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Some of the personal techniques you will need to be successful on the job include:
- being organized
- maintaining a career-oriented attitude
- being assertive
- using power
- finding a mentor
- promoting yourself
Webster’s New World Dictionary states that to organize means to set oneself into an orderly state of mind or to arrange things in an orderly way. Being organized implies being in control, and control starts with planning. Proper planning means bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now. Planning and making choices are hard work.
It may appear as though you have little free choice. Of course, there are constraints on everyone that make totally free choice impossible: health, age, education, and present job conditions. It is up to the individual, however, to make choices in the areas where there is the possibility of choice. For example, you will have, as part of your work, certain assigned tasks:
- Finish a departmental budget report by 4:00
- Interview two candidates for a cashier position.
- Evaluate alternatives for a more efficient method of processing the pay roll
You have no choice but to complete these projects. As part of your planning process, you can make a list and set priorities on activities that need to be done to accomplish these tasks. Which of these tasks is more important? Which ones have to be completed first? What activities can be delegated? These are some of the questions that need answers in the planning stage. Working on them is the first step in gaining control of your work.
Your planning should apply both to your personal and to your professional life. There is no quick, easy way to gain control of your time and your life. Getting started is the first step, then you must practice (1) setting goals, (2) listing activities, and (3) prioritizing them, until this process becomes routine. This will make you much more efficient and organized.
This is a popular office motto, “I know you believe you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize what you heard is not what I meant.” Unfortunately, this is too close to the way people actually communicate.
Communication is the process of delivering a message, written or oral. It involves the transmission of the ideas and images of one person or group to another individual or group. The secret of good communication is to have the receiver understand the message the way the sender meant it to be understood.
Written Communication One of the primary ways of communicating with others is through writing. Effective writing is one of the most important job skills. Employers are often aware of writing deficiencies in many of their employees. It is becoming more common for firms to offer seminars to train their people to be more effective writers. It is widely recognized that writing effectively leads first to communicating effectively and ultimately to managing more effectively.
The following are basic principles for effective and efficient business writing:
- Use brief, simple, and direct wording.
- Make a reader want to cooperate.
- Avoid technical jargon and cliché.
The Business Letter
Major advantages of written communication are its (1) permanent record, (2) relative formality, and (3) capacity to convey complex ideas. The disadvantages include (1) high cost, (2) low speed, and (3) lack of immediate feedback.
Words have personality. Some create a vivid, sharp image, and others show action or mood. Skilled writers develop sensitivity to words and strive for those that produce the desired effect.
Every field of study or organization develops its own jargon, which eventually evolves into an everyday vocabulary for the people who use it. If there is any doubt that your reader will understand your specialized language, use laypeople’s terms. Clichés and cluttered phrases should be avoided. Words that add nothing to the meaning of the sentence should be deleted.
The effectiveness of a letter depends on the organizing of sentences into logical paragraphs. Because people prefer to receive information in manageable chunks, most paragraphs should be kept short. A common rule of thumb states that sentences should be kept under 20 words and paragraphs should be less than 100 words. Paragraphs should have a topic sentence that expresses the main idea. The topic sentence conveys more emphasis if placed at the beginning or end of the paragraph instead of being buried in the middle.
Every business letter satisfies the following two functions: (1) it attempts to convey a message and (2) it projects an image of its writer. The style will leave an impression of both you and your employer. Your letter should be kept as simple as possible, while still conveying the proper meaning. It is very important that clients interpret the information in the manner you intend it.
Memos serve a useful purpose but should be used sparingly. Many of the guidelines suggested for the business letter also apply to the memo. A memo conveys written messages within an organization. Some of the significant differences between a letter and a memo are (1) the memo is less formal, (2) the sender and receiver of the message probably know each other, and (3) the memo should deal with only one subject.
Most people spend a part of everyday talking with others. It may be a casual, unplanned conversation as two people meet in an office corridor. At a chance meeting, a person should be pleasant and use good grammar. An exchange might be a simple “hello” or might involve mentioning a current event or a topic of interest about the company.
The speech is a more formal method of communication. When giving a speech, it is very important to know the subject well. Do research on the topic if necessary. As you gather statistics, documents, reports, or other information, keep in mind the type of audience who will be listening. A talk on tax shelters should not be delivered to the general public in the same manner as it would be to a group of practicing CPAs.
