No one comes as a complete package; it takes years of hard work to become a skilled treasurer. We look at how individuals and companies can get the most from training, coaching and mentoring.
According to a recent study of Fortune 500 CEOs, 75% believe mentoring or coaching to be one of the top three critical factors for their career success. Of the FTSE 100 CEOs, 80% have benefitted from investing in a mentor or coach. In Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury Global Study 2018 (supported by State Street Global Advisors), 79% of respondents believe that mentoring and coaching are key to a successful career.
There is clearly something in the related ideas of coaching, training and mentoring from which professionals in all sectors, even at the highest levels, can benefit. Those who do invest in developing their own realistic and robust career plans are increasing their chances of success, said Laura White, Operations Director at The Treasury Recruitment Company in a recent Treasury Today Insights article. “Investing in your career can increase opportunities for greater job satisfaction, new career openings, enhanced self-development, greater sense of fulfilment, and higher earning potential.”
Training, coaching or mentoring?
Typically, there are three related but discrete forms of development open to professionals: training, coaching and mentoring.
If the 70:20:10 model for learning and development is to be believed, 70% of learning happens through experience, such as daily tasks; 20% through conversations with other people, such as coaching; and 10% through traditional training courses. The right approach depends on need.
The essence of training is about developing a specific set of skills; it’s a structured approach aiming to reflect the tactical and transactional aspects of a role. Coaching tends to be about the person, usually requiring a bespoke approach in which the individual is encouraged to develop the wherewithal to best use their own skillset. “It is where you get to differentiate,” notes Carole Berndt, Strategic Advisor at Transition Hub, an organisation dedicated to helping professionals through change. Mentoring is concerned with sharing experiences and gaining feedback from a wider circle, even benefitting from the “battle scars” of the mentor, notes Berndt. As such, although she feels it can be quite transformational, it requires a far deeper relationship and higher degree of trust. “I see it as a way to collate, consolidate and validate inputs, enabling you to get greater clarity on the directions and outcomes you want to pursue in your career, and life.”
Who’s it for?
Throughout their career, the individual should be open to and adept at moving back and forth between these three options. This applies to even the most experienced people. The dynamic nature of a career means professionals should seize upon all the relevant training they can, says Berndt. “To not do so is crazy; it’s like refusing a free gift.” However, where an individual has been in middle management for a long time, they may have exploited training opportunities but seen very little coaching or mentoring. This is potentially limiting. “With all the disruption in the market, where jobs are being relocated or terminated, these people are the least well-equipped to navigate change,” she warns. In fact, access to coaching and mentoring may well “mark the difference between successful leaders and those who flounder mid-career”.
Of course, we’re all far more than just the role we play in our organisations. This is where coaching and mentoring add real value. Coaching is as much about helping the individual be effective in their role as it is about being effective in their everyday life, notes Berndt. “Mentoring takes that idea to the next level because it is entirely career- or job-agnostic.”
Indeed, she notes that people who have never had coaching can be too heavily invested in their job. “When that job is disrupted, it can completely pull the rug out from beneath their feet,” she says. Coaching can be a way of acquiring the skills to achieve a work/life balance, cope with change, “and recognise that opportunities come from both the good and bad things that happen to you”.
Recognising the need
For training, the need may be obvious; the individual either has the skill or they don’t. However, it can be the feeling of uncertainty or lack of direction – or indeed a need to address issues in confidence – that might suggest engagement with a mentor.
Although mentoring ‘programmes’ are the boast of many companies, the idea that it is something that ‘must be done’ is anathema to Berndt. “There is a need for wise people to help the individual see what they are not seeing – everybody needs a sounding board – but forced mentoring goes nowhere.”
Coaching, however, has tended to be offered only when there is a problem, she notes, it being seen as a means of turning a negative into a positive. “But it should be proactive, bringing out the best in an individual, placing them in a supporting environment that lets them practice using the skills they’ve learnt in training.” That said, when a skilled and motivated individual senior executive, appears not to be fully effective, despite their best efforts, it may be a sign that executive coaching is required. Either way, it can encourage progress.
Finding focus: executive coaching
For Geraldine Gallacher, MD of the Executive Coaching Consultancy, coaching is more effective for those with experience and who have a better understanding of their own sense of ‘self’ within their role.
Where younger people tend to seek more input and ‘words of wisdom’ from coaching – requirements better suited to mentoring – experienced senior executives will use it to examine their options and arrive at their own conclusions, she explains.
Indeed, this is one of the main reasons for seeking a coach. The senior executive will face many different situations, and people around them will have a vested interest in the outcomes of their decisions. “It can be quite lonely at the top,” notes Gallacher. “Having an external sounding-board is extremely important, especially under such pressure.”
A professional coach offers a key advantage in that they will usually work across multiple industries, giving them a far broader perspective than their executive client. Being able to reassure their client that the problem they are facing is not unique, is in itself is quite settling, notes Gallacher. But a coach is also able to use their impartiality to help the individual “declutter”, focusing on what the individual is good at, so they can learn to amplify those strengths.
The most effective senior executives are able to clearly articulate their personal expertise, and for everything else, seek support (which is as much about de-stressing as it efficiency) through delegation to the right people.
At a practical level, where a challenge is faced – whether it’s about organisational restructuring, motivational levels or communication issues – there is a strong temptation to focus on the bottom third of performance, notes Gallacher. This can take up a lot of time and energy. Access to a neutral third party can help the senior executive clarify their own thinking on how to move forwards, enabling a shift to more constructive part of their work.
But coaching is not advisory, she states. It is a means of getting the individual to think positively about progress, and then how best to take their team with them. From this standpoint, it’s easy to see why coaching juniors is less applicable – they simply haven’t got as much influence over the organisation.
