Steven Mugglestone

The more I learn, the less I know

Posts Tagged ‘strategic thinking

This continues to be our most popular article to date, so much for the technical, MBA & tax stuff:

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Are Accountants Really Boring or Really, Really Boring

I started to write a technical piece, but I was distracted by the eternal debate that appears to have started again.  Are Accountants really boring or really, really boring.

Yes, I am an Accountant and yes I am part of a firm of accountants, in fact I am a Chartered Accountant and part of a firm of Chartered Accountants.  I have lived with this all of my working life.  I trained as an Accountant and qualified as an Accountant (although, I do not have an Accountancy degree, it was Economics).  I have worked in business, as a finance director, which is like an Accountant, just more decisive.  I have faced the stigma and the ridicule, the tumble-weed silence when someone asks you what you do.  I consider myself a fairly confident and comfortable individual, married with children.  The stigma of instantly explaining that I am an Accountant usually means that I tend not to tell new acquaintances what I do.  I tend to have a good chat and sometimes later in the discussion I get asked the inevitable question and usually I get the same response, “No, …. Really, … You don’t seem that boring.”

I have read recently how the debate continues, Accountants are boring.

So I have taken some time to have a look at this, …. Sensibly and with the respect and gravitas that the subject deserves.

The Science of It

It appears that in 2005, the City University of Hong Kong proved that accountants were boring and this was due to using dull words and dull methods of communication.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3342652/Its-official-scientists-prove-why-accountants-are-boring.html

Now, I am sorry, but I think that you will find, that if you study any specialist talking through the technical areas of their roles, it is boring to others.  Physics and rocket science hardly makes great after dinner conversation, but Hollywood can make it look like that they are all Tom Hanks.  And anyway, an academic study to prove that accountants are boring, surely that has to be the apex of boring.

Technical or detailed aspects of any job will be boring but cannot make you boring.  All jobs have a level of technical knowledge and expertise; Formula 1 engineers are intensely technical, yet are seem to be glamorous. Honda pride themselves on the attention to detail and market that as a key USP for what they do.  Professional decorators watch paint drying for a living, but they are not labelled as boring as Accountants.

In fact the technical point and the issue that even Accountants are different can be seen in the categories that in the Accountancy profession, we find ourselves labelling each other, finders, minders and grinder.  The differences between those who are good at getting clients; those that build relationships and those that do the numbers.

The Butt of Many Jokes

Accountants tend to be the butt of jokes and they centre on the boring tag:

An Accountant is:

  • Someone who uses their personality as a form of birth control (I have two sons!)
  • Someone who makes a bold fashion statement by wearing a blue suit instead of grey
  • Someone who isn’t really boring, they just get excited over boring things
  • Someone who does not have the charisma to be an undertaker
  • Someone who does not know that Gap is a clothing store

An extroverted accountant is one who looks at your shoes while he is talking to you instead of his own.

However my favourites have to be:

There are three types of accountants in the world, those who can count and those who can’t!

There once was a business owner who was interviewing people for a division manager position. He selected an engineer, a mathematician, a physicist, a logician, a social worker, a lawyer, a trader and an accountant to interview and decided to select the individual that could answer the question “how much is 2+2?”

  • The engineer pulled out his slide rule and shuffled it back and forth, and finally announced, “It lies between 3.98 and 4.02”.
  • The mathematician said, “In two hours I can demonstrate it equals 4 with the following short proof.”
  • The physicist declared, “It’s in the magnitude of 1×101.”
  • The logician paused for a long while and then said, “This problem is solvable.”
  • The social worker said, “I don’t know the answer, but I am glad that we discussed this important question.
  • The lawyer stated, “In the case of the Crown vs. Svenson, 2+2 was declared to be 4.”
  • The trader asked, “Are you buying or selling?”

