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COVID-19 is a serious concern for everyone. How can businesses in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK cope with the inevitable disruption this virus will bring? Businesses in Northern Ireland have had to contend with many difficult situations over the years. Each time they have demonstrated their resilience and determination by overcoming these challenges and ‘getting on with it’. This resilience and determination will be a key factor in the local business community’s response to the threat of COVID-19. The virus has already had a serious impact on other countries, and it is inevitable that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom will also be impacted materially.  COVID-19 is a serious concern for us all as individuals, for our families, and for the wider community. As well as guidance on the appropriate precautions we should all be taking, the UK Government has given assurances that resources are being applied to ensure that appropriate medical treatment will be available for those who succumb to the virus. This is a welcome and necessary statement and should provide a degree of comfort. While businesses are proactively engaging in the recommended practices to minimise its spread, it is likely that there will be some form of business disruption in the coming weeks. Most businesses already have contingency plans for such scenarios and through the implementation of these, the impact on business continuity can be reduced. Planning, anticipation and level-headed leadership is critical to the success of this process and it is essential that businesses are proactive and ensure they have practical and deliverable contingency plans in place. If, as in other countries, more extensive restrictions are imposed, the impact on businesses will inevitably worsen. Any protracted periods of restricted movement will ultimately lead to a dramatic impact on output and productivity. The priority is to address the medical issue and to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed as quickly as possible, but the knock-on impact on businesses cannot be ignored. The Government has acknowledged the concerns of the business community and has introduced special provisions in last week’s Budget, which will go some way to meet the inevitable cash-flow pressures that will arise.  Unfortunately, all business sectors have the potential to be impacted by the current situation. Staff absences, cash flow and supply chain disruption are all factors that will need to be considered. Northern Ireland has a strong and growing tourism, leisure and hospitality sector. The rates relief announced in the Budget will help this sector, so long as the NI Executive introduces these measures locally, as currently they only extend to England. This sector looks certain to be hit further as we move to the delay phase. These measures could be critical in helping vulnerable businesses to survive. Businesses will need to engage with all stakeholders, including banks and financial institutions, and will need to move to protect their supply chains. Stakeholders within the business community will have to work together to overcome this challenge. Leaders need to adopt a people first approach as businesses cannot survive or re-emerge without their workforce. In the meantime, we all have an obligation and duty to adhere to the Government’s recommendations and, by doing so, hopefully bring a speedy conclusion to the outbreak. Brian Murphy is Managing Partner at BDO Northern Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020
News

To achieve high performance in business, teams need to learn how to work together. Maeve Hunt outlines how to ensure challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration. After a period of a lot of uncertainty, the Northern Ireland government is back up and running in Stormont and we have seen the need for parties with very different views and strategies to work together in order to achieve results. In every walk of life, the need for good collaborative skills is required in order to achieve high performance. It is true in sport, the arts and it is especially true in business. It is well known that people and businesses thrive and grow when they are free to communicate and work together, but this does bring its own challenges. Effective teamwork is hard to get right. In most organisations, it is difficult to pinpoint a team that is a shining example of excellent teamwork. The lack of a goal to work towards, role uncertainty, personality conflicts and having optimal working conditions can all lead to ineffective teams. How do we ensure these challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration? Communication Increased flexibility with remote working is a fantastic benefit for employees, but research shows it can lead to lack of communication within teams. In my experience, regular video calls instead of phone calls work well in remote working environments and richly benefit overall team communication. Collaborative goal setting Team leaders should ensure that strategies and end goals are constantly reviewed and communicated, and make goal-setting a two-way process to achieve buy-in from all parties. Define roles The larger the team, the more potential there is for confusion of roles and responsibilities. Time spent defining and communicating roles, especially at the start of a project, can help mitigate this issue. Celebrate the differences Collaboration of different personalities and skillsets can help foster a sense of teamwork in an organisation but it can also lead to conflict if not properly managed. Self-awareness is important for all team members, and the leader’s role is to ensure that team members respect each other and are prepared to collaborate to succeed. Promote and celebrate team members with differing views and strengths by sharing their ideas. This leads to a more insightful, creative and effective team. Work environments are complex. If you focus on the connections between team members, building trust, communicating purpose, and encouraging collaboration, the team can achieve high performance. After all, teamwork makes the dream work. Maeve Hunt is an Associate Director of Audit and Assurance in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 08, 2020
Careers

