In my last post I laid out a case for why accountants need to take the time to get to know their own businesses. When you get out from behind your desk and learn about other functions in your company, it not only equips you with the insights to do your job better, but it also helps you build important professional relationships with others.
Here are some tips for developing and executing your plan:
- List visiting other offices in your company as one of your goals in your performance review process. This can bring up the subject in a constructive way. It will emphasize your desire set and achieve goals related to your own professional development, while also communicating to your boss the interest in learning more about other aspects of your company. Make sure that you request travel costs to be budgeted if necessary. Planning for this activity during your annual review will bring up the subject for discussion at a good time and set the expectations for both sides.
- Identify the specific areas, departments, or offices that you want to learn about in the next year. When you have targeted the group you want to get to know more, thinking of ways to reach out to them becomes easier. You might volunteer for a small project that you know will need to work with them. This can be helpful regardless of if you have a fully baked plan for meeting with them yet approved by your manager. If you wait to have permission and full endorsement from your manager, you might not make progress. Right or wrong, when things get busy, activities like this tend to get pushed to the side. Focusing on a daily basis on your goal to try and connect with select individuals will help ensure you’re always making progress.
- If you need to travel, schedule at least 6 months in advance with the other person. All organizations are different, but sometimes when you request to meet with management of another office location, you might find that they prefer it occur during a less busy time so that they can have multiple staff take the time to teach you things. You might feel like your imposing on them by doing this, but more than likely they are glad to accommodate you. Planning the trip in advance helps them manage around other items on their schedule also (while giving you time to book travel easily).
- Develop a basic agenda and send it in advance. Take the time to try and document some of the major topics you know you want to cover with the group. If you aren’t sure you can always break it down by major function of each role in the department. Giving them any kind of structure will greatly help as they will likely be able to start thinking about who you should observe or how to best teach you. Make sure you accompany this agenda with comments on the fact you remain open to whatever they’d like to teach or show you as your main concern is soaking up as much info about their area as possible.
- When you go, absorb everything and make the most of every minute. When you make the visit, try to learn as much as you can from them. Sit with as many people as possible one-on-one. Work longer hours. You might need to come in early and stay late trying to document the things you see and hear each day. Doing this shows that you are making the most of the opportunity. Of course, when others are explaining things to you, stay awake and alert asking questions throughout the process to show your interest.
- Make sure you keep good documentation. This is not only key for remembering what you’ve learned and seen, but also physical evidence of the things you’ve gained by spending that time with the other party. Sometimes your boss might also benefit from reading through this documentation. Maybe he or she can learn something from your efforts. At the same time, it will demonstrate to him or her that you take the opportunity seriously and showcase the things you’ve learned.
- Follow up with the contacts that you make periodically to maintain relationships. You will likely have discussed some small action items during your meeting with them. These might be simple things like where to find a specific piece of information or sending them a piece of analysis you have already completed for someone else. This is because the conversations you have with them will spark ideas on both sides. It will reveal areas where your work coincides with their needs and visa versa. You will want to make sure that when you get back to your office, you promptly send them what you’ve promised, and then follow up with them every couple months or once a quarter to see how they are doing. Building this relationship can pay off in the future in ways you might not realize.
- If they are close by, ask them to go to lunch. Lunch is your own time, so this can be an option regardless of your manager’s support. Most people at work end up eating with the same people every day. These people are missing an opportunity to build relationships on the fringes of their network. Many times the best relationships can be built at lunch with those in your office. Ask a department manager if he or she would be willing to go to lunch with you sometime. If you think the notion might sound odd, then frame it in the context of you just wanting to know more about their function in the company or how their career led them to where they are now. You’ll be positively surprised at the number of people who are excited to share this with you.
As accountants, many of our customers are internal. Meeting with these other areas of the business and gaining some of their perspective can lead to some of the most rewarding work you have. Make the most of your work experience and be sure to step out from behind your desk. It allows you to meet others in the business that you aim to serve and builds a perception that you are not interested in simply doing the minimum to get by. It shows the passion you have to learn about the company and industry. This almost always leads to greater opportunity.