Articles

Personal Development

While extreme emotions can be hard to control, here are seven simple practices to help you respond rather than react. How often have you heard a manager or colleague say in desperation something like: “keep emotions out of this” or “emotions have no place in business”. One might as well say people have no place in business because wherever people interact, you will find emotion. Emotions can be uncomfortable at times, even scary. You may feel hurt. You may be in floods of tears, or angry, or on the verge of an outburst. But if you ‘act out’ such emotions, you will most likely regret it later. What will ultimately get noticed is your lack of control and the valuable point you wanted to make will be lost.  However, there is nothing inherently wrong with any kind of emotion – every feeling has value and significance. Extremes are to be avoided, however, and balance is our goal. Regulate your emotions Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean ignoring or repressing them. It, instead, means learning to process and respond to them in healthy, helpful ways. Think of this process as regulating your emotions. In addition to helping you to feel more stable, this strategy can help improve your health and can certainly improve your relationships. Even if we don’t have the awareness necessary to identify all our emotions, self-control is exercisable. It’s a skill that can be learned. So when emotions run high, how do we maintain our composure in the moment? Always respond and never react. The choice is always yours; Stop and re-focus. If you feel yourself spiralling out of control, take a conscious step back and focus on your physical senses. Feel your feet on the ground then locate and concentrate on the physical tension in your body, often found at the base of the neck or at the pit of the stomach. Alternatively, you might focus your attention on an object in your environment; Take charge of your breathing. Fight or flight mode, so often experienced in such moments, activates your sympathetic nervous system by sending adrenaline and other chemicals racing through your body. It raises your heart rate, makes your breathing shallower, and causes your muscles to tense. Breathing deeply and evenly will help calm you by providing much needed oxygen to your body so you relax; and Shake your body to release stress. If the situation allows, step out and find a private spot (the restroom, for example) and take a minute to physically shake the tension from your body before returning. These simple grounding techniques put us in the present moment and can help prevent the mind from feeling overwhelmed. If, however, all you can manage is to count to 10, do that.  Other techniques Beyond these ‘in the moment’ techniques, other methods include: Make time for meditation and mindfulness (see last issue’s article here). This will help you control your emotions by taking your focus away from them; Use visualisation techniques. Practising the visualisation of a relaxing experience that you can later recall can also help you control immediate emotional responses; and Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). A daily 15-minute PMR session, even at your desk, can help relieve stress by systematically tensing and releasing your muscles in groups. This practice is also useful in identifying signs of physical tension in your body. Practising the above techniques can help you avoid being hijacked by your emotions. It instead provides an opportunity to respond in a timely manner with professional composure from a balanced position so that you get heard. Paul Price is is an Executive Coach at Dynamic Connections.

May 01, 2018
Personal Development

Kate Robertson, founder of One Young World, believes young Chartered Accountants are driving change around the world. What does the One Young World initiative stand for? At our core is the belief that we need the leadership of young people to generate and deliver solutions to the systemic challenges facing  the world.  The current generation of young leaders is the most informed, best educated and most connected in human history. One Young World exists to provide a global platform and network for these leaders so they may gain international recognition for their work and accelerate the rate of change they’re already delivering. Our platform provides young leaders from every sector, and from every country, a stage to debate, formulate and celebrate action that creates a better future. Other than the Olympic Games, no other event brings together as many nations as the One Young World Summit. The talent and diversity they bring to the Summit gives all delegates an unrivalled international perspective.   What do participants gain from the One Young World experience? The experience is transformative for delegates – being a One Young World delegate puts one on the radar of senior leadership and marks individuals as leaders within an organisation.  What type of candidate are you looking for this year? We are looking for young, talented employees who are driving change within their companies and communities; we are convinced that accountancy is the profession that can affect enormous change in the world. Accountants are a huge driving force in ensuring businesses act responsibly and we want young leaders who have the motivation to move and improve the seemingly unmovable force that is big business. What tips can you give to those interested in applying? First off, do it. Apply. Tell us what you have achieved. We want to see tangible data. What have you done and what was your impact? Measuring impact is very important to One Young World – we believe what doesn’t get counted doesn’t count.   To be in with a chance to become Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Young Chartered Star and win an all-expenses paid trip to The Hague in October 2018, click here.

May 01, 2018
Ethics

A recent workshop hosted by Chartered Accountants Ireland reflected on the teaching of ethics at third-level institutions, and how the process might be improved. BY HUGH McBRIDE There is a growing recognition across the higher education sector of the importance of incorporating ethics into the accounting and business undergraduate curriculum. Arguably, however, ethics is still not given the recognition, platform and prominence it deserves. The espoused importance of incorporating ethics into the undergraduate curriculum may be more form and rhetoric rather than substantive concrete reality. There is a perception that ethics essentially remains an ornamental adornment rather than a real, meaningful and integrated element of core content; that it is seen as ‘a luxury we can’t really afford’. There remains a gap in our knowledge and understanding of current practices across higher education institutions and professional programmes, of the pedagogic approaches used and of the experience of lecturers in programme design and delivery. People teaching in the area often find themselves pioneering alone within institutions, with limited collegial support and historical reference to draw upon. With the support of the Publishing Department in Chartered Accountants Ireland, I recently organised a workshop to discuss the teaching of ethics in undergraduate accounting and business programmes in higher education in Ireland. Opening the workshop, Michael Diviney, Director of Publishing at Chartered Accountants Ireland, explained the purpose and importance of the workshop in providing an opportunity for dialogue and discussion among lecturers about curriculum design, delivery and assessment with a view to improving understanding and enhancing practice. It provided a forum for participants to address knowledge gaps, to share and compare experience, to learn from each other, to reflect on challenges and future directions, and to identify potential avenues for collaboration and research. Four invited guest speakers made presentations and this was followed by group discussions among participants. The presentations and some of the issues arising in the group discussions are summarised below. Prof. Patricia Barker, Dublin City University Prof. Barker presented a framework to guide the design of a module in ethics for accounting and business undergraduate degree programmes that incorporates ethical theories, the student, processes, significant influencers, culture and discourse. She emphasised that it was a personal framework drawing on her own experience, preference and reflections, and that it was not intended as a prescription for others. The curriculum must be centred on the student as a person. The aim should be transformational, focused on encouraging and enabling students to reflect on their beliefs and values, on fostering student self-awareness and awareness of others, and of developing an understanding of their personal ethical perspectives drawing on their life experiences. This is likely to prove challenging, requiring students to move outside their comfort zone. It will require a recalibration of thinking and approach on both the student’s and the lecturer’s part. Fostering competence in ‘ethical listening’ will be of critical importance. Prof. Barker suggested a range of pedagogical approaches to address the challenges faced in learning and teaching. She emphasised the need for interactive engagement and reflective learning, and for small classes to facilitate this approach; for delivery in the final year of the undergraduate programme when students will have more life experience and enriched habits of thought and outlook to draw upon; for the imaginative use of a diverse range of teaching approaches and support resources including the use of visual art, theatre, film, literature and social media; and for the use of formative assessment methodologies other than traditional examinations. Dr John Heneghan, University of Limerick Dr Heneghan presented a reflection on his experience in the design, delivery and assessment of a module for final- year undergraduate students in law and accounting. He explained the importance of the inclusion of the word ‘ethics’ in the module title, validating the subject as an important and worthy part of the curriculum. The fundamental goal of the lecturer in ethics, he suggested, is to bring students to the ‘moral crossroads’, equipped with the tools needed to know the right thing to do, and to exercise judgement consistent with professional obligations. The role of the lecturer is not to moralise to the student but to foster their competence for moral reasoning. The lecturer drawing on her or his personal experience is important in this regard. Dr Heneghan explained the importance of students understanding the intellectual process involved in reaching judgement, and the contributing elements in evaluating whether a professional judgement is good or bad; openness to truth, acquired expertise, self-correcting processes of learning and personal wisdom. He recommended the work of the Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan as an important reference source in this regard. Beth Picton, Durham University Ms Picton presented an overview of the findings of a preliminary survey she carried out on ethics education in undergraduate accounting programmes in the UK and Ireland. Key findings included: that generally no distinction is made between accounting ethics and business ethics; that ethics is usually embedded within various subjects in the curriculum rather than delivered as a stand-alone module; that the incorporation of ethics into the curriculum is generally driven by the personal passion of academic staff rather than a drive by institutions to include it as a core module; that teaching ethics is often equated with teaching a code of conduct; and that teaching ethics in small groups is considered best. Barriers identified to the incorporation of ethics into the curriculum included: lack of space in an already crowded curriculum; the requirements of professional bodies; lack of willing and able staff to teach ethics; and the undervaluing of ethics because it is not a technical skill. Overcoming these barriers requires a shift in how ethics is viewed by both students and institutions. Professional bodies have a potentially key role in encouraging and supporting this. As a final thought, Ms Picton suggested that not including ethics in the curriculum was in itself an ethical statement. Níall Fitzgerald, Chartered Accountants Ireland Mr Fitzgerald explained that ethics and governance are core themes in Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Strategy 2020. He outlined the resources and structural supports that Chartered Accountants Ireland devotes to implementing this aspect of the strategy, emphasised its integral nature to all Chartered Accountants Ireland activities, and identified specific elements of the business plan of direct relevance to the strategic theme. By incorporating ethics into professional development, Chartered Accountants Ireland demonstrates the impact ethics has in the real world: it supports members; it benefits businesses, communities and society; it strengthens the economy; and it fosters innovation and strategic development. Issues identified by workshop attendees A broad range of diverse views and suggestions emerged during the group discussions, including the following:   Ethics should be a core part of the curriculum as a standalone subject rather than a ‘nice-to-have’ module or as an added embedded topic within the more traditional subject areas. To achieve this, institutions must devote adequate resources to underpin the development and delivery of the subject. Chartered Accountants Ireland could provide support to enhance and develop lecturer competence in ethics and could sponsor the development of modules in ethics for undergraduate programmes; Ethics is best delivered to small and diverse classes at the final- year stage. The pedagogy should be student-centred, reflective and interactive. Developing the student’s capacity for autonomous moral reasoning is crucial; the subject should have a strong base in philosophy and should incorporate sociological and institutional perspectives in addition to the psychology of moral behaviour; The incorporation of current news items and contemporary topical issues provide a valuable, diverse and potentially engaging source of teaching and learning material. The use of magazines, films, TV, novels, theatre and the internet provide valuable reference resources; and The use of diverse, non-traditional and formative assessment methodologies should be encouraged and supported. In particular, this can provide a mechanism for encouraging and enabling students to move outside their comfort zone. The workshop was formally closed by Michael Diviney. In his concluding remarks, he drew attention to the potential value to students of articles about ethics in Accountancy Ireland and other Chartered Accountants Ireland publications including Leading with Integrity – A Practical Guide to Business Ethics by Ros O’Shea. Not only do these resources examine modern ethical issues, they do so from an Irish perspective. Using real Irish examples can help personalise ethics in a way that foreign examples may not. On that note, Chartered Accountants Ireland will publish a new book entitled Cases in Corporate Governance and Business Ethics in 2018. Following the workshop, attendees indicated that they found the presentations and discussion very useful and would welcome an opportunity to attend similar events in the future. The challenge is to maintain the momentum created by this event to help ensure that ethics takes its place as a core element alongside the more traditional subjects in the undergraduate curriculum. Hugh McBride is a Senior Lecturer in Business Studies at Mayo Campus, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

