud adopters must be aware that the very move that helps their business opens their company up to a new risk. In short, by trusting critical applications to the cloud, Irish businesses render themselves wholly reliant on a fast, secure and dependable connection to the internet. Head in the clouds Happily, most companies have a data connection that works for them – most of the time. And many enterprises feel entitled to shrug off the risk of outages, confident that they work in a relatively low-tech environment. A quick look around their operations typically tells a different story. Accounting software, payroll, invoicing, CRM systems, databases, point of sale systems, even Microsoft 365 applications generally all require a network connection to operate, making connectivity junkies of us all. Counting the cost  Operating in this highly connected cloud-based reality means that a network fault or outage will bring work in any office, retailer, manufacturing or professional services firm grinding to a halt. Once a connection is cut, the clock starts ticking on missed business opportunities and plummeting employee productivity. VoIP phones go down, along with email and web queries, making it impossible for frustrated clients to get in touch or for a business to respond. This means that the impact of an outage on reputation and client goodwill may reverberate long after the connection is restored. Faults, payments and penalties Fault repair time from the country’s largest broadband providers can stretch to over five days as losses continue to mount – not that an outage has to be lengthy to be damaging. Imagine, if you can bear to, a network fault that coincides with a peak ROS deadline, resulting in a 5% surcharge of tax liability for every late filing. Accountants are not alone on this one. A small company that misses a CRO deadline could lose their exemption and find themselves embroiled in an audit with all its associated costs. Meanwhile, the real-time reporting regime coming into effect on 1 January 2019 will impose mandatory online filing deadlines on every PAYE employer nationwide. One suspects that explaining to Revenue that your internet connection failed may go down like a lead balloon – landing somewhere close to “the dog ate my homework”. Network redundancy  Why would an otherwise prudent business ignore a risk of this magnitude? Simply put, the larger national and multinational companies don’t. Enterprise-class businesses have led the way in managing exposure in this field. For years, they have protected themselves against network outages by building wired resilience into their infrastructure. Denis Herlihy, Chief Technical Officer at Ripplecom, feels very strongly about owners, managers and professional advisors who are not countenancing network dependence as a vulnerability. “Any assessment of IT risk that ignores the need for network redundancy in this day and age is quite frankly negligent, in my opinion. One bad experience is more than enough to send companies scrambling for a resilient solution but for a smaller business, one bad experience is more than they can afford.” Management controls to minimise risk  No one believes that accountants should advise their clients to shun the cloud and lose all its advantages. So, what measures can be implemented to manage the risk? Disaster recovery plans are on everyone’s risk management radar but while this will protect files, it is powerless to restore productivity or diminish reputational damage. The custom infrastructure built by large companies is beyond the resources of most companies. However, advances in technology mean that more modest-sized businesses can now incorporate a ‘failover’ solution into their IT set-up. A good failover will deliver the type of network redundancy that larger enterprises have enjoyed for years, but at a fraction of the cost. Failover protection At its simplest, a failover adds a second ‘back-up’ connection that takes over when a network fault occurs or a circuit becomes unavailable. A resilient business with a quality failover will have two diverse network connections – one primary and one secondary. Usually, all internet traffic uses the primary connection but when an outage strikes, all connected systems and devices switch quickly and smoothly to the secondary circuit. Once the main connection is restored, traffic switches back to the primary route. Linked systems and devices continue to operate normally throughout the outage keeping customers, employees and ultimately the business happy. Checklist: how to determine the value of a failover However, not all failover solutions are created equal. When investing in a failover, or advising a client who is, consider that – on top of speed, security and cost-effective pricing – each failover connection should use a distinct access method to reduce the possibility of being impacted by the same outage or physical fault. To add real value, a failover should be automatic (an auto-failover) so that no physical intervention is needed on the part of the client or their IT services company. A market-leading auto-failover, such as Ripplecom’s Orion, will be engineered to continue in the same IP stream to allow for a truly seamless switch from one connection to another. Service disruptions and network faults are outside of a business’ control and are impossible to predict. However, a failover solution that meets these criteria will not just mitigate the threat, it will virtually eliminate it. With a suitable failover in place, owners, managers and advisors can relax knowing that, when an outage does occur, their company will stay securely connected and operational. John McDonnell FCA is a Founding Director of Ripplecom, an Irish telecommunications company specialising in resilient connectivity.

