Monthly Archives: November 2013

Write Down Your Roles, Responsibilities, and Expectations

Most of us are probably accustomed to thinking about our work in terms of “job titles” and “job descriptions.” If someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a controller. If I were to create a description of my job I might start with the purpose, then list duties, and round it off with skills and qualifications.

Another way to think about jobs and work is with the concept of “roles, responsibilities, and expectations (RR&E’s).” These are explained in The Science of Success by Charles Koch, Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, Inc.

RR&E’s are intended to “define general areas of responsibility and accountability.” Koch explains, “A person is accountable if he or she will bear the consequences (good or bad) of a decision. Both the person making the decision and the person delegating are held accountable” (p. 129).

Supervisors are expected to ensure that RR&Es maximize the employees’ contributions to the organization. Importantly, employees must take ownership to “ensure his or her RR&Es are current, accurate, and effective” (p. 129). No matter what type of management style exists in your organization, it is wise to take ownership of your role and your broader career development and progress.

Koch defines roles, responsibilities, and expectations, as follows:

  • “A role is a description of the position held and the functions performed by an individual” (p. 129).
  • “Each role has an associated bundle of responsibilities. These responsibilities clearly define the products, services, assets or processes for which we are accountable” (p. 130).
  • “Expectations are written statements specifying the results required of an employee if the business is to achieve its objectives” (p. 130).

A potential employer would expect to see your resume if you were applying for a job. Similarly, you should expect, at least in general terms, a written description of the potential roles, responsibilities, and expectations for the job you are thinking of pursuing. That way you can determine whether you have the appropriate skill sets and whether the role fits with your career plan and goals. New hires should work their their supervisors and take ownership of the job by documenting their specific RR&Es within the business.

Koch says, “Expectations should always be clear, specific, and whenever possible, measurable” (p. 130). They should challenge employees to take ownership, reach higher, and be creative.

Get it in writing. Just as agreements, goals, mission and vision statements, and policies should be documented in writing; an employer should come to a mutual understanding and document the roles, responsibilities, and expectations with each employee.

Four Pitfalls to Avoid in Decision Making

I first encountered Chip and Dan Heath’s writings when I listened to the audio book of Made to Stick several years ago. I was fascinated by their insights regarding influence and persuasiveness summarized by the SUCCES acronym: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories.

The Heath brothers also authored Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work in which they lay out four principles with the WRAP acronym for avoiding pitfalls in decision making:

  1. Widen your options. This helps avoid the pitfall of “narrow framing.” It is all too easy to engage in the fallacy of “either/or” rather than recognizing a variety of potential approaches. Usually there are more than one or two choices. Rather than framing a decision as yes or no, either/or, consider small experiments and in-between steps to open a range of options. This reminds us of the insight from Getting to Yes regarding creatively inventing options that can satisfy all parties in a negotiation. Also, creativity and options can give you walkaway power to help you avoid bad situations and ripoffs.
  2. Reality test your assumptions. This helps to avoid the pitfall of “confirmation bias.” Rather than only seeking information that serves your preconceived notions, step back for a dose of reality. Make sure that you consider various scenarios, pros and cons, and sources of evidence. Even (and especially) if the evidence points away from your initial assumptions and inclinations, carefully evaluate and revisit your decision process.
  3. Attain some distance. Don’t let irrational feelings and short-term thinking lead you toward a wrong decision. You have to know yourself and understand your tendencies and weaknesses. Perhaps you are impulsive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps you suffer from fear or analysis paralysis. The Heath brothers recommend stepping back and asking yourself, “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?” I like to seek out counsel from others who are more experienced, or if I don’t have that luxury for some reason, I try to analyze what advice a “wise” person might give me.
  4. Prepare to be wrong. This helps to avoid the mental and emotional pitfall of overconfidence. Sure, we all want to be right. We want to “believe in ourselves.” However, if we’re honest, we have to admit that our decisions don’t always turn out like we were expecting. The authors suggest developing a “tripwire” that would trigger the decision-maker to reassess the decision and make appropriate adjustments. Actively evaluate decisions, make changes, and learn from mistakes.

Decision making can stretch us to our mental and emotional limits at times, but understanding the pitfalls and applying the Heath’s sound advice can make the process more smooth and enjoyable.