The accountant looked at the business owner, then got out of his chair, went to see if anyone was listening at the door and pulled the drapes. Then he returned to the business owner, leaned across the desk and said in a low voice, “What would you like it to be?”

Why is the last joke funny? Yet it speaks volumes about why Accountants are not boring.  It is not that we cheat or that we have an array of despicable tricks (ish).  It is that we are trained to think laterally, finding an answer and solution for our clients in what we do, despite apparent problems and issues.  We try and cut through the issues and problems and solve the problem, in whatever way we can.  We are solution providers and aim to get clients where they want to be.  There is no such answer as no and there is no such statement as “It cannot be done.”

Glamour and fame does not necessarily mean that you are not boring

Living with the stigma of being an Accountant has meant that I do not immediately tell people, as I explained earlier.  Yet it can appear that working in the more interesting world of showbiz can mean that you are instantly seen as interesting and glamorous, even if in reality you are, well, boring.

Everybody has an odd story about meeting a TV celeb and I am not any different.  Mine comes from meeting a celeb as part of the hobby that I have, a hobby that used to be seen as unusual and weird unless you were Welsh or gay with a Judy Garland obsession, I sing.  But now since the advent of Last Choir Standing, X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and now Glee, it seems not only acceptable, but actually cool.

I was actually taking part in a large choral piece with a group of choirs and we had an afternoon rehearsal before the evening performance.  I stood next to a chap, who I did not know, and spoke to him during the coffee break.  Now I usually  have a high tolerance for boring people but he was pushing that somewhat and he started to say to me that he likes singing but “with his job” he does not really get enough time to join in with singing stuff.  Now at that time, I was going to ask what he did, but I did not get the chance and we carried on chatting or he carried on talking at me and he kept dropping in with, “of course with my job I don’t get a lot of free time and of course with my job I am out and about a lot.”  Well, I kind of got the message, but decided that I would not ask him what he did, let alone realise that I was supposed to know already.

Afterwards I was asked by the others around me, what was he like? What did we talk about?  I did not know that he was a famous TV presenter (of the DIY/house-changing/gardener-ish ilk), yet I declared that he was ok, a bit boring and pretty self-centred.

A lot of people in business say that perception is everything.  I think that is true in this case, he was perceived to be interesting and famous, and I am sure that it is true about Accountants.

Accountants in business and as leaders

The UK has about 50,000 family doctors, but nearly 280,000 professionally qualified Accountants.  That is a lot of boring people.  At any one time there are 165,000 registered students training to be Accountants.  That is a lot of young people wanting to be boring people. 

Around 80% of FTSE 100 Companies have at least one Chartered Accountant on their main board of directors.  Many Finance Directors go on to be Chief Executives and prove to be successful, ok Gordon Brown did not do that well.

And Accountants have gone on to fame and fortune and have shaken off their old image as being boring:

  • Barry Hearn – Boxing manager and sports events promoter
  • J. P. Morgan – This famous financier and banker
  • Pádraig Harrington – The former PGA and Open Golf Champion
  • Lee Van Cleef – Hollywood star of spaghetti westerns
  • John Major – Former British Prime Minister and often described ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ (…no wait that’s Mike Tyson). Major trained as an accountant. Some might say, “Unsurprising!”
  • Kenny G – The saxophone player
  • Josiah Wedgewood – As in Wedgewood the potter.
  • Luca Pacioli – Big mates with Leonardo Da Vinci.
  • John Grisham – The best-selling author, and I thought he was a lawyer
  • Robert Plant – The Led Zeppelin rock legend
  • Cecil Parkinson, former Conservative MP and now Baron Parkinson

And for those in the West Midland who have already have heard of Peter Murphy, he was included in an article in the FT in December 2010 as the story of the Accountant who went on to feature on the South Bank Show, meet the Queen and play harp for Queen Anne-Marie of Greece.

Has Accountancy made me boring?