Aug 01, 2018

Coaching entire organisations could bring the popular concept of self-directedness to life. There’s a bit of a shift going on in how some organisations want to work. We’re hearing the term ‘self-directed teams’ being bandied about frequently now. We’ve even heard about the existence of self-directed organisations. ‘Self-directedness’ has become a bit of a buzzword in leadership seminars and at organisational development CPD events. Guru-type books such as Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations tend not to use the phrase, but they’re talking about it all the time. According to IGI Global, “key characteristics of self-directedness include motivation, self-responsibility, ability to self-assess, ability to transfer knowledge/skills, and comfort with autonomy”. Meanwhile, over at Wikipedia, they’re calling it “a personality trait of self-determination, that is, the ability to regulate and adapt behaviour to the demands of a situation in order to achieve personally chosen goals and values”. You can see the potential for a dark side but, fundamentally, it feels like a positive thing. Organisations evolving in a people-affirming direction; people owning situations and taking responsibility for outcomes. Its main proponents seem unified in their belief that the most effective way to bring about self-directedness is through coaching. Not just any old coaching, however, but organisational coaching – coaching the whole organisation. Positive deviance So at a recent coaching and mentoring research conference, we duly trotted along to the workshop on organisational coaching in an attempt to get with the programme, eyeball the cutting edge, ride the next wave, move out ahead of the curve and generally find out more about this growing idea – this organisational coaching-inspired voyage towards self-directedness. And we have to report that the workshop was really good. Kaj Hellbom of Helsinki’s Centre for Positive Leadership certainly knows his stuff. The journey towards self-directedness in an organisation begins, says Kaj, with a root and branch search for positive deviance within the workforce. “There is always a positive deviance,” he tells us. “Always.” Richard Pascale-Jerry and Monique Sternin, in their book The Power of Positive Deviance, are a bit more forthcoming. “In every community, there are certain individuals whose uncommon practices and behaviours enable them to find better solutions to problems than their neighbours who have access to the same resources and environment.” Thus, rather than focusing on fixing failures by instituting more control from the outside, positive deviance focuses on success achieved from inside. It leverages the good stuff – the unique; the unexpected brilliance that can be discovered going on in the organisation every day. There is always a positive deviance.  Internal consultants Kaj’s next point builds on this. It’s a fundamental milestone on the road towards creating self-directedness to realise that every organisation already has all the resources it needs to achieve – well, anything really. “All the consultants you need are already working for you,” he suggests, before adding slyly, “If you can find them.” And that is the point at which organisational coaching can make a major impact. First, by working with individuals, duos, teams and large departmental or service groupings to help them unearth the positive deviance in specific individuals and groups. By creating a non-judgmental and encouraging space to facilitate the surfacing of the organisation’s stories; to gauge internal reaction to those stories and interrogate the uncommon practices and behaviours that “enable these individuals to find better solutions to problems than their neighbours who have access to the same resources and environment”; to help colleagues discover a pathway towards having confidence in the thinking of those who have hitherto perhaps been seen as living out their work-life somewhere on the ‘maverick-genius’ scale; and to help them join up the dots between these “better solutions” and hard-numbered organisational results. And then by working some more with those individuals, duos, teams, and larger groups to help them shift their own thinking. To follow the positive deviance for themselves and scale up the thinking in a way that moves an organisation from okay to exceptional. So that was the gist of the workshop – now it’s about doing it ourselves at home.  Begin in the boardroom What might it look like to coach an entire organisation? Where should one start? How long would it take? What would it cost? Who should represent the stakeholders? How should the learnings be collated and curated in a meaningful and helpful manner? Who would own the project? How might they obtain enough organisational buy-in? These are big questions. Finding the answers begins, it seems, in the boardroom. “The development of organisational coaching has been slowed down,” writes Michael Moral, “by the existence of several compliance-based methodologies like, for instance, business process re-engineering and performance management.” Moral argues that these consultant-heavy, top-down approaches give only token attention to “inclusive action-learning approaches, which position organisational players at all levels and locations with shared responsibilities for change”. And this, he tells us, is where organisational coaching is starting to have an impact. Good organisational coaches, he argues, bring a deep understanding of systems theory and corporate structures married with an ability to coach individuals, duos, teams and large groups in four key areas: Behaviours: which can have real impact on the organisational decision system; Emotions: which deeply affect, and to some degree drive, organisational culture; Situation: which is, of course, the area of applying systems thinking to organisational structures; and Cognition: increasingly important as technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of organisational life and thinking. It is, argues Moral, “necessary to traverse all four subsystems to facilitate sustainable change”. And these are the areas on which systemic coaches have been focusing in a deep way for the last five to 10 years. Writers like Peter Hawkins, Simon Western and David Clutterbuck have pioneered thinking in these areas, but many others are taking up the baton. Research is proliferating and coaching practice is beginning to impact whole organisations. Standing in the way at times like these is what is known as ‘immunity to change’, described by Robert Kagen and Lisa Lajey as being “a strongly held belief that not only keeps us in our groove, but also fights any change that threatens the status quo”. This is facilitated in organisations, according to Michael Moral, by the lack of a process or ending that permits organisational members to let go of the past. And in the times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) in which we now live and work, the past can be a very attractive place to inhabit. And here, says Moral, “executive (organisational) coaches who are savvy use resistance as information and energy to accelerate transformation. Coaches expect resistance and know how to use it”. Or as Kaj would put it, “You will meet people who will not move, but this is an everyday coaching issue”. And perhaps it is by dealing with these “everyday coaching issues” on a wider systemic whole-organisation basis that coaching will eventually fulfil its full potential as a positive force for organisational change and development; development that, in this sense, is clearly connected to organisational results and the empowerment of organisational people to produce results in a manner that demonstrated the ability to regulate and adapt behaviour to the demands of a situation. Ian Mitchell and Sîan Lumsden are co-founders of Eighty20 Focus, a real-time executive coaching organisation.

