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Personal Development

Michael Cawley has enjoyed a stellar career. In this article, he shares his five favourite lessons in leadership.Over the past four decades, I have encountered some very impressive leaders in my professional life. From Coopers & Lybrand, where I trained to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, to Ryanair, where I worked as Deputy Chief Executive, I have seen many different types of successful leadership.However, the best leaders have all had several traits and characteristics in common. In this article, I discuss the five things great leaders do consistently. The best part about these five tips is that they are all doable with some thought and a little effort. There’s no magic and no secret sauce, but great leadership does require purposeful application.Present a clear missionBusiness isn’t rocket science but all too often, simple things become unnecessarily complicated. It is the job of the leader to simplify wherever possible, by establishing straightforward reporting lines and setting clear objectives. In doing so, your team will be better able to see their impact on the overall mission of the business. This is important as colleagues who can directly relate their efforts to business outcomes will ultimately raise their game to go above and beyond what is required of them. If you have a team of people working on this basis, the sky is the limit.It all begins with clarity, however, and that begins at the top of the organisation. An organisation’s leaders must understand the mission and communicate unambiguously to everyone – no fudge, equivocation or misunderstanding. Joe Schmidt often speaks about how great teams exceed the potential of their constituent parts, and the same applies in business. Be clear about what is required, get everyone pulling in the same direction, and your business’s performance will dramatically improve.Think beyond the possibleIn my view, we all achieve a small percentage of our potential, but good leaders help people see beyond the constraints and what they define as ‘possible’. As an example, in Ryanair we faced a seemingly insoluble issue in Italy some years ago. The airline’s schedule requires that the turnaround time at each airport for each aircraft is 25 minutes. To achieve this, Ryanair needs to refuel the aircraft while passengers disembark and baggage is removed. However, in Italy, uniquely in Europe, the law prevented airlines from fuelling the aircraft as passengers disembarked. Our punctuality in Italy was badly affected by this restriction and when every other option was exhausted, my colleague, the Director of Operations, was charged with the seemingly impossible task of getting the legislation changed.Initially, we all thought this was impossible but faced with no alternative, we developed an innovative strategy which convinced the Italian government of the merits of our case. This involved working at both local and national level at speed throughout Italy.This ability to challenge people so that they tackle issues that appear to be beyond them, but not so far beyond them to put them into a state of despair, is a delicate act – but if done right, can make the seemingly impossible, achievable.Develop self-confidenceLeadership can be a lonely place, particularly when you are the CEO. All leaders therefore need the self-confidence to see them through – not only during the tough times, but also day-to-day. Unfortunately, Irish people tend to harbour a high degree of self-doubt and this can lead to paralysis at the very moment decisiveness and action is required. But how can you build self-confidence as a seasoned professional? Success breeds confidence, and I am a big believer in excellence in basic execution. Too many people give up early – they hit a bump in the road and the journey ends there and then. Some people are also just waiting for you to fail. But if you obsess over the basics and execute brilliantly every single time, your chance of success will increase exponentially – and every little win will add to your confidence and self-belief.You also need to develop a relentless streak, because sometimes even excellent execution will not cut it the first or second time around. Michael O’Leary is a good example of this approach with his unwavering persistence and focus on the end goal. So, begin with the basics, execute brilliantly, and do not give up.Be paranoidTo become, and remain, successful in business, you cannot rest on your laurels. Andrew Grove, the founder of Intel who is famously quoted as saying “only the paranoid survive”, insisted that Intel double the capacity of their microchip every two years in order to stay ahead of the competition. He saw this as key to remaining number one in their sector.The truth is, once you or your business become a success, people are out to get you. Your competitors work night and day to catch up with you, so you need to work even harder to stay ahead. This paranoia isn’t the debilitating kind, however. It drives you to become better and see evolution and change as standard practice.Ryanair floated in 1997, and our grand finale on the investor roadshow was in New York. At the time, we could produce a seat for a fraction of the cost of our nearest competitor and investors jumped on the opportunity. The offering was 19 times oversubscribed but instead of thinking we’d made it, we knew that we had to continue to work hard to keep driving our costs down. Today, a number of airlines have a similar cost base to what Ryanair had in 1997, but we have moved on because we knew we had to. We still have the lowest cost base in Europe by far, which is the key competitive advantage when you are in the short-haul air travel business. This type of paranoia is driven by the realisation that, because you are a success, you inevitably become a target for your competitors and you must be at least one step ahead at all times.Booking.com is another prime example of this phenomenon. The company is valued at $70 billion and run by a formidable bunch of people. Every year, they make up to 10,000 changes to their website – most of which are so minute as to be virtually undetectable. But they continuously work to test and iterate based on what customers respond to – and in that way stay ahead of the competition.It’s all very well being paranoid, but how do you stay ahead as an individual? You must learn continuously and be acutely aware of the fact that you do not have a monopoly on wisdom. I am 66 years of age and I am still conscious of my shortcomings. To overcome them, I read and research continuously.Energy and enthusiasmAs a leader, you set the tone – and this is most apparent when it comes to your energy and enthusiasm. Your colleagues at all levels of the organisation will pick up on everything from the urgency with which issues are dealt with and the speed of your commitments to your body language and your choices. Energy and enthusiasm flow downhill, as does lethargy and tardiness, so you need to ensure that, as a leader, you are sending the right signals to your people. And although it may be more challenging to do in a remote working environment, it’s still possible if you adapt.The best time to test for energy and enthusiasm is at the hiring stage. Employ people with as much, if not more, enthusiasm than you. Look for people with integrity and honesty, who seek to say and do the right thing even when it isn’t what you want to hear.No amount of talent can make up for a poor attitude, so be careful in your hiring processes and set the bar high in your day-to-day work environment.Michael Cawley FCA is an independent non-executive director and former Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Ryanair.