The presentation should be concise whether given to three or thirty or three hundred people. A talk should have three parts: an introduction that tells what one is going to say, the body in which it is said, and the conclusion in which one summarizes what was said. In other words, keep your speech simple and reinforce the main points. Your presentation should be compact in format. Be careful not to add “ah,” “uh,” or “um” as fillers. There is nothing wrong with a slight silent pause. In fact, sometimes it can be an attention-getter.
Act interested in the subject and the audience. Smile occasionally and try to look relaxed. Eye contact is important-do not scan the crowd but look at one individual for several seconds and then move on to someone else. This gives the audience the feeling that you are interested in them as individuals and keeps them interested in you and your topic.
Some people prefer to write the entire speech out because they are afraid they will forget what to say when they are in front of a group. If a speech is written out, care must be taken when it is presented not to sound as though it is being read. Some prefer to rehearse a speech four or five times before giving it and then time it. You can use note cards listing only brief key phrases in case you need to refer to them. This makes the speech more spontaneous but still lets you feel prepared.
Your tone of voice in important because it informs and persuades and because it expresses your feelings about yourself and other people. Your voice can project self-assurance or insecurity, interest or indifference, happiness or depression.
A tape recorder can be a useful tool to help you monitor your voice. Practice an important speech by recording it, playing back the tape, and noting the areas that need improvement. If done properly, the same speech may be delivered to a handful of people or to hundreds with the same positive results.
Suppose an accounting manager wants to convince the budget committee that her department’s budget for the next fiscal year is justified. The budget does not have as good a chance of being accepted if the manager is not an effective speaker. Of course, other factors in her presentation are equally important and will influence the final decision: the way she is dressed, her overall presence and preparedness, and the reasonableness of the budget.
Visual aids have become an integral part of many presentations. They can reinforce the major points and concepts of a talk. These aids can range from a simple flip chart to slides with a sound track. Each aid should be planned and coordinated to fit smoothly into the talk. Effectiveness is weakened if too much information is displayed at one time.
Nonverbal In addition to written and oral communication, you communicate nonverbally.
Your body language delivers messages, too. The study of body language, or
Non-verbal communication is an emerging science, and the experts do not agree on all of the findings. Still, some body movements have either positive or negative effects on viewers. As a professional, make sure your body language is sending the message you want people to receive.
Sometimes body language betrays a person by conveying messages that are in conflict with the spoken word. An employee tells his superior how happy and excited he is about his new promotion to cost accounting manager. If he is slumping, slouching, sitting with his elbows on the table, or with his chin in his hand, the message is probably not being received as intended. What does facial expression reveal? It can and should enhance one’s power and effectiveness. If you are expressing acceptance, you should not be scowling; if anger, you should not be smiling; and if interest in another person’s conversation, you should not have a blank, bored look.
Remember, looking and acting with poise is important for a professional and can do much for one’s image. How a man or woman acts usually has more impact than what he or she says. Objective information is revealed by the language used, but your body conveys how you feel about what you are saying. Whenever there is a discrepancy, the nonverbal message is likely to be taken as the true meaning.
For most people, listening is not a skill that is easy to develop. Listening may be considered as an opportunity to gather needed information. You can prevent some misunderstandings, mistakes, and bad working relationships by listening carefully. Good listening requires a conscientious effort and a sense of balance-there is a fine line between gaining needed company knowledge and hearing someone’s troubles and complaints.
How do you make your employer realize you think you have a career at XYZ Company and not merely a job? Act like a professional. Be willing to travel and accept overtime if that is routine practice in the office. Certification in one of the areas of accounting is important. (See Chapters 1 and 2 for further discussion of certification.) Willingness to attend training sessions or seminars to increase your knowledge is important. These usually include skill-building topics or current updates of technical information. Many seminars give the accountant continuing professional education (CPE) credits. CPE credits are needed in most states to keep various certifications current. Training sessions or seminars are usually paid for by the employers.
Obtaining a master’s in business administration or a master’s in accountancy may be very worthwhile. It could increase your salary and give you a better chance for promotion while also letting the employer know you are serious about your career. Most companies pay part or all of the tuition and the cost of books for their employees.
