So say the authors of The Trusted Advisor, who advocate a professionalism that is "inclusive," as opposed to exclusive, in nature. "Inclusive professionalism," they explain, "means acknowledging and engaging the professionalism of others. It means that the unique talents of each party should be brought to bear jointly for the greater good. It means joint responsibility for the effectiveness of work."2
As chartered accountants, we pride ourselves on our professionalism, our ethics, and our training. Our clients and/or employers and stakeholders see us as trusted advisors, and they rely on our problem-solving skills. However, client situations are often complex, and the solutions to their problems do not always fall within a CA's realm of expertise - whether due to regulatory reasons or because specialization in another profession is required. So what happens when creating solutions for our clients requires a set of skills different from our own? That's when we can and should "engage the professionalism of others" by collaborating with a network of professionals in other areas to provide comprehensive service.
The question, then, is how best to develop and maintain such a network. How do we cultivate these relationships to make sure we get the most for our clients? With these and other questions in mind, I recently interviewed tJiree of my fellow CAs - choosing one in public practice and two in industry to get different perspectives.
Garson Lee, CA, is a partner with HLB Cinnamon, Jang, Willoughby in Burnaby; Dan Eisner, CA, is a senior consultant in Health & Welfare with Towers Perrin Human Capital Group in Vancouver; and Patrick Robinson, CA, is the senior vice-president and managing director of BMO Nesbitt Burns in Vancouver.
Iqbal Tejpar, CA, CFA: In my experience, both personally and as a manager of professionals, I've found that people often "spin their wheels" when they set out to create a network. So my first question is this: How do you define effective networking?
Dan Eisner, CA: I define effective networking by the end objective, be it personal or professional. Personal networking generally involves developing friendships through sporting activities, family interactions, etc. When it comes to professional networking, however, I'm very focused on the end result: growing my business. I enjoy meeting people, but if a meeting does not or cannot contribute to my end objective, I consider it ineffective networking.
Patrick Robinson, CA: Networking is about relationships. Without building a relationship with a given person, any ordinary contact will be ineffective. Sending regular emails, newsletters, etc. is fine, but it won't be truly effective until you put the effort into building and maintaining personal relationships.
Carson Lee, CA: Effective networking, for me, is when you build a reciprocal relationship of trust with an individual to whom you would not hesitate to refer business, and of whom you would not hesitate to speak favourably as a professional or as a person.
IT: What advice do you have for CAs who believe they're too busy to network? What other reasons have you encountered for a reluctance to network?
GL: I commonly hear the lack of time reason, as we are time-oriented. Without being critical, I think these professionals feel they don't need any more business. But things change, clients leave (whether due to the sale of a business, management changes, etc.) and without a welldeveloped network, it can be difficult to build new client relationships. A steady stream of new clients allows you to expand your staff and manage growth by delegating effectively, while keeping your own focus on client solutions and acting as quarterback for the other professionals they deal with.
DE: Being reluctant to network seems to be a predisposition for many professionals. My advice would be to determine the relative importance of networking to you, and plan accordingly. Make time for it and integrate it into your existing activities and passions. Networking does not have to be distinct from activities you currently enjoy!
PR: I think CAs are sometimes reluctant to network because they see the process as a one-way street whereby others are merely looking for client referrals. But networking doesn't have to be that way if you're clear about what you want to get out of it. Begin by asking whether you want to network to develop new ideas that will serve your clients, or simply to refer business both ways. If the answer is the former, look for professionals with similar values to your own, but in different fields of expertise, and avoid counting how many referrals are going either way. If the answer is the latter, be prepared to reciprocate!
IT: Even if we can find time, do we want to find time? Networking is typically seen as a means to build your business and/or your career. But when a 55-hour week is the norm, growth isn't necessarily paramount on your list of priorities! Can the time spent networking add value to your ability to serve your existing clients, or better enable you to fulfil your role as a finance manager, for example?
DE: A memorable experience for me was when a client of mine needed a good business valuator, and I was able to refer them to someone I knew would look after them. I had met a business valuator through my networking activities, and this referral helped solidify my relationship with my client. There was also an additional benefit, as our discussions on broader strategic issues led to a subsequent project with the client.
Networking provides another indirect benefit to my clients. Through my networking, I have expanded my intellectual framework, allowing me to have conversations at a more strategic business level. In my opinion, if you don't continue to grow and expand, you become irrelevant.
