Grant Thornton Select is a new way for ACA, ACCA or CIMA qualified accountants to work on stimulating projects on an interim or project basis whilst benefitting from the training, development and support of one of the UK’s top accountancy firms. With the help of 2to3days, the firm has recently launched the scheme to attract a large team of working mothers and others wishing to work on short to medium-term client projects whilst leaving time for family, school holidays or other commitments between assignments.
The idea is the brainchild of Grant Thornton Director Emma Davies who leads this new network of interim accountants from the organisation’s Sheffield office. 2to3days’ Julie Kangisser caught up with her to find out more.
How did the idea for Grant Thornton Select arise?
Over the past six years, I’ve led a Special Projects team, sending our Grant Thornton team members into fascinating interim or project roles with clients. I’ve done these sorts of immersive stints in the past myself for a number of companies including General Electric and a fast-growth business looking to restructure its in-house finance team. These briefs always arise out of change, transition or growth. In today’s rapidly changing business world we are increasingly asked to provide interim support. But Grant Thornton does not have enough people in the Special Projects core team to proactively seek out this work and that’s where Grant Thornton Select comes in. I’m proud that we’re the first professional services firm in the UK to develop this innovative and flexible model.
I’m passionate that mothers should have the same opportunities to do stimulating work as everybody else. As a working mother myself, I understand that on-off working holds huge appeal for many ambitious mothers looking to have both a fast-paced career and plenty of quality time with their children.
The Grant Thornton Select scheme has been widely supported throughout the firm. Grant Thornton’s culture is set from the top by our inspirational CEO Sacha Romanovitch, herself a working mother of two, who is pioneering an inclusive and diverse workplace culture in a sector that is often regarded as behind the curve in this regard. This is reflected in our inclusion in the National Association for Female Executives’ Top Companies for Executive Women for four years running and in Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies for eleven consecutive years. The market is responding really positively to the lead we are taking.
Tell us your own tips for flexible working in a fast-paced professional services firm?
I fit work around my life and not the other way round. Many mothers think they have to pretend that they don’t have a family but I say “be yourself and bring your whole self to work”. I have to be very organised and also accept that I can’t do everything exactly as I did before having my son - but there are usually great alternatives. Gone are the days of networking drinks in the evening, but now I meet people for breakfast or over lunch and get the same if not better outcomes. I used to struggle to say no to anything but now I find that if you set reasonable boundaries people respect you for it. I’m also better at delegating than I used to be!
Are there limits to the types of flexibility that can be accommodated?
Meeting our clients’ business needs is paramount so it’s a case of what works well for them. Although any arrangement could be possible, I think that most of our clients would be comfortable with contractors working 4-day weeks and taking time off during school holidays as part of their annual leave plans. Short to medium term projects can allow our Select team members to earn good money for part of the year and then take several months off to pursue other priorities or take extended summer holidays, for example.
Working school hours only is likely to be unfeasible for many clients, although many are flexible with start and finish times. Although I usually work more out of Grant Thornton’s offices rather than client-side on a day-to-day basis, a red line that I won’t cross is being able to drop off my son at school every morning and collect him from after-school club at 5.45. This pattern fits largely into a standard working day and, if needed, I am happy to pick up a few additional tasks in the evening.
What makes a brilliant contract finance professional?
Someone who thrives on variety and challenge and who is a self-starter. Whether acting alone or within a small Grant Thornton Select team, our interims need to rapidly understand their client’s business and operating environment and how to get to an end goal quickly. Of course, they are doing this with all the support of Grant Thornton behind them. One of our newest Select members was struggling to fit a full-time Finance Director role around her family life but she is delighted to work intensely for several months and then take time off. Other members have taken career breaks to raise children and this is an ideal way for them to return to work and have the best of both worlds.
What are the best things about hiring working mothers?
It may surprise you, but one of the top assets working mothers bring is their good life perspective and their ability to recognise that there is more to life than work. I know from my own set-up that we need to be super-organised which means we naturally prioritise well and don’t waste time on unnecessary or inefficient work.
What support will I receive as a member of Grant Thornton Select?
We have done lots of research into the challenges of being a totally independent contractor and the top concerns were loneliness, the difficulty of finding work and the lack of career development support. That’s why community is at the core of Grant Thornton Select. Our interims and core staff team are encouraged to connect and share with each other, much as you do in the 2to3days community. We’re working on an internal social network to facilitate this knowledge transfer. Our interims will have access, at no cost, to a vast array of our CPD courses and soft-skills training as well as weekly check-ins with a colleague at Grant Thornton whilst out on assignment. We’re also organising monthly social events such as drinks or lunches to eliminate the isolation factor of contracting.
The support we offer to all our staff, including the Select team, fits into our wider company purpose of shaping a vibrant economy by connecting people so that people and places can thrive.
Have you met any resistance to the idea from clients?
Quite the reverse. So long as they are getting the right person, clients don’t get hung up on whether that person has other facets to their life outside of work. It actually makes them more ‘normal’ and appealing as a colleague. They also know that they are getting more experienced people than they might otherwise attract directly. To embark on interim work, most of the Grant Thornton Select team have amassed years of experience and a degree of financial security. In addition, clients know that all Grant Thornton Select staff have been through a rigorous application process and benefit from ongoing support and quality control from Grant Thornton.