Five Ways to Develop Business “Street Smarts”

Are “book smarts” or “street smarts” more important? Although there is a place for both, we can tend to err on one side or the other. Young professionals with high GPAs tend to be noted for their “book smarts.” Several years into their careers they discover the necessity of developing “street smarts” that some of their peers might have come by more naturally.

Early in my career I tended to trust people and share a lot about myself. Perhaps, I reasoned, if everyone laid all their cards on the table, it would be easy to figure out how to create win-wins.

Do you notice any problems with this approach?

For example, in one of my early jobs I played a team-based game of business strategy that involved negotiation, sharing information, and trading. Much to my unpleasant surprise, I learned that not everyone shared my approach of making helpful information readily available. (Imagine that!) I learned that, although win-wins are often needed in order for people to advance, ultimately people are more interested in their own success than in mine.

Gratefully, getting a dose of reality can shake deluded idealism from a person fairly quickly.

Over time I learned that some of my assumptions, behaviors, and habits were flawed or at least needed tempered with a dose of realism. There is a place for being savvy or “street smart” — for example, “knowing how to close a sale, when to walk away from a deal, when to remain silent, and how to select winners as employees or colleagues.”

Whether street smarts are skills or attitudes, learned or inborn traits, a financial professional who aspires to a position of organizational leadership should seek and develop these attributes.

Here are five categories of street smarts drawn from Dr. Tony Alessandra:

  • Heightened awareness – Understand your surroundings and don’t allow yourself to be blindsided. Military and law enforcement personnel utilize a “color code of mental awareness” that ranges from “condition white” (total oblivion) to “condition red” (all-out fight). In the context of business, finance professionals do well to routinely maintain “condition yellow” (comfortably alert to one’s surroundings). To put it simply, don’t be paranoid but do watch your back and maintain situational awareness.
  • Confidence – I wrote previously about the importance of confidence, the role of preparedness in boosting confidence, and seven ways to develop confidence.
  • Healthy skepticism – Take measures such as getting your agreements in writing so that people don’t take advantage of you. I wrote previously about professional skepticism, which is an officially recognized and required mindset within the audit profession.
  • Resourcefulness – Be quick, persistent, prepared, flexible, adaptable, and connected.
  • Risk-taking – Choose when to accept, avoid, reduce, or share risks. Don’t let fear hold you back, but learn from you mistakes.

Learn the theories. Develop “book smarts.” But never underestimate the importance of lessons from the “school of hard knocks.” Develop discernment and become increasingly savvy by carefully analyzing your experiences for lessons learned.

You Will Gain Credibility if You Manage Expectations

Think about a time when you were disappointed. Someone promised but did not deliver. Perhaps you had even made plans around your expectation that the other person would keep a promise.

What did you think of that person afterwards? Obviously, you could no longer trust the person.

Timely and accurate communication is crucial toward developing and maintaining trust in business relationships. Conversely, misleading or nonexistent messages engender distrust.

I experienced both the good and the bad in a recent situation. A supplier promised to quickly provide documents once I made a payment. I needed to provide these documents to a customer. Upon receiving my payment, rather than fulfilling the promise, the supplier said he would wait a few more days. I communicated this clearly and promptly to the customer, and I said I would provide an update as soon as I had one.

This conveyed to the customer that I was “on it,” and the customer’s response was one of gratitude even though the message I had conveyed was negative.

On the flip side, I have no trust in that supplier because I know in hindsight that I was misled by someone who lacked integrity.

Building trust requires a long-term pattern of delivering on the promise. Conversely, destroying trust is as easy as promising and not delivering.

Most of all, if you want to build trust, you must manage expectations. Do not induce people to “play ball” with you by misleading them about what they can hope to accomplish from dealing with you.

Some people will see right through your empty promises. Less savvy people might initially be impressed, but once you disappoint them, they will start to spread the word that you cannot be trusted.

How do you manage expectations? Again, one of the keys is communication. Convey relevant information in a timely manner. Filter information before you pass it along to make sure it is reliable. For example, even though I had been “promised” that I would receive information from the supplier, I had to temper my “promise” to the customer because I did not know whether the supplier would make good on his promise.

Become a reliable person. Listen more than you speak. This will help you know what you can legitimately promise. Don’t promise unless you know you can perform. If you have done all you can but an unexpected contingency materializes, the bad news will get worse with age. Quickly communicate the relevant details you know, along with your action plan for fixing the problem.