Aug 01, 2018

If your workplace is being held hostage to a toxic atmosphere, it is time to tackle the issue head on. They notice every minor fault. They dampen a productive conversation with a mean-spirited put-down. They find no pleasure in success and their greatest joy is nit-picking every management decision. Chronic complainers are hard work, dispiriting and difficult to manage. Working with a negative colleague can be depressing yet if not addressed, the constant complaining can infect the workplace with negativity. How do you deal with it? Acknowledge the problem Dismissing a negative colleague as simply somebody who is having a bad day undermines the feelings of those who have to work in close proximity to the negativity. Management must first recognise that there is a problem. One way of doing this is by tuning into the emotional temperature of your office. Is it upbeat and friendly? Is it downbeat and cold? Are people tiptoeing around someone? Attuning yourself to this type of data can give you an insight into the experience of your staff. Are they right? It is easy to place the blame for a toxic office atmosphere on one person. It is more difficult to ask whether they might actually be right. Does the nit-picker have a point? Are they pointing out (albeit irritatingly) a pattern of problematic decision-making or highlighting an office issue that is simply being ignored? Asking this type of question may allow you to view the problem in a systemic context. Sometimes, complainers complain because it is an effective means of drawing attention to what is being covered up or ignored by the wider organisation. In this sense, complaining can be seen as a style of whistle-blowing. If they are not… If you are certain that you have a lone complainer and that they are impacting negatively on the atmosphere in the office, then it is time to take action. Ignoring the mounting tension or trying to rationalise the individual’s behaviour will only damage your credibility in the long run. Here are three strategies to deal with the situation: Create clear expectations for workplace engagement. Make staff accountable not just for reporting what isn’t working, but for contributing to what is. Moaning about the negative co-worker beside the water cooler is contributing to the atmosphere, not alleviating it. Dealing directly with workplace behaviour by discussing it with line managers is a more honest way of addressing the atmosphere; What does your staff member hope to gain by complaining in this way? Complaining is an attention-seeking behaviour that immediately gets results, either informal or formal. Listen for what the complainer is really getting at – it is most likely some kind of unmet need, vulnerability or a sense that they are being ignored or not being heard. There may be a more subtle way of reducing the negativity by focusing on a positive intervention; and If all else fails, refer the complainer to a business coach and set out clear areas for development. It is perfectly reasonable to expect a staff member to complete a course of coaching if you believe their behaviour is having a negative impact on performance or morale. There is rarely a ‘one size fits all’ solution to chronic complainers but everyone is in agreement that a healthy workplace cannot be held hostage to a toxic atmosphere. Hiring the right people may be the first step, but dealing with the fall-out of a negative colleague may be one of the ongoing challenges of managing people at work. Dr Annette Clancy is a Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at University College Dublin and ran her own consultancy practice for over 17 years prior to joining UCD. 

Jun 01, 2018

When poor performance or unacceptable behaviour can no longer be tolerated, employers must proceed with caution. Regrettable though it may be, there are occasions when – despite one’s best efforts – the ‘problem employee’ must be tackled. In such circumstances, adherence to proper procedure is influential in the majority of court determinations on such matters. Indeed, such judgments frequently focus more on the procedural provisions than the merits of the case. In 2015, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) issued instructions to employers availing of its services under such circumstances. The instructions stated that, prior to the hearing, employers “must set out the facts of the events leading to the dismissal including, where relevant, disciplinary meeting(s) held, investigation undertaken, disciplinary hearing(s) conducted, internal appeal(s) conducted...” This instruction goes to the heart of many unfair dismissal judgments, as the Courts have always taken the view that procedural fairness is a key dimension in its determinations. Consequently, to get the best out of the all-important hearing and to avoid unfavourable findings down the road, it is advisable that disciplinary interviewers proceed with caution before, during and after such interviews. Before the disciplinary interview An inadequate investigation of a situation on the part of an employer may give rise to a dismissal or disciplinary action being deemed unfair. Accordingly, a reasonable and fair investigation of the matter should be undertaken prior to a decision to initiate disciplinary proceedings or dismissal. An appropriate investigation will involve establishing the facts of the case, the range of relevant documents on the employee’s personal file (e.g. previous warnings, training received, appraisal records etc.), the required and average performance standards on the job, and the organisation’s disciplinary procedure and precedents. Indeed, it may be that, having completed the investigation, one decides to take no action or to settle for an informal ‘off the record’ counselling session. Depending on the nature of the alleged offence, the timing of the interview will normally be close to the incident. However, it shouldn’t compromise management’s responsibility to do the all-important preparatory work. In some instances, a cooling off period may be required to ensure that all parties approach the interview rationally rather than emotionally. If the alleged offence is adjudged to be of a serious nature, the employee should be advised immediately of the situation in the presence of her or his representative or nominated colleague and given an opportunity to respond. The employee in question may even be suspended (with pay) pending the investigation into the alleged misconduct. Management should then plan the interview structure and agree on the key questions. This can entail writing down all the facts and being prepared to substantiate each one. One should also note any assumptions and be prepared to inquire into them. Decisions will need to be taken as to the personnel to be involved in the process, ensuring that no-one plays two roles in the process (for example, witness and investigator). Where issues have reached a serious stage, at least two management representatives should be present to ensure correct and consistent application of the rules and procedures. One should also be clear as to who has the authority to formally warn or dismiss staff. The Government-issued Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures recommends – in addition to the employee’s right to be accompanied by a representative – that the employee concerned be allowed to confront or question witnesses. Notably, a recent High Court judgment indicated that where serious allegations are being made that could result in dismissal or reputational damage, a right to legal representation also applies. Having completed the preparatory work, the employee should be advised of the interview’s time, place and purpose, and their representation entitlement. Where appropriate, the employee should also be provided with supporting evidence from the investigation. During the disciplinary interview Don’t be cosy, yet don’t be rude at the disciplinary hearing – strike the right balance. In any interview, the interviewee deserves a fair hearing. You don’t want to intimidate the employee to the extent that you only hear her or his side of the story when it is told by her or his legal representative at the WRC or the Labour Court. Management should make the opening statement. This can take the form of advising those present that – without pre-judgement – it is an interview under the organisation’s disciplinary procedure, the stage the procedure is currently at, one’s role relative to the procedure, and the function of other people present including ‘on call’ witnesses. The structure of the meeting should then be outlined. The structure of the meeting entails the aforementioned opening statement and posing questions. The employee and her or his representative will then reply, question witnesses and produce their own witnesses. One can then further question the employee and her or his witnesses. The employee should also be encouraged to highlight any issues she or he considers important, including any mitigating circumstances. Having determined whether there is any mitigating evidence, the action that management takes depends on such circumstances and the seriousness of the offence. When determining the action to be taken, the test of ‘reasonableness’ (i.e. does the punishment fit the crime?) must be borne in mind and should take account of these mitigating factors. In effect, this means that every situation must be evaluated on its own merits – though one must also be careful to be consistent, ensuring that one individual isn’t victimised or disciplined for behaviour that is tolerated elsewhere in the organisation. Prior to closing the disciplinary meeting, management should summarise to ensure that everyone understands the key issues. This summary should reflect the key points of the original case, the employee’s reply, the changes to the original case that have arisen during the meeting, the circumstances pertaining to the case as it now stands and the matters that warrant consideration or investigation during the adjournment. After this adjournment, one reconvenes the meeting to convey the decision, outline the outcome and state the action to be taken. Should the evidence point toward disciplinary action, management’s position should be explained to the employee who should be made fully aware of her or his shortcomings, the nature of the improvement required and the means for its achievement, together with the consequences of future transgressions. This is also an appropriate time to remind parties of their right of appeal. After the disciplinary interview After the disciplinary hearing, management must write up the records, advise relevant personnel, and send copies to appropriate parties (the human resources department, the employee and her or his representative, for example). Accurate records should be kept of all disciplinary issues but in particular, they should set down the dates, parties involved, the original case, the changes to that case arising in the proceedings, management’s action and its relationship to previous actions, and the particular circumstances of the case and how they affected the final action. Of course, good managers will work to prevent any deterioration in relationships. Disciplinary action can be a source of discomfort and resentment. While management’s final action may be fair and reasonable in the circumstances, it may not endear one to staff. Hence, the disciplinary action should be followed up to ensure that the problem does not arise again and that the process has been approached in a manner designed to help avoid the unacceptable behaviour or performance from recurring. Finally, the slate should be wiped clean in due course (if appropriate), as warnings should remain on an employee’s record only for as long as is consistent with the nature of the offence and in accordance with the organisation’s rules and practice. Gerard McMahon is Managing Director at Productive Personnel Ltd., a HR consultancy and training company.

