Articles

Personal Development

Our drive to move forward changes daily – sometimes hourly! How do we get a grip on our motivation when it sometimes seems easier to do nothing at all? By Paul Price Last week, it took you one hour to read a thirty-page document, and you easily retained all the key points. Today, a similar document takes all morning and you retain almost nothing. Why? What is it that fuels our concentration? And why, even at times when we know we ‘have to’ perform, does it evade us? This seemingly fickle ‘fuel’ that drives our concentration is called motivation. Coined as the ‘master aptitude’ by Daniel Goleman, motivation is, perhaps surprisingly, the part of EQ that is most manageable. But, before we set about trying to master our motivation, let’s first get a better sense of what it is.  What motivates us? Motivation is a combination of drive and effort; passion and commitment. It is what propels us towards our goals. Plato likened it to a chariot pulled by two horses, one spirited and wild, the other trained and noble. If we are to harness our passions we first not only need to gain awareness of them, but we also need to understand them. This is part of our continuing quest to expand our self-awareness.   We are, of course, also motivated by external factors. The most obvious one being financial reward. At work, salary increases, bonuses, share options, and promotions can be strong motivators until our physiological and safety (survival) needs are fully satisfied. In the long run, however, it is intrinsic motivators, those fuelled by our passions, that will sustain our performance. Positive intrinsic motivators include the six Cs: challenge, curiosity, control, cooperation, competition and commendation. Also, there are negative intrinsic motivators we should watch out for, including: fear, shame, guilt, envy and others. The watch-word for these is: ‘have to’; whenever we notice ourselves saying we ‘have to’ do something, we should examine our motivations.  Know your reasons for doing what you do It’s important to start paying attention to your experiences. Try to gain an early understanding of what inspires you and what makes you happy. These moments will help you discover your core values. Learning what you truly value in life will help you to do things for the right reasons. Simply knowing you’re doing what you want do rather than what you have to do will strengthen your resolve. How to tweak our motivators Let’s look at the simplified maths of motivation and performance:  performance = ability x motivation  where motivation = desire x commitment   and ability = aptitude x learning where learning = cognitive change x motivation. We recognise that the common denominator of almost every aspect of performance is motivation, and motivation we can master. Even aptitude and desire, which seem fixed by nature, can be modified over time by moving to a job that suits us better, a job we enjoy, a job in which we can actualise our potential and find what social psychologists call ‘flow’.  Taking this into account, the motivation equation can be tweaked as follows:  Optimal work performance =  right fit x right attitude. Find the career that fits Finding a job that truly suits requires matching our aptitudes and desires with what we do. Done purposefully, this solves half the motivation equation. But finding such a match will likely require some measured experimentation. Try to discover early what makes you happy at work and create a career plan to maximise those aspects. As a young accountant, I tried insolvency and corporate finance in public practice before a stint in financial reporting finally led to venture capital, where I found a job I loved.  Share your career aspirations with your employers and confide in professional mentors and peers. Let them help you in this process.  Know your passions, stay committed Doing a job you love certainly makes commitment easier. Charles Handy, an organisational behaviour expert, recommended that organisations replace their mission statements with ‘passion statements’. To excel as individuals, I believe we should do the same. However, shaping our career path to align with our values does not ensure that we will stay consistently positive. That requires special discipline and, of course, some self-compassion. Consider yourself a work-in-progress, always noticing, always learning.  Top tips to help keep you motivated Engage fully with tasks, stay emotionally present and open to others; Seek connection, nurture affiliation and celebrate others’ achievements;  Be curious, seek feedback and learn continuously; Pursue information to reduce uncertainty; Notice ways to improve; innovate, be entrepreneurial and take calculated risks; Act purposefully and be ready to make reasonable sacrifice to reach important goals. Celebrate your own successes too and, above all, always retain a sense of humour.

Jul 03, 2018
Careers Development

Join the Leinster Society in CA House on the 5th of July for a complimentary breakfast briefing on the results of the Annual salary survey. Release of annual salary survey findings with an informative session on the importance of digital branding for employers and employees by leading digital marketing speaker. The briefing will also cover remuneration levels, flexibility, work life balance and the impact or the introduction of new technologies to the profession. Book now: https://bit.ly/2I3vdMQ 

