IMA Moments

Innovation, Upskilling Lead to Success

By Alain Mulder
April 20, 2021
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After the excitement and buzz of a product innovation or new business model has passed, some business leaders make the mistake of thinking the development phase has ended. They forget that their competition is sitting in their strategy room creating inventions, changing strategies, and increasing expectations fast. So what should you do to avoid this pitfall?

 

Always continue innovating and thinking about the next skill development or innovation. Development never ends. There’s no room for professionals or business models that aren’t current and constantly adjusting on the fly.

 

Back in 2008, I started working with one of the world’s largest industrial real estate developers. I was analyzing the need for customized warehouses at the industry level. Analyzing data is much easier when you have all the data from your clients across regions in one system. I became the primary business partner for implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) application in Europe used by all country teams.

 

Working in this role, I realized that the future is digital and that automation delivers excellent insights into customer data. We convinced the CEO to use data about potential leasing deals from the CRM dashboard when meeting his teams instead of using multiple Excel spreadsheets. The reporting across countries became standardized, more transparent, and faster, and all sales teams ensured that their potential deals were in the system.

 

Based on the power of technology that I experienced at this large company, I decided to start a real estate management company and to use technology to differentiate myself from the competition. Big, slow-moving companies dominated the market. They were updating clients about their real estate properties’ financial performance and technical issues maybe once a month. Automation became the core of my start-up. I purchased an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system providing real-time financial and technical data to all clients 24/7. We were one of the first companies in our space to give so much transparency and automated communication with suppliers.

 

I learned an important lesson. When you introduce a significant improvement in your industry or department, you immediately raise the customer’s expectations. My customers became used to sound, real-time data all the time. So, when we didn’t update the data promptly for some reason, we had a significant issue. For the competition that did an update once a month, a minor delay like that was no problem. Therefore, a major career lesson is that consistency and continuous improvement are keys to success. Always keep innovating, improve operations with the same sense of urgency, and continue to outperform the competition and provide the best customer experience all the time.

 

It’s the same in accounting and finance. You can implement a very nice ERP system providing data to the business in the cloud and on all their devices, but end users get used to it. Think about the next innovation with which you can deliver value to the business and always continue developing your skills and expertise to achieve this. To keep your skills current and grasp opportunities for yourself and your business in an early stage of your career, my advice is:

  • Always make sure to follow the news to discover new trends and innovations that you can leverage in your career or business.
  • Think through the strategy of your company and what role you can play in executing it. Develop your personal annual plan for the upcoming year and write down skills you want to develop, people you want to meet, targets, areas for improvements, etc. Check this list regularly to track your progress in achieving your professional objectives.
  • Win slow, but lose fast. When you win, celebrate and enjoy it. When you lose, learn from it, change your methods, share learnings, and move on to the next innovation.
  • Keep current with technology. When you hear about a particular technology for the first time, ask what it is, research it, and estimate its impact on your business and career path.
  • Earn your CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential. By passing the exams and completing the 30 continuing professional education credits, you can stay current with industry trends and make sure that your skills align with the needs of your workplace and the broader industry.

 

As a student approaching graduation or early-career professional, you have the right to be proud of your degree and internship experience, but your competition for a job may have a résumé that looks as good or better. To stand out from the competition and stay one step ahead, earn a professional credential like the CMA while you’re still in school or as soon as possible after you’ve graduated.

 

I use a simple tool, making a personal plan with specific goals that I update at least annually, to keep developing myself and to force myself to improve my skills and experience. You should answer the following questions in your personal plan and set a target date for achieving each objective.

  1. What is the company’s strategy, and how can I do my part?
  2. What are my personal development goals for this year?
  3. What are the targets my manager gave me, and which tasks and skills are a priority to achieve these?
  4. How were my interactions with colleagues the previous year, and what can I improve in terms of supporting them and improving our communication?
  5. What are my strengths, and how do I want to position myself professionally?
  6. What are my individual goals and my department’s objectives for which I should already start laying the foundation through planning and skills development?
  7. Is my network up to date? Are there opportunities to expand my network of professional contacts?

 

When you’ve answered all questions, save your responses on your computer or smartphone, check them regularly, and act on them! My most important career lesson is to always keep developing yourself and thinking about the next step in your development and that of your business or department. Always plan ahead, projecting the short, medium, and long term. Think about your career as a business model. Always adapt to the current market, which is an ongoing process. Embrace technology and increase the pace of adaptation to achieve a competitive advantage for your career and your business.

 



Alain Mulder is Amsterdam, The Netherlands-based senior director of Europe operations at IMA. You can reach him at amulder@imanet.org.
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