Apr 03, 2018
Management

Team coaching helps develop trust, build resilience and foster adaptability, which could be why it’s becoming a go-to learning tool for organisations.   Cathie Marsh, one of the greatest British survey researchers, often said it was important  that researchers were detectives, not lawyers. In other words, in the great tradition established by Sherlock Holmes, Colombo and Nancy Drew, that they are fundamentally more concerned with discovering and understanding exactly what was going on in and around the subject they are researching than in approaching discoveries with a view to utilising them in defence of a preordained position. To really understand the benefits of team coaching, we have taken on the role of detectives ourselves. We looked at the members of four teams who have gone through a series of interventions. Admittedly, our sample size wasn’t huge, but the quantitative survey in question has been part of a much larger piece of research around team coaching intervention programmes and, in that context, the results have been very useful. The team effectiveness wheel We start with a team effectiveness wheel diagnostic, which you can try out yourself at Eighty20Focus.com. The tool helps an individual team member to reflect on the effectiveness of the team as a whole when benchmarked against eight key measurements.  These areas are clustered into three subgroupings, central to which is the standalone measurement of ‘core learning’. The first cluster focuses on developing a culture where a team learns from its own performance and multiple processes. It also intentionally consolidates those lessons for the next cycle of development, empowering a team to ‘raise its game’ to meet the increasingly complex challenges they may have to face. In the last issue, we wrote about the power in Peter Senge’s great question: what can we learn from what just happened? This comes into play in the first cluster. The second cluster focuses on the team’s performance when carrying out the day job. It assesses the following at an individual team member level:   The individual’s level of understanding of the team’s purpose and the commission it has received from its various stakeholders; The individual’s degree of clarity around team goals, objectives, protocols, organisational resources, and several other aspects of what has been called its “mission and team charter”; The individual’s ability to co-create as they process and strategise with team colleagues to achieve their objective while ensuring that they collectively work together creatively and effectively; and The individual’s connectivity through engagement across the wider organisation and beyond in order to transform stakeholder relationships. This impacts not only a team’s performance, but that of the wider organisation as well.   The third cluster seeks to analyse the culture in which the team is working by benchmarking three factors: how aligned the team is to its wider organisational voice and priorities; where the trust levels sit, both internally within the team and between the team and its stakeholders; and the level of resilience and adaptability within the team in the felt experience of its members.  These eight measurements represent the fruit of significant academic and practical research projects carried out across a wide spectrum of organisations and, we believe, combine to set the bar quite high when it comes to evaluating both team effectiveness itself and work done by coaches, consultants and other ‘interventionists’ seeking to help improve team performance. There may be other factors which organisations wish to consider, but it is our experience that most, if not all, of these can be contained within the eight measurements captured above. The results To find out the value of team coaching, we asked respondents to anonymously complete a questionnaire of 36 questions designed to help them identify the degree to which the team coaching intervention programme helped their team to improve its performance against each of the measures. While accepting that all answers were subjective in nature, and that one woman’s ‘significantly improved’ might mean the same as another man’s ‘somewhat improved’, we believe that the overall research is robust enough to give a good initial overview of participant-perceived value. The results were certainly interesting. As you can see in the table above, they showed that the team coaching intervention programme was most helpful in developing trust, both internally among team members and externally between the team and the wider organisation. Team coaching was also perceived as being very useful in building team resilience and adaptability.  From a work process perspective, the interventions have also been identified as being of use. The results showed a 63% to 65% improvement in team members’ understanding of the team’s objective and how best to go about achieving that objective. From a stakeholder perspective, this is a result that should translate positively into the bottom line. At the same time, achieving a 58% increase in understanding the need for, and ability to deliver on, positive engagements across the wider organisation shows that there is room for developing the interventions further. Sustainable development Perhaps of most encouragement was the 64% increase in the teams’ perceived ability to learn from themselves. This, as we alluded to in the February issue of Accountancy Ireland, is what creates long-term, sustainable effectiveness. When aligned with an increase in a team’s ability to trust itself and other colleagues in the organisation, while facilitating the development of deeper levels of team resilience and adaptability, this provides a strong ‘three-legged stool’ from which team members and stakeholders alike can create a strong, successful future.   Ian Mitchell and Siân Lumsden are co-founders of Eighty20Focus, a real-time executive coaching organisation.

Apr 03, 2018
Management

Poor performance can be costly, so here is a three-step process to help you address the issue. BY GERARD McMAHON To the annoyance of many employers, the chances of being deemed to have fairly dismissed an employee on the grounds of poor performance are slim. For example, as far back as 2005, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC) warned its members that dismissal on such grounds is difficult, as it’s a long and drawn-out process with little guarantee of a successful outcome. Research recently completed at Dublin Institute of Technology confirms IBEC’s warning. From a representative sample of almost 400 dismissals contested before third parties in recent years, performance, performance management or performance appraisal and associated management best practice(s) were influential in just 5% of the judgements. And even then, not all of the judgments went in the employer’s favour. In an effort to address this issue, the practice of deploying a performance improvement (or expectation) plan (PIP) has now emerged as a means of addressing underperformance. According to the Society for Human Resource (HR) Management, a PIP “is a great way to give struggling employees the opportunity to succeed while still holding them accountable for past performance”. IBEC also recently reported that PIPs “are an increasingly common tool utilised by employers to manage cases of poor work performance”. For example, the Irish Civil Service now applies PIPs to those “who have not improved following interventions made through regular performance management processes”. According to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, this new PIP regime is “built on principles of natural justice and closely reflects good HR practice in other sectors”. Under their PIP scheme, underperformance issues are handled informally initially, but if unresolved, the PIP kicks in and can progress for up to five meetings. If, by the end of the PIP process, performance has not improved, the employee can be fairly dismissed. The law and PIPs Significantly, the PIP practice and process featured recently in dismissal cases coming before third parties. For example, late last year an adjudication officer at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) upheld the employer’s decision to dismiss a supervising pharmacist after he failed the PIPs he was put on. The adjudicator noted that the employer provided the complainant with ongoing mentoring and support throughout the PIP period and that it had even extended the plan’s duration on his request. She also noted that the employer’s procedures “were clear and detailed and were available at all times to the complainant” and the pharmacist had been informed of his performance issues, what was expected of him and the consequences of not achieving his PIP. At around the same time, another adjudicator at the WRC found an employer’s dismissal of an accountant to be fair, where the process included the application of a PIP in a process that was deemed reasonable and in line with procedures and natural justice. The adjudicating officer recorded that the employer had used PIPs with other employees and had tried to use one with the accountant who didn’t cooperate, as he claimed that it was “rigged”. Real commitment Of course, to succeed in a contested dismissal case, it is important for the employer to be able to show that they are committed to the PIP process. Otherwise – like in the 2009 Boston Scientific case – it may be held that they produced “no evidence... to show that training was made available to the claimant to address his shortcomings”. A similar deficiency in such scenarios surfaced some years later when the Employment Appeals Tribunal determined that the Irish Wheelchair Association should have “engaged more constructively” with the claimant around the implementation of the performance improvement process. However, where it can be shown that the employer implemented a PIP and, as noted by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in another case, “behaved reasonably at all times and did its utmost to support the claimant... affording him every opportunity to adapt to the particular requirements of the respondent’s business”, the decision is likely to go in the employer’s favour. Google (Ireland) Ltd. also relied heavily on their PIP in a case reported earlier this year, where they successfully defended a discriminatory dismissal claim at the WRC. Perfect PIPs However, research confirms that a significant obstacle to effective PIPs, and the associated coaching input, is that managers are often neither interested in – nor capable and confident enough about – the practice. This has significant implications for the organisation attempting to tackle underperformance. To maximise the prospect of a successful PIP, the following guidelines should be applied: Before the meeting First, assemble and review all of the relevant evidence relating to the employee’s past performance (e.g. performance management forms, interim reviews, job description/role profile, performance and development trends). Then, as part of the information gathering process, ask the following questions: Is the problem attributable to the employee’s performance and/or attitude? At what point did the employer become aware of the problem? What was done about it? How did the employee react when advised? Has the problem been raised by others? To what extent have the employee’s specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound (SMART) objectives been achieved? What examples are there of poor performance? Did the employee fully understand what they were expected to achieve? Were these expectations reasonable? Did the employee get sufficient support from their manager and colleague(s)? Does the employee have the ability to bridge the gap and perform effectively in the role? How are others in equivalent roles performing? In the course of previous exchanges, has the manager been successful in obtaining agreement on the cause of the problem(s) and what will be done about it? What happened? Is this a problem warranting external help (e.g. counselling)? You should also agree the meeting time and place in advance with the employee. During the meeting Encourage the employee to diagnose and prescribe in respect of the problem performance; Ensure that the employee understands the reason(s) for devising a PIP; Focus on facts, not personality (e.g. the SMART objectives set at the last review); Adopt a positive and progressive attitude, along with a calm and professional disposition (note that this is not a disciplinary meeting; it should be part of an ongoing constructive coaching relationship); Set and confirm the SMART (performance and development) objectives; Ensure that the employee understands the implications of continued underperformance vis-à-vis the organisation’s disciplinary/dismissal procedure; Confirm the required support actions/resources; Agree the improvement timescale/review schedule and diary it; and Keep a signed record of the meeting and the agreed actions/outcomes and furnish the employee with a copy. After the meeting Follow up and deliver on the promises made at the PIP meeting (e.g. support actions, resources, reviews etc.); As part of the review process, give specific feedback vis-à-vis the SMART objectives, ensuring that the employee is made fully aware as to whether they are adjudged to be making the required improvement; Update the employee’s SMART objectives, bringing them to an acceptable level (e.g. vis-à-vis peers’ performance levels) while maintaining a coaching and monitoring role; In the event that no progress has been made under the PIP, confirm and diagnose the persistent performance gaps and determine whether new or revised SMART objectives or an updated PIP is required. The consequences for the employee of continued underperformance should also be confirmed. It may also be decided to progress matters via the disciplinary procedure. The relevant follow-up actions/supports should be confirmed with one’s manager and the HR professionals; and In the face of persistent underperformance, convene a meeting under the organisation’s disciplinary procedure. Dr Gerard McMahon is Managing Director at Productive Personnel Ltd.