Jun 20, 2018
Business law

Jeremy Twomey writes Meeting General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance requirements has become a top priority for Irish businesses over recent months and accountancy practices are no different. Recognising that GDPR implementation presents both specific challenges and opportunities for accountants in practice, the Practice Consulting team has also been busy both offering advice and providing practical guidance in this area for our members. This guidance can be found at  https://www.charteredaccountants.ie/knowledge-centre/guidance/gdpr/gdpr-resources and includes the following: GDPR 8 Step Guide; Explanation of GDPR terms; GDPR Template Outline Procedures to be tailored and used by an accountancy firm; and Example paragraphs for a client engagement letter addressing GDPR and a template privacy statement. From talking with our members in practice over recent weeks, it is evident that practitioners are at different stages on their journey to GDPR compliance. While it may appear a daunting exercise at the outset, the process of becoming GDPR ready can be broken down into a few key practical steps. With this in mind, in this article, I am going to outline the key points to achieve GDPR implementation from our 8 Step Guide: 1.  Raise GPPR awareness As a starting point on your GDPR journey, the partners and staff at your firm need to be fully aware of the Regulation, the work to be undertaken to ensure compliance, the likely problems that may arise and any budgetary implications. A basic step that can be undertaken in-house at your firm is a GDPR awareness presentation for all the staff. Your clients also have to comply with GDPR, so it is worthwhile checking that they are aware of these changes, to tell them of their GDPR obligations and how your processes may be changing. Such support may be an ‘added value’ opportunity for your firm to assist your clients. 2.  Appoint someone senior to oversee the process & resource this appropriately Your firm should appoint someone internally to take control of understanding GDPR and how it will affect your practice. It is essential that this a senior member of staff who will take responsibility for overseeing the GDPR compliance process at your firm. While it is expected that the majority of the work in relation to meeting the requirements of GDPR can be undertaken internally, a project team may be required, which may include external support and assistance on certain issues. Hence, it is vital that reasonable funding and resources are set aside to achieve your GDPR requirements. It is currently envisaged that most accountancy firms will not be required to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO). It is, however, recommended that you still appoint someone to be responsible for data protection within the firm going forward, but give them a title other than DPO (i.e. “Data Privacy Lead”). 3.  Review and update existing information and cyber security measures Having comprehensive levels of information and cyber security is a key step towards building a resilient organisation and ensuring GDPR compliance. It is therefore recommended that members should review their existing security measures and update as necessary. Both controllers and processors are required under the Regulation to implement “appropriate technical and organisational measures” to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risks that are presented by the processing of personal information. Such measures are described as including: Pseudonymisation and encryption of data (The use of secure portals to share documents is also of benefit); The ability to ensure ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of processing systems and services; The ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident; and A process for regularly testing, accessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures for ensuring the security of the processing. Detailed listings of examples of both practical physical and technical security measures to aid GDPR compliance at your firm are included in the full version of our 8 Step Guide as published on the Institute website. It is important to remember that managing cyber risk is not simply about managing data within your firm. Therefore, it becomes necessary to document the security risks from your supply chain (e.g. cloud service provider), as well as your own organisation. 4.  Map your data With the many potential pitfalls of non-compliance to GDPR, taking action to map any gaps in relation to the personal data your firm holds is critical. The first step is to get started by scoping the problem and mapping the data flows associated with your firm. It involves identifying, understanding and mapping out the data flows into and out of the organisation. As the data map evolves, you should be able to identify the flow of data, as well as gaps in required contracts and consents for processing data under the GDPR, and risks in security measures etc. that will need to be prioritised and resolved to ensure compliance. This requirement for data mapping is quite far reaching when you think about it. A typical accountancy practice possesses the following: accounting and tax software, audit software, payroll software, practice management systems, network drives and, of course, paper accounting, tax, company secretarial and audit files. This review will also need to extend to the many individual devices on which information is stored (e.g. laptops, desktops, tablets, phones and memory sticks). Finally, it is important to emphasise that, when completing your data mapping, GDPR compliance is only required for personal data that you hold. Company data is, for example, beyond the scope of the regulation, however your data mapping exercise may have an added benefit of identifying efficiencies that you can implement at your firm for non-personal data as well. 5.  Review your contracts with clients and suppliers As the GDPR imposes new obligations on data controllers and data processors, you will need to make sure you understand your status and your responsibilities with regard to both client data and firm data. At the very least, firm contracts will need to be updated to reflect the requirements of the GDPR. Accountancy firms should review their existing contracts with their clients, suppliers and sub-contractors to identify whether the accountancy firm is the data controller or data processor of any personal data it processes under the different contracts. This involves identifying which party ultimately determines the purpose and means of processing data. It is of vital importance that you satisfy yourself that your firm is correctly assigned the role of either data controller or processor (with matching appropriate requirements/liabilities) before signing any contract with your client or supplier. Remember that entering into a contract on the wrong basis may potentially open both you and your firm to unnecessary requirements/liabilities that may be difficult to overturn. More detailed guidance on each of these areas is included in the full 8 Step Guide, while Section 5 of our Outline Policies and Procedures provides advice on your firm’s likely status as either a Data Controller or Processor for a variety of possible assignments that you may undertake. Both of these documents can be found on the Institute website under GDPR resources. 6.  Employment contracts & information for your employees As with existing legislation in this area, under GDPR, certain information must be supplied to employees before their personal data is collected and processed by your firm. The information will typically be provided in the form of a notice to job candidates, and a further privacy policy will be supplied to successful job applicants as part of their on-boarding induction to the firm (typically included in an Employee Handbook along with other firm policies). It is also important to remember that, for the processing of employees’ personal data, where possible, the employer should rely on performance of the employment contract as the legal basis for processing, rather than consent. Consent is a weaker legal basis for such processing, as it can for example be easily withdrawn by the data subject Finally, do not forget to review (and redraft as necessary) employment contracts to update any data protection references or sections to comply with GDPR. 7.  Draft/update data protection policies and controls to meet the new requirements The GDPR introduces the principle of ‘accountability’. This means that all organisations must not only ensure they are compliant with the GDPR, but be in a position to prove this too. The best way to prove this is to document your data protection policies and procedures. We suggest that your firm’s GDPR policies and procedures should include, but not be limited to, the following (Outline policies in several of these areas are included in “Outline GDPR Policies and Procedures” on our website): Who is responsible for GDPR at your firm and what are the reporting lines? Data Processing Your policies in this area should detail the categories of personal data collected by your firm and the purpose for which it is collected. In addition, these policies should detail your firm’s role as a Data Controller and also instances when you act as a Data Processor, together with your responsibilities in fulfilling these roles. Data Subject Rights Your firm will need to have specific policies and procedures in place to ensure the rights of your data subjects are upheld under GDPR and that you have adequate processes and resources to meet the requirements of the Regulation. Specific subject rights areas requiring defined policies and procedures include: Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs); Right of erasure (Right to be forgotten); The right to restrict processing; The right to object to processing; and The right to data portability Some of these rights may not be enforceable by the data subject where data is held under legitimate purpose.   Data Governance Example areas of data governance to be considered for inclusion in your GDPR related policies and procedures include the following: Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), Privacy by Design and Privacy Notices, Document Retention, Security and Breaches. 8.  Staff training and ongoing compliance While not all staff will need to understand the GDPR in its entirety at your firm, each of your staff should at least be aware that data protection is an issue for everyone. For staff who do not deal with personal data, training can be limited to an annual (refresher) course on information and cyber security. On the other hand, for staff who regularly deal with personal data, training should focus on security over data, plus an awareness of the firm GDPR policies and procedures on a regular basis (at a minimum annually or more often if the need arises). Again this can be tailored to their particular role and responsibilities. Ongoing testing Testing in the areas of IT Security and other key aspects of GDPR compliance (e.g. audits of records held for constant compliance) should be formalised into a regular ongoing programme of work at your firm, as well as outsourced providers. Cyber security is a rapidly evolving area. Meeting best practice in May 2018 does not mean you will maintain compliance over the months and years ahead; you will need to keep this area under review. Conclusion At first glance, the process to ensuring GDPR compliance may appear to be a massive undertaking and a drain on resources for your firm. It is important to bear in mind that most accountancy firms and small businesses are in the same boat as you, and that by breaking down the required steps into clear manageable stages as above, you too can achieve GDPR Compliance in a timely manner. Should you need further assistance, Practice Consulting has also developed a half day consultation offering. One of our consultants can visit your firm and offer practical advice and guidance on how to tailor your procedures, make progress on your GDPR journey, and meet key compliance milestones. If you have any question in relation to GDPR, please feel free to contact either Conal Kennedy or myself in Practice Consulting.