Don’t be like the supplier who promised but had no intention of delivering. Also, even if you do have the intention of following through, make sure you really have the capability to do so before you make a promise. This means you have to honestly assess and come to terms with reality, not mere delusions or wishful thinking.

Take Ownership of Your Career

One of the themes of this site is taking ownership of your own career.

Your employer does not own your career. Your parents do not own your career. Your friends do not own your career. Your teachers do not own your career.

You own your career.

Think about the cares and concerns that you must deal with on a daily basis. Work is certainly one of them. Also, you might have a family, pets, a house or apartment, a vehicle, relationships, and so forth.

All of these (and much more) require daily care and maintenance.

Guess what? Everyone else I mentioned — even your friends and relatives who love you and want to see you be successful — have their own list of items that take up precious time out of their day. Their primary vested interest is in themselves and what can benefit them.

The last thing you can expect them to worry about is the long-term progress of your career. If you sit by and wait for someone else to “hold your hand” through the ups and downs, challenges and threats of your career development, you will be in for disappointment.

Maybe you have never considered that your career is yours. Maybe it is time for a wake-up call to start thinking and acting like an owner.

How does an owner process decisions? What are the behavior patterns of an owner? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Long-term thinking – As compared to a short-timer who is here today and gone tomorrow, someone who takes ownership is in it for the long haul. If short-term challenges arise, don’t immediately cut and run. Evaluate the prospect of long-term upside potential to decide whether to press on or change course. Either way, when you own your career, you make decisions that will benefit you in the long-run.
  • Vested interest – As compared to someone who will just use up and wear out valuable resources and capital, an owner seeks to maximize return on investment. This means an owner is willing to make sacrifices to obtain a greater reward in the future. Effective career development takes time, thought, energy, and even money. Someone with a vested interest — ownership — is more likely to undertake these sacrifices.
  • Protective and responsible – An owner is not reckless, but wise and thoughtful in stewarding resources. When you take ownership of your career you are more likely to make good choices to maintain your integrity and guard your reputation. You will desire to seek ways for self-improvement to be the best you can be in your chosen field.
  • Active vs. passive – An owner is goal-oriented and aggressive. Rather than letting life and work happen to you, be the one who makes things happen.

Much more could be said about the motives, goals, and enduring success of someone who takes ownership. What is one specific change you can make today to shift your thinking and actions toward taking ownership of your career?

Apply the Four Steps of Learning

I wrote previously about the four stages of learning. We progress from unconscious incompetence (“you don’t know what you don’t know”), to conscious incompetence (“you know what you don’t know”), then conscious competence (“you have a solid grasp on the subject matter, but you have to think about it”), and finally unconscious competence (“you know the subject matter like the back of your hand”).

How does one apply this paradigm to learning?

Consider a person who is unaware (i.e., unconsciously incompetent) of the concept of emotional intelligence. Perhaps this person has a measure of EI without consciously realizing or understanding it. Or perhaps this person has developed habits of thought and behavior that discourage self-assessment of blind spots and drive away others.

What should a person do in this situation?

  1. Survey the landscape. Become aware of what you don’t know so that you can progress beyond unconscious incompetence (a.k.a., “utter ignorance”). Google and Wikipedia can make this initial process quite easy. It’s not that you’ll become a subject matter expert from reading Wikipedia articles, but you will at least have a place to begin digging deeper. Perhaps the impetus behind your pursuit of learning is a challenge or weakness you want to overcome, or an opportunity or strength you want to develop. For instance, if you are trying to figure out why your relationships are failing or if you want to get ahead in your career, perhaps you will stumble across the concept of emotional intelligence. You are now beginning to become conscious of your incompetence (or “areas for improvement,” to put it euphemistically).
  2. Outline the core concepts that you need to learn, and make a plan. This will set you on the path toward conscious competence. As you progress in your learning, you might discover that areas you initially thought were important turned out to be peripheral. This is part of the process of graduating from conscious incompetence to conscious competence. For example, perhaps you discover the importance of knowing yourself (intrapersonal skills), as well as developing interpersonal, communications, and relationship skills. Instead of unconsciously “floating along” with your habits that run counter to sound EI principles, you are ready to overcome your weaknesses and challenges.
  3. Consistently and systematically pursue the discipline of learning. This will get you to the level of conscious competence. You will learn how the different areas of the subject relate to each other, as well as how the subject relates to other fields and disciplines. You will overcome your ignorance and unlearn bad habits that were setting you back in ways that you had not previously realized. You will replace these bad habits with positive patterns of thought and behavior.
  4. Recognize where you came from once you reach unconscious competence. Though it’s thrilling and rewarding to know your subject matter so well that it’s “second nature,” the danger is becoming unapproachable. Guard against talking over people’s heads, patronizing or insulting them, or being impatient with them due to your perception of their ignorance. Chances are, if you can gently help them toward attaining conscious incompetence (so that they start to acknowledge what they don’t know), you will be the first person they will ask for tips on how to reach conscious competence.

