Friday, April 29, 2011

You Are What You Are

Went to an interesting press briefing conducted by an Insitution of Chartered Management Accountants today. This British based educational body is now on a mission to make accountants and other finance professionals part of the "business" process. The main theme was this - accountants are no longer the boring bean counters who tell you that you can't do this or that but partners who work with you.

In theory, this very nice. In a business, everyone should share the same objectives. When everyone from the CEO to the cleaning lady share the same objectives then everyone has a common goal to give heart and soul to. Accountants are in this respect, no different from the rest of the crowd in the same business.

There's also alot to be said for the need to make accountants and other "suite" type professionals walk around the shop floor. The problem that most of us in the "suite" world have is the fact that we are often so caught up in our status as "professionals" or "experts" that we forget how the real world functions. PR and advertising professionals are particularly guilty of this - to put it crudely, we preach advertising and PR so much that we end up losing our grip on reality.

McDonald's got it right when they made all their managers, including the very senior ones work on the shop floor. The best way to create a common culture is to start everyone on the same level and give them the same experience. I also believe that you need to serve time on the front line if you want to lead an organisation. A paper pusher can only affect change that suites the art of paper pushing.

Having said all of that, I do believe that there is a reason why certain people are in the professions that they are in the form that they are in. The inner workings of a person make them suiteable for certain professions and not for others.

My favourite littigator told me recently that he thinks I'll never sit down in an office job and "work" in the conventional sense. One of my key mentors also said the same thing - "Be an income man, you'll never be to explain your patchy work history."

Other key figures in my life, like my parents, would shoot themselves if they realised I had been given this advise. However, the littigator and mentor may have a point. When I've been within an organisation I've been incredibly dense. I move around organisational politics like a statue in a ballet - as the mentor said," I couldn't protect you anymore." However, I've worked much better outside organisations.

I am also involved in the media relations business because - well, speaking the same language as reporters comes naturally to me. I can translate reporter speak to clients.

I am not a lawyer for a good reason. I don't have the patience to deal with vast amounts of paper work. Although I've been described as having an analytical mind, I can't bear the thought of reading through tomes and tomes of paper to look for a two sentence conclusion. I also make a poor politician. I have a problem sacrificing people for my personal gain and although I've enjoyed having power - it doesn't give my self-esteeme a boost.

So, I am where I am and other people are where they are because they are made for certain things. Although self-employment has suited me, it is not for everyone. I used to dread it whenever Joyce talked about self-employment. The girl didn't have the joy to chase for business and she didn't have a feel for doing things like chasing money. Self-employment and entrepreneurship by contrast suites Han Li very well - she has a talent for turning everything into a business and woe betide anyone who thinks they can get away without paying her.

Organisations have to accept that as much as they want to gel everyone together, there are reasons why certain people are where they are and rather than trying to "meld" them into the "one unit," they should concentrate on how to utlise their talents and their idiocyncracies. Chutia Bhai, for example, is a brilliant forensic accountant. However, he's an arsehole of a person. In a way, this makes him so good at what he does - he's not going to get let wooly things like friendship and back scratching get in the way of what he does best - check other people's books. Don't let him near your clients but by all means let him do the books.

There is such a things known as distance. Sometimes professionals need a bit of distance - call it they need to be a little further from the trees to see the forest. This is especially true for accountants. There is a good reason why you don't want your bookeeper too close with the factory floor people or the CEO. Think of every big scandal that's happened this century - the accountants and auditors were a bit too close to the top management. PwC was too close to Satyam (The CEO claimed he had a $1billion in cash - he didn't and nobody checked that fact) and there was of course Authur Anderson which got too close to Enron - less said the better.

There is lots to be said about sharing vision and getting everyone to bond together. However, there is a case accepting that individuals have idiocyncracies as well as talents and you need to accept the idiocyncracies in order to get the talents to flourish.

One of the most stark comparisons can be seen in between the Royal Marine Comandos of the UK and the US Marines. The Americans believe in breaking you down and building you up in their own image. The British work around your individual talents. The US Marine Corp is a tough fighting force well suited for missions that require brute force. However, on a man-to-man basis, the Royal Marines are better and they're used for covert missions.

1 comment:

Jean said...

You make a lot of excellent points in this article, and I totally agree that employers should embrace an individual's idiosyncrasies. After all, no two of us are alike, and that's what causes us to bring value and unique perspective to the job we do. Drones are programmed--people are one-of-a-kind. ~Jean