Jun 01, 2018

Six executive coaches reflect on the benefit of reflection at an individual, team and organisational level. Six executive coaches walk into a bar where their main objective was to discuss the type of cultural environment that makes it easy for an organisation to benefit from highly effective teamwork amongst its people. For the sake of anonymity, we’re calling them C1 to C6. For the sake of transparency, we need to admit that two of them were us. Learning and blame “Above all else, teams need to work within a learning culture,” began C2 when the first round was safely in. “As David Garvin wrote in the Harvard Business Review: ‘The world is changing. We’ve got new business models. If your rate of learning isn’t greater than the rate of change, you’re going to fall behind.’ I’ve been thinking about this a lot.” “Oh yeah,” exclaimed C1. “I like that a lot.” As did C6, adding, “This makes real sense to me as a coach. It provides clarity around what I’m seeking to achieve. I want to help organisations create an environment in which team members are constantly learning and refining what they do. But sometimes it’s hard to get there, isn’t it?” “Definitely,” said C3. “I’m working with a team right now who really struggle to reflect meaningfully on the ‘what just happened?’ question. The members seem more interested in justifying their positions than in harvesting any lessons from the outcomes that derive from their work together.” “Ah,” muttered C5. “It’s the old blame culture, isn’t it? I come across that so often in the organisations I work with and it’s so crippling, so counterproductive. It’s like Matthew Syed wrote in Black Box Thinking, ‘When something goes wrong, we like to point the finger at someone else.’ It’s hard to learn from ‘what just happened’ when we’re counting the fingers that are pointing at us.” At which point, five fingers turned towards C5, suggesting that it might be time for the next round. Resilience and business as usual By the time C5 returned from the bar, the conversation had moved on and C4 was holding court. “I think there may be too much talk of resilience within some of the organisations I work with. Do you not think that sometimes, staff are expected to bear too much?” “Absolutely,” replied C1. “Perhaps we should be coaching them around how best to resist, rather than to be resilient.” At which point, C3 reached for a handy napkin that was lying on the table and drew the following diagram while the rest looked on: “You see,” said C3 when the masterpiece was complete, “I’m getting worried that in some of the organisations I’m working with, resilience is now being seen as being a prerequisite for carrying out business as usual, rather than as a way to manage stress when something tough comes along, which requires you to dig deep.” “You know,” interjected C6, “that’s got me thinking. I mean, if the pressure to produce is so high in an organisation that its people need resilience just to get through a typical working day, what resource can they reach for when a crisis hits their sector or their company? That’s a great diagram, C3.” “Thanks,” said C3 modestly. “I suppose I’m just learning to use caution while seeking to develop greater levels of personal and team resilience with my clients. I see it as avoiding collusion with any organisational stakeholder whose world-view is one of ‘weaponising’ resilience by cranking up performance requirements to the point where it becomes a non-negotiable necessity when carrying out business as usual.” “Wise words,” said C2. “Now, go and get your round in.” Alignment and emotional intelligence “I’d like to talk a bit about the whole notion of alignment for a while,” said C2. “There’s a lot of talk about how important it is for an organisation’s people and teams to be aligned to its mission and values, but what does that mean in the real world? Is this really something it makes sense for teams to align to?” “Particularly in light of the ‘values inconsistency’ we so often see coming down to middle managers from boards,” chipped in C1. “That really confuses a lot of the people I coach.” “But,” asked C3, “if we don’t have a clearly articulated mission and values, how do people answer the ‘what do we do now?’ question?” This drew quite a lengthy response from C5: “I listened to a podcast recently in which alignment was described in terms of a person or team being tuned into what their system was wanting, saying or feeling at any one moment. The speaker felt that meaningful organisational alignment occurred when a team could match up the stuff it was feeling, wanting or saying as an entity in its own right, with the bigger picture; with the stuff that was being felt, required and articulated across the organisation as a whole.  They called it emotional alignment – I liked that.” “I heard that podcast too,” said C4. “It’s the one where the speaker talks about an organisation having an essence and a character. And that essence and character having a voice to which its people and teams can learn to attune their own voice. Perhaps it’s helpful to look at this as the deepening of collective emotional intelligence across an organisation and its various teams. Would that be helpful, do you think?”  “Speaking of the group collective voice...,” said C1 and headed swiftly towards the bar. Trust and vulnerability “A lot of this stuff comes back to trust, doesn’t it?” asked C1 on returning from the bar. “I’m finding quite a bit of cynicism in some of the teams I work with. It seems to be rooted in a dilution of trust both amongst colleagues and between an organisation and its people.” “Yes,” answered C3. “It’s like Amy Edmonson says in Teaming: when people trust and respect each other, it produces a sense of confidence and psychological safety. And this, in turn, encourages them to share their thinking without fear of being embarrassed or rejected.” “Patrick Lencioni calls that the ability to be vulnerable,” said C2, “because team members have a confidence that their peers’ intentions are always good so there’s no need to be self-protective. That, I think, ties back to the whole blame culture stuff we were discussing earlier.” “Yes, Lencioni says that a dilution of trust is the first and perhaps most important sign of a dysfunctional team,” said C4. “I find that to be true so often. It’s been particularly so in the climate of competitiveness that seems to be a necessary evil in many organisations. It’s hard to turn off those competitive instincts to develop a trusting