At the annual ACL user conference (Connections 2017) the recurring theme was “Being Sought After.” Employees who are sought after are recognized by senior management.
In the case of ACL users, this means their ability to use analytics to identify and assess risk, detect fraud, and improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. Clearly, if you can do that, not only will you bring value to your organization, but also to your career. But how do you become sought after? Simply being able to perform analytics is not sufficient.
The following presents a roadmap (of sorts) to get you from where you are currently to being sought after.
1. Set goals and objectives.
Becoming sought after starts with a clear definition of your goals and objectives—then marrying these with those of your organization. Next, develop performance measures and milestones. These initial steps will focus your efforts on what will bring the most value to the organization and allow you to measure and assess your progress.
2. Obtain support from management.
Initially, the best you may get is management not being a hindrance. Search for a champion/mentor who can help you conquer organizational obstacles while publicizing initial successes. If you are lucky, you will receive support in terms of time, effort, and resources. If not, “you can always find time to do the things you really want” will have to do. I have often advocated “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
3. Enhance your abilities.
While you may not possess everything you need to fully accomplish your goals and objectives, you must have the technical skills, processes and resources to start your journey. Technical requirements include a computer that can handle large amounts of data; and software, like ACL, that can access, read, cleanse, and analyze data files from various sources. You should also understand how risk, fraud, and business processes use and are impacted by data.
4. Promote your capabilities.
As your ability to access and analyze data increases, you should promote the benefits and your skills to others. Initially, auditors may be reluctant to give you their time. Start in areas where your access to, and understanding of, the data is best. This will allow you to quickly provide support. But it requires that you fully understand the audit process, the objectives of specific audits and how data analysis can help. And don’t forget about the next important step—relationships that are outside of your functional area.
5. Building and maintaining relationships.
If you have not already done so, you will need to build and maintain relationships throughout the organization. This includes not only IT, but also internal control, compliance, risk and operational areas. Make it clear that your objectives are not to find and report on errors, but to assess and improve on risk management, controls, and operations. Seek their advice, as well as functional and operational knowledge. If you are part of the internal audit organization, they may be skeptical of your motives—let them know that you’re aware of this and set the ground rules for how you will interact with them.
6. Share and transfer knowledge.
Promoting your capabilities and building relationships includes sharing what you have learned. Too often people hoard information. This approach isolates you from others who also have information and creates silos. Instead, be seen as someone who readily shares information and knowledge. Others will be grateful to receive your input and will be more willing to share what they know with you as well.
7. Maintain your credibility.
Credibility is hard to earn and easy to lose. Before relying on the results of an analysis, verify the integrity of the data, the analysis performed, and the interpretation made. Validate with source documents and functional experts in the area (those previously mentioned relationships will help here). Acknowledge when you make a mistake (and learn from it) and admit when you don’t know (and then find the answer!).
8. Track performance.
The performance measures that were established when you started this project should be tracked consistently and results (good or bad) reported back to your champion and senior management. Don’t try to bury areas of poor performance—sometimes others may be able to help if they know there are issues. When reporting poor performance, couple that with your plans for improvements. Highlight the successes and lessons learned from the failures.
9. Encourage the use of analytics.
The promoting of analytics is a “push” type of activity. You should also encourage “pull.” This is when people independently approach you and ask for your help. They will often have their own ideas of what is required and what they want to see as an outcome. Work with them to not only meet their requirements, but also to enhance their understanding of what’s possible.
10. Be available and responsive, but also realistic.
When people either accept your offer of assistance or seek out your help, deliver on your promises. Managing expectations will be important as some things that seem easy may in fact be difficult. Accessing a system for the first time could take months: obtaining the necessary approvals, meeting security and legal requirements, and accessing and developing an understanding of the application system and the data. Be realistic in your timeframes and clearly define what you are being asked to do and what you will deliver.
11. Be agile and creative.
Initially, you probably have ideas of analyses that will benefit the organization. Don’t be satisfied with what you already know—seek out additional approaches, techniques, and capabilities. Take training, join user groups, attend user conferences and perform active research. Use the relationships you have built to keep abreast with changing information sources, operational requirements and risks.
12. Reassess, refine and improve.
There is no destination, only the journey. Examine your initial goals, objectives and performance measures on a frequent basis (at least quarterly). Not only to report on progress, but also to make adjustments to address the current environment. Improvement should be a constant focus.
Becoming sought after is a journey.
I hope these tips give you insight into what it takes to “become sought after.” It won’t happen overnight, so occasionally remember to take the path less traveled and be sure to enjoy the journey as your career progresses and you improve your worth to senior management.