The Executive Edge (Respect)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Being a leader means many things: having the necessary expertise to perform your role, overseeing the efforts of others, with a balance of support and direction; and fostering an environment that allows people and the organization to perform at their very best.  This is a tall order for any executive, and at the end of the day, real success is only generated in situations where a leader is able to provide compelling reasons for others to follow, as well as fulfill their role.

An integral part of this process is generating respect, not just in how an executive performs in their role, but also in terms of how they treat others.  This doesn’t mean behaving in a manner designed to win a popularity contest (being an executive often involves making decisions that might not be particularly popular); but rather, approaching a leadership role in a fair and balanced way and with respect.  Although executive workdays are often characterized by too much to do and too many requests to do even more, successful executives recognize that they are always “on” and how they approach their role and interact with others is in full display at all times.  Yes, living in the executive fishbowl can be a lot to handle.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including collaboration, risk management, and professional development.  Here’s more about the importance of developing and maintaining respect at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Although there are leaders out there who can generate results by using less than desirable tactics (think fear, intimidation, and other forms of pressure), this approach is far from acceptable and is not sustainable in the long run.  After all, who wants to work for these people?  The reality is that everyone in an organization has an important job to do, and companies need people at all levels; this means that all roles are deserving of respect, provided that they are conducted in a respectful manner.

Executive roles, by their very nature, typically impact a wide range of people, both inside and outside of a company.  Those who don’t take the time and effort (or don’t have the skills) to treat others in a consistently respectful manner ultimately take more from an organization than they provide.  It doesn’t mean that the parties have to like each other; but staff members, as an example, need to know that a leader will view business situations in a fair manner, be humane, and not bring personal bias into the mix.  Having said that, those pursuing the Executive Edge have the opportunity to bring so much more to a leadership role.

Get the Executive Edge

Generating respect from others is something that won’t happen overnight, which is one of the reasons why it is so important to adopt the right mindset now to ensure great preparation in advance of stepping into an executive role.  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep a long memory. You should be able to relate to many of the people in your workplace by virtue of having held less senior roles earlier in your career.  By never forgetting the issues relating to those roles and what was important at that moment in time, you will be in a better position to relate to those who are currently in the job.
  • Practice empathy. Remember the human aspect of any organization. Simply put, people are people; they have the same kinds of hopes, dreams, and feelings deep down that many of us do.  A big part of respect is treating people humanely, regardless of the situation at hand.  Even in bad times, people will remember those who treated them with grace and respect.
  • Put things in context. Not everything in business life is critical, but many things are important.  Let recognizing situations for what they are and not overreacting be your norm.  Taking the time to fully consider the situation and reacting in a professional and pragmatic manner can help to generate respect.
  • Do your job well. Competence is important in generating respect, as it’s difficult to look up to someone if they aren’t very good at what they do. Respect isn’t about high-fives and fist-bumps around the office; it has many layers and is far more complex than that.  Be the person who can always be counted on to get the job done.
  • Pay careful attention to role models. Observing experienced executives in terms of how they handle all types of situations and the human element throughout is a great way to learn; both in terms of the leader you want to be and behaviors you never want to repeat. Well respected executives are easy to spot.

Remember that respect is a two way street; you have to give it to earn it, and around it goes.  At the end of a difficult day, you will be glad that you have this important skill in your corner.

The New Road Ahead: Implications for Canada’s retail venture capital industry

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

Retail venture capital in Canada, where tax credit eligible money is raised from individual investors, has been a controversial topic over the years.  Since the launch of the first Labour Sponsored Venture Capital Corporation (LSVCC) in the early 1980’s, retail funds appeared across the country, providing investors with access to federal and provincial tax credits and investing capital into young companies seeking to drive Canada’s innovation economy forward.

With the announcement of the “Sunset Clause” in Ontario in 2005, eliminating the provincial tax credit for retail funds over a five year period and the significant decline of fundraising levels in the aftermath, many were left wondering what the future might hold.  The Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) initially arrived on the scene as part of the 2012 federal budget, allocating $400 million in new capital over a 7 to 10 year period, with the objective of attracting an additional $800 million from the private sector.  The 2013 federal budget announced the progressive elimination of the LSVCC tax credit program over 2015 to 2017, leaving an asset class that once raised billions with an uncertain future.

With limited venture capital dollars being raised in recent years and a lack of specific details around how and when the bulk of VCAP dollars will flow, there is a climate of uncertainty around what the impact might be on VC funds and, ultimately, the companies in which they invest.  Reflecting on an asset class that has been a part of Canada’s venture capital landscape for 30 years, opportunities for involvement in the future may become apparent, as further details around VCAP come to light.