environment within your team.” “I think the wider organisation needs to involve itself in helping to make this happen,” added C5. “It’s in their interests. I mean, think of the time and energy that’s wasted in teams trying to understand and manage other team members’ intentions. It’s a shocking waste of resource and really serves as a drain on morale.” Reflecting on organisational culture The issues discussed by C1 to C6 are all big issues for reflection at an individual, team and organisational level. Time spent reflecting on these issues can pay big dividends in terms of morale, engagement and performance. We don’t always have to reflect together in the boardroom. It’s often better to visit a decent coffee shop, restaurant or the local pub – or even organise a hotel-based away day. All of these discussion points offer an opportunity to establish some ground rules around banishing blame and exploring vulnerability – at least for the duration of the conversation – while considering some of these hugely important organisational culture issues. We’ve found reflective practice amongst peers to be a highly effective approach, both in our own firm and in working with our clients. We recommend it wholeheartedly to all organisations. Ian Mitchell and Siân Lumsden are partners in Eighty20Focus, a boutique firm of consultants, executive coaches and leadership trainers.

Jun 01, 2018

General practitioners can capitalise on the trend towards sector specialism, but planning is required.  The accountancy sector, like other professional service sectors, has witnessed an increased focus on sector specialisation to bolster general practice activities over the last decade. This trend is largely driven by clients who want their advisers to be experts not just in technical accounting issues, but also in the issues that impact a particular industry or client type. Niche services can be very profitable provided you choose the right niche. However, it is vital to ensure that the demand for your services will be sufficient for your firm to develop a sustainable and profitable business model – and that is where research comes in. Research the opportunity Once you have identified your target market, the next step is to define your service offering by focusing on your clients’ needs; the aspects of your services that meet those needs; and, importantly, the skills and talents that differentiate you from your competitors. Take time to get to know your target market and bear in mind that this is not a once-off exercise. Businesses evolve and client needs will change over time. It is therefore vital that small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) are proactive and agile enough to anticipate trends and respond appropriately. The aim is to build a business model that is efficient and easy to replicate for the full spectrum of clients in your chosen sector. If your chosen niche is freelance IT business owners, for example, and you successfully develop a service offering that saves clients time and money while providing value-adding insights that ultimately help their businesses develop and grow, it is likely that your clients will refer other potential customers to you. Communicate your offering Having identified your target niche and refined your service offering, the next challenge is to let people know about it. There are various ways to reach your target market. Your website is important – not from an SEO point of view, although that can sometimes be useful, but because it will likely be the first port of call for prospective clients when they hear about your firm. Your website should be intuitive and easy to navigate. It should provide details of your expertise in plain English so potential clients can easily understand what services you have to offer, and it should provide your contact details. It is important that someone in the firm is responsible for monitoring website queries and responding promptly. Failure to get these basics right can result in lost opportunities. Utilise your website Your website can also act as a platform for your firm’s thought leadership activities – an increasingly popular way for businesses to share their expertise and showcase their abilities. Make it easy for potential clients to read your blogs, insights, press releases and news. If you are active on social media, provide links on your website to make it easy for potential clients to follow and connect with you. Surveys are very useful in generating insights that add value for clients. They can also provide excellent material for press releases, web and social media content. Similarly, attending, speaking at and hosting events for your target market is a great way to build your firm’s brand and profile in the marketplace. To maximise the value of these opportunities, it is essential to invest time in pre-event and post-event activity. Lastly, subject matter experts within your firm should be prepared and willing to accept media invitations for interview. Many accountants are apprehensive about speaking on air and therefore miss out on opportunities to showcase their professional expertise. Media training will help you develop the skills necessary for this valuable activity. Risk versus reward A limited budget doesn’t have to be an obstacle to effective marketing. The key thing is to know your target market and ensure that your message is relevant. Money spent educating yourself about your target market’s sector will deliver more long-term value than vying for attention in a crowded marketplace where your competitors might have deeper pockets. All of the top 10 accountancy firms in Ireland have clearly identified industry sectors in which they specialise. In my experience, if firms spread themselves thinly as generalists, they preclude the opportunity to build the deep, meaningful expertise necessary to reach beyond geographic or traditional markets. While focusing on a narrow market may feel risky as it ultimately means excluding other sectors, a practice that focuses on a small number of specialist areas has well-defined audiences to communicate with. As a result, its message is more likely to be heard.  I was recently chatting about this concept with an astute PR consultant who asked me why a firm would “take the risk” to focus on a narrow industry. But given the opportunity to develop a profitable, sustainable portfolio and win referrals, why wouldn’t they? Mary Cloonan is a freelance marketing professional and founder of Marketing Clever.