Apr 03, 2018
Management

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.BY STEPHEN TORMEY 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
Management

The tyranny of satisfaction has reached crisis levels, but what if we could learn to disappoint? I begin many of my lectures by telling students that I hope to disappoint them. I look forward to the moment they realise I have failed to live up to their expectations of me. They are not happy at the prospect. What do I mean I will disappoint? Have they spent large amounts of money to attend a lecture by someone who isn’t going to deliver on their expectations? Most of us will never live up to the expectations of others (or theirs of us). We will rarely be able to guarantee 100% success. Yet we are plagued with the curse of satisfaction. Organisational members who exceed targets by 10% this quarter are rarely cheered on and told to take it easy for the next quarter. Next quarter’s target increases by 10%, and this becomes the new normal. Disappointment is the moment at which the fantasy of ‘what we should to be’ meets the reality of ‘what we are’. It is also a clue to the systemic conditions in which those conditions are generated. What if the best we could do is the best we can do? What if we could learn to disappoint? Listen to disappointment Disappointment is an invitation to reimagine attainable and realistic goals and targets. Instead of ignoring or relegating it, pay attention. Identify unrealistic expectations, discuss them, re-articulate them as more realistic goals that are attainable and achievable. Acknowledge the fear Disappointment is always connected to some ideal version of the future (an ideal lecturer who will ensure we get top marks; being available to clients/customers 24/7 etc.) What is it we are afraid of losing if we let go of that ideal? In bringing the fantasy into reality, it is possible to relinquish attachment to its power and reimagine a future that is achievable and more realistic. Perhaps the new version of us is a company that delivers the best service we possibly can rather than the idealised service we never could. Articulate expectations Organisations get stuck in blame/shame dynamics. Locating blame in other departments or feeling the shame of being the disappointing team member who let the team down during a presentation. This dynamic is a toxic mix that further relegates disappointment to the edges of organisational systems. Instead of trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong, try asking ‘what unarticulated expectations have resulted in this dynamic?’ Very often blame and shame relate to idealised expectations that have never been thought through or articulated. By examining these dynamics, it is possible to alleviate potentially intractable conflicts. Figure out what really matters to your staff Disappointment is a very common emotion that rarely receives attention in organisations. Asking people about their disappointments at work is a valuable way of finding out what really matters to people. Very often we don’t know what matters to us until we don’t have it. The tyranny of satisfaction is built on the assumption that we can fulfil unrealistic fantasies and ideals. Disappointment tells us that this isn’t so. It also tells us that it is possible to reimagine our expectations as more reasonable and achievable aims. To do that, we must be ‘good enough’. Once those around us are comfortable with that promise, we can get on with the messy and ordinary task of working together. In those conditions, we will often exceed expectations and will rarely blame each other for failing to live up to imaginary standards beyond the realm of reality. 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.

Apr 03, 2018
Strategy

Cultural change will only occur when senior leaders act as role models and work to embed the desired culture in everything the organisation does. BY DERA McLOUGHLIN Culture has attracted a lot of interest in the media and in public discourse in recent times. The financial and regulatory problems to which Ireland has been exposed have firmly placed the issue of culture on the boardroom table. The extent to which an organisation’s culture supports the execution of its strategy, the management of risk and the treatment of its customers are increasingly under the spotlight and weaknesses in culture are now frequently blamed for failings in these areas. The board and executive management, who have always been responsible for culture, are increasingly being held to account when culture fails. Organisations are also under more scrutiny to ensure that the culture they espouse is transparent and clearly supports the delivery of their strategy in a manner that is consistent with their values. However, culture is intangible and elusive. What exactly is the culture of an organisation? How can it be defined? How can it be assessed? And where it is not working, how can it be changed? Following a number of years researching the issue, Mazars has developed a structured tool to assist organisations in auditing culture. This tool helps organisations to define their “target” or desired culture, and then measures actual culture across the organisation against that target. It also assists in defining a plan to address any material gaps between target and actual culture – in particular, those that create a risk that the organisation won’t be able to achieve its strategy or deliver on its mandate. But first, what exactly do we mean by culture? Culture defined Culture has been defined as “the pattern of basic assumptions that the group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation or internal integration, and that worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems”. In more simple terms, the culture of an organisation can be expressed as “how we do things around here”. It is the sum of everything an organisation stands for and how it operates – its values, its beliefs, its mission, its behaviours and its interactions with employees and customers. These powerful ingredients make up the unique character of an organisation – its culture. Culture is complex. In an organisation, it is everywhere; it is subjective and ever-changing. Some organisations have several sub-cultures, which is absolutely fine as long as they are compatible. Culture is not how risk is managed, it is not values, it is not static, it is not conduct, it is not integrity and there is no such thing as a “good” culture. Rather, a strong culture is one that supports the organisation in the achievement of its objectives. Our findings Mazars has spent a number of years studying culture and in a recent research report entitled Board Leadership in Corporate Culture: European Report 2017, which was published in association with INSEAD, our research identified that while believing that an organisation’s culture can be influenced from the top, particularly by the Chief Executive Officer, only one in five board members believe that they are spending the right amount of time addressing cultural issues. Additional findings from the report include:   Setting the right tone from the top is seen as the main way a board can influence organisational culture; Culture is ranked third by boards in terms of importance, behind only strategy and financial performance; 40% of board members believe they either do not devote enough time to cultural issues or that culture is not valued as a discussion topic at board level; Half say their board is “reasonably clear” on the desired culture while one-third are “not very clear” or say there is no discussion. Only one-fifth “fully consider” culture; One-third of boards are not confident that they have the right information on their culture, and are unclear as to the alignment between the desired culture and that which exists in the business. Only 5% are very confident that there is any clear alignment; Half say there are either significant gaps between strategy and culture, or they have not spent much time considering alignment between the two. However, the other half believe they are very clear on alignment between strategy and culture, or that their strategy is broadly consistent with their culture; 43% indicate that the culture of the board itself is seldom discussed at board meetings, though one-third say the board’s culture is always assessed during a board evaluation; There is a three-way split on opinion over managing the risks associated with culture: 36% say such risks are fully embedded in their risk-management systems; 32% say that, while not part of formal management, it is discussed at board level; and 31% do not routinely consider the risks associated with culture; Directors are generally inward-looking when considering their culture: two-thirds rely on employee feedback to assess existing culture. While half also consider customer feedback, an equal number look to “risk events” such as rule breaches for measurement. 17% say culture is not measured at all; 78.3% of investors state that they would like to see more extensive reporting on culture; and Employees are the main targets for cultural change programmes: enhancing employee motivation and productivity was cited as the main type of cultural change programme undertaken by most organisations. Overall, the findings indicate that although awareness of the importance of culture to the success of an organisation is recognised, boards have yet to find a way to set, assess and change culture in a meaningful way. Auditing culture An increasing number of boards and audit committees are examining the concept of culture and assessing whether the culture in their organisation is strong or weak – supportive of their strategy and mandate or otherwise. Executive management teams are examining what aspects of culture they should change, and how. As a result, many Irish human resource and internal audit functions in both the public and private sectors are being asked to conduct a review or audit of their organisational culture. Many are unsure as to where they should start. Mazars’ cultural audit tool Mazars’ cultural audit tool – the Cultural Compass – has been developed by auditors, behavioural scientists and human resource professionals, and is designed to support the challenging process of auditing culture. This audit of culture begins by assisting the board or executive management team in defining their “target” or desired culture. This forms a baseline for the audit and the tool is then used to determine actual culture against this base. The Cultural Compass is based on the belief that culture is like the organisational immune system – it keeps the organisation healthy when working well. Just like an immune system, it works on the basis of triggers and responses. Cultural triggers are based on choices made by the organisation and its leaders. It includes values, office design, recruiting processes etc. Once a trigger is activated, it creates a specific response – a company policy, for example. Cultural triggers are the antigens of organisational culture. Cultural responses are the specific reactions resulting from the trigger such as a behaviour, a bias, an action or an inaction. These cultural responses are not necessarily based on logic but rather, on how an employee feels and thinks. Cultural responses are the antibodies of organisational culture. Responses tend to trump triggers by rendering them inaudible, explaining the weight of some aspects of a company’s culture over a long period of time. The Cultural Compass examines culture across six dimensions: decision-making; structures and controls; recruitment, recognition and development; attitudes and behaviours; leadership and management; and values, mission and purpose. These dimensions encompass the most important trigger and response elements of culture. In turn, cultural triggers and responses are examined by auditing triggers and responses across 60 variables grouped under these dimensions. The results can often be challenging, with significant divergence in key dimensions or in specific areas of the organisation from the desired culture. The benefits of a cultural audit So, what can an organisation do with the results of a cultural audit? The key is to focus on a small number of specific and important cultural gaps and the behaviours that have the greatest impact on these gaps. Changing a culture purely through top-down messaging, training or development programmes seldom changes people’s beliefs or behaviours. In general, cultural change will only occur when senior leaders act as role models, explicitly modelling the desired behaviours and beliefs, and work collaboratively to embed the desired culture in everything the organisation does. Dera McLoughlin FCA is a Partner at Mazars.