The Good

Canadian retail venture capital has made a significant contribution to the financing of Canada’s early stage companies, including:

  • In terms of investment, from 1996 to 2012:
    • Retail venture capital funds invested $7.8 billion into 2,419 Canadian companies, representing 53% of all VC-backed companies in Canada at the time (1)
    • In technology sectors alone, retail funds invested $5.5 billion in 1,190 companies, or 45% of all Canadian VC-backed companies at the time (1)
  • In terms of exits, from 1999 to 2013: (i) of the 29 companies that exited by sale with a purchase price in excess of $200 million, 19 were backed by retail funds; and (ii) of the 37 companies that undertook an IPO in excess of $30 million, 22 were backed by retail funds (1)

Over this timeframe, it stands to reason that the level of fund manager expertise was increasing, as part of the typical growth and development of a young industry.  This is reflected in the trend of shifting the investment strategy to focus on later stage co-investment and investing indirectly in specialized private sector venture capital funds, thereby becoming a supplier of capital to the broader VC industry.  As an example, Quebec retail funds have committed $830 million to 59 private independent funds, of which 29 are based in Quebec, 10 in the remainder of Canada, and 20 in international locations. (3)

Retail venture capital funds have played a key role in generating investment in areas that are typically undeserved.  As an example, retail funds in Saskatchewan have invested an average of $80 million per year over the last three years and $600 million in 193 companies since inception, while leveraging significant co-investment from outside of the province.  Saskatchewan’s residents and economy have benefitted, in terms of companies being able to remain in the province and the employment that has been generated as a result. (2)

The Criticisms

Although varying themes may exist, criticism of retail venture capital funds includes poor performance levels, inappropriate structures and governance models, fund managers lacking the necessary expertise, and funds being too small to provide a sufficient amount of capital to support the developmental needs of early stage companies.

Research into these areas, among others, indicates that although there is room for improvement, a number of the typical criticisms may not be entirely valid (and, at a minimum, are outdated).  Consider the following:

  • Although the performance of Canada’s retail funds has been poor, it has been comparable to the rest of the Canadian venture capital industry.  The net 10 year return as of June 30, 2005(4) for retail funds was -1.4%, compared to private independent funds at -3.9%, other captive funds at -3.6%, and an overall industry return of -3.0%.  The issue of poor performance is not due to the retail sector alone, but rather, is driven by broader factors, including timing, fund size, and a lack of experienced fund managers during the period. (5)
  • Given that the Canadian venture capital industry is significantly younger than that of the US and Europe, it is not entirely surprising that the level of experience and expertise among fund managers would require additional development.  This issue, however, is not unique to the retail segment, as other venture capital funds in Canada were arguably facing the same challenges, especially back in the 1980’s and 90’s.
  • The structure and governance model of some retail funds may have been less than ideal, in terms of areas such as fee arrangements and independence.  Although this criticism should not be generalized to all retail funds, even a limited incidence of this type of weakness can reflect poorly on a broader group.
  • Although some retail funds have been challenged by a lack of size and ability to provide the degree of capital that early stage companies often require in order to fully develop, research has indicated some improvements in this area.  In addition, considerable consolidation occurred in the industry several years ago, reducing the number of small funds.

Despite the foregoing, the retail venture capital industry has been challenged by an overall decline in appeal from the channels in which capital is raised, a situation that has been difficult to overcome.  The reality of this type of circumstance is that it can be difficult to find a way forward, regardless of positive achievements and the presence of change.

The Future

It’s no secret that Canada is significantly underserved in terms of venture capital, lagging behind that of key global markets.  Early stage companies that seek to drive the innovation that Canada requires in order to be globally competitive have a critical need for financial support, particularly in terms of venture capital.  Under the circumstances, Canada needs more venture capital, not less, so it’s important that new initiatives such as VCAP truly represent an incremental source of capital, particularly given the phase out of retail tax credits.

Retail venture capital funds have demonstrated the ability to support private (non-retail) funds, invest in and play a key role in developing early stage companies, and effectively benefit regions that are typically underserved.  The opportunity to work in concert with VCAP in some manner seems worthy of consideration, to preserve and continue to grow these important strengths.  Funds that have had some success and continue to have the opportunity to reinforce their achievements through good performance may be well positioned for collaboration going forward.

Change and evolution are often two-fold, where the increase in ability that is gained through experience raises the opportunity to develop and implement strategies that better serve the future.  This occurs in many industries and is a necessary part of growth.  Blending the best of both worlds into the future may be an important step in moving Canada’s venture capital industry forward as a whole.