Jul 29, 2020
Membership

Sean Quigley explains how team coaching can help companies achieve the ultimate competitive advantage.Research tells us that at best, 20% of leadership teams are high-performing. It also tells us that at least 50% of teams are underperforming. These statistics should be of interest to anyone in a leadership role, as they have huge implications for business performance, the delivery of public services and a wide range of organisations, including not-for-profits.Every organisation is increasingly reliant on greater teamwork to cope with growing challenges, greater complexity, and uncertain environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has just added a new level of challenge. The need for collective leadership and collaborative ways of working across organisational and sectoral boundaries has never been greater. However, teamwork remains the one sustainable advantage that has been largely untapped in most organisations. There is a great need to help teams develop ways of working so that they achieve more than the sum of their parts. The message is clear: senior leaders must get out of their silos and work with each other more. To navigate today’s constantly changing business environment and address cross-disciplinary challenges, top leaders must act as one and be role models for their organisations.In my experience, both as a team coach and a member of senior leadership teams, there are many reasons – some of which are potentially complex – why teams underperform. However, leaders need to recognise the key areas that lead to underperformance.All teams can improve performance. Imagine the impact of a 10% improvement in the performance of your team, and the consequent benefits for customers and all stakeholders? Team leaders need support and guidance to identify areas where their team is underperforming, and to get to the next level of performance. That is where team coaching can have an immediate impact.High-performing teamsA high-performing team achieves outstanding performance by making optimal use of the capabilities of each team member. This highlights the difference between a team and a group. The members of a team are committed, close-knit and share a common objective.Highly effective teams avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics repeatedly because of a lack of buy-in. Highly effective teams also make higher-quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and with less distraction and frustration. If some of the 80% of teams that are not high-performing did indeed improve their performance, this would represent a huge opportunity to unleash untapped potential and add value.High-performing teams are not only important at the top of the organisation. Today, teams are widely used in the form of project teams and cross-functional teams, for example. There is an inherent flaw in this enthusiastic shift to forming teams, based on the assumption that team members naturally know how to collaborate effectively.To take a sporting analogy, teams know that they must be greater than the sum of their constituent parts. There are some outstanding examples of this. The New Zealand rugby team, the European Ryder Cup teams and the Irish women’s hockey team, which reached the Hockey World Cup final in 2018. As Babe Ruth famously said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime”.This also applies to business teams and it is noteworthy that Peter Hawkins, a leading expert in leadership team coaching, found that in 40 years working with leadership teams, the average intelligence of the individual team members was over 120. However, the collective intelligence of the team as a whole was about 60. This is a significant challenge for many businesses and organisations that recruit or promote the brightest and best, yet struggle to operate effectively as a team. Indeed, many organisations have excellent development programmes for individual managers and leaders. Yet, it is rare to find organisations with programmes focused on integrating those individual programmes with team development programmes. This is a major blind spot.How can team coaching help?Unlike some other team interventions, team coaching is designed to work with teams for lasting change. Team coaching is a true partnership designed to work flexibly with the team for a period of time so that a higher level of team performance and a deeper sense of cohesion can be sustained into the future. Team coaching isn’t just about helping the team optimise the way it communicates and learns together (the work of a group). It also enables the team to define and execute its collective task in a way that creates greater value than is possible from the sum of the individual members. It is a process of empowering your team to find and implement their own solutions. The team coach facilitates this learning journey and supports the team in developing the skills needed to maximise their collective potential. The team coach will bring your team through a tried and tested process to identify where they are and what they need to do to be genuinely high-performing.Teamwork comes down to mastering a set of behaviours that are in theory quite straightforward, but can be challenging to put into practice day after day. However, when all team members know what those behaviours are and commit to putting them into practice, that is a crucial step towards becoming a high-performing team. The team coach can help the team improve performance and add value by ensuring that:the team has a clear, collective and compelling purpose with agreed objectives;these are aligned to the needs of stakeholders; andthey all recognise that this can only be achieved through effective team collaboration.Every team member must take responsibility for their part, as well as for the functioning of the whole team. They must present their collective purpose and objectives to a wide range of external stakeholders. It is also essential that it is a learning team, where members are jointly and individually developing and adapting to the ever-increasing speed of change.The five dysfunctions of a teamIn the book by Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he says that “organisations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls”. In his book, he describes the five dysfunctions that are pervasive in all kinds of organisation. By identifying the dysfunctions by name, leaders can watch out for them and learn to address the root causes that prevent teams from reaching their full potential. The five dysfunctions are outlined in Figure 1.Based on the indicators, does your team exhibit any of the characteristics of a dysfunctional team? Would you prefer your team to have the features of a high-performing team? If your team is ready to work hard, take responsibility for results and achieve its potential, now is the time to take action. Working with a qualified team coach can help your teams make the transition quite quickly.Sean Quigley FCA is an executive and team coach, and non-executive director.