Finance professionals should never stop learning. We have to constantly apply ourselves to develop and grow. We can routinely progress through the four stages and apply the paradigm of learning whether we are developing technical skills, knowledge of our field and industry, social and relational skills, or more.

In what areas could you benefit from working through the four stages of competence? How can you help others achieve success in the process?

Understand the Four Steps of Learning

Think about the last time you tried something new. Perhaps you started a new job. Or maybe you took up a hobby that required a particular skill set, such as sailing.

Continually learning characterizes our growth and development throughout life. Early on we learn to communicate using gestures and language. We develop physical and cognitive abilities to overcome obstacles and accomplish our objectives. Especially in the modern world characterized by rapid change, we constantly have to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

I was recently talking with someone about emotional intelligence and its contribution toward career success. Just as I had been ignorant of the topic prior to reading articles and delving into a study course recently, this person had never heard of EI or EQ.

After explaining emotional intelligence on a cursory level and sharing a resource about the topic, I mentioned the following four-step paradigm that I was exposed to in a training course:

  • Unconsciously incompetent – You don’t know what you don’t know. If you are ignorant about the existence of an area of study or a skill set, you are incompetent without even being aware. Someone who has never heard of accounting doesn’t even realize his ignorance of debits and credits, general ledgers, and account reconciliations. Or perhaps you mistakenly believe you are proficient in some area, so you don’t realize that you need further training and development. A person in that state is unwilling and unable to learn until progressing to the next level.
  • Consciously incompetent – You know what you don’t know. You have some depth and breadth of knowledge about the subject matter, but you remain ignorant of many basics and details. If you have heard of accounting and know about terms like debits and credits but are unaware of what they mean and how the concepts are applied, you are consciously incompetent.
  • Consciously competent – You know what you know, but you have to focus and think about the subject matter. If you have a working knowledge about the mechanics of debits and credits and can clearly explain the concept, perhaps while pausing to think about it, you are probably consciously competent. You can still progress one step further.
  • Unconsciously competent – Your mastery of the knowledge and skills has become “second nature.” You know the subject matter “like the back of your hand,” and you can perform “practically in your sleep.” If you can explain and apply concepts such as debits and credits, ledgers, reconciliations, revenue recognition, and more, without missing a beat, you are an unconsciously competent accountant.

To put this in perspective, consider someone who didn’t know about emotional intelligence and had perhaps unconsciously developed habits that ran counter to sound EI principles. Becoming aware of emotional intelligence could be the first step toward new levels of professional success.

Soon I will share some practical tips on applying the four stages of learning.

Seven Practical Ways to Gain Confidence

I wrote previously that a finance professional should always be confident. This is certainly enhanced when you are prepared. I had a few job interviews early in my career for which I was not adequately prepared, and this showed in my level of confidence. I did not get a second interview in those scenarios.

My success has always been enhanced when I have been confident. Here are seven insights drawn from Kent Sayre about increasing your confidence:

  • “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Step back from your stressful situation and have a dose of reality. Compared to what you might gain if you successfully navigate through a stressful situation, the worst case scenario might not be so bad after all. Do your very best, and if you can’t control a particular variable, there is no sense stressing about it.
  • Vividly (i.e., using the five senses) imagine yourself achieving success in doing something for the first time. Consider a past situation in which you were successful, and relate your new experience to your past success.
  • Copy a confident person. Talk with confident people and be around them. Try to carry yourself in the same way.
  • Consider what you would be thinking, saying, and doing “as-if” you were confident. Act confident, and develop these patterns of thinking, speaking, and acting into habits.
  • Maintain a proper perspective. Ponder how important the situation you are facing will be to you when you are on your deathbed. You may not worry so much when you consider the big picture and understand that your current situation isn’t as important, long-term, as it presently seems to be.
  • You will fail to achieve anything 100% of the times that you don’t try. Believe that you can get help from others, and then ask. This might or might not work, but you won’t know unless you try.
  • Your internal voice might nag you with negative thoughts and feelings. Think of this voice as a clown’s voice or Mickey Mouse’s voice. Laugh at it, move on, and conquer your fears.

