By Maureen Renzi, vice president – communications
Are your good ideas being passed over? Is your voice not being heard at meetings? Do you ever drop by your boss’s office with a solution that goes nowhere? You are not alone.
I recently had the opportunity to moderate the panel discussion “Getting Your Ideas Heard: Learn to Build a Business Case from Those in Charge” at a national conference for state CPA societies. As I prepared for this presentation, I realized that more people than my state society colleagues could benefit from this discussion: young professionals learning the ropes, and experienced professionals who may need a few tips on how to help colleagues succeed.
Younger professionals in, or soon to be in, the workforce were raised to share their opinions and speak up with their thoughts. Rare is the young individual who was raised under the philosophy that “children should be seen and not heard.” To be clear, I’m not saying young professionals are children; I’m simply pointing out that they have not been expected to hold back their opinions until they were older. In studies by both PWC and Deloitte, it is clear that today’s professionals have an expectation that they should be able to speak their mind and expect feedback. When we were planning this conference, the younger members scheduled this session because they want their ideas heard and they want to learn how to make that happen.
The panelists were members of the senior executive teams of several state societies of varying sizes. To prepare for my role as moderator, I put together the questions below, had a conference call with the panelists, and defined some common goals. The most important goal was that we wanted time for audience participation. Below are my observations from the preconference discussions with the panelists.
Have you ever gone into a meeting thinking that the agenda item to be explored wasn’t a good one, but you attended any way and a member of your team changed your mind?
Most panelists agreed that they don’t usually approach a meeting agenda from a negative perspective. What leaders are looking for is the recognition of a problem or opportunity, and then a way to address it. Developing consensus around the “end game” and identifying the step to reach that goal always gains the attention of leaders. The bottom line: start with identifying something that a decision maker cares about and move on from there.
Did you ever go into a meeting thinking that an idea being proposed was a “slam dunk” only to have it shot down?
Everyone likes war stories. One panelist shared a story of a state board decision that they were not prepared to address and how it created dissension in the membership. Another talked about a marketing decision that had consequences they didn’t anticipate. These “slam dunks” created more problems, not less. The most important lesson gleaned from this discussion: explore as many options as possible, and never assume you know it all.
What’s the best way to float a new idea? Stop by the office? Send an email? Set up a meeting?
As one might expect, the answer is, “it depends.” The panelists agree that while stopping by the office is important to build a rapport, if a matter requires serious discussion, set up a meeting. The execs talked about the need to manage the flow of information and daily disruptions. More importantly, this is a reminder for the young professional to be more aware of the entire picture. Because the execs are concerned outside one specific functional area, a person who can demonstrate cross-functional innovation is definitely someone who quickly gains respect and attention.
How important is it to get advocates before going to the boss with an idea?
This is an area that can make the boss bristle. This process of floating an idea to others before approval definitely needs to be approached carefully. It’s important to get a good handle on the situation and understand all the facets of the problem/opportunity by talking to others, but you don’t want to get buy-in from others before getting approval from the boss to pursue the idea. Imagine how uncomfortable the situation would be if you got approval from a client or a boss’s supervisor for an idea that does not have the support of leadership. Your boss may have legitimate concerns of which you were not aware, or you may not be fully versed on the organization's strategic initiatives. So tread carefully before getting advocates.
In the association business, much like public accounting, we have to accommodate new leadership, whether it be a new president or committee chair. In the CPA’s world, it can be new clients, new partners, or a rotating board. How do you adjust?
As we discussed our approaches to this challenge, it became clear that to succeed in any situation you need to be able to adapt and be aware of the current environment. Different leaders have different concerns and interests. To go back to the first point, you need to identify what people care about and develop your strategy for presentation from there.
If you are in a situation where you need help getting your message heard, it may be time to find a mentor. If you don’t know someone professionally who you feel comfortable turning to, PICPA’s Mentor Match program can help. If you have been thinking about being a mentor, this service is also a great way to start. Mentoring, like public speaking, is an opportunity to learn as much as it is to teach. I learned so much from both the panelists and planners, and thought it was worth sharing some of the lessons I learned.