Technology-In-Residence: The Evolving Role of the Traveling Professional

As IMA VP of Research & Policy and Professor-in-Residence, I travel a lot to our offices in China, the Middle East, and Europe as well as to conferences around the world. But I manage to stay connected to IMA Global Headquarters in New Jersey via technology – something that has increasingly made an impact on the business world. The increased global need for connectedness is fuelling the development of technology and changing how we use it and where we do business.

The Changing Landscapetravel
Technology has drastically changed how and where we do business since I started working at IMA in 2006. That first year I traveled extensively around China, working on our study of management accounting in the country. At that time, my technological options were limited, and it was a challenge to keep in touch with the office and my family. Now when I travel, I make sure to pack my tablet, smartphone, and laptop, which – together with my mobile hotspot – ensure I can work and stay connected at all times.

Social media is also now playing a larger role in business, bringing us closer to business partners around the globe, exposing us to new markets in various countries, and increasing customer engagement. I’ve also started tweeting this past year (follow me at @RaefLawson) and recently participated in Twitter chats regarding accounting education, which engaged audiences from around the world. It’s proving to be a great way to quickly exchange information with others.

Where We Do Business
Since I’ve joined IMA our association has transformed from being a U.S. association to a global one. We now conduct research globally, enabling us to source the best talent from around the world while providing more relevant and insightful research to our global members. Technology helps us better serve our members, and that is of paramount importance.

Advances in technology provide the opportunity for members of my team to work remotely and still be connected to home base. Cloud technology and other data-sharing programs help ensure our research team can stay in touch and work collaboratively no matter where we are.

How Business Is Conducted
Of course, technology can be both a benefit and a curse, depending on whether it is appropriately used and if appropriate limits exist. It seems like we’re all now constantly connected with our devices, and business – especially now that IMA is global – has become 24/7. Because we’re increasingly working from home or on location, it has become more difficult to shut off our work devices. This “digital office” allows us to tablet, phonecollaborate through e-mail, Skype, and other platforms to successfully complete our work in a timely manner.

The way we do research has also changed. The days of paper-based surveys are pretty much gone as the development of online survey tools has made conducting surveys much easier and more effective. The cost of distributing surveys has been slashed (or eliminated) as has the cost of getting data ready for analysis.

Looking to the Future
Going forward, it’s clear that performance expectations will rise as competition increases and technology evolves. At IMA we’re working hard to upgrade our technology in an effective manner in order to ensure that we can adequately serve our expanding, more diverse membership. This will help us not only produce more research of use to our members but also more value to them throughout the organization.

Where do you think technology will be in the next 5-10 years? How has social media changed the way you do business at your company?

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA
Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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Reverse Mentoring as Continuing Education

Not all knowledge comes from books and classrooms. Mentoring is a different “classroom” setting that will help you acquire skills needed for the constantly changing business environment. Mentorships aren’t only beneficial to young professionals trying to get their foot in the door—seasoned professionals have just as much learning to do.

Seasoned Professionals’ RoleSize difference
Professionals at any stage of their career can learn from their younger counterpart—called “reverse mentoring”—but they must have an open mind to do so.

Earning a certification shouldn’t be the end of your professional development. Continuing education, experience with special projects, and mentoring can help you advance your career even further. Young mentees can teach more “seasoned professionals,” for example, how to leverage new technology and use social media in new ways. The generational gap should be used to better the business rather than create barriers of status, power, or position.

You can also harness young mentees’ fresh, outside perspective about processes “you’ve always done” to make them more efficient. Just remember to be open to change and give honest feedback to their suggestions.

Young Professionals’ Role
Most of us know the basics of a mentorship: They help young professionals learn about their new industry, learn tricks of the trade, and work on their career development and leadership skills from seasoned professionals.

origami birds - Large_tealIn a traditional mentoring role, young professionals learn problem-solving skills, how to manage a staff, essential skills for performing well on the job, and more. But these skills aren’t acquired overnight. Mentees must be patient because these skills are developed over time, and there’s always something new to learn. After all, learning is a lifelong journey.

Sometimes mentorships are undervalued because “students” aren’t learning in a traditional classroom. But real-world exposure is arguably the most valuable learning tool for young people.

As someone who recognizes the benefits of reverse mentoring, I encourage you to find a mentee as soon as possible. Become active on social networking sites to be proactive with making these contacts. You will be glad you did.

Have you ever participated in a mentorship? What were your experiences?

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

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Shop Small for Big Benefits

Many organizations have long recognized the importance of small businesses and their contributions to the economy. IMA’s Small Business Financial and Regulatory Affairs Committee (SBFRC), for example, advocates for small businesses and financial reporting matters. You can help too by turning to local small businesses for goods and services.

November 29 is a day when you can make a big impact. Yep, it’s Small Business Saturday, a day that promotes shopping at small businesses in local communities and offers a chance for individuals to make a big impact on both the local and global economies in many ways.

Boost Employment RatesSBS - pic
Small Business Saturday was established by American Express in 2010 and was nationally recognized in 2011 because small businesses help lower the unemployment rate—the most important factor to a growing economy.