I do not believe Accountancy has made me boring, but I let others be the judge of that.  I do believe that it has given me an insight into how businesses work and what does not work.  It has given me insight into how you can build a business, sustain a business, the importance of supporting structures for business, for operational issues and improvement, the importance of strategic thinking, of assessing where you are now, where you want to get to and how to structure a plan of how to get there.  It has given me an insight into finance, into cash management and working capital and it has given me insight into taxation, what can be achieved and what cannot be achieved.  It has given me an insight into leadership and change management and what makes organisations work and what deters them from working well.  It has given me an insight into recruitment and appraisal and how to challenge others and help them improve, how to empower others to improve the business and to enhance the team, their skills and achievements as well.  It has allowed me to work with a large number of businesses, helping them achieve their goals.  It has given me an opportunity to understand the real meaning and importance of good marketing and sales as the lifeblood of a business.  It has allowed me to be involved in marketing initiatives, new start-up businesses, new funding initiatives, working with banks, with other business organisations, with universities and new technologies.  I have worked on business turnarounds, helping business turn a corner and re-build.  I act as Finance Director for a number of innovative start-up innovative product businesses, new technologies and leisure businesses.  It allows me to talk to and meet new contacts and potential new clients on a constant basis.

If all of that means that Accountants are boring, then, well I am ….. boring I suppose.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
Finance Director Services
McGregors Corporate, Entrepreneurial Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
…….Really good for your business

McGregors Corporate are a Member of Probiz Tax, providing Innovative Tax Solutions to Owner Managed Businesses.

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/stevenmugglestonefca/
http://twitter.com/McGsCorporate
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhC0wlglePE
http://www.mcgregorscorporate.co.uk/

T: 0845 519 5659                T: 0121 236 3317

steven@mcgregorsleicester.co.uk
steven@mcgregorsbirmingham.co.uk

Connect, call, talk, email, contact us, send a messenger pigeon and arrange a discussion, review and free meeting.

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Written by Steven Mugglestone

February 24, 2012 at 11:37 am

Gut Instinct Does Not Replace Good Management Information, Just Ask the England Cricket Team:

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Gut Instinct Does Not Really Replace Good Management Information

I have seen it on numerous occasions, when appointed as a part time finance director.  The owner knows their business inside out, or so they say and believe.  The classic statement, “I know my business income and costs, a third direct costs, a third overhead and a third contribution to financing.”  So after a brief review of the actual information put together, which has never been done, my reply has been, “So what’s the other third then?!”.  “Oh.” is usually the reply.

How to ensure rock solid business decisions

The above situation is more common than you think and, at least in part, the tendency to make decisions on an ad-hoc basis is down to the general lack of good management information. If the numbers are not at your disposal, and that is financial and non-financial, then many businesses have little choice but to make decisions based on gut instinct.

Contributing to this issue is the unreliability of monthly management information, attributed to managers disregarding early warning signs of problems in profitability and liquidity.   In larger organisations with a number of senior management including sales and operational management, a classic technique in order to duck and avoid their own shortfalls and potential failings is to “dis” the management information, picking on the commas, the brackets and the spelling as evidence that it cannot be relied upon.  Nero and Rome aflame comes to mind.

Management is certainly moving from an art to a science. With the on-going computerisation of all business systems, moving on to cloud based systems allowing access and use on the go and more information becoming available to managers on which to make decisions.

With facts at hand, most business decisions become logical. For example, if you know that advertising in using email provides a 15% response rate and you convert 50% of these, as against another that generates a 5% response rate with a 50% conversion, the rational decision is to invest more in the advertising area that provides the greater return. The basis of decisions moves from gut instinct to evidenced based logic if the right reliable information is available.

What if you have poor management information?

The lack of reliable and timely management information can create many problems for entrepreneurs and owner mangers. All management training and business planning relies on being able to measure things to be able to manage.

