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Three Chartered Accountants talk to Accountancy Ireland about what worked and what didn’t in 2020, and the changes they have made to ensure success in both their work and personal lives in 2021. As we moved into 2021, so did the pandemic, lockdowns and working from home. Three members of Chartered Accountants Ireland – Larissa Feeney, CEO of Accountants Online; Maeve Hunt, Associate Director at Grant Thornton; and Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB – describe what made their 2020 difficult, how they overcame those challenges, and what they hope to change this year. Goal-setting and disconnecting Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online, has found that making realistic goals and not loading up her task list has kept her going during the pandemic. As a company, we were lucky when the pandemic hit as we were accustomed to remote working and automation, but adapting to working from home during a lockdown is challenging for everyone. I put a routine in place from early on: get up at 6.30am to do some reading, yoga and meditation before going for a walk. I am ready for work at 9am. If I keep to that routine consistently, it keeps me focused for the day and on an even keel.  Every Sunday evening, when I am relaxed, I set out all my weekly goals – both work and personal – and there is a great satisfaction to ticking those off during the week. At the start, I tried to motivate myself by putting lots of things on the list but that only served to make me feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious, so I ensure the list is realistic and follows SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) principles. All my weekly goals contribute towards my monthly goals, my annual goals and my five-year goals. I know that I have higher energy in the early part of the week, so I take on the harder tasks during those days.  I have three children at home, so homeschooling means that you can’t give both home or work life 100%, but we are all doing our best. We have to go easy on ourselves and know that we cannot operate at the same level as before the pandemic, but we will get back to those levels one day.  To disconnect, I read in the evenings – but books that are good for the soul, rather than the business and leadership books I read in the mornings. Walking and getting out in the fresh air always helps. At home, a different person makes the lunch and the dinner every day and we take turns to pick a family movie to watch together.  Apart from ‘getting back to normal’, what I would like to change this year is the further evolution and development of the team and further investment in automation and innovation. Personally, I will continue to work on the home/business divide, which can always do with improvement. Stick with a routine in 2021  Maeve Hunt, Director of Audit and Assurance at  Grant Thornton, first thought the same day-to-day routine would get her down, but it has proved to be a winning habit.  When the pandemic hit last March, we scrambled to leave our offices and head home with monitors under the arm (quite literally) to enter this new way of working. For many, it was a balancing act of working at home in shifts and looking after children. For others, it was an isolating moment in time with no one sharing their working environment. What we needed was a new ‘routine’ of working. Is there a word that is more uninspiring and dull than ‘routine’?  It is a word we want to escape from. We want to travel the world and hide from routine, and seek exciting new opportunities. Can we be creative if we are in a routine?  If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s that routine may be dull, but it is familiar and dependable. A good routine has been key in order to live a somewhat enjoyable and productive working and personal life through the pandemic.  What worked for me was starting my working day earlier, taking an extended break in the middle of the day to ensure I homeschool my five-year-old and play with my two-year-old.  Inevitably, this meant working at night but I found that the shorter, focused periods of work I was completing actually made me more productive. That became a good motivator for me. What I found most challenging in that first lockdown period was how easy it was to go from day to day without talking to another member of my team. I quickly realised that the part I loved most about my job, and missed most during the health crisis, was collaboration.  Scheduling a daily chat with a member of the team has really helped with this. These social calls have helped me disconnect and give me energy for the rest of the working day.  So where do we go from here? There are many things I would change about the last year, but I think I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sticking to a routine that offers a bit of variety. It may not be the traditional working day in the office, but it is all about balance.  It is ensuring you disconnect in the day and take extended breaks. The beauty of working at home is the ability to get back time, cutting out commutes, inevitable down time and unproductive moments in the office. Use this time! Use it to clear your head, go for a walk, read a book, play with the kids. You will be all the more productive for it. A few tweaks to that dreaded routine, which we believe kills all imagination, might end up providing us with enthusiasm and energy for our daily life.   The importance of connections and disconnection  Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB, has gone into 2021 wanting to reconnect with his colleagues and knowing the importance of leaving work behind at the end of the day. I was fortunate in that I had been able to work from home a few days each month before the COVID-19 crisis, so it wasn’t a completely new experience to me. However, there’s a big difference between doing it occasionally and working remotely on a permanent basis.  From the start, I’ve made sure to form and try to keep a daily routine, similar to what I did when I was in the office. I get up at the same time each day, try to start and finish at the same time, as well as taking breaks and lunch around the same as I would have done in the office. I have found that really helps to maintain some sort of difference between work and home.  Working on my own all day, I do miss the social interaction of work. At the start of the pandemic, like most, I tried group zoom calls and quizzes but, as we all know, it’s hard to have group discussions via video call. Instead, I now make the point of scheduling a short video call each week with a colleague or friend to have a coffee and a chat and that does help keep in touch with people. I’m fortunate to have a spare room to work from so I can close the door in the evening and try to leave work behind. However, it can be difficult to switch off when you’re just walking from one room to another at the end of the day. The commute between the office and home was useful to disconnect from work-mode and I do miss that break between home and work. I now take a short walk in the evening after I finish work. That 20 minutes really helps me to disconnect. Plus, my dog is delighted with all the walks he is getting these days.

