Career Advice: The Moment That Mattered for Us

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IMA’s top thought leaders are sharing the best career advice they’ve ever received, which helped shape them into the professionals they are today.

 

JeffACE20160619-_MTMspotJeff Thomson, CMA, CAE, is IMA’s president and CEO. Undoubtedly, he has received much career advice throughout the years, but what stuck with him the most pertained to becoming a business partner:

“To add value in your position, learn the business. This gives you the context to learn, grow, and influence. Simple as that! ‘The business’ includes your industry, how value flows, your customers, how decisions are made in your company, and what are the levers to being an influential business partner.”

 

Dennis Whitney, CMA, is IMA’s senior vice president of certifications, exams, and content integration. The advice he received early in his career helped him balance his workload:

“When I was in my late 20s, a supervisor/mentor told me to work hard, but have fun, and don’t worry about the things you can’t control. This advice helped me be both more productive and happier as I work toward focusing only on what matters most.”

 

Debbie Warner, CPLP, is IMA’s vice president of education and career services and was inspired by career advice about continuing education:

“Make learning a lifelong adventure. Not only is it fun to continually expand your horizon, but the knowledge you gain is something you will ‘own’ throughout your life and helps to determine your uniqueness.”

 

Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE, is IMA’s director of technical accounting activities. The best career advice she received was in the area of advocacy:

“Take control of your career, and become your strongest advocate. Carve out and identify your area of expertise, and develop a career path accordingly. That advice is why I think I was considered for my original position at IMA 10 years ago, as director of professional advocacy. As I continue to be an advocate for my career, I am also a strong advocate for IMA and love opportunities that allow me to talk about IMA’s membership benefits, including the CMA® [Certified Management Accountant] designation.”

 

Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, is IMA’s vice president of research and professor-in-residence. He was inspired at a young age to strive to reach his goals:

“One of my high school teachers wrote in my yearbook something to the effect that in order to succeed, you need both ‘smarts’ and perseverance; one of these alone was not sufficient.”

 

Doreen Remmen, CMA, CAE, is IMA’s senior vice president of operations and CFO.

“The best career advice I received was the advice I gave myself: ‘Get certified!’”

 

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Did it help you grow personally and professionally? How else did it change you? Leave your comments below!

 

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5 Tips For Being a Thought Leader

What does being a thought leader mean to you? For me, it means being seen as the go-to source of information and being a beacon for future generations, whether that be teaching in the classroom or being a mentor in industry. Thought leadership can take many forms, including conducting in-depth research of tomorrow’s trends, publishing thought-provoking articles, and sharing knowledge with others on an individual basis. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up during my career as a professor and as IMA’s vice president of research and policy and professor-in-residence.

1. Stand out from the crowd
It’s important to keep an eye on competitors, but you’ll get more value out of creatingGroup Of Business People Listening To Speaker Giving Presentationdiverse, original material. Whether you’re speaking at an event or to your coworkers, offering relevant, timely, and accurate thought leadership shows that you are invested in your audience and their future. For example, IMA’s research is funded in-house and is authentic, original material.

2. Prove your credibility
Your products need to be credible. Conduct your own research, surveys, or studies andShot of a young female assistant using a tablet with her boss working in the backgroundprove that you’re capable of getting real results—that’s credibility. Also, getting your name out there by publishing articles, presenting at conferences, and speaking at events helps you become more credible. Being a thought leader means you’re the go-to person for information in your industry.

3. Show your passion
If you aren’t passionate about the thought leadership you’re producing, why produce it?  Make sure that what you’re writing, speaking about, or researching is worth your time—because if it isn’t, your audience won’t be passionate about it either. Thought leadership is only valuable if people acknowledge it. Showing your audience that you’re passionate about your work will also increase engagement, both online and offline.

4. Engage your audience
Understanding your audience’s needs will help you produce better and more relevant thought leadership. What do they care about most? You can find out by sending themGreat presentation! Group of happy business people in smart casual wear sitting together at the table and applauding to someonean online survey, or engage with them on social media, at in-person events, or via e-mail or phone calls. This will help you create loyal, long-term stakeholders that follow your thought leadership. In addition, studying the trends will help you plan for future research, publications, or speaking engagements.

5. Pass it on
Students and young professionals are the future of our profession. Passing on knowledge from educator to student, from supervisor to employee, and from peer to peer is an important responsibility of being a thought leader. Knowledge sharing is also one of the best ways to become a thought leader, especially since the growth of the digital landscape has made it a lot easier and quicker to share information.