One of the key reasons why the England Cricket have become the world’s number one test team is that they have an advanced system of information advising of how opponents react to certain styles of play and where balls need to be pitched.  This is based on reliable data from actual statistics.  And do you know what, ….. it works!

The consequences of not having reliable management information are clear – the business will not perform to its potential, because the right decisions are not being made.   The importance of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is vital for this success and the England Cricket team are a classic example of this.

Privately owned businesses that underperform have a significant impact on the financial well-being of the owners and, perhaps even more importantly, will create a level of stress that lowers the return for effort to an unacceptable level.

What can you see happening?

Everyone, at some stage, knows how it feels to need vital information but not have it to hand.   What may not be so obvious is whether you have information about the right things or whether the information itself is accurate.

A key part of the business planning process is to identify the business drivers, the KPIs, or those factors that drive your revenue and your major costs. KPIs can be seen as numbers but are not necessarily at all financial.  Examples include numbers of calls per hour, numbers of bums on seats, footfall, downtime, spend per head, machine hours, the weather and temperature, benchmarking against other businesses etc, etc.

It is crucial that your management reporting system measures such drivers. Being in a situation where the business drivers are not known or measured can be your warning sign. Another warning sign to note is major fluctuations between monthly results. This might indicate unreliable information and if that is the case, the warning bells should be sounding.   One example of fluctuations was order numbers, with a business having two good months and one poor.  On further review, the director responsible for sale, updated the sales brochure every three months, so was not out selling.  Easily fixed, but not discovered until the information was made public.

Interested in the issues?

Work with good business advisers, ones like McGregors Corporate, that include partners who have actually been Finance Directors and have been responsible for these improvements first hand.  Work with us and we both can obtain a proper understanding of your business issues, drivers and KPIs.

After that we can work with you to develop a meaningful business plan (which can be very simple) and forecast that you can measure against.   Being able to measure accurately and frequently the mission critical elements of your business will be the start of key improvement to your business, its profits and its cash.  Which business person does not want to see that happen?

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
Finance Director Services
McGregors Corporate, Entrepreneurial Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
…….Really good for your business

McGregors Corporate are a Member of Probiz Tax, providing Innovative Tax Solutions to Owner Managed Businesses.

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/stevenmugglestonefca/
http://twitter.com/McGsCorporate
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhC0wlglePE
http://www.mcgregorscorporate.co.uk/

T: 0845 519 5659                T: 0121 236 3317
steven@mcgregorsbirmingham.co.uk

Connect, call, talk, email, contact us, send a messenger pigeon and arrange a discussion, review and free meeting.

The Key Secrets to Successful Change and Improvement

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The Key Secrets to Successful Change and Improvements

All organisations realise that change is inevitable to achieve continued improvements. Change and improvement is an on-going process and part and parcel of the life and success of a business. Sometimes, however, in order for the business or organisation to achieve the aims and ambitions that they set out with, change has to be a bit more urgent and radical.

Sometimes also an SME has to face radical change to help the owner build the business and achieve a successful exit. Most corporate finance advisers agree that to maximise the value of a business, the owner should be able to walk away from that business and it should be able to operate successfully by itself, without their input. This can be radical change for an entrepreneur who can be typically driven and controlling. How can you ensure that the required change and improvements are implemented successfully and this is sustained without the owner/manager reverting to “doing everything themselves”.

Here are some of the areas that from experience we believe can be the key to the success of change and improvement:

• Love your employees
• Building capacity
• Connect peers with purpose
• Learning is the work, consistency and innovation
• Transparency and openness
• System learn (and improve)

Love your employees

Focus has to be given to your employees. The key is both bringing them into the development of the organisation and ensuring continuous learning and development. Appraisal systems, development programmes, sharing information and regular staff consultation is not just for large organisations. It is the key to ensuring that your employees are part of the journey of the business and an integral part of the team and this will help to ensure successful change and improvement continues.