Feb 09, 2021

2020 presented leaders and their teams many challenges, making boosting morale more important than ever. Learning how to praise your staff is an essential skillset. Fiona Flynn tells us how. Giving praise might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering business leader duties, but praise has been shown to have a direct impact on business results. A Gallup poll found that people who received “recognition or praise for doing good work” are also responsible for a 10% to 20% difference in revenue and productivity. Employees who reported that they are not adequately recognised at work were three times more likely to quit in the next year. As we move through Q1 and into Q2 of 2021, many managers and organisations are completing the annual review process. This can be a painful or powerful task. Unfortunately, managers can unknowingly undermine employee performance during this process. According to research from the Corporate Executive Board, line managers directly influence many key drivers of employee’s performance, improving or destroying performance by up to 40%. Giving praise authentically has many benefits for the indivdual, team and organisation. It creates a positive workplace climate with higher levels of trust, improved problem-solving and innovation and a postive impact on the customer experience and net promoter score. How to give praise There are a few things to keep in mind when acknowledging employee accomplishments and giving praise. Be genuine Ensure the message is delivered with genuine conviction and authenticity. Be specific Clearly articulate what behaviour is being recognised – solving a problem, using their initative, collaborating with another department. Recognise how the behaviours reflect company values, purpose, and business. Be consistent Use praise as part of regular one-on-ones between you and employees, and not just once a year at the review. Be spontaneous When you receive feedback from others about your employee, or see a positive behaviour – pass on the praise. You don’t need to wait for a one-on-one or review session. Send the email or talk to them immediately. Recognise behaviours Don’t just focus on the end results of great performance – praise the behaviours that contributed to that result, as well. Smart actions on the part of the employee won’t always end up as a business win, but you want to reinforce that what they did was the best option. Ask open-ended questions and listen Encourage and praise employees for sharing their insights – this encouragement can cultivate discretionary behaviour and problem-solving culture within the whole team. Offer praise, even amidst failure Praise your team members even when, despite their best efforts, things don’t go as planned.  It is at this time that praise can have the most impact. It can boost morale and get the employee’s mindset back on track. Use it as a coaching and learning opportunity. Review the process and identify what they did well, what they learned and what they would change the next time. Set clear goals and expectations Be sure that the goals given to the team, as well as your expectation in meeting those goals, are clear. This ensures that praise is transparent, and people don’t feel excluded. Praise is a powerful tool that can be used to support and stretch team members. It will improve their self-confidence and morale. It is a particularly useful technique when implementing change – new processes, systems, etc. Identify and praise the individuals who are leaning in and adopting the change. That can have a ripple effect to encourage others to also do well. Fiona Flynn is a Director of Montauk Consulting.