Be a Thought Leader
Becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen over night. It takes time to build your brand and become recognized in your field. IMA has become a thought leader in management accounting over the past 97 years. Our thought-provoking, relevant, and timely publications contribute to our overall success, and it all started with the goal to one day become a thought leader. Anyone can become a thought leader if they’re passionate about and persistent to achieving their goals.

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

Related Articles:
Building Effective LeadersStrategic Finance
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Ethics Training: It Starts Earlier than You Think

Ethics is a serious topic for professionals working in business. Stories of financial professionals failing to act in an ethical manner – and the consequences – are unfortunately commonplace. It’s important for management accountants around the world to be able to understand and identify unethical behavior. This importance is reflected in the requirement for professionals holding the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential to earn two hours of CPE credit in ethics each year.

While we often refer to ethical issues on the job, ethics training for professionals starts earlier than you think – even before college.

Higher Educationillustration2-BlogGraphic

Growing up, you acquire ethical values through many avenues, including your culture, religion, family, and more. These values stay with you throughout your life. While many people would agree that ethics isn’t something that you can be taught in school, you can learn how to recognize unethical situations in kindergarten through college.

In college (and with continuing education courses), you can learn about applying your ethical beliefs in the real world, the red flags that alert you to fraud and other unethical situations, and the procedures to report these situations. Most higher education institutions require their accounting majors to take an ethics course before graduating or incorporate an ethics component in other courses. This is a great way for students to learn how to address real-world ethical situations and understand what can happen when faced with financial pressures and your business’s reputation is on the line.

If you were ever to get caught cheating in school, consequences can range up to getting expelled. But if you get caught “cheating” in the real world, the consequences can be much more serious, including losing your job, damaging your reputation, and facing criminal charges.

Business
After you graduate and get your first job, you’ll need to continue to develop your ability to identify unethical situations and learn how to avoid them. One way to do this is by asking for a mentor at your company, who could explain how a seasoned professional would handle such situations. How would he or she recognize the red flag? How would he or she report it? Each company has different procedures, which should be followed first. The IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice can also be a guide in resolving ethical conflicts.

HiRes - stepsApplying what you’ve learned in the classroom to the business world can be intimidating. But if you know the signs of unethical behavior and the resources available to you, you will be able to successfully uphold your values in the workplace and keep your company on the ethical path to success.

As a leader in upholding the highest ethical standards in business, IMA offers many resources to help guide accountants and financial professionals:

In a time when the news is flooded with stories about big corporations committing fraud, it’s more important than ever to understand your values and responsibility as an accountant to hold yourself to the highest ethical standards.

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

Related Articles:
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Nine Steps to Make Your Company’s Ethics Training Program Stick – AccountingWeb

Attending College? Don’t Neglect the Soft Skills!

College is a time for students to learn and grow. In addition to the technical skills you’ll need for your future career, you’ll also need to develop “soft skills” that will enable you to succeed in the workplace. While some schools integrate these skills throughout their curriculum, you need to be sure that they’re part of your college education.

Time Managementwork-life balance shoes
Students who have a job and can maintain a healthy GPA have great experience with time management skills. Balancing your time between work and school isn’t easy, but if you make a list of priorities in order of importance and timing, you’ll be more productive and organized. This is a valuable skill to have and build upon throughout your career. It can help you to never miss a deadline. In addition, make sure to schedule “you time” so that you have time to relax and decompress.

Team Management
Group projects are common in college and in the workplace. Take this opportunity to step up and become a leader. Make sure you have open and fair communication, a clear goal for the group, and a plan for delegating work. Your professor will notice, and you’ll gain confidence in leading a team.

Making Presentations
Group projects are sometimes accompanied by a presentation in front of the class. Use this opportunity as a way to practice making presentations. If your goal is to become a leader within a company one day, it’s important that you get comfortable in front of an audience now.

failure ropeDeal With Failure
You won’t always win the fight, but it’s important to learn how to get up when you’re knocked down. Say you put 110% of effort into a research report, but it received a low grade. Instead of getting frustrated, talk to your professor about what went wrong (hindsight), what he/she didn’t like (insight), and what you can do better next time (foresight). This can also help you in an office setting where professionals have to be prepared to have their work critiqued by top management and know how to respond to creative criticism.

The Big Picture
It’s just as important to learn soft skills as it is to learn technical skills. Leadership, organization, and communication are only a few examples of these essential soft skills. Be proactive in trying to develop these skills. If you’re not developing them in the classroom, seek out other opportunities. Participating in an IMA student chapter or the IMA Student Case Competition are great ways to do this.

