By Rob Starr, Big4.com Content Manager.
So much of an accounting professional’s career success hinges around their ability to effectively connect with other people and have a corresponding career development strategy. Andrew Elkins, Strategy Consultant at KPMG recently supplies his thoughts on the subject of when and where it’s best to put this carefully constructed plans into action.
How and why is it important to take the time to develop a career development strategy when you’re looking to get ahead in the Big4?
Speaking from my two years of experience working as a strategic advisor/management consultant, the importance of a career development strategy in the Big Four stems from the competitive nature of the workplace. Similar to the constituents of an industry, each employee is affected by external factors that require the individual to evolve—or the organization to innovate. Developing a forward-looking career development strategy gives a Big Four employee a blueprint, vision, and direction to follow as the marketplace and the employee’s career simultaneously evolve.
What should that strategy include?
It is important that the strategy include many of the same factors that make an extraordinary
business because, in the professional services industry, the people and their subject matter expertise are the product. For example, the utilization of cutting-edge technologies, e.g. smartphones, and applications, e.g. Kindle, to gain subject matter expertise can give an individual consultant a competitive edge in discussions with clients on industry related topics; in the same way, implementing state-of-the-art project management software in a well-established corporation can improve the time management and productivity of innovative teams.
How far ahead should you plan for? ie: All the way up to partner or divided into intermediate steps?
My opinion is that this would vary by person based on his or her personal values. From my experience, if a Big Four employee wants to make partner, it’s important to divide career progress into intermediate steps and to leverage the knowledge of the organization’s leaders and your personal mentors. I have heard of professional services/consulting referred to as a team sport and an apprenticeship industry. So, rising in the organization can require developing trust-based mentoring and coaching relationships. These relationships result in high-quality client relationships and the high-performance client service delivery that is vital for earning incremental promotions before reaching the partner level.
Just as important as planning far ahead, another important trait for success in the Big Four is patience. If you read the Big Four authors John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen’s recent book release “The Self-made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value”, you will see that “Patient Urgency” is a trait present in the character of most self-made billionaires. So, when career planning in the Big Four, keep a long-term view while keeping in mind that earning partnership doesn’t happen overnight.
Should you incorporate provisos for unplanned detours?
Certainly. As humans, we live in a world full of uncertainty and cannot predict everything from our microscopic view. My personal career strategy is very flexible because I believe that there are many unknowns and it’s likely that I don’t have the ability to predict the best-case scenario for its development. Because of this, I keep two or three different directions in mind and steadily build my knowledge base for each direction while maintaining a flexible, patiently urgent outlook.
What parts should IT play?
As I mentioned previously, IT can help to build insights that provide value to clients, however there is arguably even more value presented by its ability to connect individuals from disparate social networks and geographies. We have seen this with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I recently started using a new application called about.me. It’s useful because 1) it provides links to all of your other social networks in one place, and 2) it allows you to find a group of people that share the same interests or same location with one click. Also, they recently released a new iOS application called Intro that allows you to instantly share your contact info and about.me profile with someone you meet by entering their phone, e-mail, or about.me account info. In such a highly relationship-based industry, it’s important to stay aware of how technology creates novel opportunities to build your network.
What other advice can you give about putting together a strategy?
I want to reemphasize the importance of maintaining a flexible outlook. In our business and personal lives, we are all sitting in a negotiation that requires one to work collaboratively with others to create mutually beneficial situations. So the ability to work in harmony with your professional group and your partner groups while asserting your interests, communicating your values, and always maintaining your integrity can bring your personal career development strategy to the next level.