Jun 01, 2018

While the pace of Brexit negotiations has quickened, the stakes remain high – particularly when it comes to the border. Political issues continue to dominate the debate about Brexit. In March, the European Commission published the draft legal text of a withdrawal agreement, which included  provision for a transition period and a “backstop” solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. In the event that no other solution to the border question is found, this would avoid a ‘cliff edge’ Brexit by creating a “common regulatory space” where goods could flow back and forth without border checks. However, Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the backstop undermines the UK common market and threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK. The UK is still of the view that the border should be solvable through a trade deal and/or technical solutions. At the time of writing, the main insight the UK government has provided into what these technical solutions might involve appeared in an August 2017 paper, which set out two approaches for the future customs relationship with the EU. The first option would use technology-based solutions to streamline and simplify customs requirements; the second would involve the UK, at its external border, applying EU external tariffs and origin rules for imported goods with their final destination in an EU member state, to ensure that the importer has paid the correct EU duties. For goods staying in the UK, companies would seek refunds where the UK’s import tariffs are lower. The paper describes the latter option as an “innovative and untested approach” which would “take time to develop and implement”. More recently, a House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs looked at how technology might be used to avoid a hard border. Among the technologies considered was Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). Among other sources, the paper cites an Irish Revenue Commissioners (2016) draft paper which said: “An e-flow-style number plate recognition system would allow vehicles carrying goods to move from the Republic to the North and vice versa without having to stop in cases where a pre-departure/arrival declaration has been lodged and green-routed. In theory, upon arriving at the frontier, a vehicle could be identified by the ANPR system, associated with a particular pre-declared consignment and signalled as to whether clearance had been provided or engagement with customs was required.”  The Select Committee stated that use of cameras would require electronic pre-notification of the movement of commercial vehicles across the border. This is currently required for exports outside the EU. ANPR cameras cannot ascertain if the contents of a vehicle match the electronic customs declaration form, so customs officials would still be required to monitor compliance. In the course of its work, the Select Committee took evidence on the operation of other external EU customs borders. Cameras are used at customs borders in Norway, Switzerland and Gibraltar to help prevent smuggling and monitor the movement of vehicles. Norway is part of the Single Market, but outside the Customs Union. The Norway-Sweden border is over 1,600km in length, there are 57 crossings and 11 customs offices. The Committee was told that everyone declaring goods “has to stop at the border” and must “cross the border where there is a customs office”. One witness to the Committee highlighted the limitations of digital technology in practical terms: “The point that was made on the Sweden-Norway border, where they have a fully electronic system and people are sharing information, was: ‘Why are you still stopping people and x–raying trucks? They have told you what they have in their customs declaration’. They say, ‘How do we know they are telling the truth?’” Switzerland is also outside the Customs Union and has signed 30 free trade agreements with partners outside the EU. It has over 100 bilateral agreements with the EU, which cover many aspects of Single Market rules. Commercial goods entering Switzerland must use designated crossings and complete customs clearance at offices on the border. In Basel, 750 officials at eight customs offices deal with 50% of all Swiss commercial goods traffic. Closer to home, the UK government recently advertised over 550 border force roles. Controversially, candidates must hold British passports if they wish to apply for Border Force jobs based in Belfast. People in Northern Ireland who only hold Irish passports cannot apply for these roles. Meanwhile, the possibility of the UK remaining in the Customs Union has not entirely disappeared off the radar despite Prime Minister May’s repeated statements that the UK will leave both the Customs Union and the Single Market. In April, the House of Lords backed an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would force the government to explain what they have done to ensure that Britain can remain in a Customs Union after it leaves the EU. Understandably, political discussions continue to hog the spotlight; however, business leaders are all too aware that Brexit is not just a matter for national authorities. Business planning cannot wait for political certainty and there are important legal repercussions to consider, not least – as mentioned in my earlier Accountancy Ireland article – for Chartered Accountants providing statutory audit services and finance teams in companies subject to audit requirements. These individuals and firms will need to bear in mind that, subject to any transitional arrangement which may be contained in the withdrawal agreement, as of the withdrawal date, the EU rules in the field of statutory audit (in particular, the Statutory Audit Directive) will no longer apply to the UK when it becomes a ‘third country’. Elsewhere, Chartered Accountants can play a valuable role highlighting potential solutions that could work in specific sectors. For businesses moving goods between jurisdictions and concerned about the potential delays that may result from customs requirements at borders, a practical option worth considering is to apply for Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status. This internationally recognised quality mark indicates that your role in the international supply chain is secure and that your customs controls and procedures are efficient and compliant. A benefit of having AEO status is that it gives you quicker access to certain simplified customs procedures and, in some cases, the right to fast-track your shipments through some customs and safety and security procedures. Mutual recognition agreements with other customs jurisdictions mean that companies authorised in one customs jurisdiction can be recognised as an AEO in a second customs jurisdiction. The EU has mutual recognition agreements with Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Andorra, the US and China. The EU summit in October is the target set by Michel Barnier to reach agreement on the Withdrawal Treaty. Before that, another significant milestone looms at the end of June when EU leaders will decide if enough progress has been made for a ‘political declaration’, which would set the framework for trade negotiations with the UK. While political tensions persist, there is a danger that progress made to date could still unravel, given that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. European Council President, Donald Tusk, recently warned that without a solution to the border issue, “there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition”. As this edition of Accountancy Ireland goes to press, there is talk that Prime Minister Theresa May could seek to align the entirety of the UK with the EU for a period of time pending the development of other solutions. It is as yet unclear whether she can win enough support to allow her to take this proposal to the EU. Unless a ratified withdrawal agreement establishes another date, all EU primary and secondary law will cease to apply to the United Kingdom from 30 March 2019. With less than a year remaining to that date, the pace of negotiations has quickened and stakes remain high. Michael Farrell is Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd., a service provider for InterTradeIreland’s Brexit Advisory Service.

