Steven Mugglestone

The more I learn, the less I know

Posts Tagged ‘strategy

Recruitment is Like Choosing an Accountant, it’s no Joke!

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Recruitment is Like Choosing an Accountant, it’s no Joke!

A man has died and is standing at the gates of heaven in front of Saint Peter.  He moves forward and Saint Peter welcomes him to the gates of heaven and tells him that he is a chosen one, someone who has lead an exemplary life, someone who has contributed so much to the world when alive that on his death he is now able to choose whether he would like to spend the rest of eternity in heaven or hell.

“But how will I be able to decide,” the man says.

“Well,” says Saint Peter, “I will grant you a day in each, for you to see which one suits you, but remember, when you come back to me, you must decide and your decision will last for ever.”

“OK,” says the man, “that sounds fine, where do I go first.” “Your choice,” replies Saint Peter.

“Fine, I’ll try hell.”  At that moment a lift door opens and the man walks in, waits for the lift to arrive at its destination and walks out into a beautiful Caribbean beach setting with a beach party, music and groups of beautiful people dancing and having a fantastic time.  The man stood admiring the scene, when the devil walks past with two beautiful bikini clad women on each arm.  The devil stops in front of the man and asks the two women to look after the man for the day.  Needless to say, he has a great time.

On returning to the lift at the start of the second day, the man enters heaven. Heaven is serene, quite, with the gentle sound of angels singing, but, the man thinks, generally boring.

After the second day, the man returns to the gates of heaven, for Saint Peter to stand in front of him and ask, “Well, you have seen both heaven and hell and you have experienced what they both have to offer, you now must decide, but remember your decision will be eternity, for ever.”

“I have made up my mind,” says the man. “Are you sure?” says Saint Peter, “As I said, this decision will be for eternity, there will be no going back.”

“Yes,” says the man.  “Where is it to be then,” replies Saint Peter.  “I want to go to hell. This is my decision.”

On that, the lift door opens again, the man enters, but when the doors open again he is confronted with a desolate waste land of fire, sulphur and lava, with the sounds of incessant screaming ringing in his ears.

As the man stands in disbelief, the devil walks past him again and the man stops him and asks, “erm.…, where is the beach, the party, the music, the girls.”

“Oh, sorry,” says the devil, “you were here the other day weren’t you.  Well that was recruitment day, you work for me now.”

Recruitment is no joke

There are a number of versions of the above joke, known as the recruitment day joke.  It is as relevant to the employer as the potential employee, yet still do we take recruitment as seriously as we should.

Employment of any staff is important and, obviously, senior leadership and director level appointments even more so.  They can either add to the success or contribute to the failure of an organisation, more than any other of your team.  Yet again do we take enough time and effort to select and choose the appropriate person or do we leave it to someone else.

I have been involved in my fair share of recruitment, on both sides of the desk, but as an employer, I have recruited graduates for an international accountancy practice, recruited accounting staff for clients, recruited chief executives for a public company and even recruiting head teachers for schools.

The Recruitment Pitfalls

Are you really qualified or do you need support

Everyone believes that they can recruit.  A recruitment agency provides a short list and you only have to choose, but have you really given enough consideration of the strengths, skills and experience that are required for the role.  I have seen instances of a senior position being recruited and appropriate skills and experience matrix being created only for the selection and decision makers concentrate on one area and ignore the rest.  Why go through all of the time and trouble to have the matrix prepared and considered, only to disregard it.  The result was the person just did not have the relevant experience for the large organisation and floundered from the start.  The recruitment agent should have picked it up, but did not and the recruitment group and interviewing committee, in this instance a school, did not have the experience to review and make the right judgement.  In this environment when the leader is key, the recruitment is even more so.

Missing the evidence

Possibly the number one mistake.  If you are going to review a CV and a major success stands out as a key draw, do not just rely on it, ask and find out more.  This seems obvious really, but again, I have seen examples of where just a little more background either from an interview or finding external evidence exposes a rather different story and claims of success that have actually been due to the work of others.

The advice from others

A very senior managing director/chief executive role for an MBO team is an important recruitment decision.  The individual is being recruited to work with and lead the others in the team.  A CV and interview will help to provide some of the support and answers but for a position like this a written reference may not either be available (or if the individual has been subject to a compromise agreement from a previous position, this reference will be sterile and very carefully worded).