PR: Through my connections with an accounting firm and a law firm, I provide my clients with tax and estate planning advice. Clients are not always forthcoming to one person alone, and I've found rhat it's only by having three professionals work with the client that I get a full picture of their affairs. By having a complete financial picture, I'm able to provide my clients with comprehensive advice and solutions. I've been able to provide unique solutions to my connections' clients too - for example, advising them to diversify wealth out of a business without necessarily selling it; in this case, the referrer was delighted when his client appreciated the solution I'd presented.
GL: By making a referral, I have an element of control over the quality of service my clients receive. If clients are pleased with the service they receive from the external advisors I've referred them to, this enhances my credibility. Keeping clients' best interests in mind continues to build their trust in my ability as an advisor.
IT: Just as we distil certain acquaintances into friends, I believe we should distil our network into a core group of professionals whom we trust most to care for our clients. This group should comprise the individuals we're comfortable recommending, and vice versa. Do you have a "core" network? If so, what professions are included in this core, and how would you suggest CAs go about creating their own core groups?
DE: Rather than a core network, I see different levels of interaction, with each level varying by the frequency of meetings and the depth of discussions. I don't like to generalize, but although I see lawyers and accountants as good people to have in your network, I recommend that CAs not limit themselves to these two professions only. Begin by looking inwards and deciding on your objectives, then look outwards for people who meet your criteria. You can choose to network with professionals based on their skills or, more broadly, to tap into their intangibles (such as personal style and an entrepreneurial spirit).
GL: Start by looking inward; and identify your skills and strengths. Then build a group with complementary skills. Enlist individuals who are keen and anxious to do more work. Let people know you are open for business, and let them know what you do. Remember that what you get out will depend on what you put in.
Another way to start a good network and feel good about doing so, is to volunteer on a charitable board or committee. I volunteer as the chair of the Burnaby Hospital Foundation Golf Tournament, and this work gives me a chance to meet great, interesting people!
My core network not only includes lawyers, realty professionals, and staff at other HLB offices, but also my existing clients who are satisfied with my services. Over time, these clients have become a key part of my core network.
PR: My core network consists of accountants, lawyers, and bankers - mainly bankers - as developing business within the bank is part of my role now. If you're dealing with your clients' finances or you're responsible for a treasury function, you must have a good network that consists of at least one accountant, one lawyer, one investment advisor, and one banker.
More on the core concept
I asked Ivan Moldowan, of Pro Coaching in Vancouver, what he thought about this idea of creating a core network group. Ivan, who coaches finance professionals on business development, said his primary criterion when choosing individuals for such a group is that they be "ELBPs" or executive-level business professionals. Typically, he says, professionals who meet the ELBP criteria will have similar ideal client profiles and target markets, will be similarly motivated in terms of revenue growth, and will be specialists, rather than generalists.
I liked Ivan's criteria, and it got me thinking about my own: I look for complementary skills, for specialists, for entrepreneurial spirit, and I also look for a good fit with my own ethics and values of client service (for example, seeking solutions where clients' interests are paramount).
The composition of your core group will depend on your skills and values, and what you consider to be important qualities in the professionals with whom you collaborate. The reward for your efforts in creating such a group will be a network of professional contacts you can trust to be there when you need them and to look after your clients as well as you would - professionals who understand that you would do the same for their clients if roles were reversed. This core group will also help you expand your skills as a professional and expand your career opportunities.
ICABC networking events and related courses
Did you know that the Institute runs networking events each year, including cross-professional events? In February 2008, for example, the Institute held a joint event with CFA Vancouver and the Young Lawyers Group (Law Society of BC). And in May 2008, the Young CA Forum held a joint event with the Young Lawyers Group as well. Another networking event was held in May for CAs only. Why not check one of these events out? For more information, visit the ICABC website at www.ica.bc.ca under Member Centre>Connecting>Forums (events are posted as they are announced). Or contact Taj Haer, CA, the Institute's director of Advisory Services, at 604-488-2621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, consider volunteering as a possible avenue for networking, as Garson suggested. And if you are involved, or considering getting involved, with not-for-profit organizations, consider the series of CPD programs offered by the Institute for members working or volunteering in this sector - for example, the"Not-for-Profit Governance-Investment Stewardship" executive breakfast on November 4th in Vancouver (see page 22).
Remember, what you put into networking will determine the benefit you derive from it!
© 2008 Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Beyond Numbers