Jan 29, 2021

Career conversations can be nerve-wracking at the best of times; adding the pandemic and homeworking into the mix makes it even more challenging. The way to crack this, says Louise Molloy, is to think through the problem rather than just about the problem. It’s that time of the year when career discussions abound. While this is always an anxious time, with COVID-19 and working from home added to the mix, I’m hearing about fear of being seen as negative, complaining or not supportive when there are legitimate concerns about promotions and upward mobility. This results in frustration and disappointment as teams fail to have the conversations needed. Having sat in both the reviewer and reviewee’s seat, and now coaching clients in this area, I’m reminded of Simon, an ambitious and capable guy who was keen to progress. His boss was relatively new to the organisation and, while he met targets, he struggled to get buy-in from the team and their stakeholders. Simon was full of ideas on how to restructure the team to allow more room for collaboration and creativity, and he was willing to take on more responsibility to deliver this. Previous discussions were taken as personal criticism by his boss, so Simon felt unable to raise the issue again without being seen as unsupportive. Sometimes when situations get emotional and we feel scared or rejected, we fail to see it objectively. He told me that the company needed results, innovation, and good engagement. So, putting on that company ‘hat’, Simon had to consider a few things: How can I contribute more? What is the work that needs to be done – for the company; for the team; for me? The key here is to be honest with yourself and ignore experience or everything you think you know about the company/culture. Imagine I’m the team leader – what do I need to achieve? What am I afraid of? What is my biggest challenge? What allies do I have and need? Really think about your team leader as a person within a system and how it feels to be in that situation. How do I need to present my view of how I could contribute and the work that needs to be done to meet my boss’ priorities and challenges? Reframing what you want to say in this way helps build trust and buy-in, showing you recognise and respect your boss’s position. What do I want to achieve in the session? This conversation is only the beginning, not the end. Share observations on where projects didn't go well (with supporting evidence). Make constructive suggestions, such as starting a working group with different people from various departments, so you can ensure alignment and best ways of working. After considering the above four points, Simon decided to put together a working group comprising members of his own team as well as people from other departments. By doing this, he revised the reporting process, improving quality, freeing up resource time for more innovative insight sharing. He got great feedback, leading to more delegation from his boss. It took a while to get promoted, but in the meantime, his working life had changed. He was happier, more influential and had a clearer view of how he could move his career forward. The questions above are designed to challenge you to think the problem through rather than just think ‘about’ it. This, in turn, will change how you will feel about the conversation ahead. Rather than a battle, it will feel more like you and management are in it together. Remember, if you always do what you always did, nothing changes. So, give it a go. Challenge yourself to answer those questions and see where it leads you. Louise Molloy is a director at Luminosity Consulting.

Jan 29, 2021
AI Extra

Just five years ago, Jason McIntosh was working in practice and didn’t know what the next five years would hold. Now a Finance Manager at Seagate Technology, he answers our six career questions. Five years ago, where did you think you would be now? Have you lived up to your own expectations? Five years ago, I had not long qualified as a Chartered Accountant and was still working in practice. (It doesn’t feel that long, so quantifying it is quite scary!) At that stage, I wasn’t sure where I would be in five years. I probably had this idea about what it would be like to be an accountant in industry, but I wasn’t sure it would be for me.  Having worked in industry for almost three years now, I’m delighted to have been wrong about that – I have a job that I really enjoy, working with great people and getting the opportunity to gain loads of experience in a global role within a global organisation.  Have I lived up to my own expectations? Probably yes – mostly because I didn’t know what to expect! I’m a big believer in constantly challenging yourself, so in that regard I think I’ve probably done that plenty over the last five years.  What do you wish you had known earlier in life? On a professional level: it’s never too early to build your network. I was given this advice on my first day working as an accountant, and probably didn’t take it seriously enough then. But it’s true. As you progress in your career, your network will invariably become something that you rely on from time to time. Looking after it is important, too; stay in touch with the people you meet.  Personally, probably the importance of spending time with your family. When you’re young, life seems so busy and we probably don’t take the time to spend with our parents and our grandparents while we can.  Where do you see yourself this time next year? Hopefully in the office at least a few days a week – without face masks! Like everyone, I’m missing the human interaction of an office. I’ve been working at home full-time for almost a year.  In my current role, I can still see huge opportunities to learn and so this time next year, I’ll hopefully still be doing just that.  Who inspires you personally and professionally?  It may be a little cliché, but my family inspires me. My son is turning three this year, and he approaches life with a curiosity and sense of humour that is infectious. And my wife, who is also a Chartered Accountant, inspires me in so many ways, as well.  Professionally, I try to take a little bit of inspiration from as many sources as possible. You can learn something from everyone, even if it’s what not to do!  If you weren’t a Chartered Accountant, what do you think you’d be doing? That’s a tough question! I studied law at university, and I would probably have pursued that further as I did really enjoy it. That or playing in midfield for Manchester United.   What advice do you have for those who will soon qualify as Chartered Accountants? Treat every day as an opportunity to learn and grow. Early in your career is the absolute best time to soak in every bit of experience you can. Make sure that your job allows you the opportunity to constantly challenge and develop yourself. In a similar vein, actively seek opportunities to learn something new and to learn from others. The best Chartered Accountants I know have breadth of experience as well as depth.  Don’t be afraid to take an opportunity when one arises. Great things never came from comfort zones. 