Sources:

(1)  Thomson Reuters

(2)  Thomson Reuters and Saskatchewan retail funds

(3)  Retail Funds and Teralys

(4)  Represents the only hard data that compares retail venture capital with the rest of the Canadian venture capital industry undertaken by Thomson Reuters in 2006 for the CVCA.

(5)  Review of Main Criticisms Concerning VC Investment by Canadian Retail Funds (G. Durufle, 2013)

The Executive Edge (Collaboration)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Career advancement at any level typically involves generating success on both a personal and team level.  As positions become more senior, the collaborative and team component can become much more significant, in terms of the amount of time spent and the degree of complexity of the task at hand.  Smart executives know how to bring the right expertise to a team situation, both in terms of their own skills and drawing on the abilities of others to generate a great result.

On this basis, it stands to reason that there is a need to bring together a wider range of skills and expertise to address issues encountered at the executive level, rather than relying on the power of one.  It’s not surprising that the ability to work well on a team and collaborative level can be the difference between moving up to the executive ranks and staying in a position that doesn’t involve as much of this type of work.  This is only one of the reasons why it’s important to start practicing these important skills now, as experience can contribute greatly to developing talent as a collaborator.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including professional development, communication, and managing people.  Here’s more about the why the ability to collaborate and be an effective team member are so important at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Those who are able to excel in the executive ranks understand that success generated as a team reflects well on both the group and its individual participants; this is a great reason to get involved and make your best effort.  There can be a fine line, however, between successful collaboration and taking too much personal ownership of the result.  Inappropriate behavior includes poor preparation, not seeing the perspectives of other team members, over (or under) contributing, and even taking credit for the ideas of others (yes, it happens).

The result can range from teams that don’t function well enough to accomplish much, to hard feelings between individuals.  Any way you look at it, this doesn’t bode well for a harmonious and effective work environment on a day-to day basis (and may explain why difficult team members are sometimes shuffled off to other tasks with little explanation).  Don’t let this happen to you!

Get the Executive Edge

Collaboration is both a state of skill and a state of mind.  Do it well, and you might just find yourself being approached to contribute to all kinds of initiatives, and that’s a great way to practice and network at the same time.  Here’s how:

  • Do the preparation. In order to give full attention and participation to team sessions, it’s important to be well prepared in advance (don’t consider meeting time as an appropriate place for speed reading of background materials!).  Be prepared to participate fully and take a leadership role where possible.
  • Be careful with “alliances”. Day-to-day working relationships can turn into informal alliances between individuals to move initiatives ahead. This type of situation can be tricky, as complex business problems often require a better level of objectivity to resolve.  Be sure to enter team sessions with an open mind to find the most favourable solution.
  • Listen and learn. Moments of team member contribution is not a time to “zone out”(look around the room at your next meeting and gauge the number of people who are actually listening to what is being said).  Make an active and deliberate effort to listen to the perspectives of others and learn.
  • Keep an eye on the big picture. Collaborative sessions can involve a lot of details, particularly in terms of problem solving and implementation.  Be sure to keep the “big picture” mandate of the team in mind to ensure that the process and your contributions are on point.
  • Share the wealth. Make the effort to give credit where credit is due and don’t ever take personal acknowledgement for the achievements of the team or contributions of others. These missteps do not go unnoticed and can generate a lack of respect that can be difficult to overcome.

Think about it: we learned most of what we need to know about collaboration at a very young age; play nicely with others, wait your turn, listen, learn, don’t be a copycat, and celebrate the accomplishments of others.  Some lessons are effective well into the future, so pull up your socks and start collaborating!

The Executive Edge (Human Resources Management)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Although most jobs involve working with others, the complexity associated with people only increases when you enter the executive ranks.  Think about it: gone are the days when you just have to co-exist with co-workers, as executives are typically faced with people related responsibilities and relationships that are multifaceted.  In addition to the typical co-worker type relationship, add motivation, performance management, recruitment/termination, and broader supervision to the mix.  These areas must be considered in the context of senior level roles that can have a significant impact on an organization (good or bad), complex tasks, and perhaps a limited talent pool from which to draw candidates.  Given the circumstances, the human resource aspect of an executive role is one that often doesn’t get the attention that it should.

When it comes to dealing with senior team members, executives need to understand when to take what action; when to hire, when to fire, when to supervise more closely, and when to give people room to do their jobs.  This is a talent that isn’t common, and can be best cultivated through personal awareness and practice (remember that executives still have a need to recognize areas where they could improve).  The very best can come from senior teams that have the right skills and experience, are in the right roles, and have the appropriate balance of support and direction to get the job done.  This environment is one to strive for, and is far from a given in many organizations

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including risk management, professional development, and high role engagement.  Here’s more about the why getting the management of people right is so important to the executive ranks.

