Being confident and able to make good business decisions are two of the most important skills to enhance your career and make you a better manager and accountant.
However, with so much uncertainty it can feel very difficult to make decisions in the current climate. In addition, being confident does not come naturally to everyone, and decision-making is a skill that needs to be developed, whether you are at the start of your career, or you are in charge of a practice and are making decisions that will affect your employees as well. The inability to plan ahead and the uncertainty has also knocked people’s confidence.
At the Future Finance Conference Conference Online in June 2021, a key session looked at Mastering confidence and decision making in finance. Duncan Brodie, Managing Director at Goals and Achievements and Andi Lonnen, International trainer at the Finance Training Academy talked through the practical steps that AAT members could take to become more confident decision makers.
How to make the best decisions in your business and life
They shared their own real-life experiences as well as reflecting on confidence in terms of where the industry is now, and how it will be moving forward in the future.
Before setting up Goals and Achievements in 2006, Duncan Brodie spent 25 years in accounting, internal audit and risk consulting roles in the private (PwC, EY and TSB) and public (NHS) sectors. Andi Lonnen is a fully qualified FCCA accountant with many years’ financial experience to Commercial Finance Director level in addition to being a qualified ILM trainer.
“You don’t all sudden wake up one morning and be really confident on something,” Duncan Brodie says. “As finance professionals we can be quite self-critical. To gain confidence you need to reflect and ask what you can learn from the situation. You should also cut yourself some slack and acknowledge that you are a human being, and not a machine.”
“A lot of finance professionals are tired and overwhelmed with everything that they have had to deal with,” says Andi Lonnen. “From a mental health point of view I think people can feel a bit less confident just because they’re so tired, and it can simply be just taking a step back and taking that bit of a break to just breathe again. Remember you are good at this, and you are making a contribution.”
She recommends keeping an achievement diary in which you record praise, completion of successful projects and record when a piece of work went well.
“Every time you finish a project or a piece of work, put it in this diary, whether it’s electronic or paper. When you are having your days where you have a drop in confidence, you can get your diary out and lift yourself back up again and get back into an energised productive confident place again. It sounds such a simple thing but it works.”
How to make career decisions in a time of uncertainty
Duncan Brodie says that in terms of career, which may have been disrupted by Covid-19, it is important to keep the long-term focus. “Technology means we may have to learn new skills and adapt and grow but technology is not going to take things over the human side of things,” he says.
“AAT encourages professional development, and make sure there is breadth in your development. Don’t just learn about the technical stuff. Try to get involved in projects that go beyond finance because you learn about the softer skills such as negotiating and influencing,” he says.
Andi Lonnen suggests you get out of your comfort zone and go ahead with difficult tasks. “That’s where all the magic happens,” she says. “That’s where confidence is built, so don’t worry about doing things that you find difficult. Learn to be okay with that.”
In terms of decision making, she says that procrastination can be caused by fear of making the wrong decision or being blamed. When you are trying to make an important decision it is crucial to have all the right people at the table – something that is more difficult right now in the remote environment. She suggests you create a Risk Register to identify of key risks are.
“When you are making decisions look at the risk of that decision going wrong, and what would impact be? Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen, what is the biggest risk? Is that acceptable to me? What would be the impact of not making a decision, what is the risk to your business of not doing anything?”
She says that once you have made a decision and are implementing it, you should make it work. Building these skills that will put you in a good position wherever you are on the career ladder in finance.
How to build your confidence and develop new skills
Here are five steps to becoming more confident in your decision making.
1. Know how and why you make decisions
To have confidence in your decisions and to be able to defend their robustness to others, it is vital to understand the personal process you go through when making a decision, says Carmel Moore, leadership consultant, director of The One Moment Company and a former EY Tax Partner.
“What kind of decision maker are you? Do you follow your heart, head or gut? Do you start out from instinct and then apply checks and balances? Or is it the other way around? Do you feel you need to gather ALL the facts first before you can decide?”
2. Take your time to make decisions
In working life, the crux of our professional expertise is the quality of our decision-making, says Carmel Moore. Although somehow implicit in our professional training, we are never explicitly taught the process of how to make good decisions with ease. Clear decisions save time, foster collaboration and are the core of sound risk management.
“There is a common misconception that making decisions QUICKLY is a good thing. It may be. But knowing when a decision is complex and needs time and collaboration is equally valuable,” she says.
3. Take a step back and examine the process
Dr Aaron Turner is co-founder and senior partner at One Thought, a performance coaching company. He works with a broad range of clients across diverse sectors, which includes professional services. One Thought clients include, Microsoft, Publicis, Dishoom, Allen and Overy. The One Thought programme helps leaders get clarity of mind. This clarity then allows them to make better decisions and feel more confident.
“When we work with clients who are struggling with confidence, the first things we do is take a step back,” he says. “We help them to understand that feeling confident is a symptom of a clear state of mind, available to anyone in any situation. If you feel stressed or anxious you are feeling disturbed thought. it could be a sped-up mind.”
This is when thoughts are flying through your head at a hundred miles an hour. It may be agitation or insecurity. Making good decisions is almost impossible in these situations.
4. Gather the right data
It is important to remember that we make decisions throughout every day, often without realising, but some decisions are harder to make than others, says Liz Sebag-Montefiore is director of 10Eighty and a career coach.
“When making business decisions, it’s important to make sure you gather enough data, avoid making decisions when emotional, conduct a reality check, and challenge your assumptions,” she explains.
5. Communicate your vision
“Once you have made your decision, the next stage is to communicate it to everyone affected by it,” says Liz Sebag-Montefiore. “It is important to get everyone engaged by explaining how you reached your decision. The more information you provide about the projected benefits, the more likely people will support your decision.”
It is also important to discuss your risk analysis to evidence that you have carefully considered the risks. Allow people to be involved in the implementation and welcome their input even if they are pointing out flaws in your plan.