Date posted: 20/04/2017 2 min read

Working with other disciplines

Diversifying your interests within an organisation could help you achieve your career goals faster.

In brief

  • Being proactive in the workplace is a strategic career move.
  • Know your organisation’s work disciplines inside out.
  • Never sit at the back, isolated from the action. No one will see you.

Chartered accountants who aspire to be the CFO, to reach top management positions or even land a CEO role, need a deep understanding of all disciplines within an organisation.  

This outtake from a recent CFO advertisement on recruitment site Seek demonstrates this well, stating: “You must have the ability to deep-dive into detail whilst having the ability to influence strategic matters across a broad range of senior stakeholders”.   

Michael Loccisano, director of Melbourne property developer Hallmarc, reinforces this message.  

“I don’t want our accountants sitting in a back room devoid of interaction with the rest of the business and our customer-facing team,” he says.  

“We have reorganised our whole office so that they are in the middle of the action and can hear all the conversations.  

“Every two weeks, we run an ‘all-in’ staff discussion session about key issues impacting upon our business, so that every team member is involved and hears other perspectives.  

Dr Kerry Bennett, CEO of the Graduate Union of Melbourne University, says that smart chartered accountants know that the numbers they report are the result of a lot of activities by different people. 

“Accountants tend to think technically in rows and columns. Their structured way of thinking is similar to lawyers and engineers. It is important for their success that they first appreciate that there are many other valid ways of thinking –emotionally, creatively, artistically or even culturally – that contribute to the overall team effort,” says Bennett. “To describe the results, chartered accountants need to have an in-depth understanding of the drivers, at a people level."

Move in wider circles

There are spin-offs to being close to other disciplines. Most importantly, it allows chartered accountants to move in wider spheres of influence. Professional recruiters use multiple techniques to assess whether candidates have a wide view of any business.  

“It starts with their resume and its contents,” says James O’Donnell, business director of Hays Accountancy & Finance.  

“It continues with the way they answer questions on the phone about their career, and then at interview we ask behavioural questions designed to tease out the quality of their business partnering, stakeholder engagement, and influence through the organisation skills – so clearly sought by the best employers for the top positions.  

“We notice a lot of chartered accountants lack guidance about developing a wider skill set. This needs to be fixed.  

“We notice a lot of chartered accountants lack guidance about developing a wider skill set. This needs to be fixed."
James O'Donnell, business director of Hays Accountancy & Finance.

“From a candidate point of view, if you want to get to the next tier of responsibility and reward, you need to maximise your attractiveness by gaining and demonstrating such knowledge,” says O’Donnell. 

The path to the top

Here are some concrete ways that CAs might improve their understanding of other disciplines.

  • Study for a postgraduate qualification or continue your education in another subject area, for example, marketing or human resources.
  • Shadow a colleague in another department – perhaps a different one each month. Include customer-facing or sales people in the list.
  • Ask to be embedded in the business operations and not seated in a separate office.
  • Volunteer to help out or spend time with other departments – either during business hours or after hours.
  • Have lunch with members of other teams.
  • Walk around the business and talk to others about the business – ask about their challenges and how you might help.
  • Volunteer for cross-functional teams set up to solve organisational challenges – especially the difficult ones.
  • Volunteer to go on external boards that give you wide exposure and experience. Schools, churches, clubs, charities, and many other organisations are always searching for a CA to be part of the team, perhaps as treasurer.
  • Choose leisure activities that involve interacting with people from as many other disciplines and industries as possible. Take a real interest in their work.
  • Read widely, not just in business publications like the Harvard Business Review, but also in other disciplines.  

This article is part of an ongoing Careers column offering tips and advice for provisional members of CA ANZ and younger full members. For more information on the Chartered Accountants Program, as well as inspiring stories of young chartered accountants, visit now.