The Small Business Administration says that 60% to 80% of new jobs in the United States are created by small businesses, and small businesses account for 99.7% of employers. On a smaller scale, they hire locals, which decreases the community’s unemployment rate.

Engage Your Community
Small businesses help support many aspects of individual neighborhoods, including occupying buildings that would otherwise be abandoned and that would foster crime.
In addition, small businesses cater to their customers who might need specialized products. The customer service provided to this niche market builds stronger customer relationships.

You are also more likely to become a frequent shopper at stores that understand your needs and want to help you, unlike some of the chain stores. And the money you spend there goes back to the community. (For example, the business can make a donation to the town, the sales tax goes to local police or municipalities, and they can sponsor town sports teams or events.)

small business open signGrow the Economy
Small businesses are essentially the backbone of the economy. A survey of independently owned retailers by Civil Economics reveals that 52% of small business revenues are recirculated into the economy, whereas chain stores recirculate only 13.6%.

If you’re drawn more to the boutique rather than the big-box store down the street, the products you’re buying are probably Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—domestically grown or made products that aren’t imports. This greatly benefits the national economy.

By supporting your neighborhood “mom and pop” shops, you contribute to the growth of the economy. What can small businesses do to keep you motivated throughout the year to shop small?

Written by Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA

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Code of Ethics: Making Your Business Valuable

As children, we were taught right from wrong, good from bad. Then we took those values and modeled ourselves from that internal code of ethics. Over the years we develop and build our personal codes, and organizations should apply that same approach in designing standard ethical guidelines for conducting business.

building_blocksEnforce the Code from the Top-Down
Leaders have to create and enforce a standard code to have a solid and realistic set of guidelines. Then, they should implement these guidelines throughout the organization. If it starts at the top, the example can trickle down through the organization, creating an ethical business culture. Every employee should be equipped with the knowledge to handle daily moral dilemmas using this code without exceptions or deviations, which is where many organizations’ ethical codes tend to fall apart. Annual employee training also will help enforce the code.

Create Core Values
A well-thought-out corporate mission, vision, and core values statement are important in driving business strategy and creating company values. Senior leadership must regularly and clearly communicate these messages to their team and continuously endorse them. The companies with the highest ethical values win customer trust, gain employee loyalty, and benefit from increased revenue over a sustained period of time.

quotes

Value = Ethics
Without a definitive set of guidelines, organizations will inevitability try to boost their bottom line however they can. But don’t ever compromise your values to get ahead. Instead synchronize your values with your plans for the future of your business. If you have a great commitment to values but not the right leadership and strategy, you’re doing a disservice to customers and all other stakeholders. Your emphasis should be on doing both. Ethics is at the core of what makes a business successful.

How do you make your business valuable? How do you implement your company’s code of ethics?

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

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4 Ways to Manage Continuing Your Education While Working Full Time

As the school bells ring in the near distance, we’re reminded that the school year is upon us. No matter your status, you should always be thinking about continuing your education. Whether you’re studying for a professional certification or going back to school for another degree, keep in mind that continuing education is important for a constantly changing world.

stacked_books Studying for and taking certification tests while balancing work and life is difficult. (I know, I’ve been there.) A few things, however, helped me stay focused and sane.

Budget Your Time
When I was studying for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam, I had a seven-year-old daughter and a toddler. It was difficult to manage my time between family and studying, but with good time management skills and a schedule in place, I found the time. Budgeting my time while I was on airplanes for business trips, a half hour before and after work, and during lunch was critical to my success. Set up a study plan with ample time so that you can prepare a little bit each day instead of cramming the month/week/day before.

It’s also important to schedule time to relax. Find an activity that will relieve your stress, even if it means going for a walk, going to a ballgame, or watching TV with your family. This will allow you to unwind and return later with a clear mind.

Put Things Into Perspective
For me, my family always came first, then my job, and then studying. It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t pass. You’ll always have another opportunity to take the test, and life is too short to stress over it. Sometimes you might wonder, “Is this ever going to end?” But six months isn’t a long time compared to the larger picture of your life and your career.

Learn How to Study and Take a Test
It’s important to determine which way of studying works best for you: studying by yourself online, in a group online, in a classroom, or by yourself. There are many resources that can help you stay focused, including practice questions, reading material, and flashcards. No matter how you choose to study, the most important part is that you do what works best for you.

Blue coffee cup, glasses and office suppliesNot all people are good test takers. Some have to study for hours to get good grades, while others absorb information naturally. The important thing is to not overthink and to know that tests are imperfect tools that aren’t the only measure of your knowledge and who you are. Go into the test-taking room with a clear mind and positive thoughts.

I was out of school for a while when I took my first certification test, so I had to mentally get back into test-taking mode. That meant relearning how to manage my time and quickly and efficiently answer questions.

Build a Support Group
Having a support system is really important for being successful in this endeavor. If you’re trying to balance work, life, and studying, you have to have family buy-in. The support of your family, friends, and coworkers will bring you encouragement and motivation.