Where it Goes Wrong

We all can appreciate that the executive world is a busy place and there are many things involved in getting the job done.  Human resource matters, such as recruitment, performance management, and coaching can be time consuming tasks and often get shuffled to the next day (or month), particularly in busy times.  There is considerable risk in this on both sides of the equation; where substandard performers are allowed to continue in their role at a risk to the company and perhaps others, while the “stars” of the group become frustrated by spinning wheels and a lack of progress, having not received the support they need to keep moving forward.  Does this sound familiar?

Get the Executive Edge

Skilled executives know how and when to take the right action when it comes to managing people.  They recognize that the benefits are at least twofold: better performance to the benefit of the company and better equity within the executive group (no one likes to carry a marginal performer).  Here are some executive worthy tips to get the managing people aspect of the role right:

  • Don’t favour quantity over quality. Managing people effectively at the executive level isn’t about spending the day making the rounds with superficial chit chat and meddling in the work of others.  It’s more about understanding the level of executive development of each team member, their strengths and weaknesses, and when to provide support or direction.  The quality of the message and motivation approach matters.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly. This mantra may be often said, but seems to be seldom followed. Take the time to understand the particular executive role that needs to be filled and identify a candidate that suits it well.  Conversely, when a team member is not working out, take the necessary performance management steps to bring the situation to an end, to the benefit of both the company and the team.
  • Communicate.  People like to be in the know and understand what is expected of them on an ongoing basis.  Areas for improvement, succession planning, and strategic direction are all important areas to address with the executive team, so don’t leave them in the dark.
  • Let high achievers fly (within reason). Good executives know that when they are fortunate enough to have a bona fide star (or two) on their team, they perform best by having the freedom to do their job, within corporate guidelines and policies.  These folks consistently turn out great results, are reliable, and will ask for assistance when needed.  Let them do their job and don’t meddle; a better strategy is to utilize your time working with team members who are not as well developed.
  • Learn to recognize the difference between high and marginal achievers. As strange as this might sound, some executives don’t do this well. If they believe it is possible to resolve a particular problem, they simply expect that it will be done, with little regard for the actual ability of the team member to do so.  This is a dangerous path, so make sure that you are not casting expectations that a team member is not capable of fulfilling. (this can be a good area to seek assistance from an experienced executive to provide you with coaching in this regard).
  • Recognize that a big part of an executive role is providing coaching when needed. The executive ranks are all about assembling a team that can lead the company to successfully execute on its business plan.  In order to do so, senior roles are less about doing the front line work and more about helping others to be successful in their role.  In order to do so, coaching and feedback are musts.

Executives who are able to manage people effectively at the senior level have a much better likelihood of generating success, on both a team and a corporate level.  It’s not about excessive “touchy/feely” stuff; rather, it’s about understanding who your team members are, in terms of needs and ability, and what their role is so that you can put them in the best position to win.

The Executive Edge (Risk Management)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

As your career progresses, a funny thing can happen: you actually start to realize just how complicated the business world and your role can be.  Long gone are the early career refrains of “how hard could it be?” or “why not?”; experience has taught you just how hard things and all of the trouble that arises when the task at hand and the actions that were taken to address it should have been contemplated much more thoroughly.  Does it seem like the reverse should be true?  Call it “experience”.

Experience recognizes the full magnitude and complexity of situations and the actions that should be taken, as well as the various options that should be considered when making a decision.  Those who have successfully reached the executive level know that business situations are rarely black and white, and in fact, lots of grey areas exist; this is often the culprit of complexity.  As a result, experienced executives typically have a strong ability to identify complex situations and bring the right balance of analysis and action to bear.  This is what experience can do, in terms of developing the necessary level of judgment to recognize business risk (that can be mitigated), as compared to catastrophic risk (that can be devastating to a company).

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including professional development, consistent reliability, and high role engagement.  Here’s more about the importance of sound risk management skills to the executive ranks.

Where it Goes Wrong

Inexperience is often coupled with high enthusiasm and impatience; to get the job done, be recognized, and perhaps make a “splash” to generate a promotion opportunity.  Although there can be positive aspects to bringing action and enthusiasm to a role, there is a fine line between a “just do it” attitude and barging ahead in a careless manner.  Too often, less experienced staff members approach tasks without fully appreciating the challenges of the situation or the outcome of their actions.  Fast forward, and you might just find yourself in a situation that you wish you could have avoided or approached differently.  By this point, it’s often too late to turn back the proverbial clock, resulting in possible damage to the company, your reputation, and perhaps others.