Apr 03, 2018
Practice and Business Improvement

Eamonn Leahy reflects on the things he wishes he had been told before setting up an accountancy practice for SMEs. More than 30 years ago, I set up as a sole practitioner. I quickly went through a steep and unplanned learning curve. What I believed was needed to practice fell short of what was actually needed. I believed that after working in a small firm, and then for three years in the tax department of a much larger firm, I was well equipped to practice. This was not the case. There is more to practice than technical competency. This is a reality experienced by other professionals – in architecture, law and medicine, for example – who set up in practice. Architects, solicitors and doctors like being architects, solicitors and doctors, but they don’t always enjoy the business of being an architect, solicitor or doctor. In short, I discovered that general practice is where science meets art. This became real when I opened my doors and my art education began. Not unreasonably, I believed that the client wanted me to do simply what they asked. “Please do my accounts, audits, tax and company secretarial work,” they said. They may have innocently asked this, but hidden within those simple requests were more complex unspoken needs. Identifying and delivering on those needs is the secret to practice growth and professional satisfaction. Unspoken needs Many SME clients are isolated or go through periods of isolation. They look to their accountant for a safe space. They want their accountant to be an audience listening to their concerns, an advisor pointing out choices available, a confidant to share the burden of commercial life and a referrer of trusted service providers in a world where identifying others is a difficult task. Their isolation springs from the fact that there is often no-one they can open up to about the business and the problems arising. In different times, the person they confided in may have been the bank manager. That is a role that banks no longer allow their managers to fulfil for a variety of internal reasons, and this is the space I had to occupy. To service these unspoken and newly identified needs, I had to rethink my offering and reorganise my practice. In short, I had to learn new core skills quickly. Four underdeveloped skills stood out above the others. Client interviewing Other professions, such as the medical and legal profession, recognise this and offer some training. There is little recognition of these needs in the accounting profession, however, and we as a profession are the worse for that. Face-to-face meetings with clients are the sharp end of service delivery. I needed to understand how to optimise this important moment in time. The client needs to leave the meeting believing they had said everything they wanted to say, that I understood what was said, that it was being taken seriously, and that there was a plan formed or being formed to address the issues. I need to leave the meeting clearly understanding the task to hand and securing an instruction to act. In hindsight, before I addressed this issue I was overly anxious to get to the point at the meeting. I unwittingly did not allow the client the time or space to tell their story in the manner and at the pace they wanted. In my rush to the facts, I now believe I left some clients behind. Moving at the client’s pace, taking notes, questioning to round off my understanding and confirming the facts throughout the meeting leads to a better outcome all round. A well-run client meeting will highlight new business for the practice and let the client know we are looking for more business. Marketing activity Marketing is an activity I misunderstood and undervalued when I set up in practice. At the time, I confused it with advertising or isolated efforts almost at random. One of the reasons I chose accountancy as a career was the fact that I did not want to work in sales. The bad news is that sales effort is required. The good news is that marketing is not sales as I imagined. The cold sales pitch is not the norm, so out with that dread. It quickly became clear that my richest source of new business, as for most professionals, were my clients. Marketing covers an enormous area, but the underlying principles are dastardly simple. Find out what the client wants and give it to them. Answering this question involves a lot of reflection, listening to existing clients, and being alert to often coded requests. I had to develop and disseminate a consistent message to a defined audience. The marketing effort had to be embedded into the service experience. After all, the set of accounts and tax return I would prepare will look like any other prepared by a competent accountant. Because the physical output is the same as that of my competitors, the experience had to be different. Once I figured out how to do this, marketing became more routine and ordinary. Negotiation skills Negotiation is much more present in my day-to-day working life as a practitioner than as an employee. I found myself charging reasonable fees and then being forced down to lower levels by clients who were better at representing their own interests. I found myself unavoidably negotiating with service providers and employees. I was weak in this area. This was not healthy for practice welfare. I had to learn to ensure I put forward my interests and the interests of clients on those occasions when I represented them to third parties, including their bank and Revenue. Learning that negotiation must be conducted in a manner that preserves or, better still, improves relationships was a valuable lesson. Time management Time management is the skill that allows me to organise and do more over the course of the day. When successfully done, capacity, earnings and job satisfaction are increased. Applying lots of little tips allowed me to juggle the breadth of demands put upon me by myself and others. It shapes my day, week and year to my needs. This became apparent within my first year, when I was fully occupied working but not earning an income greater than the salary I left behind. How could this be? I was managing my time poorly. When I understood this, reorganised within the time available and addressed the issue, capacity increased and profit followed. Conclusion For each of the topics above, I sought out books and read. Many of those books are now out of print but for those interested, there are several worthwhile texts available online. Practices serving the SME spectrum tend to be smaller firms. Smaller firms think differently to larger firms. We are like a guerrilla army without the resources of the bigger firms. We don’t have the manpower or specialists for this, departments for that, deep resources financially or technically. We must therefore engage in asymmetrical activities, taking advantage of our understanding of client needs and our capacity to quickly adapt. Armed with the right skillset, everything is possible in this space but active learning is at the heart of practice advancement. Eamonn Leahy is a Director at Leahy O’Riordan Chartered Accountants.

Mar 29, 2018
Spotlight

With technology demanding an increasing portion of our attention and time, here are Chris Flack's four tips to help you unplug. Many of us will remember the first time we checked our work email in the comfort of our own home. I was sat with the TV on and it felt effortless, almost a luxury, to be able to check in while relaxing at home. Technology brought us the promise of always being connected; a world in which we could work and get jobs done outside the office. Swathes of people bought into the idea of efficiency, and yet our smart devices have now shifted our lives and culture to be one that’s always connected. In the ideal world, this would mean we would have greater flexibility and more freedom. What often happens, however, is once we have done one set of tasks in the office, work follows us home and we continue to do more. As an early adopter working in a technology consultancy, I was probably the fastest email responder in the office. The feeling of being busy often distracted me from focusing on my most important work. As the philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate”. Top tips to help you unplug I set up UnPlug in 2015 to help individuals and organisations manage their focus, their ability to switch off, and their capacity to work smarter in the digital age. Based on my experience, here are some tips to help you control your technology habits:   According to Ireland-specific data from Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey, 48% of us check our phones before going to sleep and 40% of us check our phones within five minutes of waking up. Start by keeping technology out of the bedroom and replace your phone with a traditional alarm clock; Most people agree to receive notifications for all apps. Instead, run a notification audit to assess which apps you really need to hear from. This will help ensure that you are in control of your attention instead of your phone; Changing our tech habits is hard and buy-in from the top is crucial to success. For example, Boston Consulting Group developed a global programme called “PTO” (predictable, teaming and open communications), which assessed how technology impacted work/life balance. For each new project, roadmaps were developed to show transparent working practices including collectively agreed time-off goals. As a result, the firm rose to number four on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work list in 2018; and Keep devices out of the meeting room. For example, Sinead McSweeney, Managing Director at Twitter Ireland, has a device-free policy for team meetings to encourage people to be more engaged and empathetic with one another. Chris Flack is Founder and CEO of UnPlug.