These skills can help prep you for a smoother transition into the workforce and for success in your career. Companies today are looking for qualified candidates who already know how to work on a team, manage a schedule, and give a presentation. The training you get in college will make you stand out from the crowd. By staying focused on your goals for the future and continuously developing your soft skills, you’ll get the most out of your college education.

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

Related Articles
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An Open Letter to Students: The Real World, the Talent Gap, and Your Future

Dear Students,

As a veteran professor, a common frustration I have is the limited amount of classroom time needed to cover all of the “required” content, leaving little time to discuss career-related topics, such as what to expect once you graduate and what’s expected of you at your first job. Many students only acquire this knowledge from hands-on experience or time spent with a mentor. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few key topics I’ve conveyed to my students over the years. They also may be helpful to you as you take the next step into the professional world.

About the Real Worldbaby_boomers
Congratulations! You’re about to enter a growing profession that needs you: The accounting profession is rapidly growing in terms of the number of new jobs, and, at the same time, nearly 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring every day for the next 20 years, according to Pew Research Center. This is important because employers will look to you to fill these jobs.

In many ways, college has sheltered you – you enroll in the required courses, attend lectures, study your textbooks, prepare case studies, and perhaps perform some independent research. But that’s only part of what you need to do to succeed. Not only are you expected to know technical skills in the professional world, you’ll also need to have mastered numerous nontechnical skills including leadership, business acumen, strategic thinking/execution, change management, process improvement, and more.

The accounting profession is changing dramatically, and the expectation of accountants’ skills level is rising, along with expectations regarding their ability to contribute to the success of their organizations. The challenges you encounter in the business world will require you to draw upon the skills you learned in the classroom in an integrated manner, not in isolation as are often presented in class.

About the Talent Gap
The talent gap – also known as the Competency Crisis in accounting – arises when colleges’ curricula aren’t consistently aligned with the on-the-job demands for accounting and financial professionals.

Some schools are “CPA-schools,” training their students for entry-level public accounting jobs. That’s fine, except for the fact that more than half of students will transition to accounting and finance positions in companies within three years of graduation. In these positions, you’ll need a different skill set than those needed in public accounting positions. Often candidates are unprepared for these jobs.

To confront this issue, you should take courses that prepare you for a wide variety of positions in the field of accounting – this may include taking additional electives. You need to prepare for your lifelong career, not just your first job. In this regard, IMA has been working with schools to craft the curricula to provide a more-well-rounded skill set.

Preparing for YOUR Future
What can you do to ensure YOUR career success? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your college curriculum prepares you for a wide variety of career choices. Talk with your professors about the variety of accounting careers and what you should do to prepare for them.
  • Work on developing your “hard” and “soft” skills. For example, join and actively participate in the IMA student chapter at your school. (If there is none, start one!) You also can participate in IMA’s Student Case Competition or attend IMA’s Student Leadership Conference.
  • Use internships and mentorships to your advantage. Internships are a great way to gain necessary skills while building your résumé and networking with individuals in the field. Working in business and alongside industry leaders will give you a competitive advantage when applying for jobs.

You have a huge opportunity for future career advancement. Once you have found your career path, there are many ways for you to expand your career horizon: earn a certification, become a mentor or mentee, take continuing education courses, earn a post-graduate degree, and so much more. Today’s accountants are expected to continuously learn to keep pace with the rapidly changing business environment. Welcome to the exciting field of professional accountancy!

The profession needs strong talent for the future. Will you be ready?

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

Related Articles:

“Plan for the Future: A Career in Management Accounting” – Jeff Thomson, New Accountant
“Filling Jobs Wisely” – Doug Arms and Tony Bercik, Strategic Finance

Memorable Conferences: How to Make Them Last

As IMA’s Professor-in-Residence, I travel to at least six conferences per year around the world to speak about accounting education, to advance accounting practice, and to network with like-minded professionals. I just got back from Budapest where I attended the General Assembly of the International Group of Controlling (IGC), of which IMA is a member. It was a great meeting that offered informative presentations and many opportunities for knowledge sharing with a beautiful city as the backdrop. These factors made the meeting memorable for me because they all contribute to my being able to help advance the management accounting profession. Here are a few more thoughts on how to make your conference experience more memorable.

