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You’re an accountant; you don’t belong in the training and development department

Apr 23, 2018

A while ago LinkedIn had a #ThankYouMentor campaign and this is what I wrote ….

I love numbers. When I was at high school I thought I might be a Maths teacher. We had great maths teachers at my high school and one of my friends and I were often far ahead of the curriculum so we worked with the others in the class to help them with their maths.

Some how I ended up in accounting. Accounting is maths and numbers and for a while I was happy.

Then at one of those dreaded performance reviews, my boss says “Where are you going next? You can’t stay here, you’re clogging up the pathway”

Pathway? Pathway to what? Whose Pathway? This was one of those career moments #ThankYouMentor

Where was I to go? At the time the company was creating new roles for the “roll out” of our version of Six Sigma; called Building in Quality (CSR was a Building Company). I’d been involved in a couple of pilot projects related to Process Redesign so figured I’d be great for the role. HR thought otherwise. They told me “You’re an accountant, you don’t belong in our training and development department”

Hurumph! I cannot stay in my current role because I’m blocking up the pathway. I cannot move into a role in training, so I guess I need Plan B!

Our company had an on-site corporate gym and being a natural early bird I was there most mornings. I was in good company as most of the senior managers of the company (what we would now refer to as the C Suite) liked to be there in the morning as well.  There’s nothing like being in your exercise gear together and I had a lot of good contacts across the organisation. I managed to transfer to one of the other divisions; albeit still as an accountant.

The desire to work in the training and development department remained strong. When I look back through my life I have always been a trainer; the older sister, when I was in the Girl Guides, in my maths class, in the company I trained the new accountants, I’m one of those people who can make complex things easy to understand.

For me it was more than just what I wanted. The corporation would benefit more from me being in a training role than me being in an accounting role, couldn’t they see that? I was on a mission. I read everything I could about training. I enrolled to study training, I watched and observed how others trained. I volunteered for more company special projects, especially the ones that involved more HR centric topics.

One day it happened when I least expected. It was a couple of years after the “Pathway” conversation and by this time I had changed corporations.

I’d taken a role as an accountant to reconcile Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss accounts after a large corporate merger (Qantas and Australian Airlines). I was quite excited about the work.  James Strong had just been appointed CEO #ThankYouMentor and he was creating this new team to tackle some of the big people issues post merger.

I applied for a role in that team. I will never forget that moment. I remember the moment with such clarity. I was waiting to meet Ken Gilbert, EGM Customer and Staff Services. He stepped out of the lift and as he said “Hello Ingrid” and shook my hand I knew I was going to be working with and for him (and ultimately with and for James Strong) #ThankYouMentor

My life changed forever that day. I moved out of accounting and into the wonderful world of Training and Organisation Development. At the time there were 35 000 + employees and I could see that what we were doing in that department had the power to affect not just the employees; what we were doing we would affect their friends and families as well. Thousands of people in the Australian community. Our department took on some tough projects over the years; these laid the foundations for what Qantas has continued to build on.

I am forever hugely grateful to Ken and also to Heather Adie #ThankYouMentor for being able to see me as more than the label. I know I was a good accountant and I’m proud of the work I did. I continue to use the extremely valuable business acumen I gained during my accounting years in the work I do every day with my clients.

Today as I reflect on this I wonder how often do we just see people as the labels we have attached to them?

What lies beneath?

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