Another option is to find a mentor who has been through the process and can provide guidance. When I started studying for my CAE (Certified Association Executive) certification, I found a mentor in IMA’s President and CEO, who had also just achieved the CAE. He provided me with additional notes to study from and encouragement along the way.

Dream Big
Continuing education, including additional college degrees and professional certifications, signifies the next step in your career and your dedication to your profession. It isn’t easy to achieve a professional certification while working full time and having a family, but if you have the right balance, prepare the best you can, and have a calm mind, you will surely succeed.

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE

Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

 

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Strategic Partnerships: How to Learn, Grow, and Profit Together

Whether you’re an international organization or a mom-and-pop shop, strategic partnerships are a valuable asset to any business. Building client bases, creating revenue streams, and increasing your distribution are just some of the benefits strategic partnerships can offer. But how do you know if a company will make a good match? Before making a decision, ask yourself a few questions to ensure you’re making the right choice for your business.

GearsAre We a Cultural Match?
Before beginning a partnership, make sure both companies share the same values. “In short, culture is the driving force behind successful businesses or the Achilles heel that eventually fades organizations into oblivion,” writes Joe Evans, president and CEO of Method Frameworks, on the Executive Street blog. When partnering with a company, it is key that you share the same ethics and values. Both companies need to be invested in conducting themselves in a similar manner–this will avoid conflict both between companies and with clients.

Is There a Mutual Benefit?
A good partnership can result in improved operations, more revenue, a broader client base, and a larger brand. When searching for a strategic partnership, consider how each company will benefit from combining forces. With a cultural match in place as a strong foundation, you can now explore where your strengths and/or weaknesses may complement each other in a way that will help you achieve beyond what you can do on your own. Creativity at this stage is also an asset and both parties should strive to look outside the box to consider all options before honing in on where they might work together.

Talk It Out First
Companies that have clear and open lines of communication make the best strategic partners because they clearly and precisely express their concerns, expectations, and vision. These open lines of communication will be crucial throughout the partnership but are especially important as you establish the parameters and goals before the partnership begins. Clear communication will ensure a long, successful partnership.
Strategic partnerships don’t come with guarantees. Companies have needs and priorities that change over time. But, if you look for a cultural match, focus on how you can mutually benefit, and go in with a plan, your strategic partnership has an excellent chance to succeed.

Written by Steve Weiss, CAE

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Summer Vacation: Rest, Relaxation, and Reaching Your Goals

pencilsFor students, summertime usually means taking a break from classes, tests, and studying. For some it may include lounging by the pool every day. But as appealing as that sounds, it’s important for you to keep your mind active and focused on your future. Working toward your goals during the summer will help you stand out among your peers for job interviews. And not only is it worthwhile for your professional career, but you also can grow personally from these experiences. But how can you continue to grow? You can get a job or internship, take a few summer courses, study abroad, or volunteer in an organization.

Internships

The greatest value of an internship is the experience you gain from networking with professionals. Some people may become mentors, and the internship could eventually lead to a full-time position with the company after you graduate. Other experiences may build your character and leadership skills, showing that maybe you want to take a different route in your career. Even if you aren’t close to graduating, participating in an internship shows future employers that you took the initiative to further your professional development, including learning how to work in a team but be independent at the same time, learning office etiquette, and learning the basics from seasoned professionals.

Internships.com conducted a survey that found 63% of the class of 2012 participated in an internship program, Intern_quote Raef 7-11-2014and 86% of them had a positive experience. In an article on Forbes.com about the study, Stuart Lander, chief marketing officer at Internships.com, said, “First and foremost, these results tell us that at a time when 54% of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed, the best chance you have as a student not to be part of that statistic is to do an internship. You have a 7 in 10 chance of being hired by the company you interned with.”

Continuing Studies

Extra course work over the summer can lead to early graduation or can help you fulfill a class requirement that’s typically difficult to schedule during the regular semester. It will keep your mind active and focused on learning. Achieving your dream job takes dedication and motivation. Once you graduate and start working in the real world, summer vacation won’t exist. Think of this time as preparation for your bright future.

You also can take this time to study abroad. Not only will you be furthering your education, but you also will be experiencing a different culture. Remember to choose your destination carefully as you will be spending two to three months there. You should also choose a destination that suites your interests. For instance, if you want to explore Italian cuisine, studying in England might not help you. There also might be scholarships available to help you fund the semester abroad.

Volunteerism

Volunteering is another great way to keep active during the summer, and you can volunteer in many different ways. If you’re a writer, volunteer to write for your local newspaper or town website. If you want to be a teacher, volunteer at your local school or community center that has summer activities. If you like to travel, join a global volunteer group to help build houses, for example, in other countries.

Not only will volunteering help you succeed in your area of interest, it will also help build your character and personal development skills. It can teach you patience, dedication, and discipline. Volunteering has many benefits, and the summer is perfect for exploring your options.

There are plenty of ways you can spend your summer vacation. If you stay active and continue reaching for your goals, you’ll look back on this time more fondly knowing that you spent it wisely.

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA

Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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