I especially appreciated the tip about considering best and worst case scenarios. Sometimes we can stress over vague fears and lose our confidence. If we can quantify what we are concerned about, we can find ways to accept, avoid, reduce, or share risks. If we are unable to quantify our fears, we have no need to be afraid. Instead, we can focus on the positive benefits from success and leave behind vague, general dread.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

How can you relate to people whose backgrounds and motivations are different from your own? How can you creatively tap into and channel others’ motivations for recognition and accomplishments beyond paying them more money? As a finance professional, should you primarily focus on numbers or people? How can you develop a reputation for being approachable and collaborative?

Developing emotional intelligence can help us become mentally active to recognize, analyze, understand, and manage intense feelings — whether our own (intrapersonal) feelings or the feelings of those around us (interpersonal).

Social and leadership skills can be developed over time, and they tend to become more important as a finance professional moves to higher levels within an organization. Technical skills and cognitive ability are vital, but don’t neglect emotional intelligence. Customers, employees, coworkers, and investors are among the groups with whom aspiring CFOs must learn to build relationships, channel motivation, manage conflicts, and develop win-win solutions.

I recently completed a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) self-study course on the difference between IQ and EQ (Emotional Quotient). The course helped me understand basic concepts and models of emotional intelligence.

Here is an outline of fifteen components of EQ organized under five major categories:

Intrapersonal Skills:

1) Self regard
2) Emotional self awareness
3) Assertiveness
4) Independence
5) Self actualization

Interpersonal Skills:

6) Empathy
7) Social responsibility
8) Interpersonal relationships

Stress Management:

9) Stress tolerance
10) Impulse control


11) Reality testing
12) Flexibility
13) Problem solving

General Mood:

14) Optimism
15) Happiness

Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, divides EQ between personal and social competencies:


  • Self awareness – emotional awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence
  • Self regulation – self control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, and innovation
  • Self motivation – achievement drive, commitment, initiative, and optimism


  • Social awareness – empathy, service orientation, developing others, leveraging diversity, and political awareness
  • Social skills – influence, communication, leadership, change, conflict management, building bonds, collaboration and cooperation, and team capabilities

What are signs of a high EQ for a financial professional to recognize and develop? The course suggests several:

  • Express feelings with three-word sentences beginning with “I feel …”
  • Do not disguise thoughts as feeling by using “I feel …”
  • Do not be afraid to express feelings
  • Do not be dominated by negative emotions
  • Effectively read non-verbal communications
  • Let feelings lead to healthy choices and happiness
  • Balance feelings with reason, logic, and reality
  • Act out of desire, not duty, guilt, force, or obligation
  • Be independent, self-reliant, and morally autonomous

Among negative behaviors to avoid, the course lists blaming others rather than taking responsibility for one’s feelings, analyzing others when they express their feelings, trying to make others feel guilty, lying about feelings (or exaggerating/minimizing them), letting things build up, reacting strongly to minor issues, being unforgiving, acting on feelings rather than talking about them, and playing games and being evasive rather than direct.

Assess yourself based on the following questions that apply Goleman’s model from Working with Emotional Intelligence:

  • Do you understand both your strengths and your weaknesses?
  • Can you be depended on to take care of every detail?
  • Are you comfortable with change and open to novel ideas?
  • Are you motivated by the satisfaction of meeting your own standards of excellence?
  • Do you stay optimistic when things go wrong?
  • Can you see things from another person’s point of view and sense what matters most to him or her?
  • Do you let clients’ needs determine how you serve them?
  • Do you enjoy helping colleagues develop their skills?
  • Can you read office politics accurately?
  • Are you able to find “win-win” solutions in negotiations and conflicts?
  • Are you the kind of person other people want on a team?
  • Are you usually persuasive?

In summary, to develop EQ, the course suggests knowing your own emotions, motivating yourself, recognizing emotions in others, managing your emotions, and effectively handling relationships.