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Use your brand to build your bank balance

Accountants are often portrayed as being under-weight in their engagement skills, but your ability to be different from the crowd will accelerate your career, increase your pay and open up career opportunities, argues LSCA Business Board member Bruce Claassen.

Bruce Claassen

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December 2018

Building your own brand requires active focus and continued practice. It never gets easier, the audiences simply become more senior and more public. But always ask: “When I walk into or out of a room, how will I be remembered?

Online tools make it easy to share large quantities of information, making the need to determine what to say, when to say it and to whom to say it even more critical. By extension, accountants who are good at making a positive face-to-face impact stand out from the crowd.

  • Can you explain your ideas succinctly and present them confidently?
  • Can you challenge difficult people in an assertive way, while keeping your cool?
  • Do you listen actively and with empathy?
  • Can you communicate in ways that non-accountants find engaging and understandable?

Over-reliance on emails or PowerPoint decks is the quickest way to lose connection with senior stakeholders. Don’t be so immersed in your screen that you’re unprepared to verbally interact with an unexpected passer-by. Be ready to succinctly summarise what you’re currently working on, the top issues under review and key next steps required to achieve their next deliverable, tailored to the person you’re speaking to at that moment.

Listening skills are critical. Effective face-to-face communication is a three-way exchange: them-to-you, you-to-them, plus your ability to understand their unspoken motivating factors. You need to listen carefully to reach the third step: not just to what’s being said, but how and why.

Get to know the person, what drives them, what motivates them, what pressures they’re facing. What are you going to do to lighten their burden and give them the right message, focusing on Relevance + Information + Action?

Engage with each decision maker in advance of large meetings, giving you the opportunity to respond to specific questions and get each individual comfortable on a one-to-one basis.

Ensure that you actively participate in meetings. Remaining on the backbench does not get you noticed. Inject yourself into the conversation and demonstrate your value. Afterwards, don’t rush to leave the room - engaging with a different person at the end of each meeting will help you quickly increase your network.

In all instances, accountants should aim to be better salespeople, able to convince the audience that their personal involvement is required and will enhance the final product. Insert yourself into the solution, become the front-line impact player (or even the punching bag if necessary!) and ask yourself “how can I make this person’s life easier?”

People-skills are the defining characteristic between effective leaders and dutiful followers. Be prepared to fail - what didn’t work in one situation may suit the next. Build your brand: when you walk into or out of a room, how will you be remembered?

Bruce Claassen is a director at Sonar Consulting and member of the LSCA Business Board.

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