I have a strong sense that the sustainability of the finance professional depends on explicitly nurturing and developing the attributes of courage and compassion. I see evidence of finance professionals stepping out of their comfort zone and working to help others every day. My post is about making these aspects of the role more of a priority because the increase in complexity and uncertainty suggests to me that they are becoming an imperative.
Next to having my children, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was a combination of passing a tough set of examinations and achieving a professional qualification that would allow me to use my numerical and people skills together. Contrary to what some may think, accountancy is a people business. Whether you are an auditor, finance director or specialist adviser – you cannot do your job without the help of and interaction with people. Enabling people and organisations to make decisions and communicate in a universal language founded on double entry bookkeeping appeared exciting to me. I still remember the day that I understood and marvelled at the beauty and integrity of the double entry bookkeeping system: how it fits together, highlights any in-balance and moves you neatly to re-balance.
In today’s fast moving and complex world the core role of providing information and exercising judgement based on an ethical code of practice remains the same. However, I think that both the reporting and judgement elements require finance professionals to strengthen their courage to adapt and their compassion to connect.
Here are two situations that I believe exemplify this need.
1. Reporting on ‘social and relationship capital’
One of the first things I felt when I began training was that accountancy provides the lifeblood of an organisation. It provides the information system that enables organisations to make decisions, fund their activities and grow sustainably. The system is constantly reviewed to ensure it remains relevant and fit for purpose. To this end I think the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) has developed an exciting and innovative reporting framework that reflects the complexity and uncertainty of today’s environment.
‘At the heart of Integrated Reporting is our integrated model, which demonstrates how six capitals – financial, manufactured, human, social & relationship, intellectual and natural – represent all the resources and relationships organisations utilise to create value.’ IIRC
The relationships between multiple stakeholders and with the environment are explicitly recognised as significant components of value and sustainability. Finance professionals are now being asked to consider and integrate the human and relational aspects of value creation and take a more strategic approach. In my view providing information based on capturing this value requires finance professionals to demonstrate increased levels of courage and compassion.
Courage is needed in order to trust that a professional approach will be robust enough in the face of multiple and often intangible factors. By this I mean that the core principles underlying the profession will give you the ability and confidence to navigate the complexity of relationships. Compassion is needed in order to see the world from the different perspectives of current and future stakeholders and to work towards sustainability. Working with multiple stakeholders will also require the capacity to form more open-ended relationships. I think this means empathy for others and a desire to engage even when the outcome is uncertain.
2. The renaissance of professional judgement
A significant part of the profession focuses on compliance ensuring organisations and individuals are following appropriate statutory processes. Technology is now delivering us systems and processes that provide information faster and automatically. Just as in the industrial revolution where changing working practices prompted a migration from the country to towns, this technological change is giving rise to a migration from processing work to more advisory work in the finance profession.
This shift has been acknowledged and well documented. What I now see is the need for professionals to rely on each other more than ever. Exercising judgement and giving advice are moments of decision: moments of choice and of taking responsibility. My experience of finance professionals is that they take personal responsibility very seriously and at the same time I observe it can cause anxiety. That sense of personal responsibility can sometimes make an individual feel they have to take decisions on their own. In addition they may fear making a bad decision and that fellow professionals might judge them harshly for it.
It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone and take responsibility in a complex world where the “rightness” or “wrongness” of decisions is becoming, if not more blurred certainly at least more nuanced. I think it also requires strength of character to allow others to see that you might need support especially if you are accustomed to succeeding through your own efforts. Conversely supporting others and sharing with others requires compassion i.e. the empathy and desire to give help without being judgemental.
Perhaps the way to support this renaissance of professional judgement is to create a more non-judgemental environment. An environment where mistakes are used as learning points, collaboration is celebrated and where we practise being more explicit about our bias and beliefs.
My own belief is that courage and compassion can be nurtured and developed. Given that you tend to get what you focus on, I think it is important to make the development of courage and compassion a priority for finance professionals.