As the global pandemic continues to dampen growth prospects across certain sectors, many organisations are having to scrutinise resources and quickly find ways to survive and deliver value.
In some instances, this is prompting waves of retrenchments as companies restructure underperforming units and departments — leaving some finance professionals grappling with a future that looks deeply uncertain.
Yet this crisis also presents an opportunity for professionals to go through their own process of reflection and reinvention. Now is the time to understand where or how you might be stagnating, for example, and to place fresh emphasis on creating new value within your sphere of influence.
Donna Rachelson, a South African branding and marketing specialist and the author of Personal Branding for Entrepreneurs, explained that by learning to recognise the signs of stagnation, you can quickly identify the steps you need to take to remain relevant (and valued) in a volatile business environment.
“Perhaps you have a sense that you have mastered the techniques that you need in your current role and there is not much more to learn,” she said. “If you haven’t taken a new course in the last 12 months, it’s a sign that you should be thinking about a change. A second red flag is not having a good idea of how marketable you are in the marketplace. For example, assuming you have a good handle on the key trends impacting finance professionals, are you clear on how you should be positioning yourself in response?”
We spoke to leadership experts to find out how finance professionals can take charge and reinvent their professional identities in this time of anxiety.
Change your perspective. “It can feel like much of our environment is beyond our control, but our attitude toward it is almost entirely within our control,” said Mike Stopforth, director at leadership consulting firm Beyond Binary based in Johannesburg. “In our formative years, through our schooling, in our studies, and then in our professional journeys, we acquire a set of lenses — beliefs, opinions, frameworks — that determine our view of the world and the people in it.”
According to Stopforth, changing or removing those lenses (by challenging our most treasured beliefs and concrete assumptions) can open up an entirely new realm of possibility. The widespread shift to remote-working models, for example, is giving many professionals access to a global network of potential clients, customers, and peers as physical location becomes far less important.
“Perspective is the foundation of innovation and invention,” he added. “Only those who see old problems in fresh new ways can create original solutions.”
Own your development. Professor Shirley Zinn, nonexecutive director on several boards and author of Swimming Upstream, based in Cape Town, South Africa, emphasised the importance of being “self-driven” and owning your own development.
“Consider which new skills you might have to learn by looking at the job description or advertisements for jobs, and closing the gap,” she said. “Continuous learning is key to staying on top of the latest developments in your field.”
Stopforth echoed this sentiment and urged finance professionals to be curious and open to new ideas and information.
“You have no excuse not to know,” he added. “Keep a notebook of new terms and ideas you hear about. Reach out to experts on Twitter and ask for a coffee. When you find that new area of interest or passion, dive deep and, where appropriate, invest in formal education.”
Boost your visibility. According to Rachelson, if you have low visibility, you have no visibility.
“Stretch yourself by taking on a project or initiative that pushes you beyond your comfort zone but also helps to build your personal visibility,” she said. “For example, raise your profile with a good piece of research, a well-written opinion piece, or conference presentation.”
Mentor up, mentor down. “In the age of WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack, email, and other truly wonderful digital communication tools, we communicate more but connect less,” Stopforth said. “There really is no substitute for authentic human connection, especially in a structured, intentional, intelligent space.”
With this in mind, he advised finance professionals to approach one or two people to act as a sounding board, accountability partner, or mentor. Given that many professionals are working from home and at risk of isolation, having regular, high-quality conversations with an accountability partner or mentor can boost motivation and evoke fresh zeal.
“Make sure you pay it forward by doing the same for people behind or below you on the professional ladder,” he added. “Sometimes we learn more mentoring than we do being mentored.”
Become an active volunteer. “Volunteer work helps with exposure and professional identity,” Zinn said. “For example, become a member or sit on the board of your professional body.”
Becoming more actively involved within your industry or sector can build visibility, enhance credibility, and quickly expand your professional network.
Take control of your brand. According to Rachelson, it is critical to understand your own value and how you are positioning yourself in the industry.
“Get clear on what differentiates you, what exceptional value you deliver, and why people see you as the ‘go to’ in your field,” she said. “If you don’t actively take control of your personal brand, others will do it for you … and it may not accurately reflect your true value and strengths.”
She advised finance professionals to seek honest feedback on their personal brand.
“Also, ask yourself questions such as: How do your stakeholders see you, and how does this differ from how you want to be seen? Identify the gaps and then work out ways to close them,” Rachelson said.
— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.