Inc. published a short article on “working the phone” yesterday that touched on a number of things that anyone should take to heart if their job involves talking to people on the phone, which is to say, pretty much all office workers that do work.
This is one of the bigger differences between my previous gig in internal audit for a global building materials manufacturer and my current one with a national retailer. Before, I was doing a lot of traveling to various plants and subsidiary offices to conduct audits, and meeting face-to-face was much more important to getting work done. There were phone calls during the planning phase and weekly conference call updates on any issues that arose, but the majority of the time we were sitting across a table from each other.
Phone calls (and voice mail) are much more important in my current environment. Schedules are more structured, especially those of senior management. I’ve had to adapt to this by getting better at gathering information via phone calls and leaving voice mails that are more likely to get results.
Some of the highlights of the article as I see them:
Never have a business conversation, especially on the phone, without knowing exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.
Absolutely the most important point is to know why you’re calling and have an idea of how you want to get there. I’ll make notes beforehand in a Word doc and have it on screen when I make the call. I’ll even incorporate if-then conditional statements based on my questions and the possible answers I expect to get. They get thrown out the window if the answer is not one that I’d expected, but like a boy scout at least I’ve prepared.
It takes a bit of practice, but what you need to do is suspend your “what do I say next?” until after the other person is done speaking.
This is something I’m going to try to keep in mind in the future, more to assess whether I’m doing this already (the default assumption for most of us, I think) or not. Really consciously focus on listening and processing when my audit clients are speaking, which segues nicely to the next item…
When you pause before responding, the other person knows that you’ve listened.
If I’m speaking to someone for the first time and we’ve never met face-to-face, I want them to feel fully comfortable sharing information with me. For someone who maybe isn’t used to dealing with auditors, which will happen if it’s an area that doesn’t get audited often or hasn’t been audited at all, this is critical. This tip is going to be useful in achieving that level of comfort, and that should give me better results.
As you speak, gradually take on the least obvious elements of other person’s voice.
This is a subconscious rapport builder, and will work if it is subtle. If it’s not, it’s going to come off as disingenuous and have the opposite effect. So it’s a gamble.
In my previous job, I worked day-to-day with people from Ireland and the (US) South, and I found it impossible not to lightly pick up those accents when I was with them so much. (The company was headquartered in Ireland and the North American corporate office was in Atlanta, so most of the internal auditors were from those areas.) The combination is a bizarre one, especially peppered with Canadian “eh”s as well!
I’ve found it’s also useful to check people’s schedules prior to making the phone call, to anticipate whether they will be there to pick up or whether it’s likely to go to voice mail. If I need to call someone and they’re in meetings all day, I’ll draft the voice mail message before I call so I can be succinct and not forget anything.
My preference is to have a face-to-face instead of a phone call, because in-person meetings allow for body language and they just feel easier to make a connection with the client. Email is useful because it provides a record of the discussion that can be referred back to if needed. But for situations where immediate attention is best, the phone call reigns supreme.
Please share in the comments how you get the most from your phone-based interactions!
This is interesting: An internal review at Canadian construction company SNC-Lavalin of certain payments approved by the CEO has resulted in that executive’s departure from the company.
The payments in question were approved directly by the CEO after the CFO rejected them. Documentation was apparently sketchy, as the review revealed that the projects they were attributed to were incorrect.
[The review] reveals payments to contracts that didn’t exist, mysterious agents whose identity “is without substance,” and staffers using emails and password-protected devices that the company couldn’t access.
They can’t be sure that the payments in question weren’t related to their controversial involvement with the former Gaddafi regime in Libya, since the recipients appear to be fictitious. They believe they weren’t, but there’s really no basis for that belief since the report is inconclusive.
SNC-Lavalin has operations in over 100 countries and earned over $7-billion in revenue last year.
The company said improper payments are a result of “management override, flawed design or ineffective enforcement of controls” in relation to hiring agents for two of its projects.
Design is one aspect of internal control, and operating effectiveness is the other. Add to that management’s ability override them, and they’ve pretty much covered all their bases!
Some former employees have conducted company affairs using non-corporate email addresses or had password protected devices to which the company does not have access.
This is incredibly suspicious, as what good reason could there be for using non-corporate email to conduct company business? Always a red flag, but tough to uncover. The article doesn’t discuss how it was in this case, unfortunately.