Get the Executive Edge

Recognize that business situations are often much more complex and risk laden than most might realize.  Experience provides the tools to recognize this, but also the skills to indentify options for resolution.  Here’s how:

  • Seek to fully understand situations before acting. Taking quick action without fully appreciating the situation is a likely path to trouble. The devil is, in fact, in the details, so take the time and effort to be in the know.
  • Identify the key things you need to know. When analyzing business situations, there are typically a number of important areas to understand: What is the situation? Who is involved/impacted? What are the limitations/guidelines that are applicable? What are the financial considerations? What is the timeline for resolution? Develop a list of the standard things you need to understand and use it as a guide for resolution.
  • Consider the outcomes fully. It’s important to understand the situation, but also the outcomes of the actions that could be taken.  This is an area that often doesn’t get as much attention as it should, resulting in the right solution, but the wrong approach.  Remember that executives often spend more time “thinking” and less time “doing”, so don’t rush to judgment.
  • Be patient. Senior level decision making often requires more thought and patience than new executives might expect.  In simple terms, executive level problems are more complex, can impact more people, and have greater consequences: all good reasons to gather information, think it through, and take a patient approach.
  • Get advice. Bring advisors and other experienced individuals into the process when needed.  Although an executive might understand their business and customers well, they may lack specialized knowledge in areas such as legal, tax, and regulatory, so advisors in these areas can fill important information gaps.  In addition, a sound second opinion from an experienced executive can be extremely helpful.

Executives who are able to weather the storms of the business world for the long term need to have sound risk management skills.  Failing to do so could result in unsuccessful ventures or a short-lived executive career; costs that are much too high not to prevent.

The Executive Edge (Role Engagement)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Have you ever had a job where you thought you had it all figured out?  Each day seems predictable, tasks seem routine, answers seem obvious, problems non-existent.  Routine, smooth sailing, nothing to report from here.  Hmmmm…could a job really be this easy?

Situations like this can actually be dangerous, as too much complacency and comfort in a job can create the potential for an “asleep at the wheel” scenario.  The result: substandard work, mistakes that don’t get caught, and a declining level of motivation and engagement.  The risks: can vary, depending on the seniority of the role, but should never be acceptable.  In practical terms, a lack of role engagement can cause all kinds of problems for companies.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know that an “autopilot” mentality is never acceptable, as it insulates against what could go wrong, increasing risk to unacceptable levels.  Smart executives understand how critical sound risk management skills and awareness are, particularity as the seniority of the role increases, and it’s difficult to detect and manage risk without engagement (risks don’t typically come with signs and banners to announce their arrival!). In order to successfully protect a company from the proverbial “what could go wrong”, its leadership needs to be addressing the situation well in advance of when it arrives.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of professional development, comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability as part of the Executive Edge skill set.  Here’s more about why being fully engaged in your role at all times is so important.

Where it Goes Wrong

Simply put, trouble begins when thoughts of “I have this all figured out” start to creep in.  Managers who fall into this mindset can become less effective in several directions: missing errors made by staff members; failing to notice risks and challenges emerging within their own role; and being a less effective management team member.  Allow this mentality to exist for a period of time and a once effective organization can find itself adrift (and that can be a scary place).

Get the Executive Edge

Resist the temptation to become too complacent and less aware of the complexities and issues developing around you.  Ensure that you are always fully engaged in your role; here’s how:

  • Recognize the benefits of fear. Not all fear comes to harm you; in fact, it can be helpful. Recognize the importance of your role and the consequences of making errors or performing poorly.  What could the impacts be to the business? Others?  Yourself?  This approach keeps it real and should provide the motivation to maximize your engagement level at all times.
  • Monitor your engagement level. Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure that your engagement level is acceptable and not starting to wane.  Turn a declining situation around by setting some goals and/or identifying any tasks that are bogging down your productivity.  If your role is truly becoming too routine, talk to your supervisor about taking on some new tasks or increasing variety, where possible.
  • Increase your risk management skills. Risk management is a specialized, but interesting area.  Understanding more about how to identify and manage risks can provide the tools to help to put your role in context.  Seek out training opportunities with the goal of practical application.
  • Make continuous learning a norm. Professional development is an excellent tool to keep engagement high, as well as understanding the implications of substandard performance; make it a regular part of your working life.
  • Call out autopilot behavior. If you see examples of decreased role engagement in staff members or peers, speak up.  The team only performs as well as its weakest link, so raising the issue in the spirit of constructive improvement is fair.