Mar 29, 2018
Spotlight

Enhance your leadership skills with Fiona Buckley's eight simple steps. Every element in business is subject to continuous change and leadership skills are not immune to this. We need to continually evolve our leadership style and approach. If you are in a leadership role for a long time, it may be time to review and adapt your style. Equally, you don’t have to be in a formal leadership role to be considered a leader and to start building your leadership repertoire. You can start honing these skills at any time, in any role. Even if you’re not in a visible leadership role, you are still leading with ideas, thought leadership, creativity and being a strong team player. Leaders exist at all levels in an organisation. Leadership trends Organisational redesigns are placing far more emphasis on the need for different leadership skills. These re-designs can involve flatter organisational structures, broader spans of control, decentralised authority, reduced layers of management, intergenerational workforces and remote and flexible working arrangements. A new type of team-focused leader is now required to support these new ways of working. Such teamwork-driven organisations cannot function with leaders who solely focus on their own organisational area; they need a collaborative leader with cross-functional thinking and knowledge. This whole concept of “collective leadership” is a newer form of leadership that matches the requirements posed by new working environments, where challenges need to be tackled by groups as opposed to individuals. There is a major generational transformation about to take place in the leadership sector with the arrival of millennials on the global leadership scene. Many millennials are in management roles already, but feel there is a lack of career development surrounding the skills they need to succeed as leaders. Millennials need proactive leadership development as part of their career and development plans. Acceleration of their professional development is key as they are our future leaders. Oversights now will hurt organisations later with insufficient succession planning. Once millennials secure executive leadership positions, the aforementioned collective leadership style will flourish. Millennials are high achievers by nature and technological innovation is their natural habitat. All this can be expected to impact their leadership styles. CEOs still perceive leadership skills as the number one skill gap and are worried that leaders aren’t ready to lead their organisations toward growth (Mercer Global Talent Trends, 2017). The lack of leadership skills is often considered to be one of the largest career inhibitors. One’s career largely depends on the ability to communicate effectively, influence, persuade, present and negotiate. These are skills that transcend all roles, organisations and sectors, and are skills that are in large demand. When presentation skills are mentioned, people imagine a person standing at the top of the room with a PowerPoint slide deck. However, you are presenting every day: in meetings, in a one-to-one conversation with your direct manager, etc. In work, you are always on and this is leadership. Sadly, these types of skills are still often referred to as “soft skills” when in reality they can be exceptionally hard skills to master. These soft skills can often be given a secondary focus in career terms with the priority placed on technical skills, but this skillset needs to become a key focus for leaders looking to progress and become better leaders. These eight essential and practical tips outline how you can start to become a better leader in your organisation:    The first step is self-awareness and analysis of strengths and weaknesses, as only then can you truly assess your development gaps. Seek feedback from those who work with you. What you think your style is and what it actually is may be fundamentally different. Take a leadership style questionnaire and/or personality assessment to review your style in an objective way. This will aid you in identifying blind spots that may be holding you back. You often may not be aware of these, but they are the largest career inhibitors. Once you know what they are, only then can you begin to address them; Take control of your own career and push for the change you want. There is a dual responsibly here and you cannot expect the organisation you work for to solely push your career path. Allow yourself to go out of your comfort zone from time to time and take on stretch projects, roles and responsibilities to allow your leadership capability to shine. Taking control by yourself is exceptionally important if your own leader does not support your development. Some organisations have a great focus on leadership development but unfortunately, other organisations still have a long way to go in this area; Seek out a mentor in your organisation. Ensure this mentor has leadership skills and a style that you admire and can learn from. Many organisations still do not have a formal mentoring programme in place, but this shouldn’t stop you from seeking out someone informally. If your organisation does have a formal mentoring programme, ensure you are placed on this programme. Equally, seek out a sponsor or someone who can champion you in your organisation and is in a more senior role to you; Avail of coaching and work on clear achievable short-term and long-term goals. If we stay in the same space, we end up in the same place. Achieving personal leadership goals are key for sense of purpose and for enhancing your potential. Again, even if your organisation does not offer coaching, seek this out personally. Coaching can keep you on track and moving towards where you see yourself as a leader. It will encourage you to ask yourself the awkward questions and help you identify these blind spots mentioned; Focus on your personal brand in the organisation. What do you want to be known for? What leadership legacy do you want to leave behind? What are your leadership values? The answers to these questions will feed into your leadership style. Remember, you can re-invent yourself as a leader at any stage; Become more of a team player. This is ultimately where leadership is heading, to embody the collective leadership style mentioned above.  As a leader, it’s time to look beyond your own function and department, and focus on the organisation holistically; Listen more. One of the biggest areas of feedback in organisations is that people feel they are not listened to. Anyone can listen more, we just need to remind ourselves to do this and learn how to actively listen better. Many leaders fall into the trap of being dictators. Your followership in organisations should substantially change if you start listening more; and Seek out a leadership development programme. Learn from others in other organisations, network and share your stories. This is how we learn best. Enhancing leadership skills is part of a journey to becoming a better leader. We will never reach the destination as we never stop learning. Fiona Buckley is a corporate trainer and coach.

Mar 29, 2018
Spotlight

Roseann Heavey shares her tips for making connections and getting the most out of networking events ahead of the Chartered Accountants Annual Conference. We read all the time about the key factors that have contributed to the business success of the world’s best leaders and decision-makers. Most will mention something about their networks with other individuals or businesses. When I took on a new role as Junior Partner in Noone Casey a few years ago, I found myself reading such articles and wondering: where should I start, and will it work? I needed to start working on my connections so I joined many different networks and attended several events but over the years, I have learned that building your network takes time. There are skills you develop that will help you grow both professionally and personally, and you will never look back. Networking is something we should all engage in, whether we own a business or are part of a wider team. More often than not, Chartered Accountants are key decision-makers and it is important that they have a skilful, reliable and loyal network they can rely on. But also, as individuals, we know that to succeed it is about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone time and time again. Networking is bound to do this and you will begin to learn things about yourself, gain confidence and acquire skills that cannot be taught. Set goals Identify desired outcomes: the first step in creating a networking goal is to identify your desired outcomes for the event. It is possible that your desired outcomes will change from one event to the next, depending on the nature of the event and the people in attendance. However, it is more likely that your networking goals will be dictated by the needs of your business – partnerships you may like to look into or identifying experts to satisfy a client request. If it is about making connections with your peers, you will have different goals. You may want to learn from the speakers or take tips back to your organisation. Either way, you need to be clear why you are attending and know leaving the event that you have achieved your goal. Trust me, you will feel great if you achieve this and it will give you the encouragement to go back again. Target the right events: after you have identified your networking goals, it is time to turn your attention toward choosing the right networking events. This is the place where a lot of business owners go wrong because they neglect the fact that not every networking event is the right fit for their business or their networking goals. For example, I attended the Annual Conference last year. A past client was speaking at the event; we reconnected and we have begun working together again this year. On other occasions, I attended events where the demographic was not right for the size of business I work with. Better planning on my part would have prevented this. Research strategic targets: this is difficult as you will not always know who is attending, but you should know if they are the right fit for you. After the event, be strategic with who you follow up with. Who can you help out? I am a firm believer in referring business when you are confident each party can deliver. Once you start helping others in their business or their teams, you will start to see the benefits. 90-second pitch Identify what is unique about what you do: when asked about what they do for a living, most people state their job title or launch into a lengthy speech describing their job duties and tasks. As accountants, this can sometimes be a conversation killer! So, make what you do sound intriguing. Start by identifying something unique about what you do or describing in a creative way the immense value you deliver by doing what you do. With some trial and error, you can easily come up with an interesting way of describing what you do. Persevere and it will feel right eventually. Use a question to create a two-way conversation: identify a question you can ask that automatically results in the other person asking a follow up question, such as: “So, how do you do that?” Try to say something to involve the other person, rather than just talking at them. Keep it simple and straight to the point: to make an effective pitch, keep it simple and manage the conversation so that you are being asked questions rather than telling about or selling yourself. The more questions you are asked, the more effective your 90-second pitch will be. Follow up and make valuable connections: there is no point attending events and taking business cards unless you follow up. This is something some people are good at and some people are very bad at. Do not be put off by follow-up emails. These people are just following the textbook rules of following up. I would suggest making a few good connections at an event and contacting these individuals, but to remain genuine and true to yourself at all times. Establishing a business relationship is important. It may take some time before business is done, so learn to have patience. Choose your connections either by seeking out those who are similar to you and whether you can see yourselves doing business together, or those that will help you develop yourself personally. Mentoring is another buzzword we hear a lot of. Again, it is difficult to find that perfect mentor, and where? Through building your networks, you will meet a wide range of individuals who all have different skills that can really contribute to you and your business. You too may get an opportunity to be a mentor for someone else through the relationships you build, which is in itself very rewarding. On a personal note, networking has truly helped me develop a strong client base. It has taken time and I have learned that business relationships are about trust. However, it has also helped my personal development through the connections I have made. Networking is a valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others, reach new clients and tell more people about your business or firm. Building a successful business takes a lot of time and commitment, so it is good to have a network of friends and acquaintances to draw energy from and keep you motivated. By surrounding yourself with people who share a similar drive and ambition, you are more likely to move forward as a group and as a person. Roseann Heavey is a Partner in Noone Casey and a member of the Strategy & Communications Committee at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Mar 29, 2018
Spotlight