In a role where management style is paramount, I have seen a business recruit this position and only afterwards when speaking to their former colleagues it was ascertained that their style of management was divisive, convincing one of the team was a weak link and needed to be removed, while saying the same thing to the others individually.  Childish, selfish, petty and divisive.  The same situation happened in the new team as in the last.  To find out you only had to ask and listen to a number of the former colleagues.

Experience and age are strengths not weaknesses

What an individual has done over the last year or two is important, but so is what an individual has done over the last 20 years.  Experience and age are strengths and not a weakness and too many times there are examples of employers (and recruitment agents) selecting the recent experience of younger candidates rather than considering the values of older and more experienced individuals.  I am still not convinced that I understand why age is an issue and not a key strength.  Perhaps the recruitment consultant is looking for a life-long candidate and contact; perhaps I am getting older myself.

If you don’t have references ensure you have controls

Obvious I know, but I have seen a number of examples where the new company bookkeeper, financial controller and even the FD has been caught with their hands in the till.  Cash expenses, personal cheques paid to the individual and posted in the books against old creditor balances that are not being chased, these are the obvious frauds.  If you are not going to find out more from other sources, either written or verbal, at least have the controls in place to ensure that one individual cannot carry out these obvious and easy ways of extracting money from a business undetected.  If they are single signatories, ensure that there is a system of matching payments with invoices; ensure that larger payments require more than one signatory.

This is not a full and comprehensive list, only some observations and lessons from actual experiences from real life situations and pitfalls and hopefully the lessons to be learnt from them.

On a positive and practical note perhaps I can list some other helpful tips;

Practical recruitment tips

  • Plan ahead…..what does your production schedule and work-planner tell you for the year ahead? When are you likely to need new people especially when you consider your marketing plan and winning additional work targets.
  • Nurture recruitment agency contacts. Meet with them so they can see your firm and know your business. Have an ‘on-going’ recruitment policy and see good quality candidates as they become available. Don’t just look to recruit when you have a gap to fill. The most successful businesses I know recruit good quality people and make a role for them. This always proves successful in the longer term and businesses find they have no problem in finding work to keep them busy.
  • What can you offer as an employer that will make people want to work with you? Do you share your business plan with your team so they know where they fit in and what the future holds for them?
  • Do you regularly survey your team, get feedback and report back to them on how you have taken their issues on board and what you have done about it. This may sound a bit ‘fluffy’ and in the territory of what only larger corporate businesses do. However, smaller businesses that do this report that the business plan progresses much more effectively and it sets them apart as a successful company.
  • Do you have a system of communicating regularly with your team so they feel involved in the business?
  • Do you have a simple system in place to measure how existing team members feel? This really does help you to retain good people. How often has someone handed in their notice and when asked why they are leaving you say ‘If only you had told me….I could have done something about it?’ Again, measuring staff happiness really does help to retain those you want to keep within your business and proves that you are different as an employer.
  • When interviewing do you have a set list of questions that you always ask people? Don’t just focus on technical matters- you want to assess an individuals’ attitude and personality. Also, everyone is human. How often have you conducted an interview that is different depending on your mood or the time of day? With a system in place you can ask the same questions every time and ensure every candidate receives the same information and impression of the firm.
  • A great interview question to really get under someone’s skin is to ask them to choose a friend or close colleague to describe, ask them what they like and admire about them, what they value about them and also what they dislike about them.  Then ask how their friend would describe them and their strengths and weaknesses.  Another way of articulating strengths and weaknesses but one that helps to ensure that the candidate talks openly and honestly.
  • Get your team involved in the interview and recruitment process. Second interviews are often best conducted when they are held by a member of the team and not you. If the team is involved in the process then a new recruit will be much more likely to have a clearer picture of what it is like to work for you and will settle in better.
  • Do you have clear written roles and responsibilities for everyone in your company? This simple ‘booklet’ is easy to produce and should be shared with candidates and existing employees. Again, this makes it clear how existing team members and new recruits fit in to the big picture. People like clarity and the sense of security of what part they have to play in the development of the business and its plans.
  • Do you have a comprehensive job offer letter which includes what the induction progress will be and how a new recruit will be trained on what to do?
  • When someone leaves or joins do ensure that everyone else in your firm knows about it. I have often seen a new team member join a company with no one knowing who they are or where they will even sit! Ask yourself what kind of impression this makes and is it any wonder that people then chose to move on in a short time to another job?
  • Many firms now offer ‘working second interviews’ whereby a candidate come back for half a day and is ‘tested’ on  a piece of work so you can assess their technical competence. This can prove very effective.
  • Accept that not everyone wants to progress in the company. Such people can still be a valuable asset – make sure they know that.
  • Do you have a visible training plan for all your team? For people to want to work and stay with you they need to know how you will train them, give them feedback and offer skills development. This is also necessary for you as an employer in order to people to become more competent and valuable to the development of your business plan.
  • What do you have in place to ensure people feel valued in your organisation and how do you reward them? Reward does not mean just financial. Have a flexible package of rewards as time off may be more important to some whereas others are target and financial driven or put a greater value on a social day or evening out.
  • When a new recruit starts working for you ensure you meet with them weekly for the first 3 months to give and receive feedback. Many times I have listened to employers say ‘Oh- they were useless and had to leave within 3 months and it has cost me a fortune!’ When I dig a little deeper I find that the new recruit had no opportunity to see the management team and had no idea what their role was or what exactly they were meant to be doing other than be given a box of records and told to get on with it! No feedback on jobs is given and no opportunity to learn from mistakes. Often, they didn’t even know who their ‘mentor’ was who they could go to and seek guidance or training from.