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KNOWLEDGE SHARING
Typically, well-known speakers draw attendees to conferences. Hearing from passionate, animated industry experts make the sessions a lot more interesting and memorable. To this end, IMA hosts popular and inspiring speakers at our Annual Conference & Expo. This year Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s will talk about being an entrepreneur, J.R. Martinez will talk about rising above our challenges, and Stephen Dubner will expand our view about business issues. Each has his own way of passing on knowledge and best practices to the next generation of business professionals.

It’s also important to hear the speaker’s insights to stimulate your thinking and provide you with ideas to bring back home. For instance, at the meeting in Budapest, Péter Horváth had a session about management accounting vs. controlling – the German version of management accounting. Horváth is considered the “Father of German Controlling,” and he had thought-provoking insights regarding the relationship between controlling, management accounting, management control systems, and performance measurement. This was followed by a cutting-edge presentation by Professor Dr. Klaus Möller on controlling innovation. Passionate, informed speakers such as these lead engaging, interactive sessions, so choose a speaker you’re interested in and ask questions. That will make your conference experience even more memorable!

BRING HOME THE VALUE
The most memorable part of a conference is the knowledge and value you bring back to your company, and value comes in many forms. The conferences I attend allow me to promote IMA and the management accounting profession while developing long-term relationships. At these meetings I form relationships with academics and practitioners from around the world, discuss emerging practices, and connect with possible future business partners. Attending these face-to-face meetings shows your peers that you’re truly dedicated to your profession and passionate about the work you do.

Raef-conference

You can also see the reach of your profession through the many conference attendees. For example, in Budapest I was able to learn first-hand the state of management accounting in many countries and how it’s developing among the local practitioners. It expanded my understanding of how management accounting is practiced globally, and the role IMA can play in advancing our profession.

EXPAND YOUR VIEW
There are many ways to make your conference experience memorable. Whether you attend for the people, location, or sessions, conferences help broaden your career horizon and also help you grow on both personal and professional levels. At the end of the day, attending a conference says a lot about you – that you’re passionate about your career, that you’re dedicated to your profession, and that you choose to increase your professional knowledge. Make it a point this year to attend at least one conference in your field to prove to yourself and your peers that you’re serious about your future.

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

Related articles:
How to Choose Which Conferences to Attend – Intuit QuickBooks
TED Founder Reveals How You Can Create a Memorable Event – American Express

Change Management: Employee Transitions

Taking on a new system or initiative isn’t always an easy transition. Without employee buy-in, the project may risk not getting off the ground at all. But understanding the cycle of emotions that employees experience will help you craft a communication plan to ease the implementation process.

The Reason
Change is common in the business world, but that doesn’t mean employees embrace it with open arms. Implementing new systems and improved software help your business run smoothly, so why is there so much friction among employees during the implantation process?

For one, it’s a natural reaction to question the change – things work fine as they are, why do I need to learn something different? Another factor is an individual’s emotional intelligence and adaptability. Some people adapt more easily than others and are more welcoming of change. If you learn how to understand the emotional cycle of your employees, you’ll be able to break down the wall of resistance so that future implementations go smoother.

The Cycle
There are eight stages of the cycle (see Figure 1 from Managing Organizational Change in Operational Change Initiatives).

figure 1. change curve

The “curve” starts at normal production levels and dips as morale gets lower. Here’s a list of each of the stages explained:

Pre-Initiative: Employees are unaware of the changes and are used to the status quo.
Denial: Employees reject the change because they don’t believe it will happen based on past failures.
Anger, Pessimism, Despair: Employees experience negative emotions toward the project. They’re irritated about learning a new process that they didn’t request. In turn, their work productivity takes a downward turn.
Testing: Employee productivity improves when they get hands-on experience with the new system or software. They become more comfortable with the change.
Acceptance: Employees are finished training and accept their new roles.
Post-Initiative Success: Employees are fully trained and operate at a higher level than before the change occurred.

Communication is important in any company, but it’s especially key for successful change management.

The Plan
Once you understand the emotional cycle you can create a communication plan based on the pros and cons of human emotion. The plan allows you to assess each audience: how early do they have to be engaged, how often do they have to be engaged after the Pre-Initiative stage, and what medium to engage them in. (See Template 1 from Managing Organizational Change in Operational Change Initiatives for a guide.)

template 1. communication plan

In the beginning stages of the implementation, it’s important to have open and honest conversations with your team to ensure everyone understands the scope, timeline, and benefits of the project. Then you’ll be able to determine how often you need to communicate with each team member during the implementation.

How does your company deal with new implementations? Do you have a communication plan in place?

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

 

Related Articles:

Managing Organizational Change in Operational Change Initiatives – IMA
Change Management Best Practices Guide – Queensland Government