Jun 01, 2018

Denis Reeves shares his thoughts on best practice crisis management planning, drawing on decades of experience as a Chartered Accountant working in management positions across the globe. When KFC – a fast food outlet known primarily for its chicken – ran out of chicken last month, it resulted in the temporary closure of over 600 outlets across the UK. While a dearth of fried chicken isn’t a life or death situation, it was certainly a crisis for the US-owned franchise’s management team. Just days previously, on Valentine’s Day, DHL took over the logistics contract alongside Quick Service Logistics which, according to the Guardian, has supplied KFC in Europe since 2011. Four days later, only 266 of KFC’s 900 outlets in the UK were open. The KFC brand ultimately weathered the storm thanks to an honest and apologetic crisis communications strategy, which has been described as a “masterclass in PR crisis management”. However, crisis communications is just one aspect of a holistic crisis management strategy according to Denis Reeves, a former Council member at Chartered Accountants Ireland. “The Oxford Dictionary defines crisis as ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger’ and at an enterprise level, it will typically be a significant and unanticipated event that will demand the immediate and almost exclusive attention of the senior management team,” he said. “Depending on the severity of the issue, it could also require the immediate notification of the chairperson of the risk committee or even the chairperson of the board of directors.” Known unknowns Given the “unanticipated” nature of the potential crisis, it is not uncommon for managers to put crisis management planning on the long finger. After all, how does one prepare for the unknown? “A crisis will mean different things to different businesses and it will usually be quite difficult to prepare fully for the exact crisis circumstances that unfold in an organisation,” said Denis. “But responses to crisis situations typically fall into two broad categories.” Denis describes a “category one” level of preparedness as a situation where the organisation has given some, or substantial, consideration to crisis recognition and has identified a range of appropriate response actions. In this category, the organisation will have a range of pre-approved template responses available to assist the pre-defined crisis response team. A “category two” level of preparedness, on the other hand, can be described as a situation where organisations have given no prior consideration to crisis preparation and have no structured response plan in place. According to Denis, many organisations will find that their level of preparedness lies somewhere between category one and category two. Action points While the KFC example above is a recent case of crisis management in action, other situations could include a major product recall, on-site fatalities, an event leading to the collapse of stakeholder confidence or the fall-out from an unanticipated high-profile executive departure. While this list represents a diverse range of potential crises, Denis maintains that situations requiring crisis management intervention generally exhibit a number of consistent attributes such as a dip in the organisation’s share price, a collapse in trade enquiries, damage to goodwill and significant uncertainty among key stakeholders including customers, staff, suppliers and media. In such situations, Denis advises management teams to back-fill some key roles on a short-term basis to allow the management team to focus exclusively on crisis management activity. Once the management team is freed-up to focus on the crisis at hand, Denis recommends a range of action issues:   Assemble and act: the nature of the event will dictate the required speed and intensity of response, and the skillset required to deal with the crisis; Take a broader view: consider the impact of different time zones vis-à-vis the crisis communications strategy; Access critical skills: a key factor in the success of crisis management activity is the identification of the skills or expertise required to supplement the organisation’s internal skills, and how to access them immediately; Communicate: promptly issue a succinct stakeholder update across all suitable media platforms. To do this efficiently, organisations will need immediate access to passwords for social media accounts and the resources necessary to update their website(s). The initial phase of a crisis is often characterised by an overwhelming requirement to provide information to a range of stakeholders; Be accurate: it is crucial that all information issued is correct. Frequent, accurate updates will prevent the creation of an information vacuum, which could lead to the spread of misinformation and ultimately sabotage the organisation’s crisis management strategy; Know who to contact: always maintain up-to-date lists of key stakeholders with complete contact details, and circulate as appropriate; Shorten the chain of command: in a crisis management situation, the decision chain needs to be much shorter than it otherwise would be. The imperative is to have all required personnel available as part of the crisis response team, and it should be noted that “required personnel” are often not found within standard reporting structures; Establish a ‘command and control’ structure: some crisis management practitioners report difficulty in moving from a standard information-based approach to decision-making to that of a command and control approach that is more typically based on the imperative to execute tasks promptly and report on outcomes immediately; Identify actions: establish an immediate task list and allocate tasks to the appropriate personnel; and Think beyond the business: establish whether there is a requirement to activate business continuity or hot-site arrangements, or to notify insurance providers and other such third-parties. The requirement to notify State agencies should be assessed at an early stage. Plan and prepare The action list above details a whole swathe of activity for the management team. Despite their best intentions, Denis believes that a crisis management plan is unlikely to be executed smoothly if the management team hasn’t invested time in preparation and planning. “Some organisations might find it useful to convene the core crisis management team on an infrequent basis to work through some potential scenarios,” he said. “It would also be prudent to review and refresh contact lists on a regular basis and reiterate the mechanism for communicating an urgent priority. Indeed, some organisations have a code word that basically means ‘drop everything’. “And lastly, the team could consider any changes to the team’s composition and communicate those changes accordingly,” Denis added. “Once a crisis kicks off, however, and the parameters of the crisis become clearer, all the templates available to the crisis management team must be tailored to create a detailed and situation-specific action plan. This plan, by its very nature, will be fluid and resourced on a ‘skills required’ basis.” Silver linings While crises are typically viewed as negative events, Denis maintains that crisis situations can have a silver lining. “Crisis management typically involves superior problem-solving, communication and execution skills,” he said. “Crisis situations often allow personnel who were previously relatively unknown within the organisation to come to the fore, and management should recognise such talent for subsequent development.”   Denis Reeves FCA is Director of Bespoke Ventures Ltd., an experienced interim manager and a Chartered Director.