Ahead of her presentation at the Chartered Accountants Ireland Annual Conference, Anne Brady reflects on what is important when building and developing a successful firm.   I set up my practice in 1992, starting from nothing and building it into what it has become today. Its success is down to a number of factors – from having staff that are both valued and supported, to being a huge advocate of technology while understanding that traditional methods such as always carrying a business card can be just as important. I started my practice from my mother’s back bedroom with just one employee after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with Stokes Kennedy Crowley, now KPMG. Clients were mainly from referrals through family and friends but as word spread, our reputation was established and we were able to move into rented accommodation and eventually, I bought my own premises. Fast forward to July 2005 and Anne Brady DFK merged with McQuillans DFK to form Anne Brady McQuillans DFK. McQuillans DFK was established by the late Ken McQuillan in the 1960s. Natalie Kelly trained with McQuillans and was subsequently appointed partner in 2003. Natalie and I have very similar core values, so the move made sense. I’m pleased to say that we have continued to go from strength to strength. Put staff first Meeting the needs of our clients is extremely important and we are committed to building strong relationships and providing quality advice. I’m often asked who comes first, the staff or clients. It’s an interesting question, but I would certainly say my staff because happy staff members look after the clients. I have a huge interest in training, with CPD being a focus within the practice. Line managers hold monthly support and supervision sessions, which give colleagues an opportunity to speak about any training or support that would benefit them. We also run a continual improvement programme so our staff can make suggestions that may improve the practice. We always take these suggestions on board and often implement changes based on them. It’s a way to show our staff that their opinions are valued and that they can shape the future of the practice. Social events are another part of achieving staff satisfaction. Our social club organises regular outings throughout the year and it gives staff members an opportunity to spend time together outside the work environment. Innovate to elevate I’m very technologically driven and like to think that we are ahead of the game in the practice when it comes to technology. We utilise the latest software to benefit our clients and have also been in ‘the cloud’ for eight years, which has allowed us to work remotely. This is a very important asset in today’s fast-paced world. It also proved very useful when we were up against heavy snow earlier this year and, despite having to close the office, we were all able to work from home so our clients received exactly the same level of service. It’s certainly something I would recommend for any successful practice. Marketing is something else that always pays off, whether it’s marketing your business or marketing yourself. Social media is an incredible tool, which allows you to instantly connect with people and promote your services. Being active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn enables you to connect with different audiences and actively engage with them. But despite being a big fan of technology, one of the simplest pieces of advice I could give is to always carry a business card. I carry one in my pocket absolutely everywhere I go – something that my family finds quite funny, but you never know when you might meet a new contact. Build your networks Another huge part of building a successful business is networking. A big part of this for me is being a member of DFK International, a worldwide association of independent accounting firms. This membership enables the practice to provide advice on international business and tax matters. Its conferences and events are held across the globe, giving members an opportunity to network, share best practice and make contacts in other countries that will benefit the firm and our clients.  Personally, I am highly involved in the association and have just taken on the role of Vice President of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. I also champion the development of young professionals and future leaders within member firms, assisting with the organisation of conferences to help equip delegates with leadership skills and competencies as they progress to a senior level. It’s important to invest in young professionals as they are the future of the profession. Give back As an advocate of women in business and achieving gender balance in the workplace, I chair the new DFK Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee and we hope to not only advance women in the workplace, but also redefine opportunities for future generations of women. Developing more female leaders is simply better for business. Companies and firms with greater gender balance outperform others in terms of profitability, winning new business and attracting and retaining talent. I also sit on the board of the Timoney Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit educational institute whose mission is to develop competent, responsible, people-centred leaders who aspire to have a deep, positive and lasting impact on people, organisations and society. I’m a great believer in leading from the front in my own organisation and strive to continually improve. Everyone can be a leader, even if it is not their official title, and I hope that in turn I inspire others to continually better themselves. The Timoney Institute is not only excellent for my own development but through its alumni association, it is also great for meeting different people from different sectors. This in turn helps me to better assist my clients. Make an impact Making an impact is essential when leading a successful business, be it writing an article or giving a presentation. It always pays back. Many years ago, I gave a presentation on selecting an integrated accounting system and eight years later, someone got in touch to ask for my advice. This shows just how simple and important it can be to make a lasting impression. Look to the horizon From day one, I have been involved in Chartered Accountants Ireland and have volunteered my time to sit on various committees. It is extremely important to not only grow a successful practice, but also to develop the accountancy profession in general. I am also a member of Toastmasters International, which helps members brush up on their public speaking skills and give a polished presentation, and I would recommend anyone to go along to Society Toastmasters, which meets every second and fourth Thursday at 7pm in Chartered Accountants House. Anne Brady is Vice President of DFK EMEA.

Mar 29, 2018
Personal Development

In an always-on world, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between work and relaxation, but here are eight tips to help you tip the scales. For many in the workforce, achieving any type of work-life balance can be a myth – especially since technology allows us to be accessible around the clock. So how do we do it? I found myself back at work after maternity leave with a 10-month old working full-time and sharing a business with my husband. I remember feeling so overwhelmed and hugely distracted. To overcome this, I devised a list of top tips for balancing work and life. STEP 1 Firstly, take a deep breath. It will all be ok. STEP 2 Work life balance doesn’t happen automatically. It involves making deliberate choices about what you want out of life. Having a roadmap plan and committing to it. Realising what is important to you and working smarter not harder to ensure you can spend your time how you want to.  STEP 3 Communication is key. I still don’t believe we talk to each other enough. You need to be open about what’s working and what’s not. Work will always be there; however, you need to have your personal life and routine in check as a strong foundation. If you feel like you’re veering off course, reach out and talk to someone. STEP 4 Set aside time for your interests, family and friends. Make a point of planning and booking time off work to do the things that are important to you. Don’t wait to see what time is left over as I can guarantee that there won’t be any. Your list of tasks will never be complete and there’s never a good time. STEP 5 Set your own parameters around what success looks like to you. Having a strong sense of who you are, your values and what drives you will help you better understand what makes you happy and to get more of that in your life.  STEP 6 Turn off your distractions. It’s learning the skill of turning off the technology and enjoying the quality time. STEP 7 It’s also important to align your goals in pursuing your passion. Those that do achieve this balance usually have a defined plan around timeframes and what they are willing to sacrifice to get what they want in the end. Don’t let the situation control you, take hold of it head on. STEP 8 The most important tip to achieving work-life balance is building your A Team, also known as your support network. People who are successful and achieve good balance have a strong support network who help them through the tough times. Sorcha Pollack is an Audit Senior at EY Ireland.

Mar 06, 2018
Personal Development

Acknowledging our vulnerabilities and improving our self-awareness can allow us to succeed in our personal and professional lives. “What are your strengths and weaknesses” is a question frequently asked at interviews and one that interviewees are often least prepared to answer. While few have difficulty rhyming off strengths, describing one’s weaknesses or vulnerabilities is another matter. Doing so requires a level of disclosure that few of us are willing to make to ourselves, much less to others.  As Abraham Maslow, American psychologist who is known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, said, “We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that would cause us…to make us feel inferior, weak…We protect ourselves and our ideal image of ourselves by repression and similar defences”. However, research shows that vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. We connect to others through vulnerabilities. They are key to our self-awareness and how we manage ourselves socially.  This article is designed to equip you with some means to identify and explore those vulnerabilities and improve your self-awareness.     Focus on the here and now Begin with noticing and self-reflecting. When interacting with others, you should slow yourself down and take notice of your emotions, thoughts and behaviours as situations unfold. Try to concentrate on what is happening to you in the moment. Studies show that we are able to concentrate on up to four voices at one time. One of those voices should be our own.  The ability to focus on the present can and should be practiced regularly by using mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is simply concentrating on the present moment and focusing on one element to keep you in that moment, such as your breathing. Through mindfulness practice, we learn not to engage with passing thoughts but rather to observe them and take notice of recurring negative thoughts that may be affecting us. By practicing mindfulness privately, we develop skills that we can call on to ground ourselves when we feel stressed or unfocused. These skills help us to avoid being distracted by anticipatory thoughts and give us the ability to stay focused when circumstances demand.  Numerous apps are available to help develop or improve concentration skills. Headspace is one such option. Thinking errors How do we identify emotional or cognitive barriers to self-awareness? Be on the lookout for ‘thinking errors’ in your internal dialogues. These are harmful thinking patterns that may habitually hold us hostage so that we behave at the will of others or as victims of circumstance. Some examples of these include: ‘Awfulisation’: “That was the worst interview ever. I was awful.”; Blame-throwing: “It’s all his fault, he should have highlighted the difference.”; Demands: “He has to listen to me because this report is late”, “She should have pointed that out, she knew it was important.”; Extreme thinking: “she never listens”, “he’s always late” Globalising: “I failed my exam. That proves I’m a failure.”; Personalisation: “If I ask my manager for support, he’ll think I’m incompetent”. Such thinking errors should be intercepted and challenged by considering their usefulness. Are these beliefs helpful? Are they true? Is there evidence to support them?  Group dynamics While mindful meditation and self-reflection are useful tools for improving self-awareness, our reflection in other people is more informative. When working in a team, it is important to stay aware of how others react to our behaviours. Noticing such reactions provides us with valuable feedback. Active listening and observation can help us to recognise and then adjust any negative behaviours of our own.  A simple tool called the PFAT scan can help here. With it, we pay attention to: physical body reactions in other members of the group. Are they blushing, sweating, fidgeting, clenching their teeth or fists? others’ feelings suggested through their mannerisms or behaviours. Are they defensive, anxious, worried, bored, tense, challenged, or angry? the appearance of negative body language. Are they retreating or lunging forward? Are they stammering or yelling?; and  where their thoughts are focused. Are they speaking on task or are they defending their position, discrediting others, and redeeming themselves?    To gain greater insight into our relational habits, we should pay attention to group dynamics, focusing not only on how we think and what we observe but also on how we feel during teamwork or group work. Certain situations or people may trigger negative reactions within us. We may discover that what we are experiencing is the mirroring of past behavioural patterns seen in close family members. We should also seek feedback from trusted people seniors in your company and peers. Receiving such feedback openly and sharing our vulnerabilities can prove edifying. By accepting our vulnerabilities with reasonable self-compassion, we can start to accommodate them and to build on our strengths. March EI exercise Practice mindfulness and the reflective exercises described in this article.  Paul Price is is an Executive Coach at Dynamic Connections.