Jun 01, 2018
Spotlight

To succeed as a true leader, one must embody a set of core traits and behaviours which can be developed through self-awareness and a willingness to grow. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said: “A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create”. This is worth reflecting on as we consider what we mean by leadership, how we prepare for it, and how we embrace it when, finally, the prize is ours. Technical competence is at the core of the Chartered Accountant – our discipline is an exacting one, and the training we undertake is rigorous and demanding. Rightly so, as many of us embark on careers in which we interpret and apply standards, guidance and codes of governance; we craft disclosures and market statements; we give the true and fair view of financial performance. Those of us who take our discipline into the non-accounting workplace bring with us that technical mindset, which provides a framework for how we approach the situations and challenges we face. Busting the myths How do we navigate the path to leadership? It is rarely something we are called upon to exhibit at the start of our career. Instead, it is something that comes later. My personal experience is of a career that happened in three phases – do, manage and lead. These are very different phases requiring very different competencies and, more importantly, dispositions. The last is perhaps the most challenging for the technically competent as to ‘lead’ is a role, an attitude, a presentation, and a way of being as opposed to a way of ‘doing’. Leadership is formed in the realm of emotional and behavioural intelligence, not in the realm of technical competence. Leading is not about authority, instruction or ordering, nor always being out front. It is a role that you embody by empowering, enabling, influencing, inspiring and impacting. To do this, you need vision and purpose. You need to see something bigger than yourself that others can identify with, believe in and follow. Starting from a technical place, how do we equip ourselves for leadership (assuming that we want to lead and know why we want it)? I will come back to the ‘why we want it’ later, as this is probably the most important determinant of just how good you can be as a leader. Don’t fall for those myths that are peddled about leadership or let some idealised notion of a leader get in the way of developing your inner leader. There is no ‘one size fits all’ – there are as many leadership styles as there are leaders and the circumstances in which you lead play a big part in informing the style you develop and adopt. You don’t have to have all the answers; you just know how to get other people to find them. You do not always have to lead from the front – not every challenge is the Somme – and it’s not all about you. In fact, very little of it is about you; it’s all about the environment you create for others. It’s not all high octane or high action; leadership requires reflection. And no-one is born to it. It’s not some ‘golden spoon’ that some are blessed with. Like a lot of things in life, it is a learnt behaviour and that learning often involves hard work with many knocks along the way. So, having busted the myths, where do vision and purpose start within a person and how do we nurture and develop those traits and behaviours that encourage others to follow us? Finding your inner leader When we are in the ‘do’ and ‘manage’ phases of our lives, we are very caught up in a ‘production’ environment which, on the surface, doesn’t require any great thinking around purpose or vision. But these are the very places where we should start to give ourselves the time and space to think beyond the immediate and ask: what is the end game, and why am I doing this? If you are interested in challenging yourself with these questions, you may well have an inner leader that is trying to get out. Very often, in the depths of doing you find the opportunity to lead – I found that in managing a structured asset finance business. In looking at how to optimise the balance sheet, I had a vision of a different way of managing risk and reward and from that, I lead a European risk syndication business. At first, I had few followers but senior people bought into the vision, trusted me to realise it and allowed me to get on with it.  Vision without purpose and values will not get you very far. I learnt quickly that it is not enough to have messianic zeal and passion – you must articulate a better place if you want people to go there for you – it must make sense, serve a higher purpose, meet a greater need and be supported by values that people can relate to. Now, I am a business person and I wasn’t taking anyone to the promised land but I could see a place where, if we changed what we did, we could do more of it and I knew that was what people wanted. When you take that step into leadership, make no mistake – you are putting yourself out there. You are separating yourself from the crowd and saying “look at me and follow me”. To succeed, I suggest there are a set of core traits and behaviours that true leaders have which can be developed through self-awareness and a willingness to grow. Authenticity and values Oprah Winfrey said: “I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier”. It was no doubt said firmly ‘tongue-in-cheek’ but as ever, Oprah was on to something here. Why limit our thinking to assume she just meant money? Consider the influence this woman has and the impact her actions have on thought formation and activism across the world. We feel we know who she is when she speaks. This is because she appears true to herself and has the courage to let people see that self in all its elements. Then we identify, then we empathise because the leader has taken the first steps to demonstrate authenticity and opened themselves up to possible rejection – now that’s putting yourself out there. Values are the soul-mate of authenticity. Without values, authenticity is hollow and people quickly see through it. Values take us beyond the charisma and allure of the person and into the heart of what the person is really about. When we know a person’s values, we can begin to understand their purpose. This allows us to interpret the vision that they are proposing we follow. More wise words from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. Leadership is fundamentally about consistency – who you present; what you present; the values you promote; the purpose you articulate; the example you set; what you say; what you do; how you treat others. If all of these do not connect consistently, you are not authentic. You may get things done, you may make people do things for you, but they will not be following you and you will not be leading. Reflection Making and taking time to reflect is so important. Very often, we are all just too busy ‘doing’ to carve out time to reflect. Ponder that old saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” and you will see that purpose and values, the cornerstones of leadership, are impossible to form and articulate without reflection. The phrase “ancore imparo” translates to “I am still learning”. I have a beautiful bronze plaque with this quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. When we are open, we are always learning – about the world, about others and about ourselves. Take all that learning and reflect upon it. Do this daily; challenge yourself to rationalise what you are doing and why you are doing it. How does it inform and support your purpose and the leadership that you show? Hear what others say about you, to you, think about you – learn from it. Have the confidence to take the hard stuff on board that will make you better and trust yourself to discard the envious and mean-spirited elements that can get in the way. Trust and respect Trusting yourself and trusting others is something that leaders seem to do effortlessly. This suggests an inner confidence, security and balance. This comes from self-knowledge, authenticity and values which support your vision and purpose. You are not playing at being something or somebody, so you can be free to enjoy leading and trust yourself to do the right thing. You can also trust others and when you do that, you prove Gandhi’s point because as a leader, you make more leaders and create a virtuous circle of empowerment and impact. The ability to trust has never been more important. We live in a mobile, integrated, technology-literate world. You cannot be everywhere, attend every meeting, always be with those you lead. So, share the leadership by creating other leaders. Disseminate your message through others and trust others to be the ambassadors of a shared vision and trust those who will realise that vision. In realising it, they make it their own. As Lao Tzu once said: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”. Finally, respect. This encompasses self-respect and the respect of others, both received and given. Don’t waste your time seeking popularity, it’s a fad, it’s fickle and easily replaced by the next more appealing thing on offer. Instead, earn and give respect. Respect is based on mutual understanding, hearing the voices of others and considering them. It is not earned by being always right. In my own experience, I have earned more respect from admitting to being wrong than I ever got from being right. Do the right thing by others – they may not agree with you, they may not like you, but they will respect you. Mentoring in both directions To be mentored and to mentor is an experience that will enrich your self-knowledge and aid your development and the development of others. Leadership is something that is learnt and what better way to learn than being mentored by a person whom you respect and see as a role model. While doing this, you too can be the mentor to someone who sees in you the character and values that they aspire to. In this relationship, you can discover how in leading you will create other leaders. So, what you gain from one experience is channelled into the other and the cycle of learning turns to the advantage of all concerned. Conclusion Let us go back to the question of why you would want to lead and how that determines the leader you can be. Why you want to lead is derived from your vision and purpose. When people see that your vision and purpose extend far beyond any personal self-interest and speak to something far bigger, they begin to listen; they begin to think about following you to the place you want them to go – to that place you have articulated and you exemplify every day in how you live the purpose that you promote. Lynda Carroll is Head of Capital Allocation and Risk-Based Pricing at AIB.

Jun 01, 2018
Management

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

Jun 01, 2018
Management

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

Jun 01, 2018
Management

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

Jun 01, 2018
Ethics and Governance

There is an oft used, simple, but valid summary that “ethics is about doing the right thing”. However, what action to take in an ethical dilemma is not always so simple. What we consider to be right and wrong is influenced by what we know. What we do is influenced not only by our knowledge, but our instincts and the specific circumstances in which we find ourselves. To help you prepare for the day you encounter a difficult ethical dilemma, Chartered Accountants Ireland has launched an ethics quick reference guide, Five Fundamental Principles, Five Practical Steps. The concept of the guide is simple: it contains a summary of the five fundamental principles contained in the current Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics and includes a unique five-step ethical thought process to guide you in your decision-making. While the five fundamental principles form only one part of the 182-page Code, they are a core part of the conceptual framework that is embedded throughout the entire Code. Many Chartered Accountants will be familiar with these principles from either their days as a trainee accountant or from their most recent bout of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) referencing ethics in the accounting profession. While many Chartered Accountants will be familiar, we hope the principles summarised in the guide will resonate with all of you. The five practical steps outlined in the guide are designed to get you thinking about how you might behave in response to an ethical dilemma. Well-constructed codes are always useful and should be referenced at some stage in your ethical thought process. However, rather than basing the five steps on any particular code of ethics, they are based upon practical considerations of how one can respond to an ethical dilemma. Dealing with a front-line ethical dilemma is not always simple. The first challenge can often be to recognise that you are experiencing an ethical dilemma. We won’t right all the wrongs with one simple guide but if we succeed in getting professionals and business leaders thinking, we have a chance of righting some wrongs – or at least avoiding others.  The guide can be downloaded from the Ethics Resource Centre on  www.charteredaccountants.ie.

Jun 01, 2018
Spotlight

Ambitious women face many hurdles, but these can be overcome in the search for a place at the top table.  The issues of gender discrimination in the workforce and the gender pay gap are subject to increasing analysis – and rightly so. Given the amount of catching up to do, the equalisation of gender at the most senior levels of business should be on the agenda of companies in all professions, including accountancy. Discrimination and pay are two critical issues that need to be addressed for a fairer working world and it is important that the accountancy profession continues to encourage women to aspire to positions of leadership within the industry. Those who climb the leadership ladder will in turn inspire others as they lead the way. I truly hope that any woman reading this article and planning for promotion has never felt discriminated against or held back in so may me way because of their gender. Accountancy is a great career choice for women and men alike, and it offers huge scope for ambitious and consistent people. The business case for equality So, why does the accountancy profession – or, indeed, any profession – need more women on board? According to a study by The Centre for Creative Leadership, having more women in the workplace simply makes an organisation a better place in which to work. Not only that, having a higher percentage of female talent in an organisation predicted more job satisfaction; more organisational dedication; more meaningful work; and less burnout. But that’s not all. The researchers also found that having more women in the workplace was positively related to employee engagement and retention. Specifically, when asked why they stay with their current employer, people from organisations with a high percentage of women were more likely to cite positive and meaningful organisational culture. This includes enjoyable work; a job that fits well with other areas of their life; and opportunities to make a difference. These new findings persist regardless of participants’ age, industry, organisation size, leadership level, ethnicity or gender. In fact, while both men and women in our survey responded with this same positive pattern of results, the findings were even stronger for men on some measures. The emotional quotient Research has shown that women are more naturally empathetic and have a slightly higher level of emotional intelligence functioning than men. When in leadership positions, emotional intelligence can set you apart and allow you to better handle yourself, others and what is happening around you. Women can read a room in less than a second and generally have an easier time stepping into others’ shoes and showing empathy. These are incredibly powerful skills. We know that there is a growing empathy deficit in workplaces and that social connectedness increases performance and drive within a workplace, but if fewer women occupy leadership roles, this deficit may widen. The women leaders I am privileged enough to work with agree that it is vital that women do not feel that they must behave as a man would. They urge women to use their femininity and unique style to lead. Empower through trust To achieve gender equality, organisations must first learn how best to empower their female employees. In so doing, they will also improve the engagement, outcome, performance and happiness of both men and women in the workplace. To have an attractive employer brand, organisations must also find ways to encourage a more flexible and trusting workplace – one that encourages ownership and responsibility for work delivery on-site as well as remotely when required. This is not a gender issue; it is more about flexibility for both men and women that accommodates the need to balance personal and family demands and provides a roadmap to share the burdens and responsibilities of family life more effectively. One way to do this is to ensure that remote working systems are in place, including protocols for managing physical files. A cultural shift may also be required, one that gives employees the flexibility to work away from their desks, and trust is at the core. The millennial question Organisations must also consider the young women rising through the ranks who typically fall into the ‘millennial’ category. Millennials are more likely to expect their workplace to be flexible and don’t always see the value in adhering to ‘traditional’ rules. They also need to feel a connection to their work and want mentors to teach and inspire them. They want a clear career plan and although professionally immature, they need to feel that they will be provided with the scope and opportunities to progress. If we truly wish to encourage women leaders of the future, we must consider this millennial group and show them how other women have succeeded in their journey to the leadership table. Without this inspiration, they may falter. Strategies for success Leadership is quite the enigma, irrespective of gender. While some leaders have natural skills in influence, for example, they may lack natural skills in business strategy. Leadership therefore requires skills development and continued learning. Managers in today’s evolving corporate landscape face regular recalibration and with this comes challenge. Building resilience is a must for any leader, and this must be done while adapting to continued globalisation, tightening budgets and stricter reporting deadlines. Every leader needs an up-to-date tool-kit to help them improve their interpersonal skills incrementally and consistently. Men and women share a number of common leadership weaknesses. With daily stresses, even highly functioning leaders react to situations as they happen but don’t necessarily know how to carve out the time required to reflect on, and analyse, situations under pressure. For those females with promotion ambitions, here are some strategies that will help you advance your cause: Seek out mentors. Ideally, they should be women in your industry and in positions to which you aspire. Study what makes them successful; Partner with and support your boss in reaching his or her goals. This is about learning the skills to ‘manage up’; and Look for every opportunity to demonstrate your leadership capability and skills at work And here are some pitfalls to avoid: Don’t allow yourself to be overtaken by the distraction of your ambition or goals for development. Remember, you have a day job so do it well. This will ensure you are not dispensable; and Don’t put off any plans for leadership development training that will improve your self-awareness and influencing ability. Invest in building these leadership capabilities. And finally, a recently-published Accenture report offers three powerful accelerators to help women close the pay gap: Career strategy: aim high, make informed choices, and manage your career pro-actively; Tech immersion: acquire stronger technology and digital skills; and Mentoring: find a suitable mentor who will inspire you to become a leader. Performance matters To master your leadership edge in the field of accountancy, you need to shine a spotlight on your leadership style. Remember, your role in your company isn’t that of a superhero – rather, it is that of a transformative finance partner. To cultivate this reputation, be seen as someone who constantly monitors their own performance and that of others. In doing so, you will take a significant step towards career equalisation for women. Jane is author of The Career Book and co-founder of The Leadership Rooms.

