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Home » Business Owners

What Got You Here…Won’t Get You There.

Practical lessons for Success


Extract from a speech given by Matthew Needham at the Chartered Insititute of Management Accountants (CIMA) new members presentation held at the Heritage Motor Centre, in September 2007.

Thank you very much. Good Evening.

It’s my great pleasure and honour to be your speaker tonight and I’d like to start by echoing the words of the President and congratulate all the new members here tonight.  I hope you enjoy your evening of celebration and to all the non members and guests, a very warm welcome to you all.

I am going  to talk to you about practical lessons for success, which have been the cornerstone of my career.The reason I’ve chosen to talk about this is because, as impressive as the achievement is on passing the CIMA qualification and becoming admitted to membership, unfortunately, it’s only a ticket to the game.  It gets you interviews, it opens doors. But what’s  got you here tonight, won’t get you where you  want to be in your career.

Being technically brilliant in this web enabled economy, unfortunately is not enough.  A friend of mine recently went to India to view outsourcing partners like Infosys and TCS. When he returned he was in awe.

“I can’t believe we still have jobs” He said.

He went on to cite the modern offices, enthusiasm and levels of skill sets.  Qualified Accountants were acting as General Ledger Clerks.

I read recently that Infosys recruited 10,000 trainees every 14 weeks to turn them in to programmers.  The level of growth is unbelievable.

Brilliant accountants exist in India, China and a host of other developing nations, but,  guess what, they want our jobs. Standards are high and thanks to competition, increasing.

Therefore, what sets the best from the rest and consequently the most employable are those individuals with great  people skills and the power to communicate.

This is something I learned when I was still at school. I remember being on holiday with my mum and we were talking to someone who was an accountant. My mum ever one to encourage me to work harder at school, said “I bet you have to be good at maths to do  that”. With the clear implication to me that if I worked harder at school,  then I too could be an accountant…. Great I thought. Anyway, what was wrong with being an  astronaut or pilot?

But then, he said something that clearly got my attention, because I remember the words 20 years later as if it were only yesterday.

“No”, he replied, “it’s about talking to people.”

Has anyone here read the book Freakonomics? By Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Well, last Monday I had the good fortune to see Steven Levitt talk about his book.

He quoted a survey about what makes Economists successful in their career.

Apparently over 70% of respondents thought that technical competency in the economic models was the key to success.

Funny thing was though; only 2% thought that to be successful required a broad understanding of business and the economy.

Isn’t that mad? How can you not have a broad understanding of business and economy to be successful as an Economist?

But, I do think this equally applies to our profession. We have to be careful not  to loose sight of the wood for the trees. Great ability at writing Excel macros is not the key to success and riches. I don’t recall a single internal client saying to me “What a great spreadsheet”.

You don’t need convincing about the quality of the CIMA Qualification or you wouldn’t be here tonight and invested several years of hard work. Indeed, it’s one of the proudest moments of my own career. But, I personally see the ACMA and the CIMA name as a quality mark, a bit like the ‘Intel inside’ logo. When you see the letters on a CV you know you’re getting a quality product.

But what set’s one PC apart from another is the same as what sets individuals apart. That being the individual’s brand.  Consequently to make the brand more valuable I  think that we need to focus on the softer stuff and do it well to make our personal brand more successful.

I can think of no time in my career, which has ranged from various graduate Trainee jobs with Rolls-Royce to my present role leading a team of Finance, Procurement and Business Improvement people in an internal Professional Services Firm, which has not involved me having to communicate with others….which is why a large part of my CPD is based around communication, presenting and influence…

You may have heard the Mckinsey maxim of you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Well, You can’t influence if you can’t communicate.

Have you ever found that you listen and take more notice of the people you like?

Well if you want to be liked and want to increase your influence I have

5 Tips To Help

  1. What do we tend to do when people smile?  Smile Back Yes?
    Smiles are infectious and people tend to feed good and can’t help smiling back. Don’t you feel better when you smile?

    Even better, for an accountant, a smile costs nothing – it’s Free

  2. Any ideas what the most important thing you can say to another human being? It’s their name. Since we were small we have been ‘programmed’ by our parents to respond. Normally it’s when you’ve done something wrong!  Which is why people tend to respond when their name’s used and tune it. Mind you, it doesn’t work on cats…
  3. Thirdly, Become genuinely interested in other people.
    When you struggle to get a message across to another person. Be more like them.  See the world from their perspective, understand their point of view.  Going back to Steven Levitt’s talk, he said people do things when they have an incentive. What might their’s be? Why are they thinking like this?
  4. Fourthly, Listen.  Every one thinks that they listen but they rarely do.  Don’t you feel annoyed when someone you’re talking to is reading e-mails or sending a text whilst listening to you?  Might it not be the same when you are listening to them?
  5. Encourage people to talk about themselves.
    Be more interested than interesting and ask great incisive questions.
  6. Finally, I think it’s fair to say that someone can do at least one thing better than you. Wouldn’t you agree? Make the other person feel better by using the words….You know what I really like about you is….

In this increasingly networked economy our personal networks and our ability to influence become amongst the most valuable commodity we have.

Within my own team, we use the phrase the trusted advisor. Our aim is to have the same level as trust as you place I your confident as if they were your partner, your best friend, or sounding board. The best sounding boards are typically the best expert, but it is the person you turn to when you have a problem but most of all you’ll find that they listen, usually without interruption!

Like you, CIMA got me to be the expert, but hardwork and a genuine interest for my internal clients, my colleagues and my team have certainly been great assets to my own career.

If there’s two things you take away from tonight, then I hope it’s to be more interested than interesting but most importantly smile and enjoy yourself.

With that in mind,

Smile and enjoy the rest of the night.

Thank you.

[ENDS]