Recruitment is no joke for either the candidate or the employer, whilst it may not be a decision that lasts for eternity it is pretty important to both parties and as such both parties should take is seriously.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
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.

T: 0845 519 5659
T: 0121 236 3317

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;

T: 0845 519 5659
T: 0121 236 3317
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

How an FD drives a business when sometimes Accountants are just catching up

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How an FD drives a business when sometimes Accountants are just catching up?

Recent debates and criticism from Finance Directors say that Accountants generally do not have the commercial skills required to truly help, support and drive a business.  What does that mean; when a significant number of FDs go on to be chief executives, could you see your Accountant doing the same.  What are the skills and experience that an FD possesses, that an Accountant does not and how can those skills and experience help all businesses.

Most FDs work within a structure of their role covering how a business operates and where it is going and this can be looked at within three distinct areas, support, operational and strategic.

Support Areas

This covers some of the traditional areas that you would expect an Accountant to be responsible for, but an FD may have a differing approach to improve and support the business.

Compliance reporting is one of those areas and whilst this ensures that a company is up to date and complies with its statutory requirements to file its accounts and tax returns, an FD will also ensure that the messages within those financial statements are firmly within the company’s strategic vision and missions and that those financial statements reinforce publicly where the business is heading.

An FD will also be responsible for tax planning and overall dealings with HMRC, on an annual basis.  Whist an FD may not be a tax expert, they will ensure that tax costs are mitigated and planned for and sensible structures are in place to ensure that all relevant reliefs and tax breaks are made available to help the business, and individuals involved in the business to manage its tax costs.  As part of this, an FD will assess the risks involved to ensure that overall risks are managed in line with the strategic plan of the business.

As part of a support role, an FD usually gets responsibility for the areas that the other directors do not wish to touch.  These are usually HR, IT and insurance (part of risk control and mitigation).  Whilst larger organisations may well have separate staff and departments (usually reporting back to the FD), in a smaller organisation and business an FD is likely to outsource these and other similar areas.  Outsourcing allows an FD to ensure that the relevant risks involved in these areas are controlled and mitigated and that costs are also controlled.  However, despite being an Accountant by training, costs are not the only reason why outsourcing is considered as the risk profile and support afforded by the outsourced provided may well be more beneficial than trying to carry this out in house.

Again an area that other directors or the owner of the business may have little interest or desire to be responsible, albeit an area key to the success of a business is dealing with legal documents and agreements.  Whilst an FD is not a lawyer, they do understand what reasonable terms and conditions would include and what clauses should be in an agreement and what should be avoided or mitigated.  An FD will liaise closely with the businesses legal advisers (outsourced) to ensure that commercial matters are reviewed and considered in all of the legal agreements that the business adopts.

Operational Areas

Again this would appear to be a traditional area that an Accountant would operate within to help support a business, but an FD will have a different emphasis to ensure that the operational areas truly help to improve a business.