Jun 01, 2018
Spotlight

What are the determinants of leader success in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world? Recent times have been commonly described as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). The VUCA world has been propelled by three fundamental shifts. First, the convergence of a couple of great disruptors – technology and globalisation – has made the pace and scope of change far greater than it has been since the industrial revolution. The emergence of new disruptive technologies and business models is becoming more commonplace and is reshaping the nature of competition across industries. As a result, executives may need to master additional skills to redirect their organisations in the face of attacks from a wider array of competitors than ever before, who create value for customers in fundamentally new ways. Second, and on a related note, executives are faced with a constant stream of information and trends that have become more readily available. It is therefore difficult to distinguish noise from actionable intelligence. As a result, executives may need to make decisions and advocate for them with little clarity on environmental trends. Finally, a fundamental shift is under way in the psychological contract between employers and employees. Unlike the past, when individuals often remained with a given employer for most or all of their working lives, individuals are now more likely to change jobs multiple times over the course of their career and employers are less likely to offer stable employment than prior generations. As workplaces come to be characterised by frequent turnover of staff and an increase in contractual and temporary staffing arrangements, leaders face increasing challenges in hiring, motivating and retaining employees and in preventing the loss of valuable skills and knowledge. When one considers the fundamental changes ushered in by these developments, it is not surprising that there is much interest among executives, consultants and academics alike in understanding the key leadership skills that can drive organisational success in a VUCA world. Questions have also been asked about how these leadership skills compare to those that drove success in prior decades. A key determinant of leader success in a VUCA world will continue to be the ability to effectively manage talent in one’s organisation. In particular, managing talent is becoming the foremost strategic priority and requires even greater executive attention. We are conscious that there isn’t any one boiler-plate or leadership template for managing talent. Rather, our aim is to discuss a few challenges leaders may encounter in a VUCA world and share examples of some practices that can enhance the probability of leader success. The hiring process The first and foremost talent management challenge facing leaders in a VUCA world is getting the hiring process right and treating it at par with other significant resource allocation decisions – but getting this right is easier said than done. Research has found that executives often staff their organisations with individuals with homogeneous skillsets and work experiences, often mirroring those of executives themselves. In doing so, they may create a ‘tunnel vision’ of sorts in the organisation when instead, greater diversity of thought and skills is likely to be needed for organisations to navigate the current VUCA times. There is also the temptation to make recruiting choices based on the immediate operational needs of the organisation or by prospective candidates’ fit with current activities instead of acquiring talent that will support the organisation in the medium- and long-term. One example is the need for technology-savvy individuals who are able to help the organisation capitalise on the digital and analytics disruptions that are reshaping the business world. As the famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Nurturing talent A second, not-so-obvious challenge facing executives in a VUCA world is avoiding the extremes of either neglecting their top talent or singularly focusing on top talent while ignoring other employees. On the one hand, top talent disproportionately contributes to organisational performance despite being in the minority. Top talent is also generally highly mobile. Thus, leaders cannot afford to take these individuals for granted and must make efforts to motivate and retain them. On the other hand, the features of a VUCA world also imply that organisational performance is increasingly dependent on team effort as much as solo efforts by key employees. Important contributions to team effort are often made by employees who may not be the top-most performers, but are nevertheless good organisational citizens who provide valuable stability. Organisations should therefore be mindful of the unintended emergence of a vicious cycle whereby the nurturing of top talent comes at the cost of denying growth opportunities to others. The balancing act that leaders need to perform in order to retain and reward their top talent without alienating others often proves difficult. Good inductions, coaching, and emphasising and encouraging collaborative behaviour are a some actions leaders can take. Incentive and reward systems A third challenge facing executives in a VUCA world is preventing potential distortions triggered by the design of organisational incentive and reward systems. One such distortion can result from adopting incentive systems that are at odds with organisational objectives. This possibility was extensively discussed in the seminal article, On the Folly of Rewarding A while Hoping for B. For example, organisations commonly provide incentives for the achievement of individual targets while stating a desire for a collaborative organisational culture. Another distortion that can occur as a result of organisations’ incentive and reward systems is employees being promoted based on their performance in their current roles as opposed to their potential and suitability for future roles. Google’s ‘Project Oxygen’, for instance, revealed that individuals who were promoted to managerial roles largely on the basis of their current technical skills and performance were often not effective in these roles, as good managers also needed softer skills such as listening, coaching, developing others, and the ability to delegate. More generally, organisations’ incentives and reward systems could also generate distortions when they focus on a narrow set of behaviours and outcomes, thus inadvertently discouraging other value-creating behaviours and outcomes. For example, it is quite possible that a great salesperson may neither want to be a sales manager nor would make a good sales manager. Creating incentive and recognition systems that seek to recognise the different ways in which employees contribute to organisational success could be one way to avoid this. Conclusion A VUCA world has created immense opportunities for companies to tip the balance of competition in their favour and create the preconditions for lasting success. In doing so, leaders must approach the selection, motivation and retention of talent as a strategic priority. Karan Sonpar and Federica Pazzaglia are both Professors in the management subject area of UCD Smurfit School of Business.

