Professional accountancy is not for wimps. Drawing on her many years of experience, Alison Thomas offers some light-hearted advice
This article was first published in the May 2019 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Q We reported some chunky restructuring costs this year. I understand that a number of analysts think we’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes. What can we do to convince them that they’re for real?
A Three questions. Did you signal the restructuring well in advance? Investors hate surprises – particularly those that appear designed to artificially inflate earnings. Did you explain the charge clearly when you reported? Burying the rationale for adjustments in small font at the bottom of the back page inevitably arouses suspicion. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – was it a one-off? You can pretty much guarantee that a serial restructurer will be seen with a cynical eye. As Ken Lee and Deborah Taylor put it in their accounting book for investors, Financial Statement Analysis under IFRS: ‘There is a simple, if brutal, principle to apply: check that on average there is no great proportion of negative over positive “one-off” items!’
Q My company is now totally open plan. Great for office gossip, but a disaster for getting real work done. This means I end up working evenings and weekends to meet deadlines. Not happy. What can I do?
A The curse of open planning. Sadly, there’s no point in moaning to management – they won’t introduce walls just for you. Instead think about solutions. For me, that meant structuring my days so I was in the office when necessary (meetings, cake days, etc) but worked from home when I had to write. Of course, this only works if you keep the lines of communication wide open – but no excuses on that front these days. However, if you have a boss who enjoys taking attendance at the start of each day, or if your role requires your physical presence, working from home may not be an option. If so, don’t suffer in silence. Working all hours is not sustainable.
So talk to your colleagues. Agree on workspace etiquette – chatter zones versus quiet spaces, for example. If you’re not forced to adhere to a clear-desk policy, you can add visual barriers – plants, photos, anything that separates your world from the mayhem around you. And consider investing in some headphones.
Q I’ve just been promoted to manager. I don’t think I’m ready for the role and worry that I’m going to be found out. What should I do?
A Many of us have experienced ‘imposter syndrome’. We downplay our successes or think them the result of luck, not skill. I’d like to share two thoughts with you. Firstly, no one expects you to nail every aspect of your new job on day one. Don’t worry about asking for help and advice. It’s not a sign of weakness – far from it. It’s a sign of emotional maturity – the stuff of a good manager. Secondly, you weren’t promoted on a whim. Someone else has faith in you. Perhaps it’s time you had more faith in yourself.
Q I quit my job in practice to have children. Now they are in school, I’m keen to get back to work but worry I’ll feel left behind. What should I do?
A I love the way people talk of ‘going back to work’ after looking after children. I can think of few jobs more exhausting. More like going back for a rest, if you ask me.
I understand your hesitation about climbing back on the corporate ladder. But don’t dismiss it entirely. Return-to-work schemes are much better these days. Yes, some are more lip-service than substance, but there are growing numbers of businesses that recognise that careers don’t have to follow a linear path – that diverse life experiences are actually invaluable to successful organisations.
Of course, there are alternatives to the corporate route. With your professional skills and experience, maybe it’s time to do your own thing. It’s not an easy path, but with a bit of chutzpah, it’s amazing what you can do.
How to begin? Identify your niche – what’s different about what you can offer? For example, your focus might be on helping female entrepreneurs with strategic and financial planning. Then consider how to target that community – trade press, conferences, local radio, etc. Talk to friendly clients about the areas where they need help and, where appropriate, seek training to round out your service offering. It’ll be hard work – but if you’ve raised children, you’ll have no problem handling that!
Alison Thomas is a consultant.