Apr 03, 2018

As the number of virtual teams grows and the amount of face-time declines, managers must take an innovative approach to trust in their teams and organisations. Teamwork plays an increasingly vital role in organisational life. An impetus behind this development is derived from the ever-growing presence of millennials moving into positions of influence and leadership. Meanwhile, technology is disrupting old methodology fast and creating opportunities to develop new ways of working. This in turn presents new challenges for managers, mentors and coaches – many trained and developed before VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) times, and perhaps feeling ill-equipped to leverage their skills to good effect within the new paradigm in which they are required to work. The virtual team One significant arrival in the workplace is that of the virtual team, which is defined by leadership development adviser Beth Millar as being comprised of members who are not located in the same physical place but in different cities, states or even separate countries; using technology and specific skills to achieve a common goal. This is all very exciting, but it presents challenges. There are challenges to team members themselves – how does a team based in five different locations and who predominantly use phone, tablet and screen to communicate develop what Prof. David Clutterbuck calls “situational team knowledge”, the almost intuitive interpretation of each other’s cues and intentions? And then there are challenges for their coach – be that an external or internal coach, or indeed their line manager – in helping them develop, harvest, build upon and leverage this situational knowledge for the benefit of themselves and their organisation. Some of the most important work in this field has been carried out by American executive coach, Dr Pam Van Dyke, who concludes that a coach must understand that there is an art and a science to creating a virtual presence both during the session and in between sessions. Having understood this, the coach then needs to pay careful attention to developing both disciplines. Commenting on Van Dyke’s work, UK coaching guru Peter Hawkins argues that elements of this art or science begin with the need for the coach to work in real time with the team when it is working together. This will involve joining teleconferences and web-based discussion, and perhaps establishing a closed web-based workroom, where the coach can meet team members in a place that feels secure enough to allow them to become vulnerable. The essential ingredient Vulnerability is an essential ingredient in the building of trust between team members, which is itself vitally important to the development of a healthy approach to conflict resolution. In a world where online relationships can become almost synonymous with anonymity, pretence and manipulation, one vital role of the coach is to create and hold a space that is contracted to be secure, honest, confidential and non-judgemental. A place where, as Patrick Lencioni put it, team members can share their skills and display their weaknesses without fear of reproach. Other productive areas in which a coach can work with a virtual team include two very helpful ideas from Harvard Business Review, the first of which is to help the team to build its own working rhythm. By its very nature, remote working offers individuals the opportunity to create their own working patterns and behaviours, and the very act of agreeing together to set some clear and mutually acceptable touch-points can be the first step towards a commitment to develop mutual accountability, which is a prelude to high performance. The other suggested area is for the coach to work with the team to create a virtual water cooler. The image of co-workers gathering around a water cooler is a metaphor for informal interactions that share information and reinforce social bonds. In its absence, team meetings can become task-focused at the expense of team cohesion and unity. As an initial coaching intervention with a virtual team, this change might generate some great ideas, create excellent working chemistry and set a very positive tone for the ongoing coaching project. A new challenge Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, has said that “the worst decisions I ever made were on conference calls”. However, increasing globalisation, cost of travel in terms of money, time and world resources means that we will need to find ways to build trust with less face-time than we have previously been used to. This presents a new challenge for team coaches and managers, one that will have to be addressed both quickly and effectively if the potentially positive disruptive power of technology is to be fully leveraged into strong bottom line human performances. Ian Mitchell and Siân Lumsen are Partners at Eighty20 Focus, a boutique executive coaching firm.

Dec 01, 2017
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