Career Management IV: Networks
As a finance professional, you are always linked to other people and other people hold the key to promotions, development opportunities, support, introductions, knowledge and all sorts of career “lubricants” to move your career forward more efficiently.
As the world of work continues to evolve, it is evident that your reputation will be one of the key levers to your career achievement.
63.2 % of the accounting and finance community surveyed by The Outperformer in Australia highlighted that they do not have a well-developed professional network that provides effective support to the achievement of career goals. The underlying concerns towards building an effective network all revolve around time (perceived lack of time) and lack of knowledge.
In a career field that has traditionally involved limited network development until it is forced, many accountants do not have the range of contacts in their network to open new career doors, challenge their ideas, or support their professional development beyond their current place of employment.
This lack of network becomes particularly problematic during stages of change or career pressure such as redundancy or restructure.
Unfortunately, breaking the cycle to build new relationships, work with mentors and focus on personal development is often put in the “too hard” basket.
(I) have not invested the time and effort in development, external to my organization.”
Like most jobs, time constraints prevent this (networking). I know I should make more time but don’t. “Always too busy”.
Unfortunately, I spent all my time focused on delivering business goals that I neglected my own.
The theme is consistent. Time is seen as a barrier and neglect is consistent. Accounting and finance professionals position themselves as “too busy”, yet there are groups that are getting it right and building sustainable relationships which pay dividends when it comes to career development and opening up new opportunities.
What type of relationships are they proactively nurturing in their network?
Mentors and Coaches
Mentors or coaches can challenge you to think more clearly about achieving your goals, and pressure tests the assumptions you make about your career, your decisions and the way the World might work. Often you know the answer to your problems, however, they will typically help you bring your thoughts into something you can act on, and become the mirror to explore who you really are.
The advocate is typically someone who can endorse you and has the reputation that supports their claims. It is likely they’ve been your manager or held a senior position that has had visibility of your performance and execution. The more influential and connected your advocates are, the better.
A connector is a person who typically has a large network of genuine relationships. People will trust this persons’ professional judgment and will typically listen to their recommendations. They have circles of contacts that may come in handy for you and don’t have problems helping credible contacts in their network. They typically feel a sense of pride in helping their colleagues and believe in the power of giving.
Trusted Peers are important contacts. They are often going on a similar journey to you; growing and developing, building clarity in their goals and dealing with similar professional challenges.
Subject Matter Experts (Executors)
When you are trying to get things done in any field, knowing subject matter experts who can make delivery easier or faster are important.
Map out the two or three trusted relationships you have under each of the headlines:
Mentors or Coaches
Subject Matter Experts
For each, consider if you believe you have the right contacts to help solve career decisions or problems you might face, and if they would make things easier by tapping into their knowledge or support.
To do this, you will need to have a good sense of the critical success factors (explored in Clarity and Performance) and engineer your networks around your goals in these areas.
Networking for Clarity
When asking most finance leaders what they want to do in the future, their instinct is to react by quoting a job title. For example:
“I want to be a CFO”.
Then I will typically ask, what sort of CFO?
Often I receive a confused look. They are unable to articulate the unique features and drivers the reflect the CFO they want to become.
To help understand what I mean by this, we can define CFOs by:
• Group or Divisional
• Private, Public, Government, Private Equity, Multinational, Local business
• Phase of Business – Growth, Acquisition, Cost Management or Turnaround, StartUp, New Region, Transformational
• Size of Business – Measured by revenue, headcount, size of projects, number of products, number of customers.
• Relationship with CEO or Managing Director – Strategic Advisor and Partner or Safe and Solid Finance Owner
All of these components and more start to shape the features that make up a great CFO in the specific environment they are in.
A very valuable career exercise to carry out regularly is to spend time exploring with people that are sitting in roles you would like to hold in the future for mentoring sessions. It is to help you understand the nature of their roles, what challenges them, what shapes the focus of the role. Very quickly, you will see that people that have the same job title can have dramatically different roles and pressures in them.
DSR - Delivery, Stretch, Reputation
This is a simple template that Brad explores as part of strategic career management in the finance space. It relates to the foundational need for finance leaders to stretch and grow in areas that A) primarily create value for the organization and its strategic goals B) allow the accounting or finance professional to build their career narrative and skill set relative to their goals C) In creating this value, engaging and maintaining a career-advantageous relationship with key people in the business. Mapping out each section of the DSR creates an agile roadmap for positioning yourself well for future development and support from leaders in the organization.
NETWORKING - STRETCH MAP
Networking is often poorly executed by most accounting and finance professionals, and not for the want of trying. Effective career networking is about engaging with people who are willing to maintain a relationship, and this relationships often involve deeper and more complex conversations than simple trading a business card or a transactional “one-off” meeting.
The Stretch Map ties in your career challenges and growth goals to key people that could play a role in helping you solve or improve your performance relative to these challenges or goals. Typically, these people will have experience in areas that you don’t and have worked through similar career challenges in the past, hence making them a valuable resource and someone to tap into for support beyond your initial discussion.
CAREER NARRATIVE - TRACKING STORIES & KEY CAREER EVENTS
For most finance leaders, their functional experience and skills are very wide and in most cases, reflect that of almost all other finance leaders at a similar stage of their career. What we acknowledge in our development towards the CFO chair, or elsewhere, is that leaders are not drawn to functional skills, especially in interviews or initial professional conversations.
What differentiates is the ability to make a difference through strategic challenges and events in your career. Not only are these stories more emotive and engaging, but they reflect the characteristics and behaviours that are important at a senior executive level.
This tool is used to track stories that you want to leverage during networking and career conversations that reflect your personal brand.
Meet with two leaders who work in roles that reflect where you think you want to be in the future.
Explore with them:
The critical decisions they contribute towards or make in their role.
What they boss thinks is most important in their role.
How they have designed the team and function to effectively meet their objectives.
What aspects of their business have the most impact on their role.