Some people just don’t work well with others. Orla Brosnan explains how you can still deliver a successful project on time while working with a difficult colleague. One of the most important hiring criteria is the ability to work as a team player. A department or team that works well together has the most success, yet so many of us have colleagues who don’t work well with others. Here are some tips on how you can work together with a difficult colleague. Set an expectation of collaboration Management must assess the staff’s contribution to teamwork as part of the annual performance review process. If that is not set out from the very beginning and consistently followed through, it will not be seen as a priority. Spend some time away from the office A difficult employee who refuses to be a team player can derail a project. This can be an expensive mistake, and it has the potential to harm the company's reputation and cost the business clients. It may be that they don't have the aptitude or don't have the training necessary to do a great job. When colleagues don't get along or don't work well together, it simply might be that they don't really know each other well.  The best way to get to know a colleague that you have difficulty working with is to spend some time with them away from the office. Offer to take them out to lunch or meet for a drink after work to develop a rapport; this will make working together more pleasant and productive. Outline responsibilities A manager should always be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Issue clear, step-by-step directives to your difficult employee. Put these directives in writing and go through them with the team member. If there are personality conflicts within the group, address the difficult employee and their colleagues to sort out the differences swiftly. Assign independent tasks Sometimes, independent tasks are better for difficult employees than group projects if deadlines aren't being met or if the difficult person is not completing tasks that are necessary for others in the group to move the project forward. Document every interaction with the difficult employee to create a record of how the issue is being handled. When you enjoy working with your colleagues and look forward to interacting with them, everyone benefits. Morale is high, which leads to better productivity and results, and a much more pleasant work environment for everyone. Orla Brosnan is the Founder of The Etiquette School of Ireland and Professional Training Centre.

Mar 08, 2020
News

Eric Fitzpatrick outlines the steps a leader can take to encourage their teams to work together effectively for the good of the team rather than the good of themselves. Leadership is about building up the people around you, trusting them to do their jobs and supporting their efforts to achieve the desired outcomes. One of the challenges a leader faces is getting their team working effectively together. The following is worth considering to get your team firing on all cylinders. Communicate with clarity Teams want clear instructions and guidance. They want to know what’s expected of them. Be open and upfront. Keep your team updated as much as is possible. Leave no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding. Have a common purpose Successful teams work together to achieve common goals. Include them in the process of agreeing to those goals. Making them part of the decision-making will increase their sense of responsibility and ownership of the goals and make them more inclined to work together to achieve them. Build trust and respect Be consistent in your decision-making. Deliver what you say you’ll deliver. Create an environment where mistakes, creativity and risk-taking are encouraged and not penalised. Make the decisions that must be made even when they are not popular. Provide the right support What does your team need to be able to do their job? Is it training, equipment, coaching, time? Aim to give it to them. Create the right culture What are the ideal values and attributes of your team? Does everyone know what they are? Have the team had input into creating and agreeing them? Give your team responsibility and value Challenge your team to grow and recognise when they perform well and deliver desired outcomes. Celebrate small wins. Listen Great leaders know when to listen. Your team will appreciate knowing that you value their opinion and insights. Recognise the individuals within your team It’s important to recognise that your team is made up of individuals with differing personalities. One of the challenges a leader faces is in marrying the desired outcomes of the team with the needs of the individuals within it. Recognise what each individual brings to the team and play to their strengths. Make sure your team is actually a team Sometimes a leader finds themselves in charge of a collection of individuals and not an actual team. Know if everyone on your team is working together. Do they keep the team goals at the forefront of their thinking or are they focused on personal results? Know when to cut a member of the team Know when a team member is not performing and not prepared to consider the negative impact this has on the rest of the team. Adding a fresh face to your team can generate new ideas and spark new thinking. Finally, constantly test how to keep your team engaged. Provoke new thinking within your team, create an environment that encourages creativity and challenge them to achieve the outcomes they have committed to as a team.    Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training