College accounting teachers are expected to publish articles or books and to conduct research as part of their jobs. They are also expected to participate in university activities and to be involved in their community. By fulfilling these requirements, accounting educators show that they are serious about their career. In whatever area accountants are employed, they must convince management or the administration that they are an integral part of the team.
In today’s business environment, competition is considered a way of life. Planning to win requires a “game plan.” It means that you must use the environment to your advantage. Often, competition is associated with aggressive behavior, which implies getting your own way regardless of the consequences to others. For many people the word aggressive connotes negative feelings. Aggression may be more palatable if referred to as self-initiative.
Today, psychologists are teaching people it is better and healthier to be assertive than it is to be aggressive. Assertive behavior allows you to describe your thoughts and feelings without attacking or blaming another person. In this way assertiveness differs from aggressiveness.
As an assertive person, you will come to recognize the importance of behavioral changes, including changes in your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and usual ways of handling problems. Because assertion is a very personal learning experience, it is necessary for you to examine your own particular needs.
Assertive behavior has positive consequences. When you assert yourself, you feel more in control of your life and experiences. This is a personal power that does not come at the expense of someone else or of a relationship.
You will have many opportunities to be assertive. Everyone experiences criticism on the job, at least occasionally. If it is realistic, helpful criticism, the assertive person responds by acknowledging that the criticism is valid. If the problem lies in you, and you are working on the problem and trying to modify your behavior patterns, you should state that fact. If you are receiving criticism and have been unaware that a problem existed, you can ask for help or suggestions on ways to correct the situation. If you are giving criticism, be careful to avoid aggression. If aggressive behavior is used to criticize someone, the person receiving the criticism probably will become angry or defensive. This does not result in any productive behavior modification or change.
Competing in a fair manner and being assertive help an accounting professional develop a sense of power in the corporate organization. Power is defined as the ability to influence another person and to get another person to think, feel, or do something. Power has more than one source. In the article “The Bases of Social Power,” the authors define five types of power:
- Reward power :The power to give or withhold something that is perceived as being valuable to another person
- Coercive power: The power to inflict some kind of punishment that the other person wants to avoid.
- Legitimate power: The power to exert authority legitimately, to use the influence of one’s title or of one’s position.
- Referent power: The power that other people give us because they respect us, like us, approve of us, or are attracted to us.
- Expertise power: The power that other people give us because of our special knowledge and competence.
Almost all people use one or more of these power sources when they try to influence others. Reward and coercive power have rather direct results in a business setting: reward power in the ability to give a raise or promotion, and coercive power in the power to fire or demote an employee. Legitimate power is exhibited when a memo is issued from the director of internal auditing to all subordinates that there is a meeting at 2:00 and their attendance is expected, or when the director of budgeting states that all budgets will be finalized and handed in by May 18 at 5:00 P.M.
Referent and expertise power are not automatically given. They must be earned by displaying competency, self-confidence, self-assurance, control, and intelligence. These two kinds of power are harder to achieve and do not always equate with job status. A controller is not necessarily given referent or expertise power just because he or she has achieved that level in the organization.
FINDING A MENTOR
A mentor is a teacher who can instruct and guide a protégé. If you choose a mentor wisely, he or she will influence your career, sometimes dramatically.
Traditionally, the mentor is considered someone two or more levels higher than the protégé in the organizational structure.
When you first join the company, your mentor may be a peer or someone lower in the organization (perhaps a secretary). This mentor’s purpose is to show you the ropes, giving practical information about the office and the people in it. Care should be taken to see that the advice is correct. This relationship may not last long; its main purpose is to gain initial information.
For many, the concept of mentor brings to mind a godmother or godfather relationship. Like a godparent, a mentor inspires, teaches, guides, and can make something happen for the protégé. The protégé looks to the mentor as a role model and for support. The mentor often views the relationship not only as a chance to help a bright and ambitious person, but also as an opportunity to perpetuate his or her own ideas and philosophy in the organization.
Whom do you pick for a mentor? A potential mentor should be someone you like and someone with whom you are compatible. He or she should be someone in a position to influence your career, someone who is a leader in your company. The characteristics of successful leaders vary. There is no one profile; however, there are a few key characteristics that most leaders have in common:
- a strong ego
- a high level of energy
- a high level of intelligence
- the ability to conceptualize
- the ability to make decisions
- the ability to communicate well
- the ability to relate to others
A mentor-protégé’ relationship can be male-male, male-female, female-female, or female-male. The female mentor is not as common because there are not as many women as men in top management to act as role models.
