Whenever you see a role profile in risk assurance, whether it be a role in revenue assurance, business assurance, or margin and costs assurance, the skills that are listed on the job profile always focus on:
- advanced Excel
- data analytics
- risk management
Role descriptions always talk about systems. They may also talk about specific technology, big data and process improvement… those business buzz words we have all grown to know and love.
If I examine the work I do on a day to day basis these are absolutely core skills, but they only make up a relatively small portion of my job. From time to time I have something of a quiet day where I can happily perform a deep dive and analyse data, but most of my time is dedicated to communication. I am on the phone with stakeholders, asking difficult and challenging questions, often telling my colleagues that their beloved process or system is flawed or incomplete. The conversations that take up 70-80% of my working day are often complex and provocative. They must be handled well to avoid confrontations or objectives being sidetracked by political manoeuvring.
When I first started my career, I was turned down for a role because I wasn’t able to demonstrate ‘people skills’. It was difficult to understand what skills I lacked. I have always been a logically minded data person. For me, data makes sense and follows a set of prescribed rules. No matter how complex the rules are, if you know those rules you can work with data. People, on the other hand, each come with a different set of rules and no one comes with a manual. Learning to be able to work with people, to manage relationships within a business, to build trust, and to communicate effectively have been skills I sought to develop. The more time I spend in Revenue Assurance, the more I consider these skills to be the most valuable tools in my work kit.
Stakeholder management is called a soft skill because it is not necessarily about reaching an arbitrary milestone or following a set of prescribed rules. This is dissimilar to hard skills, such as analytics, which are more easily measurable. However, the skills involved in stakeholder management are vital to most aspects of our jobs:
- Having strong relationships with the main knowledge owners when we don’t know everything about every system gives us the ability to confidently interpret and explain a range of subjects.
- Approaching a key stakeholder with clear and concise information at our fingertips means that we can get straight to resolving an issue or improving a process, focusing on solutions without having to jump through any additional hoops.
- Delivering regular and accurate insights and information to senior management raises our profile, giving us credibility when we need budget or influence.
So, what are really the most crucial skills when we are looking for a risk assurance professional? How much of the role is really centred around technical data skills? As we move away from manual checks and into investing in business assurance tools, the days when RA was one or two guys in a basement with pizza running usage reconciliations in an unwieldy spreadsheet are long gone. We can be the driving force for change in the business, and to do that we need to manage our reputation, manage our profile and engage meaningfully with our stakeholders.