Adopting a strategy of always being a little afraid is not a bad thing; with changing environments, competitive threats, and what the future holds, there is much to be mindful.  This fear mentality actually creates comfort, in terms of truly being in command of what’s going on and what’s to come.  No asleep at the wheel here.

The Executive Edge (Professional Development and Continuous Learning)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One of the interesting things about a career in business is that the more you learn, the more there is to know.  With the many functional aspects of the corporate world, such as accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources; coupled with industry trends, competition, technology, and practical experience gained on the job, a business person could spend every waking hour learning more.  What’s troubling is when people seem to stop learning, something particularly prevalent among the mid-level ranks, when formal studies have been left behind for what seems like more freedom and spare time.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know how important continuous learning and professional development are.  Quite simply, they are a given.  Thinking that once you reach the “top job” means that you have sufficient knowledge and can take a pass on learning more is a myth, and even worse, a recipe for trouble.  Skilled executives know that in order to become and stay successful, it’s important to learn as much as you can, given the rapid pace of change and many economic factors.  Starting good professional development habits early not only brings the necessary knowledge base to generate success on the job now, it also instills the important continuous learning routine to practice throughout your career.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial for achieving success in their role.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for advancement tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability.  Here’s more about why professional development and continuous learning are so important.

 Where it Goes Wrong

Early career days tend to be characterized by lots of excitement around a new role, new workplace, and what seems like endless opportunity.  Fast forward a few years to what can become days of routine, expectations that haven’t been realized, and enthusiasm can start to fade.  What’s more, your work environment can actually influence how you see the world, including your role, impact, and future prospects, and this can be a problem, particularly in a workplace that isn’t as positive as it should be.  Before you know it, your attitude is on the decline, which (you guessed it!) can start to impact your career advancement prospects.

This might sound a bit dramatic, but it unfortunately happens far too often.  With the many ways to absorb professional development these days- webinars, podcasts, online learning, and convenient breakfast/lunch seminars; being in the know is easier than ever.

Get the Executive Edge

Turn a bad situation around (or avoid it altogether) by getting on the professional development path; learn new skills, seek out opportunities, and spend some time with the crowd that wants to (and probably will) go places; here’s how to get started:

  • Set goals and priorities. Step back and think about your career objectives over the next year, as well as three, five, and even ten years from now. Where do you want to go?  What roles are of interest to you?  Once you have established an overall plan, it’s easier to identify the professional development programs that would be most beneficial to you.
  • Benefit from the experience of others. Get advice from others as to courses or PD resources that they have tapped into; find out what was of value and what worked well for them.  Ask your supervisor about professional development activities that would help you to advance in the workplace, perhaps to positions you have already discussed.  This approach can help to ensure that you spend your time wisely and might also identify some options you had not considered.
  • Seek out workplace PD programs. Many employers have professional development programs that offer courses and seminars and/or provide financial support to employees who successfully complete studies in areas that are relevant to their job.  These programs can provide tremendous benefit to employees, such as the chance to complete a designation program fully financed by the company, as opposed to the staff member.
  • Work within your time constraints. Have what seems to be no time at all for continuous learning?  These days, that’s not a problem, as there are so many ways to learn.  Despite a busy lifestyle, most people can find the time to tap into online learning resources or podcasts at their leisure.

Successful executives know that they can learn something from almost any situation, good or bad, and they never stop seeking out the chance to do so.  We all know that knowledge is power, so the only way you lose is by not getting started.

The Executive Edge (Reliability)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Many of us grew up with parents who always challenged us to be our best.  “Take pride in everything you do”  “Do the very best you can before turning in your assignment” “Check your work!” Given the many times these lessons were repeated during our childhoods, it’s a reasonable assumption that the outcome just might be an attitude of high achievement that comes from within and lasts a lifetime.  If this is the case, why is it that the impact of so many of these lessons seem to be absent from the workplace?

Most careers begin by starting out in an entry level position and progressing forward, as skills and competencies develop and opportunities for advancement emerge.  One of the important factors that employers consider in this regard is the degree of self managed initiative and “ownership” that a staff member exhibits in performing their job.  In other words, are staff members challenging themselves to generate the best possible work, or are they simply putting in a marginal effort and passing their output to the next level without any real accountability for the results?

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial for achieving success in their role; consistently demonstrating high quality results is certainly on the list.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for advancement tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading and clear communication.  Here’s more about why taking ownership of your role to generate great results is so important.