The original investigation, which was reported at the end of February, was over $35-million in payments which were undocumented. The reporting of this information resulted in a 20% decline in the company’s stock, which has since recovered only about ⅓ of the drop. Clearly, controls at the company are not strong enough and the market believes the environment may be such that more of these types of situations exist.
Now, with these recent developments, it seems that the “tone at the top,” a critical component of a strong control environment (see COSO Internal Control Framework), was not one of uncompromising integrity.
Depending on the nature of the payments, if it is ever determined satisfactorily, this could have implications related to the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, Canada’s version of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the US.
The country’s professional accounting bodies regulating the use of Chartered Accountant, Certified Management Accountant and Certified General Accountant designations are currently deep into merger talks, as you might have heard.
This affects me, of course, but I have a very pliable opinion on the merits of this path. Ultimately I’ve earned the CA designation by passing the UFE in 2006 and meeting the experience requirement in 2008, and nothing will change that whether the letters are CA, CPA (the proposal) or WTF.
The proposal is that the three bodies will merge their operations and we’ll all become CPAs, short for Chartered Professional Accountant, which of course is different from the USA’s Certified Public Accountant, but apparently deliberately identical to both confuse people and prevent incursion by that entity into Canada in the future. For the first 10 years we’ll be allowed to use both the new designation and the old one in tandem. I’d become Neil McIntyre, CPA, CA (woo hoo, free credential!) After 10 years we’d be forced to drop our old letters and use only the CPA.
CAs opposed to the change feel like the traditionally strictest requirements associated with an accounting designation in Canada will be watered down when they are combined with the other two. It’s a valid concern, certainly, but not a deal-breaker in my opinion. It’s not like in 10 years time everyone is going to forget that there are thousands of accredited accountants in the country that qualified under differing regimes. I can foresee a job interview involving a wink, nudge and a question about which regime exactly it was.
I truly do believe that the process to reconcile and merge the qualification process can be done well enough to satisfy all stakeholders. I’d personally like to see some form of the case-based exams from the UFE included, as I think they’re a good challenge and better than other forms of testing (e.g. multiple choice). And I don’t think the combined designation will carry less weight than the CA alone. Anecdotally, when I worked in public accounting, I knew someone who had a ton of trouble with the UFE, but in all other respects was a fantastic accountant and auditor, and would’ve made a great CA. He just couldn’t crack the exam. I don’t know whether it was the pressure or whether he didn’t test well generally or specifically with the case format. Conversely, there are some people who have no trouble with it and then have their designations revoked for incompetence or lack of ethics.
I find it interesting that one of the purported benefits of the merger is to reduce administrative costs. The parties point out that having three competing groups, each with provincial fiefdoms results in 40 different bodies, which can be reduced to 13 with the merger. If any were really concerned about the administrative costs they would’ve eliminated the provincial bodies already. (All three are likely proponents of a national securities regulator!)
I didn’t set out to write a post in favour of the merger, because as I noted earlier my interest in the debate is minimal. But I may have just solidified my support in the process of writing it.
Having spent the past 3+ years in internal audit, first for a global building materials manufacturer and now with a Canadian retailer, I figured I ought to go for the certification and make it official.
So, a couple months ago I committed to earning the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation. The first step was to register with the IIA as a candidate, which is done entirely online.
The next step was to select and acquire study materials. The IIA has their own package, which they’re quite fond of based on some phone conversations I had with one of their representatives, and Gleim is another popular one, as far as I can tell from cruising the various LinkedIn internal auditor group discussions.
I went a different route. I had attended an IIA social event for new members (Toronto chapter) back in April, where I met a fellow CA who had more recently achieved her CIA as well, and she recommended Hock as a cost-effective alternative. So far I’m liking it, having worked my way through the textbook for Part 1 of the exam. I’ve begun to use their software (ExamSuccess) to take even more practice questions. (The textbook also has them, sprinkled throughout.)
The CIA exam is four parts, but if you’re a CA or CPA you can apply to be exempted from the final part. Part 4 covers strategic management, global business environments, organizational behaviour, management skills and negotiating.
I’m quite a nerd, so I actually enjoy studying and answering practice questions. Now that I’ve begun the process, I’m surprised I didn’t start it sooner!
Update (Dec. 6, 2011): The budget dropped out for training for the rest of the year and the CIA fell by the wayside. Maybe in 2012!