Managing sideways

By Eddie Huffman

Managers who wish to expand their influence need to focus on influencing their management peers, not just the people above and below them. Here are tips for “managing sideways.”

Seek opportunities to connect. Watch for good days and times to connect more deeply with peers. The end of the week can be particularly conducive to meaningful conversations, according to Diego J. Baca, CPA, an audit manager for EY in Denver. "There's something about Friday afternoon conversations that really brings out a lot more in people than throughout the rest of the week," he said.

Bridge gaps between departments. HoganTaylor LLP addressed a disconnect common to many accounting firms—between the audit and tax departments—by creating an audit and tax collaboration team, according to Ashley Cooper, CPA, a tax manager at the firm's Oklahoma City office. "We meet quarterly and talk about how we can help each other, what audit can be doing differently to help us serve clients better in the tax process," she said.

Educate yourself. Leslie Hilton and Phil Sandahl evaluate and coach professional teams for Team Coaching International (TCI). Managers must learn other managers' needs to work with them effectively, Hilton said. "With a peer, you have to be extremely curious, and you really have to understand what their objectives are," she said. "... You have to want to understand where they're coming from first before you're going to have any influence over them."

Close the loop. Educate other managers about your team's activities and needs by strategically sharing key updates with them. Having substantial relationships with management peers makes it easier to target information without wasting their time, Baca said.

Connect the dots. Look beyond the mindset of "How will this affect me?" when meeting or talking with management peers, Hilton said. "Ask yourself, 'How could what I'm doing be additive?'" she said. "Or, 'How could we partner together?' Actually being proactive. I might just go and sit down with a peer and say, 'I have no idea if this makes any sense, but as you were talking about that, I was thinking about this.' That's a way to get information—to try and listen on a couple of different channels, as we say in team coaching."

Give to get. It's easy to delegate responsibilities to subordinates, but working with a fellow manager may require a more nuanced, quid pro quo approach. Cooper said, "It's more of a collaboration than it is delegating to that person. 'If you help me with this, I can take this off your plate.'"

Exploit strengths. One manager in a firm might be an expert on tax, while another might be better at communicating with clients. One of the best ways to team up effectively with other managers is by recognizing and playing to the abilities of individuals, Sandahl said.

"We are stronger as a team because of our variety, because of the diversity of strength on our team," he said.

Editor's note: This checklist is excerpted from "7 Tips for Managing Sideways," CPA Insider, Aug. 21, 2017.

Eddie Huffman (huffman.eddie@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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