Jul 29, 2020
Careers

Julia Rowan offers practical guidance to help leaders run productive and enjoyable team meetings.Team meetings both reflect and create a team’s culture. In times of uncertainty, they provide an essential lifeline to staff as well as an opportunity for leaders to develop the future team that they need.But before we dive into the detail, bear with me for a short and useful exercise: write down a few words that describe your team. Next, fast-forward 12 months: write down the words you would like to use to describe your team. What did you write? More strategic? More independent? More collegiate? More thorough? More proactive? Now reflect on this: how are you using your team meetings to build that strategic, independent, proactive (insert your own words) team that you want?Leaders rarely view the team meeting as an opportunity to build the team they want. Team meetings are seen as a duty, not an opportunity.Create a strong centre of gravityLeadership is challenging, both in good times and bad, but the challenges are different. Right now, there is significant uncertainty: possible recession, business continuity challenges, staff safety and more. Organisations are trying to recruit, induct, delegate, manage and lead at a distance. Many team members are anxious.All of this, to be slightly controversial, in an environment where commitment to one’s profession can be more important than commitment to one’s employer. And that commitment is neither right nor wrong – it merely reflects the reality that all professionals need to stay accredited. Otherwise, their employment prospects are gone. But it all feeds into the need for the leader to create a strong ‘centre of gravity’ within the team and to make the most of the opportunity (there’s that word again) that team meetings offer.Let’s go back to our opening exercise. Let’s say that you want your team to be more proactive; you have two choices. You either tell them that you want them to be more proactive or, at your next team meeting, you ask each team member to give an example of their proactivity and how it worked out. The first option sits nicely under ‘good advice’, and like all good advice, it may or may not be heeded. The second option sends a powerful message: that members of this team are encouraged to be proactive.The purpose of team meetingsMy take on leadership is that it happens through a series of conversations, most of which are one-to-one – interview, induction, goal-setting, delegation, feedback, performance management, coaching etc. Each of these conversations has a specific purpose and opportunity. Team meetings are different and serve three main purposes:they allow for the exchange of information, ensuring that everyone is on the same page;they facilitate discussion, which leads to better quality decisions; andthey are usually the only time and place where the team is together and can ‘do’ being a team. They are the equivalent of the family dinner – a time to stay connected, support each other and, yes, have the odd spat.The team-building part builds the trust needed to ensure that the discussion and decision-making are high-quality; that all team members can speak up, air opinions and be heard. This, in turn, feeds into that all-important engagement and commitment to the team, which is particularly important when teams work off-site or virtually.Plan and run outstanding meetingsTaking the time to plan and run outstanding meetings is tough on leaders who are already under pressure. They may unwittingly adopt a ‘tick-box’ approach to their meetings: regular meeting? Agenda circulated? All in attendance? All updates covered? Action list distributed?Actually, if you are doing all of that, take a bow because many teams never meet (and hopefully the thoughts below will help you make your meetings even more useful and enjoyable). Or maybe you used to run meetings and then stopped. They took too long, nobody spoke up, or the same few people dominated. Now is a great time to reinvest in your team meetings.The tips that follow may help stimulate some creative thoughts about how you plan and organise your team meetings. Julia Rowan is Founder of PerformanceMatters.ie. Following a career that spanned finance, marketing and public affairs, Julia now works with leaders and teams throughout Europe to build strong teams.

Jul 29, 2020
Management

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

Jul 29, 2020
Management

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

Jul 29, 2020
Innovation

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

Jul 29, 2020