Mar 06, 2018
Management

As a mum of three and International Treasurer for Intel Corporation with direct reports around the globe, Naomi Holland FCA is responsible for a lot of moving parts. In this article, she explains her management style, her strategy for continuing delivery of excellence, and observations from her non-executive experience. When Naomi Holland took a career break in 2008 to focus on raising her young family, she had already made a big impact at Intel. The PwC-trained Chartered Accountant had joined the organisation’s Finance Department in 1996 before rising to the position of Treasurer for Intel Corporation’s EMEA business. Seven years later, Naomi re-joined the multinational as International Treasurer with responsibility for all treasury-related activity outside the US – a move that was both challenging and rewarding. “Like all full-time working parents, it’s difficult to maintain balance between work and family but I was fortunate in that my ‘return to work’ challenge was greatly reduced given I was re-joining Intel as opposed to a new organisation,” she said. “Strong homecare structures and military-style organisation and planning skills are of paramount importance, as are strong management skills at work,” she said.  Naomi’s current role involves the investment of Intel’s surplus cash, foreign exchange risk management, treasury operations, regulatory compliance, structured financing and supporting the business more generally. This requires a great deal of international travel and working within different time zones, but she is thankful for the flexibility the role offers her – despite its many demands. Naomi is also hopeful that progress on increasing female participation in the workforce generally will continue into the future. “This demands access to quality, affordable childcare and flexible working arrangements. Both Government and employers have crucial roles to play in the provision of these.” Doing less with less Flexibility is a central theme of Naomi’s role. A current mantra in Intel’s treasury department is to do ‘less with less’ by re-engineering, streamlining and, importantly, eliminating activities to balance value creation with resource and cost realities. “This requires us to consider increasing our risk appetite in certain areas,” she said. “We also maintain our focus on supporting Intel’s growth strategy more generally but notably in emerging markets, where it has substantial manufacturing and R&D facilities in China, Malaysia, Vietnam and India. These operating and regulatory environments continue to evolve and always have the potential to surprise as they react to changes in economic and political events – both locally and globally. Then a separate and more immediate focus of mine is working through the implications of recent US tax reform,” she adds. Management style Managing teams in China, India, Israel and the Netherlands while supporting Intel’s business strategy takes a lot of co-ordination, but Naomi’s clear management style leaves no room for misunderstanding. First, she ensures that Intel’s international treasury organisation operates as a single team and reflects Intel’s overarching business strategy. “I value structured engagement and clear, timely communication,” she says. “This applies to engagements with my team, the Treasurer, and my internal and external business partners, customers and suppliers. It’s also of huge importance to me that I set the right tone for the organisation, which I describe as continuing delivery of excellence with an awareness that people are my best asset. Then, it’s about leading from the front, providing facetime – which I prioritise over other forms of communication – where appropriate, encouraging my directors to engage me in challenges early, remaining adaptable, re-evaluating priorities and right-sizing resources as required.” Boardroom observations Naomi has extensive board experience both in her capacity as a senior executive and in various non-executive director roles. Based on her experience, there are a number of items which she views as key to enabling board success. “First, increased globalisation means successful boards must fully comprehend evolving trends and challenges within their organisation’s ecosystem. This includes global political, regulatory and industry-focused issues. The board’s strategic goals should reflect these and, of course, a flexible approach to re-evaluating these goals must be maintained at all times. “Second, it’s now imperative that boards are structured to capitalise on the augmented value created by ensuring appropriate diversity within its membership. And third, a board’s ability to manage the overall communications challenge is vital. It needs to be timely, effective, honest and balanced,” adds Naomi. “We operate in a world of open, frequent, complex and often unintended communication. While we have always understood this as it applies to our personal lives, it’s imperative that we apply this principle to our corporate lives.” Naomi Holland FCA is the International Treasurer for Intel Corporation. This article was originally published in Vision, the e-zine for members in business. Download your copy now.

Feb 19, 2018
Personal Impact

Soft-ex CEO, Ian Sparling FCA, explains his proactive approach to innovation as a non-tech guy leading a tech company. Innovation looms large in Ian Sparling’s lexicon. The Soft-ex CEO is a firm believer in the absolute need for constant innovation not just for a company’s success, but for its very survival. “I look at who our competitors were 10 years ago and I can’t see any of them now. They have either died, morphed into something else or were acquired,” he says. 10 years ago, Soft-ex was predominantly selling on-premises software applications to customers. “Now, over 75% of our revenue is from software as a service (SaaS) and we are selling directly to telcos rather than selling enterprise solutions through channel partners,” adds Sparling. “We now have a completely different business model and if we had stuck to the original model, we would be dead.” Closer to the coalface Sparling took a traditional route to Chartered Accountancy, qualifying with a B.Comm from University College Dublin in 1987. He followed that with the UCD Diploma in Professional Accounting before training and qualifying with PwC in Dublin and Hong Kong. On his return to Ireland in 1993, Sparling joined the Tony O’Reilly-led Fitzwilton Group as Group Financial Controller. “It was a very exciting and high profile place to be,” he recalls. “As a Plc it had an annual turnover of €1 billion, was heavily focused on M&A and I was fortunate to have worked at Group level in the midst of the action.” Having spent his entire career to that point either in practice or at corporate headquarters level, Sparling felt the need to get closer to the coalface and gain a different and more direct type of business experience. “The opportunity in Soft-ex came up and I really liked it. I had no idea about, or experience of, the software business and this was a great place to start learning about it.” Crisis management That was 2001 and three international venture capital investors had just come on board. The company had offices in seven countries and was “quite buzzy at the time”, as Sparling recalls. “Then a whole range of things went wrong in the business, as they did for a whole range of businesses in the early 2000s. It became a massive rebuild and restructuring job. It took us until 2006 to stabilise the business.” That was the year when Sparling became CEO, having joined as CFO in 2003. He describes the dozen years since as a “rollercoaster of innovation. I refer to innovation in its broadest definition – a software company might see it as technological, but I don’t. I see it as taking a holistic view of the whole business.” “My grandfather used to say: ‘to live is to change, to live long is to change often’. As a small, internationally-trading company that builds sophisticated and complex software platforms for telcos, we need to constantly innovate across all aspects of our business. If you fail to innovate and differentiate you will, over time, wither away.” Sources of inspiration That innovation has manifested itself both in the evolution of the business and in the solution set itself. “We look at what our customers want,” says Sparling. “But we have to be mindful that they can lead you in the wrong direction. “We continually look at what our competitors are doing, both near-side and those outside our broad industry sector, and we marry this with our own market vision,” he adds. “We adopt the overlap as the baseline for our strategic planning. But we have to be careful because a small company, with limited resources, can’t afford to get it wrong too often.” In 2014, Sparling sold the business to a US group and this has presented a range of potential opportunities to further grow and develop.  “While our focus for growth is very much on the US market, we are also constrained by the specialised nature of our offering and the narrow global addressable market, i.e. telcos. As a result we are now integrating our solution set with our parent company’s portfolio offering in a bid to open opportunities within the large enterprise space. It’s a somewhat risky and an unproven model but if we get it right, we will substantially change the profile of our revenue model.” The lack of growth by acquisition has frustrated Sparling, and this continues to be on his agenda, “I’m optimistic that within the next 18 months, there will be progress on this front,” he concludes. Ian Sparkling FCA is the CEO of Soft-ex. This article was originally published in Vision, the e-zine for members in business. Download your copy now.

Feb 19, 2018
Management

LinkedIn’s John Herlihy FCA recently hosted the second Women’s Initiative business breakfast on the future of work. In this article, he reflects on the debate which covered everything from the rise of artificial intelligence to the renaissance of creative skills. The biggest challenge for leaders in 2018 may not be disruptive technologies in themselves, but rather asking the ‘right’ questions: how can this disruption be best harnessed for you, your team, your customers, your organisation and ultimately, society itself? Skills 4.0 The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the need not only for upskilling, but for skills that barely existed before – especially as 65% of next generation jobs do not exist today. The World Economic Forum predicted that, by 2020, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will result in a net loss of over five million jobs across 15 developed nations. Yet, six million cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled. Better skills-matching and up-skilling may help capture these new economic opportunities, which are driven by better technology and data. Looking over the last three years, the fastest growing skill on LinkedIn is ‘big data analytics’. In fact, if you look at roles advertised in Europe in the last year alone, you’ll see that demand for machine learning has grown by almost 300% while ‘big data’ has doubled and the ‘Internet of Things’ has seen a whopping increase of almost 400%. New trends emerge which challenge our thinking, but what skills do we really need? From Audi to Volkswagen, Germany is a country many people associate with the automotive industry. However, we can see that the most in-demand automotive skill is not related to manufacturing. It is in fact the programming languages of C and C++. This trend is driven in no small way by the rise of – and increased investment in – the driverless car. Reading, writing... data? We have often heard that data is the “new oil” for companies, but what does that mean for us as individuals? It is clear to me that data literacy will become a third pillar after the ability to read and write. Why? Because data – and understanding it – is not just for data scientists. In the collaborative working world that has emerged, we will all need to understand the relevance of data – what is says, how we can apply common sense to augment it, and how we can leverage that in our daily work. The gig economy Some 40% of workers in the US are classified as contingent workers. This trend evolved alongside the growth of the so-called ‘gig’ economy (names like TaskRabbit, Uber and Deliveroo spring to mind), but it’s not just about the Ubers of the world. The scaling effect of technology combined with a desire for more flexible working arrangements means ‘white collar’ opportunities are growing fast in the gig economy. Catalant, for example, provides on-demand business expertise from over 40,000 MBA-level educated graduates and consultants. The 100-year life Human age expectancy is growing, with people routinely living to 100 years. This will impact on a range of sectors, from education to health. The three traditional stages of life – education, work and retirement – will be less defined and the lines will blur, but one thing is certain: we will all work longer. This means that we will have to develop our very own ‘Swiss Army knife of skills’. We will achieve this through online and lifelong learning, which will help ensure that we can adapt and have fulfilling careers regardless of age. What do you see as the future of work? Or is it perhaps already here? This article was originally published in Vision, the e-zine for members in business. Download your copy now.