Where it Goes Wrong

Here’s some information that might be a bit of a news flash to those who fail to advance in the workplace: it is not your supervisor’s role to find the mistakes in your work- it is your responsibility to do so.

Yes, it’s true that supervisors and managers do find errors in the work of others, but quite frankly, this often occurs in the course of performing their actual role (i.e., being responsible for a particular area of a business), and also, unfortunately, because too many staff members don’t take enough care in completing their work.  As a result of this situation, staff members who live by the rules of always putting their best effort forward are easily differentiated from their peers and often have the best opportunity to advance to more senior roles.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by remembering the good advice that many of us received years ago- take pride in your work!  Gain the reputation of bringing quality and reliability to everything you do; here’s how to get started:

  • Understand the requirements first. When approaching any task, take the time to fully understand what is required. Read instructions fully and make the effort to ask for clarification where required (flashback to our first article in this series: it’s amazing how many people don’t take the time to read thoroughly!).  Time to prepare well is time well spent.
  • Take notes. Experienced executives recognize that the corporate world is complex and the number of tasks at hand can be extensive.  Thinking that you will remember it all doesn’t make you look smart; it makes you look inexperienced!  Taking notes on how to complete tasks and workplace assignments is an important support to generating a quality result.  It also allows you to build your own reference manual.
  • Check your work.   Once you have completed a task, step back and review it from a fresh perspective.  Make yourself accountable for finding any mistakes or areas of improvement before passing your work to the next person.
  • Learn how supervisors and managers approach their review role. Take the opportunity to speak with your supervisor to learn more about what they look for when reviewing the work of others. Ask them what success “looks like” for the particular task in order to visualize and better understand what you need to do to generate a successful outcome.
  • Document and learn from your mistakes. Treat every experience where feedback is received as an opportunity to learn and improve.  Remember that supervisors expect staff members to learn from these experiences and not make the same mistakes in the future.  Challenge yourself to never make the same mistake twice.

It’s often been said that work that is done quickly, but not correctly, is of no value.  This is true.  Add up your time to complete the task initially; your supervisor’s time to review your (substandard) work; and the time to revise and review the work again and this lesson becomes crystal clear.  The real risk, however, is situations where poorly completed work somehow makes it through the review process into a larger realm, potentially damaging the company and, perhaps, others.  This risk alone is reason enough to check your work!

The Executive Edge (Communication)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Communication is one of those things that we all have to do in life, every single day.  What can differentiate successful executives from those who don’t make it to the top is the manner in which they approach the issue of communication.  Simply put, communication is a serious thing; it’s the difference between being understood and not being understood.  Skilled executives take it one step further, viewing communication as a tool to be completely understood.  That’s powerful stuff.

It’s no secret that failing to communicate well could result in everything from poor decisions to catastrophic misunderstandings, regardless of any good intentions along the way.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to communicate well (or even at all, in some cases), especially in a world of text messages and other informal interactions.  What’s more, many people just don’t realize how much poor communication not only increases risk, but also limits their potential to advance to more senior roles.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial to achieve success in their role; everything from comprehensive reading to being consistently reliable, and having a great ability to communicate is no different.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading.  Here’s more about why good communication skills are so critical to success.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever tried to advance an initiative or workplace project with a group of co-workers that just doesn’t seem to be moving forward?  Staff members seem confused about what their responsibilities are.  Duplication of effort occurs, due to a lack of clarity over who is supposed to do what (and, after a while, no one seems to care).  Numerous meetings are held, but at the end of an hour or two, no one is quite sure what the next steps are.  Nothing seems to get done, and enthusiasm starts to fade.  Why does this happen?

Although this type of situation can arise due to a number of factors, one of the main problems is always communication.  This includes everything from having clear meeting agendas and discussion topics, to how the discussion process is managed, to meaningful documentation of decisions and next steps.  No wonder success can be so difficult to achieve.