Neither should coaching be seen as a panacea for troubled leaders. “The executive struggling with a single issue is not a problem, but for anyone failing on all fronts, do not get them an executive coach because it will turn into a miserable experience for both coach and client,” says Gallacher. Indeed, she adds, if someone no longer fits in, or never did, coaching will not provide any answers, except perhaps that it is time to move on.
Similarly, comfort with the idea of coaching is essential if it is to work. If someone does not believe they will get anything out of it, it will be unproductive. It takes time and requires work on the part of the individual between the sessions. Putting ideas into practice, to see what works for them, is essential because, ultimately, a thematic shift in the way the executive approaches their leadership is required for progress to occur. Indeed, says Gallacher, the process is entirely about empowering the individual to make changes within themselves.
Moments of inspiration: mentoring
“It is very easy for a busy treasury executive to carry on with the day-to-day without realising where they are heading,” says Amit Baraskar, Vice President & Head – Treasury at Thomas Cook (India) Ltd Group. Baraskar is committed to the values of mentoring in corporate treasury. And for good reason. “I believe that it is vital to take a step back from time to time and get a sense of direction.”
A well-planned mentoring programme can offer the necessary direction. But what does that mean? “A treasurer’s potential can best be understood and unveiled when collaborating with a mentor that has greater qualitative experience, and one that possesses the essential traits required for effective mentorship.”
For Baraskar then, the ‘must have’ general traits for a mentor include expertise at building trust, the ability to listen and offer feedback effectively, the possession of an “inspiring personality” and the “maturity to encourage change”.
For treasurers specifically, domain expertise is a given, says Baraskar. “Treasury is a specialised subject which can be difficult for the people outside of it to experience and understand. The real treasury pressures can be felt only by deep-diving into it, unlike mentors in other fields where this may not be quite so necessary.”
It is Baraskar’s view that treasury mentoring should revolve around establishing a connection, understanding and taking stock of progress. “It is a process of self-discovery for the mentee and there needs to be a setting of realistic yet challenging goals, and preparation of an appropriate plan of action,” he explains.
In the treasury team at Thomas Cook India, Baraskar cites Group CFO, Debasis Nandy, as “our most valuable mentor”. Nandy has of course benefitted from the generosity of others, saying of his own experiences as a mentee that he feels “indebted” to those who mentored him in the early stages of his career. “They gave me responsibilities which helped me develop self-confidence and guided me when I was in difficulty, but purposefully never solved the problems for me. They also encouraged me to think differently and helped me to find innovative solutions.”
Baraskar is in accord with Nandy’s view. He too feels that mentoring “should be about inspiring and giving individuals the tools to do it themselves, instead of the mentor trying to be a trouble-shooter for them”.
Foundations of success: training
For Natalie Eggins, Director of Learning, Association of Corporate Treasurers, training and development should not follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Only by understanding individual needs can the right approach be provided.
When tackling professional development, the first thing to decide is if the aim is to quickly fill a skills gap, or if a broader set of skills need developing. “To fill a skills gap, attend a face-to-face training course or an online eLearning course,” says Eggins. “Both are shorter options than a qualification and can be completed in as little as a couple of hours to a couple of days.”
If longer-term career progression is the aim, then accredited training through professional qualifications is the answer. “When recruiting in treasury, employers and recruiters look for these marks of accreditation on candidates’ CVs,” she explains. “They are a clear indicator that you have been through formal training and assessment, and can therefore be trusted to adhere to benchmark expectations in a role.”
However, she adds, careers can also be accelerated by attending conferences, events and through building networks.
Identifying development needs can be challenging because a gap in training or a skill set is often perceived as a sign of weakness. “It’s important to encourage open dialogue amongst team members so that everyone can play to their strengths,” urges Eggins. Line managers should encourage the setting of personal development plans.
“Development and performance reviews are a great opportunity to discuss development needs and career development with your line manager,” she comments. “A manager needs to understand their team members’ development needs by talking to them and watching them working. Often, just asking the right questions can reveal knowledge and skill gaps in the team.”
When development needs are acknowledged, although the temptation is to simply look at what training courses are available, Eggins believes that it is better to try and identify what the development needs are first, then work out ways of meeting that need. “And that may not be through a training course.”
A progressive training plan, alongside a personal development plan, can get the individual from where they are right now to where they want to be in future. This plan should include learning both technical and soft skills.
“You’ll want to establish a reasonable timeline for achieving milestones along the way, and the advice you got from your informal meetings will help you set realistic timelines,” says Eggins. Indeed, performance evaluations can be a great source for feedback and advice when creating a professional development plan, as line managers or HR managers will have evaluated performance and behaviour over a long period of time and can identify both strengths and weaknesses. “Ask your line manager to have regular follow-up discussions with you, scheduling time every month to review your progress, identify any areas of the plan that may need to be adjusted, and update the plan with any new opportunities that may have arisen.”
To build more effectively upon a plan, individuals should set realistic goals to measure their successes, suggests Eggins. “If goals are impossible to reach, then it’s difficult to keep up either the momentum or the motivation to reach them.” She advises making a tick list of objectives but to include a mix of simpler and more challenging ones. And, of course, she adds “feedback from colleagues is always a useful benchmark to gauge how both you and your work are perceived within the organisation”.
Today, more than ever, the tools of training, coaching and mentoring have relevancy. The workplace is changing. Lifelong jobs are no longer; people need to learn to enhance their transferable skills to enable them to move to new careers – as many as five in a lifetime, according to a Financial Times ‘Masters in Management’ article.
For this to happen, flexibility and adaptability are vital. Industry is demanding it, and up-and-coming employees are too. By taking advantage of coaching, mentoring and training throughout their working life, the individual is protecting their investment in themselves.