Feb 12, 2018
Management

Even the smallest firm can punch above its weight with the right marketing strategy, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Marketing presents challenges for all SMEs. It takes time, costs money, diverts staff away from your ‘core’ business, and more than likely places you firmly outside your comfort zone. As an accountancy professional, your comfort zone is – presumably – accountancy. You may baulk at the idea of writing a blog or press release, setting up a social media account or conducting a media interview but if you own your business, these are important skills. They will not only help you communicate with existing clients, they will also contribute to your business growth. Setting strategic goals Before engaging in marketing, you need to be clear why you are doing it. What do you want to achieve? Is your aim to ‘upsell’ to existing clients? Or attract new clients? Do you want to position yourself as an expert in a specific field? Do you need to recruit skilled staff? There is no point in marketing just for marketing’s sake. Any promotional activities you undertake should be aligned to your overall business strategy. If your goal is to attract five new clients each quarter, for example, your marketing plan must contribute to that. Positioning yourself Once you have defined your goals, you need to think about how you position yourself to achieve them. How do you currently describe your business and does that description make sense? What sets you apart from your competitors? What are the qualities and services you want to be associated with? Who is your ideal customer? A surprising amount of companies – big and small – are very bad at describing what exactly they do. There is a tendency to go heavy on the jargon when it comes to company descriptions. For example, which of the following do you think is more likely to appeal to target customers: We are a cutting-edge consultancy, delivering innovative and automated solutions, integrated across diverse platforms and scalable for all sectors; or We provide user-friendly accountancy software and financial management advice for SMEs. When you are writing your company description, think of your target audience. If I am a potential customer, I don’t want to be bamboozled by jargon; I just want to know that you have what I need. Getting started Once you have set your goals and settled on the best possible way to describe yourself, you need to spread the word. The basic starting point for any marketing campaign is to make sure you have an effective website. If you have a tight budget, you can get a simple site designed and built at a very affordable cost. Indeed, if you are even mildly IT literate, you can have a go at building a basic site yourself using a platform like WordPress.com. A good business site is important because it is the starting point for all other marketing and PR activities. If done right, it can become your central repository for content for social media, marketing emails, digital ad campaigns, media relations and more. It also serves as your online shop window. Your site should be SEO and mobile-optimised. If I have just lost you with those two terms, it simply means that: Your site should appear high up in the results when people search for relevant terms online (SEO stands for ‘search engine optimisation’). For example, if someone conducts a Google search for “accountancy firms in Cavan” and your company is based in Cavan, your website should appear on the first page of search results; and If someone visits your website using a smartphone, it should look and function just as well as when it is accessed from a desktop computer. Most small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have little time or inclination to update their websites regularly. So design your site in a way that means most content is static (e.g. who you are, what you do, how to contact you), but have one section (your ‘news’ or ‘blog’ section) that is updated at regular intervals. Social media Once your website is up and running, you need to decide what other marketing tools to use. When it comes to social media, think of where your target customers ‘hang out’. For accountancy firms with limited time and money, I would suggest setting up just one or two social media profiles initially, starting with LinkedIn and/ or Twitter. LinkedIn is a professional networking platform, on which you can have both a personal profile and a company or organisational profile. I recommend establishing both. As an SME owner myself, I have found LinkedIn useful for making business connections and identifying potential collaborators. I can point to a number of business ‘wins’ that came about directly because of my interactions on LinkedIn. Twitter attracts lots of negative publicity, but it is a useful tool for disseminating news about your business, keeping up with the latest trends in your sector and getting on the radar of target media and clients. It is a very immediate platform and, to be used successfully, requires daily monitoring and lots of interaction. Don’t set up a profile unless you can commit to that. Email marketing Another cost-effective way to promote your business is through email marketing. This simply means building a contacts database (while making sure you adhere to best practice in data protection) and then, sending regular email updates to your contacts. These can be quarterly or monthly e-newsletters about your company, or more personalised emails promoting special offers, discounts or seasonal greetings. MailChimp is a free online tool that gives several options for designing, sending and saving template emails and e-newsletters. It also stores and makes it easy to manage your contacts database, and tracks the results of any marketing emails you send. Creating content Once you have a website, social media profiles and marketing emails in place, you need content to share on them. This is where the idea of your website as a ‘central repository’ comes into play. My advice is to publish one or two news posts (or blogs) every week on your website and then, share the links to these on your social media and in your marketing emails. The topics for your posts should be aligned to your strategic goals. So, if you want to be associated with tech solutions for accountancy, write posts about that topic. Publishing these posts on your site and sharing them on social media will enhance your SEO rankings. Over time, if done correctly, this means that people searching online for terms like “tech solutions for my business accounts” will be directed very promptly to your site. Measuring results Marketing success doesn’t (usually) happen overnight. It takes time to see what works best and contributes most towards achieving your goals. Measuring the impact of your marketing efforts is really important to make sure you get it right. All the digital tools I have mentioned here have in-built analytics that are easy to access and use. Most important, however, is to frequently revisit your business goals and assess how your marketing activities are helping you achieve them. Other tools to consider Apart from the digital tools mentioned, there are lots more options to consider including advertising (both digital and traditional), sponsorships, sectoral events, and more. There’s also the whole world of media relations to think about – but that’s for another day!

Feb 06, 2018
Innovation

Disruptors can now leverage the cloud to up-end entire markets overnight. How can your organisation protect itself? Software is eating the world. This was the message from Marc Andreessen, published in a seminal Wall Street Journal article in 2011. His powerful message was that a new type of company would build “real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses”. He argued that these companies would be software companies delivering services through cloud-based infrastructure.  Marc founded one of the most successful Silicon Valley venture capital firms – Andreesen Horovitz – and was an early stage investor in emerging companies including Facebook, Skype and Twitter. The core of his argument was that the cloud helps to reduce a start-up’s costs. It facilitates faster go-to-market. It enables dramatically quicker scaling. In other words, a start-up can come up with a new idea and deliver it for a few hundred dollars a month on a hosted cloud service without making any investment in hardware or IT support services. Before the cloud, a similar service might have cost north of six figures per month to host and taken months or years to bring to the market. The impact of the cloud has been startling and pervasive. Now a start-up can come up with a great idea and scale with remarkable speed. Many industries have felt the impact faster than others. Retailers can tell you all about the impact of Amazon while traditional media has seen marketing dollars move at a frightening rate to new kids on the block like Google and Facebook, threatening their very existence. The examples are legion but the journey of disruption intermediated by cloud technologies has only started. No industry is safe. It only takes one smart start-up to spot a new, compelling way to deliver a service and within a few months, you may well face an existential threat in your own business. So, what can you do? I want to make the argument for innovation as a strategic response to changes wrought by the cloud. A common misperception But first, a quick clarification. Innovation is frequently conflated with technology. After all, most of us have become acclimated to regular updates from Amazon, Samsung or Apple launching the latest consumer innovations in the form of devices and services, all of which falls roughly into the innovation bucket in the public consciousness. Innovation is not a synonym for technology, however. New technologies are the outcome of innovation, which is an emerging yet practical management science that seeks out the customer rather than the research agency. It looks to test ideas in the market rather than the boardroom. Innovation is not expensive. It is quick, simple, low-risk and inexpensive. And that might come as a surprise. It is grounded in these straightforward steps: Identify a customer problem; Develop a service that solves that customer problem; and Monetise the solution. It couldn’t be easier, right? Well, not exactly. The concepts are simple but take focus and practice. It’s a little like golf. If you have ever been bitten by the bug, you will probably remember hitting one or, at most, two nice shots in your first round. It takes practice and focus to become adept – not to mention a few headaches along the way. Innovation is the same. You will almost certainly see quick results and quick wins, but you will need to work hard to build a consistent and repeatable pipeline of innovations. Your starting point The question for almost every organisation is: where do you start your innovation journey? Here are a few tips to get you started: Be pragmatic: to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, don’t start with the unknown unknowns. Focus on areas where you have a reasonable idea of the nature and scope of the challenge. Look for a quick win, build organisational confidence and develop velocity from there; Keep it lean: keep your innovation focus narrow and lean. Keep costs low and look for evidence in the market before you take it further; Don’t reinvent the wheel: do your research and look for ideas and approaches used elsewhere that you could leverage in your own business; Train your team: get your staff trained up to understand innovation techniques and practices; and Innovate from the top: innovation must be supported from the very top of the organisation. The CEO must give at least 45 minutes every week to innovation management. Back to the cloud And finally, a few quick ideas to get you thinking about the role the cloud could play role in your organisation. Orchestrator: can you make use of existing cloud services or apps together with your organisation’s capabilities to create new services? Data: do you have lots of data? Data is the lifeblood of many new offerings in the artificial intelligence and machine learning space. Many companies don’t have enough data to ‘train’ their artificial intelligence. Can you leverage this raw material to create new partnerships? Incubator/open innovation: do you have capital and a strong management team? Could you open your business to start-ups by providing work space, capital and management expertise? By opening your business up to the start-up community, you can seek to identify the start-ups that might disrupt your business and invest in them. Embracing uncertainty Innovation is never comfortable. It has uncertain outcomes that you can rarely foresee. Few managers are comfortable with backing uncertain outcomes; it has traditionally been career limiting. But the pace of change brought about by innovation and supported by cloud technologies requires managers to come up with new strategies. And as the cloud continues to facilitate the disruption of one business after another, innovation may be the umbrella you are looking for, or better still, it may help you to identify the silver lining. David O'Leary is a Partner at DOL Associates, which helps businesses grow through innovation and digital strategy.

Feb 06, 2018

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