An Auditor and Accountant will carry out tests and comment on procedures and reporting known as internal control.  An FD sees this area as controlled delegation, the difference being that the appropriate structures and controls are put in place to allow senior members of the business to concentrate and be allowed to carry out roles that they are good at and that are crucial to the improvement of the business.  As an example, if the key director is also a key sales person, they should not be spending their time writing brochures, catalogues or processing orders, but they need to be comfortable that those areas can be carried out to the appropriate standard without them.

A real traditional area is reporting, but an FD will always ensure that the reporting format and what is reported is not about dwelling on the past but ensuring that appropriate areas are planned for and controlled.  The term key performance indicators tend to be over used but an FD will always look to simplify the reporting to concentrate on key areas that really matter and these may not always be financial.  An FD will use budgeting as a control tool for reporting, but will also use benchmarking against best performance within the business and external to the business.  This is not done to dwell on the facts that the business is performing better or worse than others in a particular area, but to understand the reasons and address accordingly.  Sometimes you find that your competitors carry out some things better than you and if you can address these areas you can make a difference to the bottom line.

The use of benchmarking, budgeting and using key performance indicators by an FD will lead to identifying profit improvement, ensuring that operational reporting is used to enhance the earnings of a business.  An FD will usually be responsible for negotiating and agreeing many of the businesses supply and service contracts.  This will mean that they will look to consider all relevant factors, model usage accordingly and ensure that competitive tenders can provide what the business needs.

Profit is one thing, but cash is king.  Businesses do not go bust because of profits, but because they run out of cash.  An FD will always be responsible for working capital and cash management.  The maths in this area is relatively simple in that with high stocks, work in progress and debtors with low creditors comes a strain on cash.  An FD will control this area on a rolling weekly basis and on some occasions and with some businesses this will be done on a daily basis, to free up cash for use in the business.

Strategic Areas

This is an area that perhaps a traditional Accountant does not readily engage with or is involved in.  An FD will have knowledge and experience of an overall strategic plan which covers customer and marketing strategies, systems and processes and people development, but whilst overlapping, an FD will concentrate on the financial areas that underpin a strategic plan.

But what is strategic activity and how can it be defined.  An FD will lead defining strategic investment and activity.  This will mean assessing where a business is going to channel its resources to improve;  an FD will ensure that investments in both capital and human resource, marketing or other activities together with other related improvements and new areas that they are undertaking have a reason and a goal and that these are appropriately considered taking account of strengths and opportunities.  The costs and impact on the business can be measured and the future impact forecasted.  An FD is ideally placed and qualified to ensure that strategic activities are appropriately considered, planned, assessed and monitored and along the way they can add to the creative and entrepreneurial flair gained from the experience in this area.

An FD would not be an FD without considering risk.  All project management and strategic plans will contain a risk register.  Full consideration of both financial and commercial risks involved in all activities are considered and recorded and appropriate mitigation and insurance will be put in place.

All businesses should consider a time plan and an FD will ensure that an appropriate implementation timetable is considered and worked to.  This may be in respect of a specific area or the overall plan for the business leading to eventual exit by sale, or perhaps listing on a recognised market.

Underpinning a strategic plan is an appropriate funding structure.  The businesses own cash generation may not be appropriate to fund longer term investments and in return some higher risk areas may not attract bank or similar funding.  An FD will ensure that funding is appropriate for both the timescale and risks related to the business’ activities and strategic plan.  An obvious key area underpinning funding for a business is the relationship with current and potential future funders.  An FD is key to this relationship, whether banking, private equity or institutional as they understand what information is required and help to ensure that funders are comfortable with the current position of the business and its future aims, goals and requirements.

In summary an FD is not just an Accountant and some of the areas above highlight what FDs mean when they say that Accountants do not have the commercial skills and experience required to add real value to a business.  Some of their roles, including controlling delegation and support areas ensure that other members of the senior management team or the business owner are allowed to concentrate on other areas to enhance the business.  Other roles and functions such as reporting, profit improvement and cash management ensure that that the business can continue to improve cash generation which leads to cash being made available to support the strategic goals of the business.

Given all of this that an FD can offer a business, the only remaining question is why would you just use an Accountant when you can have an FD.

To find out how we can help all SME businesses with this real pro-active support, experience and background or to help you source a part time FD for your business, feel free to contact me at or call me on 0121 236 3317.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
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.

T: 0845 519 5659
T: 0121 236 3317

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