Jan 13, 2021

This time of year is about setting objectives and goals. However, these usually fail within the first month. How can you empower yourself to stick with them for the whole year? Dawn Leane outlines five ways that can help. It’s the time of year when we set ourselves new goals, whether personal or professional. But often, by the time spring arrives, our good intentions are just a distant memory. Setting objectives is always a good idea, but we can set ourselves up to fall short unless we have the right mindset. Here are five ways to empower yourself in 2021 and beyond. 1. Start with the end in mind A goal without a plan is just a wish, as the saying goes. Stephen Covey advises us to “begin with the end in mind”. Having a clear understanding of what ‘future-perfect’ looks like makes it easier to know where we’re going, assess where we are now, and work out all the steps in between. By breaking our journey into a series of smaller goals, we are more likely to stay on track. 2. Give yourself a break Strike a balance between having ambition and setting unrealistic expectations. For example, if you tend to leave things to the last minute, you may decide to focus on improving your time management. We usually approach this by trying to change ourselves, expending much energy in the process. Or you could accept that you work best with an impending deadline and change how you structure your time instead. Self-acceptance is the most empowering act of all. 3. Build your network There is little we can achieve alone. A strong, strategically developed network is essential to success in any endeavour. Your network should consist of people who can provide you with information and further connections, give honest feedback, provide personal support, and help you maintain a positive work-life balance. Ensure that the people in your network know what you want to accomplish. It will be easier for them to help if they can recognise the opportunity, information or introduction that will benefit you. 4. Review regularly We live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Review your goals regularly to ensure that they are still relevant, that you are on track, and have the right resources. If your original objective is unrealistic or your circumstances change, don’t judge yourself. Instead of doubling down or quitting, reassess what you want to achieve. Revisit your concept of ‘future-perfect’ and ask if it is still valid. If not, what can you change to make it so? 5. Just do it Motivation is a myth. John Maxwell writes: “The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.” The key to empowerment is taking control. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes or have bad days. But if you learn from those experiences and refine your approach, your capacity will continually develop. Dawn Leane is CEO of Leane Leaders, supporting leadership development through training, executive coaching, mentoring and consultancy.

Jan 08, 2021

Author: Gill Thackray – CABA coach, business psychologist and Guardian contributor “I just don’t know what I want to do!” It’s a common statement when you’re thinking about changing direction, whether it’s a new career you’re considering or simply changing your daily routine. Change takes us out of our comfort zone and sometimes there’s so much choice, we’re paralysed because we just don’t know where to begin. The perfect starting point is to look at your own values. What is truly important to you? Our values are our personal GPS for life. Once you’ve got these defined, you have a roadmap to guide your choices and potential next steps and a way to identify if they are a good fit with what you want from life. Ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in five years’ time?” and after that, “What do I want to learn in the next five years?” When you have the answers, write them down and think about how you are going to move yourself towards your goals, one step at a time. Break your larger goals down into manageable, achievable, smaller goals. Consider ‘Branching Projects’. You don’t have to walk into the office and hand in your notice tomorrow. Make a list of all the possibilities that you are considering and then choose one that you can work on part-time. Perhaps you are considering being a yoga teacher? Research what you need to do, shadow an established teacher for a day and find out more about that particular area - it’s a way of dipping your toe in the water and finding out more without committing yourself fully. This way you can try out a number of possibilities to find out if they’re a good ‘fit’ for you. Pay attention to what makes your heart sing. Take notice of your enthusiasm, motivation and energy levels when you’re considering ‘where next’? This will provide you with a huge clue as to what might be a ‘good fit’ for your skills and abilities. Examine your assumptions about the ‘type’ of person you think you are, how much you think you ‘need’ to earn, where you ‘need’ to live or who others think you ‘should be’ and challenge your thinking. Complete an audit. Recognise where you are now, identify what you’ve achieved and how you got there. All of your existing strengths will help you on the road to moving on to the next challenge. And finally, don’t forget to enjoy the journey! Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 13, 2019