Jun 01, 2018
Strategy

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

Jun 01, 2018
Strategy

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

Jun 01, 2018
Spotlight

How, in this age of innovation, can leaders manage risk while enabling growth? As technological innovation continues to revolutionise the business landscape, organisations and their leaders are also grappling with new-found risks and uncharted challenges. PwC’s 2018 Risk in Review Study: Managing Risks and Growth in the Age of Innovation shows how a distinct set of risk management practices can arm organisations to capture value from their innovation efforts and better manage related risks for further growth. Organisations, and their leaders in particular, must understand that risk management and innovation go hand-in-hand. Innovation brings great opportunity. A keen awareness of the necessary actions to address both known and unanticipated risks that accompany innovation can equip risk executives to succeed in this fast-changing environment. Risk executives should be engaged throughout the innovation life-cycle to effectively identify, assess and manage innovation risk. Key drivers In an era of digital business and rapid technology change, virtually no company can ignore the imperative to innovate. Failing to do so is an invitation to lose business. The study identified a number of key drivers: New technology, including big data and the cloud; Human capability skillsets to support new technology; Market growth requirements; Cybersecurity and privacy threats; Industry peers; and Increased regulation. Strategy and risk management As organisations across all sectors increasingly face pressure to innovate, risk executives need to help their organisations strike the right risk/reward balance. After all, organisations that effectively manage innovation risk are more effective innovators. With innovation now forming part of organisations’ strategic direction, it becomes clear that innovation must be managed just as effectively as the strategy itself, as errors could have lasting strategic impacts. “Strategy” refers to an organisation’s plan to achieve its mission, vision and to apply its core values. A well-designed strategy drives the efficient allocation of resources and effective decision-making. It also provides a roadmap for establishing business objectives throughout the organisation. Risk management does not create the entity’s strategy, but it does influence its development. An organisation that integrates risk management practices into setting strategy provides management with the risk information it needs to consider alternative strategies and, ultimately, to adopt a chosen strategy. Therefore, the same principles should be applied to innovation and the risks surrounding it given its inherent correlation to strategy. Enterprise risk management COSO’s Enterprise Risk Management Framework – Integrating Strategy and Performance 2017 defines enterprise risk management as “the culture, capabilities and practices, integrated with strategy-setting and performance, that organisations rely on to manage risk in creating, preserving and realising value”. It emphasises its focus on managing risk through: Recognising culture; Developing capabilities; Applying practices; Integrating with strategy-setting and performance; Managing risk to strategy and business objectives; and Linking to value. To keep pace with innovation and risks changing at breakneck speed, organisations need to harness a range of methods that will continue to grow and evolve along with these forces. Enterprise risk management is not static, nor is it an adjunct to a business. Rather, it is continually applied to the entire scope of activities as well as special projects and initiatives (such as innovation activities). It is a part of management decisions at all levels of the entity. Key attributes of effective risk management programmes When organisations respond well to the range of innovation risks, it naturally follows that their innovations are more successful. There are some key attributes of effective risk management programmes which achieve this: Confidence in the risk management programme’s ability to effectively manage risks from innovative practices such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, big data, the internet of things and robotic process automation; The risk management programme influences decision-making and the shaping of innovation strategy. Exerting influence over decisions about innovation positions risk executives to help their organisations understand – and therefore better manage – innovation-related risk; The risk management programme engages early and often across the innovation cycle. Risk plays a more active role across the innovation cycle. Risk advises on innovative activities before the planning stage, and they’re much more likely to halt initiatives based on risk assessments and suggest risk-based alternatives; Drive risk tone and culture from the top, and broadcast appetite and tolerance messages about innovation and risk across the organisation. Tie effective management of innovation risk to strategic planning and performance management to align behaviours which can be measured and monitored; The risk appetite and tolerances are adjusted with frequency. The overall risk appetite may need to shift over time due to market direction or competitive dynamics. As the organisation periodically adjusts its risk appetite and tolerances, all lines of defence are informed of such changes so that business decisions, controls testing, risk monitoring and risk reporting work in a synchronised and risk-aligned manner; Harnessing of new risk skills, competencies and tools to support innovation. Adapt risk capabilities to influence and enable the organisation’s innovation strategies, expand continuous risk assessment, and use new technology for more real-time information. Successful firms add knowledgeable, curious, action-oriented and tech-savvy recruits to keep pace with risks from technology-driven innovation. Their current workforces also continuously up-skill in new methods, metrics, tools, and technologies to make critical, in-the-moment risk/reward decisions; and The risk management programme uses a wider variety of metrics to monitor and assess effectiveness of risk management in multiple ways and by multiple parties, including external parties. Examining effectiveness through multiple metrics helps risk executives shore up areas where they fall short or are vulnerable, so that the C-suite and the board can rapidly make decisions about strategic initiatives while the business steps in to address any risk profile misalignments against risk appetite. Obstacles To spot risk and react at the right time in the right manner, ensuring that important messages cascade across and into the crevasses of an organisation, is critical. With innovation risks occurring at break-neck speed, there are undoubtedly various obstacles to overcome before effective risk management can be embedded. Some key obstacles include: Organisational culture that inhibits change and fails to foster idea creation in a controlled and welcomed manner; Lack of knowledge of innovation-related opportunities and risks; Lack of leadership buy-in; and Weak collaboration between the risk programme and the business. Fuelling innovative growth  Organisations must view innovation and risk as a double-edged sword, clearing the way for greater opportunity and increased revenue growth, with eyes wide open about all-but-certain and unimaginable risk. To allow for more innovation and to deflect or limit risks from new initiatives as they arise, risk executives must be engaged and influential over the entire innovation life-cycle – from high-level strategising to brainstorming, quantifying, executing, continuously taking decisions and actions about risk appetite and performance tracking. To play this important role, risk management programmes must be equipped to effectively identify, assess, and manage innovation risk. Applying rigour, using multiple approaches, pushing the organisation to periodically adjust risk appetite, adding sophisticated skills and tools, and comprehensively monitoring how successfully the programme is tackling innovation-related risk helps risk executives meet their organisation’s strategic objectives. As digital technology accelerates the pace of change, effectively managing innovation-related risk becomes crucial. When organisations effectively manage innovation-related risk, the likelihood that they will be successful innovators rises. That simple premise alone is a call to action for risk management programmes. Failure to do so all but guarantees under-performance. Jason McGee is a Senior Manager in Risk and Assurance at PwC.

