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Reignite your motivation as a financial services professional and leader

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 23 Jan 2023

If you’re a leader in financial services – and specifically in finance or accounting – 2023 will be an interesting year. Sharath Jeevan OBE presents three strategies to meet the challenges head-on.

In more challenging and uncertain economic times, it’s important that as finance and accounting professionals, we continue to show our value to our employer. And that’s true whether our employer is a Big Four professional firm, blue chip or earlier stage company or non-profit organisation. It’s also critical that we sustain our own motivation in these testing conditions, when opportunities like real pay rises may be harder to come by. 

If we can do this now, when the economic situation is so uncertain, it will stand us in good stead in more certain times as well. The truth is that we’re likely to be working more than 90,000 hours over our lifetime, so getting our motivation right is important to us, both as leaders and as professionals ourselves. 

The good news is that it doesn’t involve a lot of money – but it does take some reframing around how we see our work. 

Here are three very practical ideas on how we can do that:

1) Revisit the purpose of your role

Purpose is about how our work helps and serves others. Too often as financial professionals we tend to define this too narrowly. A simple technique is to write down a personal mission statement for yourself. Before we worked together, one finance leader’s personal mission statement was: “I help my organisation by getting the accounting and compliance requirements done on time.” When we reflected more deeply together, where he could add further value was in helping colleagues at all levels understand and act on that information to make better business decisions. So he evolved his personal mission statement to be: “I help my colleagues understand and act on the financial information I provide, by education, training and building their financial confidence.” This mindset shift enabled him to take on a much wider remit in his organisation. 

2) Carve out more autonomy in your work time

Autonomy is about feeling at the wheel of our working lives and having a sense of agency. In many roles today it is easy to feel micro-managed and end up caught in a very narrow financial or accounting role, or one where you have limited decision-making power. You may be responsible just for the VAT affairs of your company, for example, and know almost nothing about the corporation tax situation. Or you may have a wide financial role but not be involved in any of the decision-making that comes from it. The good news is that you can ‘job-craft’ your role to try to deepen that autonomy. Talk to your manager and agree that you might sit in on some of the corporation tax meetings, because it will help you make your work more relevant to the bigger picture of the company. Or see if you can be involved in decision-making meetings around pricing, based on your deep understanding of VAT trends. 

The key is to have an open and honest discussion with your manager and explain why increasing autonomy will benefit everyone. If your manager isn’t willing to listen, that itself tells you useful information. 

3) Develop a broader base of mastery

Mastery is going on a journey to be the best professional versions of ourselves. Earlier in our careers, technical prowess is the key, in terms of our deep finance and accounting skills. But as our careers develop, the human elements of mastery become more important – including in particular skills such communication, influencing, building trust and facilitating good but robust discussions. It’s important to step back and ensure we are spending sufficient time developing these areas of mastery as explicitly as we can. Training courses can help, but ultimately it’s about seeing whether we can find opportunities to deliberately practise these skills in our work. 

One way to start is to identify the broader essentials of mastery that are most important in your role. For example, if you’re a team leader, you may have colleagues of different generations who may have different perspectives on work and life. It’s important to align these so the team feels everyone is ‘on the same page’. Similarly, if your role is heavily reliant on client influencing, it may be worth investing in your listening and influencing skills. 

Let your colleagues – and perhaps even your clients – know what you want to develop, and ask for ongoing feedback along the way. And be open to providing colleagues with feedback on their broader mastery areas. 

It can be easy to feel a sense of ‘plateauing’ in our careers, especially as we master the technical areas. And it can be equally easy to chase changes in job title as the only validation of progress, rather than seeing opportunities to grow within our current roles. But that would be short-sighted. The best way to achieve career progression is to feel deep motivation and fulfilment in your role right now. That will mean you will see deep impact in the short term, which will inspire confidence in your colleagues and managers and create a virtuous cycle, where the next role you take on will be even more fulfilling. So don’t wait for the dream role to come – make the most of your current one and the perfect future job will become even more likely. 

If we can put in place these elements of purpose, autonomy and mastery, we can sustain our own internal motivation – as well as being ever more valuable and influential in our organisations. It’s a win-win we can all achieve if we reframe how we think about our work.

 

Sharath Jeevan OBE is a world-leading expert on intrinsic leadership and motivation, and the founder and Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs. He was awarded an OBE in 2022 for founding and leading STiR Education STiR Education, arguably the world’s largest intrinsic motivation initiative. 

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