Mar 08, 2020
News

There are many ways companies can ensure women achieve success and advancement. Louise Molloy suggests a more in-depth approach that educates managers and benefits women. Over my career, I’ve coached many talented, committed and ambitious women. In doing so, I’ve developed a theory that I passionately believe in how we can empower women to achieve more. While I don’t have all the answers, I’m making the case for a change in how we support women in companies – not just providing more training or giving maternity leave but listening to their needs and intentionally creating opportunities for them. Here’s my recipe for the support reboot. Overhaul induction day From day one, I challenge companies to raise awareness with young female colleagues that their career journey may be different to their male colleagues. Reflection on breaks in service and the impact on promotion, role continuity, profiling, and branding should be considered. This issue is not exclusively female – it can be open to all. It’s the awareness of the issue and the consideration of how to plan for this that’s important Strategic competency development Make it clear to female colleagues what competencies must be developed to achieve a management role and show how they can seize opportunities to develop them. Challenge all managers of young female staff We must challenge managers to really advocate for, sponsor and mentor female colleagues to build confidence and profile. Ensure these managers get unconscious bias training to bring awareness of the impact of their attitudes and behaviours on their female reports. Project allocation  Companies need to hold themselves to account on how projects are allocated and, assuming equal abilities, ensure an even distribution across men and women. Income-generating projects are the fastest and highest-profile way to position for promotion – tracking the numbers and holding people to account ensures these opportunities are presented to everyone. More frequent role rotation  By rotating young women into different roles, it not only allows them to build their profile within the company but it raises awareness about different leadership styles and ways of working, exposing them to paths that could lead to advancement. Feedback is important Provide training for senior colleagues on how to give honest, constructive, timely feedback to younger female staff. Only with honest feedback on their performance can women really progress. Pre- and post-maternity support There’s great progress being made in terms of maternity support, but there is more to do to support women at this vulnerable and physically challenging time when identity and perspective can be in flight.  Sharing  I’ve witnessed stories of ‘having to work’ on maternity leave, working through miscarriages, IVF and struggling through menopause – and that’s just the women. Men have their own stories of struggle, too. I’m not advocating we let it all out, but I am advocating that we surface some of the wider challenges that people and, particularly, women face and their stories of how they get through it. Only by making it OK to have a circuitous career path, never writing someone off, working hard to include everyone, dealing in facts and dismissing assumptions and labels about people will we really empower women. Women are not victims; they don’t need to be rescued. What they do need is help to frame the landscape in which they operate and guidance on how best to navigate it from people who did it before them. Louise Molloy is Director of Luminosity Consulting & Coaching.

Feb 28, 2020
Personal Impact

Caroline McGroary explains how Irish Chartered Accountants can work within the UN sustainable development goals framework to empower women around the world. Recent statistics estimate financial literacy rates of Saudi citizens to be just over 30%, compared with other high-income countries, like Ireland, which have rates in excess of 70%. Within this group, women are at particular risk of financial exclusion, with approximately only 40% of Saudi women holding bank accounts, compared to 93% in other high-income countries. To help address this problem, a number of high-profile campaigns have been launched by the Saudi government in the last year to increase the financial literacy of all citizens, with many framing their campaigns under the umbrella of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In my current role as Lecturer in Accounting at Dublin City University (DCU), I have had the privilege of working in our sister campus at Princess Nourah University, Saudi Arabia for seven years, contributing to the education of nearly 700 Saudi women. Utilising the UN SDGs Both Chartered Accountants Ireland and DCU actively encourage its members and staff to engage with the UN SDGs and, with this in mind, we sought to centre student learning around financial literacy. Using the framework of the UN SDGs, we integrated a financial literacy initiative into a final year module on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The initiative had three parts. The first required students to engage in up to five financial literacy workshops, including financial planning, savings, investing, credit reports, money and identify theft. The second part required them to demonstrate how financial education (SDG 4 – quality education) of women in Saudi Arabia could contribute towards gender equality (SDG 5 – gender equality). In doing so, students were asked to consider innovative financial education solutions to help improve the financial literacy levels of four groups in Saudi society: children in schools; women in higher education; women in the workplace; and women in the home. The proposed solutions were showcased at a university-wide event attended by faculty, student peer groups and industry partners. The third part was a hackathon, hosted by Deloitte. At this one-day event, students had the opportunity to develop their financial education solutions further under the guidance of a team of Deloitte mentors. The initiative gained the support and active involvement of a number of high profile industry partners, including the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the Rockefeller Foundation, Deloitte, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the Capital Market Authority, financial planning experts UConsulting and Chartered Accountants Worldwide. Not only have the industry partners endorsed this work, but many refer to it as an example of an ‘impact that matters’. The students have also stated that it has improved their financial literacy skills and knowledge of the UN SDGs – knowledge and skills they can now bring to their families and local communities. This initiative serves as a practical example of how Chartered Accountants can create high-impact initiatives that empower women not just within our own community, but throughout the world.  Caroline McGroary ACA is a lecturer in accounting at Dublin City University.

Feb 28, 2020