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Accountants - Do you know what support your business team really needs?

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Kevin Appleby

By Kevin Appleby
IASeminars Instructor

We accountants often have a regimented working life. There are always tasks to be done, and much of what we do is dictated by the continuous cycle of our accounting timetables: month-end; quarter-end; year-end; the budget cycle – and repeat.

As well as usual tasks, in recent years there have been new issues to take on board. Changes to international accounting standards require us to learn and implement revised accounting practices. And that’s not all - new accounting systems, a shift to using the cloud, and new ways to integrate and automate transaction processing have all taken our attention. 

It is very easy as an accountant to simply spend your time producing the regular finance reports and doing core tasks. But I increasingly hear accountants express dissatisfaction that they are not able to add as much value to the business as they could. Does this strike a chord with you? Do you want to work with the business team to address the core issues and challenges in the business? In short, are you fulfilling your real potential?

So, what is stopping you?

There may be a number of core problems. For example, do you know exactly what is needed from the business team? If you don’t know what the real issues are, you can’t give your colleagues the support they need. There’s really only one answer, and that’s to get out of the back office and spend quality time talking to the people around you. You need to find out what they need, and offer your support in the places you can add value.

Having these conversations isn't something that happens easily. But great conversations amongst teams can help bring about real and positive change. 

On a recent Next 100 Days Podcast we interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier, author of "The Coaching Habit", and he explained about a great questioning technique to help get a conversation quickly focused on the heart of the matter. Just seven simple questions will ensure that you identify the issues and allow you to provide help that will be well received and really make a difference. The technique works whether you are coaching a member of your own team or finding out how to best support your peers.

Listen to the full interview with Michael here, http://wp.me/p76Obg-lt, and in the meantime, here's a quick overview of the technique:

Question 1 – What’s on your mind?

The kick-start question - A very simple question that invites your colleague to open up.

Question 2 – What’s the real problem here for you?

The focus question – The first reply won't have told you enough, this is a great question to probe deeper.

Question 3 - And what else?

The AWE question – It’s still unlikely you have all the information; this simple question can help you find out even more about the situation.

Question 4 - What do you want?

The foundation question - At this stage, most of us are ready to dive in and offer a solution. Resist this temptation, and find out what your colleague thinks the solution is.

Question 5 - How can I help?

The lazy question - Don't dive in and offer your support straight away, find out what support your colleague thinks they might need first.

Question 6 - Supposing I do xxxxxxx?

The strategic question - This might be an agreement to give the help your colleague wants, or you might propose something slightly different, that you think is a better solution. 

Question 7 - What was most valuable to you here?

The learning question - A great way to get feedback, and check that you have come up with a way forward.

So, you can get to the heart of the matter, and find out what your business team needs. But the question How can I help? might take you out of your comfort zone.

Consider developing your core management accounting skills in 2018

Often training budgets are fully allocated to training on technical topics. While great technical knowledge is critical, we should not ignore the development of our core management accounting skills. When did you last focus on the skills you need to help develop business strategy and to set meaningful targets through the business? Is your knowledge of cost reduction and zero-based budgeting as up to date as it should be? What about profitability analysis? Do you know your best and worst products and customers? No? Well, maybe it’s time to learn some of the latest costing techniques?

Perhaps in 2018, you should consider something different on your own personal development plan? We’ve got some great management accounting courses scheduled, that can help you improve your skills in answering key business questions.

Related IASeminars Courses:

Empowering the Management Accountant to be a Trusted Business Advisor (3 days)
11th – 13th June, London

A Practical Approach to Activity Based Costing (3 days)
13th – 15th June, London

Budgeting and Cost Control for Managers (4 days)
19th – 22nd June, London

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