Jun 01, 2018
Feature Interview

As Feargal McCormack takes the reins as President of Chartered Accountants Ireland, he shares his thoughts on the quality of the Institute’s membership, the importance of positivity, and his role as the conductor of the orchestra. In the corporate world, people often talk about their “core values” or “guiding principles” but few people live out their philosophy as comprehensively as Feargal McCormack, Managing Director at PKF-FPM. Feargal, who recently succeeded Shauna Greely as President of Chartered Accountants Ireland, is a firm believer in the philosophy of St Francis of Assisi – it is in giving that we receive – and this principle has shaped not only his work ethic, but also his leadership style and sense of value. Addressing the 130th Chartered Accountants Ireland AGM, the Warrenpoint native echoed the sentiment of St Francis when he outlined his main objective for his presidential year – caring for members, staff, trainee students and the community. While his evident sense of empathy could be attributed to the accumulated learnings from 27 successful years in business, it has its roots – in part at least – in his own family’s personal tragedy. “I went over a few hard stones on the way,” he said. “Our first child, Eimear, died after four days and our second child, Seamus, is severely autistic and requires round-the-clock care. Then, when my wife Anne was pregnant with Ruairi who is now 17, she suffered a brain tumour which she thankfully recovered from fully. “Although you wouldn’t want them or go looking for them, those experiences do prepare you for life. They put things into perspective and as a result, I’ve never lost a wink’s sleep over work,” he continued. “I love my work and I love life. From the outside, people would say I’m a reasonably busy person, but I love every moment of it.” A high achiever To say that he is “reasonably busy” could easily be described as an understatement given the amount of time and expertise he has shared with organisations throughout the island. From Special Olympics Ireland and his beloved GAA to Ulster University Business School and the Prince’s Youth Trust, Feargal has balanced his role as Managing Director of an award-winning mid-sized accountancy firm with various extracurricular roles – something he is keen to encourage in those who work with him. “I’ve always been able to mix work and home life with extracurricular activity, and I feel that both work off each other. You have to have balance in life, but interaction is important,” he said. Indeed, Feargal attributes his involvement in activities beyond the workplace with his ability to succeed as a young leader. “When I joined the Industrial Development Board, I was the youngest ever Principal Officer in the Northern Ireland Civil Service at 26 years of age,” he said. “At that stage, all of my subordinates were considerably older than me, but extracurricular activities gave me the experience to deal with that because from my teenage years, I was secretary or chair of committees where people were, in general, considerably older than me – old enough to me my father, I’m sure. “I believe that it’s key in any organisation to encourage your team to get involved in areas they’re comfortable with – whether that’s charity, sport or the church, for example – because they can then bring the skills they develop back to the workplace. I genuinely don’t believe that you can turn the clock off at 5pm so if you’re not a caring person after 5pm, you won’t be a caring person before 5pm.” Putting people first Feargal encapsulates this idea in another life-long mantra – “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care” – and he hopes to bring this to life within the Institute during his presidency. “For me, continuity is key. I’m a member of the Institute’s oversight board and I can’t recall one decision in the last three years that wasn’t unanimous, so there won’t be any solo runs,” he said. “I only see a slight change of emphasis to increase our focus on becoming more caring and people-focused. That’s very consistent with our core values of integrity and ethics so I will be encouraging us, as an organisation, to walk that vision.” The ultimate aim is to increase the Institute’s relevance amongst its membership and create a team of 26,000 brand ambassadors who will raise the profile of Chartered Accountancy – and Feargal plans to lead this charge. “I’ve always found that the key to happiness is looking outwards,” he said. “And throughout the Institute, there are many role models across many sectors who – both in work and beyond work – are making fundamental, positive differences to the societies in which they live. “I hope to have an opportunity to shine a light on those role models but to do that, it’s important to get out there and meet those members,” he added. “So, over the next 12 months, I will be busy visiting companies and schools throughout the island. You’ll also see Council members hosting events where the President can meet members, and this will give us a great opportunity to tell the story of how Chartered Accountants make a difference to society because ultimately, that is our key contribution.” Building the Chartered brand Feargal also plans to enhance the external profile of Chartered Accountants and build on the “excellent work” currently under way to raise the Institute’s voice in the business community and beyond. While this is a key ambition for his presidency, Feargal sees himself more as the “conductor of the orchestra” who brings the best out of people. “The diversity of our membership is our greatest strength – diversity not only in skillset, but geography also. There are some areas I’d like to explore a little bit further, including the diaspora of international members,” he said. “I would personally like to chair a taskforce to assess how we can best make use of our international dimension both for our membership on the island of Ireland and also, as a professional network for our overseas members and younger members wishing to work abroad.” Another area of focus for Feargal is the parallels between sport and business. “Nobody really wants to speak to a 58 year-old man promoting our profession, so I would like to see Chartered Accountants who are also involved in sport promoted as role models for the profession. It will be interesting to hear how they blend their Chartered Accountancy studies and career with success in the sporting arena; how that discipline of study and integrity in the workplace can be transferred onto the field. There’s a lot we could learn from this group.” Adapting to change Learning from each other feeds into another important issue for Feargal – enhancing the Chartered Accountant’s capacity to adapt to change, which is more important than ever in the context of a volatile international landscape. “If we think about leadership in the corporate setting, it’s all about the ability to adapt – to be agile and change,” he said. “There’s no doubt that we’re in a very challenging market environment but in challenging environments, there are always exciting opportunities. “We should therefore have positivity in the breadth of our membership. We can’t control what happens around us, but we can control how we respond and I firmly believe that there is no problem out there – however and whenever it arises – that we as an Institute cannot deal with,” he continued. “We have to prepare ourselves and be in a state of readiness, but there is nothing we should fear.” Feargal does acknowledge, however, that technology, regulation and governance will bring many good things, but they will also bring challenges for the profession. “Am I confident that these are issues that we, as an Institute, will address? Yes, I am. We may have to work in collaboration with other accountancy, professional and – in some cases – statutory organisations, but are we up to that? We certainly are.” Indeed, this drive for agility extends beyond qualified members and into the Chartered Accountancy syllabus, with a number of changes in the pipeline – a responsiveness that Feargal is keen to nurture. “Two new electives will soon be introduced for FAE students and I think that’s the start of a trend,” he said. “We’re also seeing responsiveness in the enhancement of technology in our exam process and in the flexibility we can now offer to students. All these factors will help us address challenges as they arise. “The most important thing for the Institute is to listen, and then move forward with pace. I suppose I would have a reputation – rightly or wrongly – for getting on with it and if we make a mistake, we go back and correct it,” he added. “If I have one frustration in life, it’s too much talking and not enough action. I firmly believe that action is the way forward – yes, conduct research but get on with the job quickly and learn from your experience.” He added, “I’ve only seen positive things in the last 12 months but I can assure you, if I come across any negativity I will ask people to desist or leave the room because I believe you must be solutions-focused. I’ve been known on quite a few occasions to stop meetings as in my view, negativity has no place in any progressive and forward-looking organisation.” The challenges ahead Despite the challenges ahead, the Institute is in a very strong position according to Feargal – a testament, he says, to the leaders that preceded him as President. “The Institute’s current churn rate is minimal and the fact that members who previously terminated their membership are now returning as members demonstrates better than anything else the value of being a member of our great Institute,” he said. “I would certainly like to encourage the Institute to continue the very good work that’s currently under way. We have made very significant progress in recent times and while we have achieved much, we must continue to work to ensure that we remain relevant to our members. Therefore, it’s always good to try new ideas and I certainly see us continuing to innovate because, in my experience, you either innovate or evaporate. “Finally, I am very honoured to become President of Chartered Accountants Ireland. The Institute has been fortunate in the quality of its leadership and I hope I can carry on that tradition,” he said. “I am also very conscious that it is the 130th year of the Institute and while we have come a long way in 130 years, the journey has only just begun.” Feargal McCormack is Managing Director at PKF-FPM and President of Chartered Accountants Ireland.

May 31, 2018
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

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