How do you make a potential mentor notice you? If you have determined someone is a potential mentor, you should already know some of his or her likes and dislikes, some of his or her hobbies and habits. If you know he or she is interested in a particular author, you might cut out a review of this author’s latest book and send it to the mentor with a note asking “Do you agree with this review?” If a potential mentor is an avid duplicate bridge player, send an article announcing a marathon duplicate bridge tournament that will be held in the city. Find out what business organization he or she belongs to. Join if you are eligible, or ask him or her for sponsorship. Ask the person’s advice on a career or business-oriented decision. All of these ideas will get your potential mentor’s attention. It may take a year or more to cement a mentor relationship, and remember, not every potential relationship one tries to establish will work.
If one is fortunate to establish a successful mentor-protégé relationship, it may last for five or ten years or longer. As a mentor is promoted in the company, his or her power to help the protégé becomes even greater.
One of the dangers of this relationship becomes apparent when the mentor suffers a political reverse within the company. In such cases, the effects are also felt by the protégé. Another problem is not knowing when or how to release yourself from one mentor and move on. Usually, close emotional bonds have been established that are hard to loosen.
Someone who has experienced being a protégé in a mentor-protégé relationship feels an obligation to assist younger people early in their careers. The rewards are great!
In geometry there is a theorem that states that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. In networking theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Networking is a way of gathering information, obtaining referrals or assistance from group members, and gaining contacts. In some ways, networking has the same effect as a chain letter; as one meets more people, the number of possible contacts increases.
Networking can be accomplished in groups that are formal or informal, structured or unstructured. With informal networking there may be no regular meetings. This type of network is possible with neighbors or with people in your department or on the same floor at work. Networking is very important for a sole practitioner or anyone working in a management position in a public accounting firm. New clients are gained through referrals from present clients or from direct contact with the accountant. These contacts may be made at a country club, tennis club, or athletic club, as well as in more structured settings.
A more structured form of networking can be achieved by joining a professional organization. Most of the professional organizations have local, state, and national groups or affiliates. Advantages of structured, formal networking are the educational seminars and meetings offered interaction with professionals with similar problems and aspirations, and a chance to expand your circle of contacts. (See Appendix A at the end of the book for a list of professional accounting organizations and their addresses.)
A cost accountant might choose to join the local chapter of the National Association of Accountants, which emphasizes managerial accounting. A member of the internal audit staff could join the Institute of Internal Auditing. Any certified public accountant (CPA) could join the local chapter of the state society of CPAs.
Building networks is exciting and interesting. A person has the opportunity of becoming acquainted with people, never knowing when that contact might be used in a positive way.
An advertising executive, Jane Trahey, wrote in her book On Women and Power, “I don’t care what they say about me, as long as they spell my name right.” Promoting oneself becomes easier if a person has found a mentor and knows how to network.
Many people believe if they study hard, perfect their accounting skills, and do their jobs well, they will be recognized, given more opportunities, and promoted. They believe that merit has its own rewards. This is just not true.
The fact that the budget is done on time and the financial statements balance at the end of each month is not enough. Fulfilling the job description is not enough. Employers expect quality work; that’s what you are paid for. If nothing is done to promote skills and competency, you may be overlooked.
On the job, keeps a folder listing activities you have performed that go beyond the job description. If a suggestion or idea sounds worthwhile, write a memo or business letter about it to the boss. It could be a suggestion on updating a section of the internal control manual or a new approach on credit collection procedures, for example.
Involvement in community service, giving a speech, or doing other volunteer work, even if it is not directly related to the job, should be noted and publicized when possible. When you give a lecture to a group of business-people on the changes in a new tax law, or present a program to high school students informing them on careers in accounting, send a news release to the local paper. In most city papers there is a business page or section. If space permits the item will be published and you will have free publicity. Make sure activities are also printed in the company or university newsletter.
If you do it assertively, promoting yourself need not appear obnoxious or offensive. Positive self-presentation is crucial for the professional accountant. If you think you are a worthwhile, interesting person, other people will be convinced too. You will be considered a winner-and isn’t that what it is all about?