Mark, our boss, used to feel completely responsible for the career development of staff…
But over the years, his thinking shifted a bit. It reminds him of a poem/speech or something he heard. He can’t actually find or recall the source, but he thinks it’s taken from a poem by Andrew Motion called Rainfall.
To paraphrase what he interpreted of the piece…
“My job is to rain. Sometimes I rain on rock, where it just bounces off. Sometimes I rain on fertile soil where a forest will grow. All I can do when it comes to the career development of staff, is try and create an environment for growth. I feel that IS my responsibility. So that’s what I do. I try and ‘rain’.”
Books are made available for staff; We constantly tell clients to make sure they are developing and training their teams; we have a high-performance culture; we have a non-political/no BS culture; Our boss constantly share stories from his own career to try and spark a fire in people around him; and he tries to provoke the best out of people despite them sometimes protesting while he does it.
But not everyone responds to the ‘rain’. So, what does it look like when the rain bounces off rock?
They do no reading; no seminars; no learning – aside from what is put in front of them; they sit like a victim and expect all training to be spoon fed to them; they expect an employer to nurture every aspect of their career; they expect promotions simply after ‘time served’ rather than actual real skill development and increased responsibility; they develop attitude issues; excuses are offered for everything that goes wrong… and the list goes on.
What does it look like when the rain falls on fertile soil?
Mark thinks back to his days as an auditor. He remembers when he had lunch with the partner of the firm after his six months probationary period had passed. He was asked ‘what do you want to do with your career?’ He said he already knew. He had known when he was still at university. ‘I want to do what you do. I want to be a partner of a firm’, he replied with zero hesitation. And then he set about making that happen. Each night, after work, he would sit down with his audit textbook; financial accounting textbook; and his book of accounting standards and he would study them. This is AFTER he graduated and was already working in the field.
I did not leave my learning up to someone else. I took control. My boss created an environment where I was stretched and challenged, and I responded by constantly improving my skills.
I had a good understanding of how to run an accounting practice a long time before I started Frontline. In fact, I was learning about this stuff while I was still at college because one day, I intended to have my own practice.
I put in the hours. And I was in an environment where I would say my boss ‘rained’. While many of my colleagues were successful over the years, some were not. I would say those are situations where my boss rained on rock and it bounced off. What would I do if I was starting my career now? Mostly the same. I would find an employer that stretches me.
I would not be concerned with job titles and rank and other meaningless things. I thought those things would make me happy, but they didn’t. I would want to find increasing complexity and challenge in my work. I don’t think a career is always necessarily ‘moving up’. You can move across, explore different things, learn new things and challenge yourself in different areas.
One mistake I made was thinking ahead a bit too much at times. For example, I was always thinking ‘when I run things this is how I’d do it…’ and I thought that’s when I’d truly be happy. But it’s an elusive, and probably impossible thing to achieve. In retrospect I was actually very happy being challenged on some aspect of an accounting standard and drafting a written interpretation and application to a real-world accounting issue. Nerdy, but I found that stuff very interesting.
I’m happy now when I can help staff solve problems and watch them carve their own path in life. But I do miss the technical challenge I used to get in more junior roles. If you are in a role that is considered junior – don’t underestimate how much personal and professional growth you can extract from that role.
If I was starting again, I would still take charge of my learning. And if you think about it, I’ve run my own business for the last seven years – so I’ve HAD to take charge of my development. I haven’t had an employer to push me or spoon feed me! Our business would have failed years ago if I didn’t develop my knowledge through reading, webinars/seminars and observation of what works and what doesn’t when I try stuff. If I was starting again, I would read and be at the top of my game technically. Any technical issue my boss gave me would be handled with confidence because I’d done the hours learning the concepts. And what you have now that is a significant improvement from when I started is online resources. You can learn ANYTHING you want by spending some time on YouTube and sitting through various presentations.
How much of that do you do in your own time? How much technical reading do you do in your own time? When was the last time you looked at a textbook? Was it back in college? Have you ever sat down and properly studied Aussie, British, or American tax systems? And we mean properly studied – not just reading about them. Did you do the practice problems and actually get good at solving them?
Have you asked your boss what their most pressing issues are right now and how can you help solve them? Or are you sitting there passively waiting for someone else to take charge of your learning? Are you not being challenged in your day-to-day work, but at the same time, not speaking up either? Don’t expect anyone to read your mind – you need to speak up so changes can be made.
You don’t have to do any of these things of course. And that’s fine. It all depends on what you want to achieve. Battling the Manila traffic on sub-optimal sleep, then switching on and being focused all day, then going home in the same traffic would be exhausting. But despite the crap circumstances people have to deal with in the Philippines, they are just that, circumstances. They can be overcome, so you succeed, or they can be used as a barrier for personal development.
Take our suggestions for what they are. Just suggestions. A series of questions to ask yourself. And don’t limit yourself to the ideas in this article. The best we can do is create a fertile environment, but the growth must come from the people in that environment. Our job is to rain.
Sometimes we rain on rock, where it just bounces off. Sometimes we rain on fertile soil where a forest will grow.
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