Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg
  The New Rules for Your Career

Why CPAs need to re-think their goals in this economy.

June 18, 2009
by Rick Telberg/On Careers

With the economic and business landscape shifting dramatically, finance and accounting career strategies need to change too.

Leaders, managers and staff alike need to understand the new rules of the workplace as companies and clients across the globe seem to adjust on a daily basis to changes in economic trends, financial conditions and the business outlook.

Those who are best able “to adapt to shifts in priorities and successfully execute” will be best positioned to survive the organizational shakeouts and help their firms and companies move forward, according to a new study of 200 finance and accounting leaders by Ajilon Professional Staffing, the global employment agency.

Organizational priorities are changing as fast as the economy, according to the authors of the study, and with them, professionals need to adjust their personal career strategies. For instance, during periods of economic growth, many organizations focused on recruiting top talent. But today, with many firms and companies shedding personnel, they are focusing instead on generating revenue.

The question for finance and accounting professionals: Have you shifted your personal goals and objectives to align more precisely with the changes at your organization?

And the question for organizations is: Are you adequately acknowledging the reality of the changed environment, setting new goals and priorities for your organization and rewriting compensation and incentive plans to reward the right behaviors?

Some of those conversations cannot be avoided, even as many leaders try. John Engels, a long-time leadership coach based in Rochester, N.Y., at Leadership Coaching Inc., warns that, “for leaders,” especially, “the consequences of side-stepping difficult yet important discussions can be particularly dire.”

It’s only natural, he says. But there are a couple of strategies that can help:

1. Gain some perspective — Leaders who are well-grounded and stable in their own personal lives may be better equipped to deal with the emotional crises of a company undergoing painful transition. “They are more likely to believe that an uncomfortable conversation is not a federal case,” he says, and so, not over-react.

2. Apply some clear thinking — Instead of automatically avoiding situations, good professionals are always asking themselves: “What’s good for the organization?” “What tone of voice would be the most productive?” “What outcome do I want?”

“Discomfort,” Engels says, “has been called the necessary companion of progress.” The best professionals, he says, “move through their own discomfort instead of nervously looking for ways around it.”

The irony, according to Ajilon, is that “soft skills” are essential to navigate through organizations under stress. But “hard skills” are still most rewarded. And maybe that’s understandable.

But today, Ajilon’s panel of experts say the ability to inspire and motivate, to communicate and persuade and to manage people’s emotions and expectations are “the most important qualities to be successful.” Decision-making skills and even financial and technological acumen “crept down to the bottom of the list.”

So the most important thing about being a finance or an accounting professional may be neither finance nor accounting. Instead, it may be the ability to help people confront difficult issues and to find new solutions.

But then, no one said it was going to be easy.

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Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.