But, consider this: every day, thousands of hours of staff and management time are wasted by working on initiatives that lack the clarity and communication to move forward.  As disturbing as this is, it’s also an opportunity for you to take a leadership role and cast some much needed light on the situation.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by taking a vow to always strive to be understood and invest in the necessary professional development, attention to detail, and practice to do so.  Once you do, not only will you develop important executive skills, you will also make a meaningful contribution to improve how your work environment functions (and, yes, results do matter).  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep it simple. Anyone can make something sound complicated; the real talent is in taking something that is complicated and making it understandable to others.  Any situation can be crystallized to a simple concept that others can easily absorb; you just have to find it.
  • Strive to be “crystal clear”. If you consciously focus on delivering your message in a manner that is as clear and understandable as possible, chances are, it will be sufficiently clear to others.  Sounds simple, but it works.
  • More isn’t always better. Rambling on and burying the point in volumes of peripheral information doesn’t enhance communication.  Use words carefully and weed out any unnecessary language that clutters the message.
  • Clean up writing skills. Be honest with yourself: many people would benefit from taking a business writing, grammar, or presentation course to improve their communication ability. Another option is to spend more time working with people who write well and volunteering to complete tasks that have a significant communication component (practice works!).
  • Document discussions, decisions, and next steps. Nobody enjoys taking meeting minutes, developing agendas, or updating project workplans; however, these are important components of the executive world and you need to be able to do these things well in order to move forward. So, raise your hand next time these types of tasks are up for grabs.
  • Keep it moving. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect of everything they do. Keep communication meaningful by making it practical and action oriented.

Keep it up and something strange might start to happen; some of your peer group may actually start to improve their communication skills as well.  Don’t believe it?  Well, you might just be surprised by what good communication can do.

The Executive Edge (Comprehensive Reading)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Ever wonder what it really takes to join the ranks of senior management?  Hard work, a strong level of technical or specialized knowledge, and the broad perspective to manage others all come to mind.  It’s not surprising that successful candidates often spend years completing professional designations and gaining particular on the job experience to help prepare them for roles at the senior or executive levels.

What might be surprising, however, are the fundamental skills that successful, top level people typically exhibit and consistently practice.  These skills are not characterized by complicated research, formulas, or complex business practices and are, in fact, much more simplistic than that.  These characteristics are more about the approach that the individual takes to fulfil their role on a personal level and are essential to generating a positive result.  Things like comprehensive reading, active listening, concise communication, and consistent reliability are all important skills that are typically exhibited by strong senior level managers.

Executives know that failing to do any of these things could result in poor decisions, at a minimum, as well as the real potential for crisis situations and more in the worst case.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to utilize these vital skills, especially those in the mid-ranks with expectations to progress further.  What these people don’t realize is how much a lack of attention to detail limits their progress in terms of advancement, and might even result in being labeled as not having the potential for more senior roles.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Instead, take the initiative to understand how executives approach their role and start to adopt these behaviors.  Practicing these skills consistently will not only differentiate you from others in your peer group and generate better results today, they will also help to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we will consider several skills that will help give you the Executive Edge.  Let’s get started with the first skill: comprehensive reading.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever sent someone an email with what you thought were fairly straightforward instructions, only to receive a response that seemed completely out of left field?  “Did she even read my email?” you wonder.  “I went out of my way to make this so simple for him; how frustrating!” you complain.  Why does this happen?

Assuming that you did communicate your instructions in a clear and concise manner (we will get to that in a future article!), the bottom line is that too many people just don’t read!  Although they might have read carefully at the beginning, a common shortfall is to skim the rest, not paying attention to critical information or what was being asked in terms of response or “to do” items on their part.  Experienced executives know that this approach can actually be fatal.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by doing something really simple; just read (yes, all of it!).  The challenge of comprehensive reading often comes with doing it consistently and completely, but practicing this skill and using it without exception are critical for managing the risk levels of executive roles.

  • Don’t skim. Skilled executives read thoroughly, from the beginning of a document or email right to the end.  The challenge is to maintain focus in order to concentrate on what is being said, without any incorrect interpretations.
  • Don’t let your mind wander. If you feel this happening, stop reading, go back to the top of the last paragraph, and begin again.  If you pay conscious attention to not letting your mind wander, you will be surprised how quickly your attention level starts to decline.  This will happen less frequently if you practice.
  • Learn to absorb information quickly. Practice allows you to effectively open your mind and absorb new information quickly, but also thoroughly and completely. Skilled executives might look like they are skimming, due to the pace of their reading; but instead, they have practiced well to absorb information quickly.
  • Think about next steps. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect in relation to what they read. This approach makes written material more action oriented and keeps the “what is being asked of me?” question top of mind.
  • Appreciate the value of executive summary type documents. Given that executives do, in fact, read thoroughly, this increases of importance of concise documents, such as the executive summary.  Communications that focus on the core issues of a situation, decision points, and next steps are critical, as opposed to long winded documents that include unnecessary information or never get to the point.  Keeping this in mind when communicating with others actually helps to practice comprehensive reading skills.

Think it sounds easy?  Too easy to bother?  Now, that’s a mistake.  The reality is this: executive level issues and decisions are often based on complex information and situations.  In order to grasp the material, it takes practice to absorb it.  This is just another reason to start practicing now, while the stakes are certainly important, but are not quite so high.

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