Building capacity

Automation and documented practices are the order of the day, but people are the real key to building capacity and the ability of the business to achieve and produce more. To successfully build capacity for your organisation it will mean looking at competencies, resources and motivation. To use an analogy getting the right people on the bus; getting the wrong people off the bus; getting the right people in the right seats; ensuring that all are motivated (and remunerated, seeing that they are sharing in the success of the business) to achieve and ensuring that the bus is in good working order.

The other key to building capacity is a documented system/process. Without the need to go into details, successful organisations such as McDonalds can look to ensuring that a new restaurant franchise is successful in opening and continued operations as the systems and processes are well established and documented, ready to be used and adopted as and when required.

Connect Peers with Purpose

Your staff can learn from you and each other (which can also mean carrying on doing the same thing in the same way over and over again, as that has it has always been done). Staff, generally want to learn and improve and a key way to achieve this, is to share good practice with others.

Purposeful interaction works effectively under three conditions:
• When the values of the organisation and those of the individuals and group gel and mesh
• When information and knowledge about effective practices are widely and openly shared
• When monitoring systems are in place to detect and address ineffective actions, whilst reinforcing and consolidating effective practices

How can a small business achieve this (without fear of losing staff). One suggestion is that your accountant will act for a number of businesses. They can either help directly, perhaps look at having one of their own staff help one of yours directly to share good practice and ideas. They could even introduce you to another client with similar aims and look to their own staff to start to share good practice (under an appropriate agreement).

Learning is the work – consistency and innovation

Looking at the success of such organisations as Honda, the single greatest difference with them and other organisations is the depth of understanding of their employees regarding their work.

The essence of Honda’s approach to improving performance consists of three components:
• Identifying critical knowledge
• Transferring knowledge using job instruction
• Verifying learning and success

The key to all of this is relentless consistency so that everyone fully understands their work, helps to train others and all are continuously appraised.

Transparency and openness

On-going data and access to seeing effective practices is vital for success. Employees need to understand the road that they are on and be given information which shows that the business is on that road, or if not how the business is getting back on it. Information sharing is key, it does not mean everything, but key performance indicators should be identified, agreed, shared and monitored.

Another key area of transparency is to consider a 360 degree appraisal system, where the directors/owners of the business are open to appraisal, review and recommendations by their staff. This can be scary for some, but has proved to be effective for all and many large and successful organisations now use a 360 appraisal system.

Systems Learn

Continuous development and learning depends on developing all of the staff, all of the time. The fact that organisations such as Honda and Toyota can succeed over decades and that these companies show no leadership effects or changes from succession and continuity is because of a robust set of inter-related management practices and philosophies that provide advantage above and beyond the ideas or inspirations of a single individual.

Once a system and process is agreed, it should be documented. Improvements to the system can be addressed and documented accordingly. The key efficiencies gained from this are:
• Staff understand what is expected and have guidance for work
• The systems will continue to reflect the best possible practice available
• Staff will be supported by the process and knowledge
• Staff changes and new staff can be accommodated efficiently

These are some of the alternative areas of support and advice that McGregors Corporate look to share with their clients. Unusual for a firm of Accountants, but gained from the wide experience that our lead director team have gained from both as advisers to businesses and working as Finance Directors within other businesses.

McGregors Corporate, Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers

We like to keep things simple, for ourselves and our clients;
We build our business by reducing our clients’ business and taxation costs;
We build our business by increasing our clients sales;
We build our business by helping our clients succeed in their business;
It is that simple and we meet you to discuss all these things for free;

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/stevenmugglestonefca/
http://twitter.com/McGsCorporate

http://www.mcgregorscorporate.co.uk/contact-us.html
http://www.mcgregorscorporate.co.uk/

T: 0845 519 5659
T: 0121 236 3317

steven@mcgregorsbirmingham.co.uk
Connect, call, talk, email, contact us, send a messenger pigeon and arrange a discussion, review and free meeting.

Written by Steven Mugglestone

November 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm