Culture Corner: Learning Always | Is it possible to keep learning after 15 years at the same firm?
Each month, we interview a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what non-technical skills contribute to career success.
Being in a company for so many years can be seen as a challenge for learning addicts. With a constant desire to learn every day and grow as a professional and human being, staying in one place can feel limiting for some professionals. But, after 15 years at Richter, Partner Tanya Greenidge, keeps pushing her passion and career to the next level. In this Culture Corner, Greenidge reveals her new role and shares with us her secret for how to keep learning after so many years.
You’re taking on a new role, moving from the Tax division to becoming Richter’s new Human Resources Partner; can you tell us what exactly you’ll be tasked with in this position?
Tanya Greenidge (TG): I can’t speak for longer-term tasks yet, but we have our strategy defined firm-wide, so for the next 12 months, I’ll be distilling it into the purpose and vision for our people. Defining that is one of my first tasks for 2018. Onwards, this vision is something I think we can eventually roll into workplace strategies to ensure that our culture remains aligned with the overall business strategy, and keeps us moving forward.
This role was just created, and created with you in mind! Traditionally, divisions like HR are viewed as being in just a “supportive” role, respective to other client-facing divisions. Why do you think it was important for Richter – as a professional services firm – to put a partner at the head of HR?
(TG): First, I literally cringe when I hear the term “support”! It’s not simply about these divisions supporting the client-facing divisions. I was a member of a client-facing division for 15 years – it’s time to elevate Marketing, IT, HR, Operations and Finance, because we’re all business leaders, together. For a long time, we haven’t really put our heads together to say what we can do to elevate the practices altogether. It’s time to have a partner in the room because there’s a lot of strategy that goes into the success of these groups. Divisions like these should be leading, and we have to empower them to do this. We have to teach and learn from each other in order to amplify all divisions. Being in the room is important.
When I took on this role, I came across the term “non-functional HR” professional. It’s a growing trend in the last decade where business leaders – engineers, accountants, MBAs, people without formal educational training in HR – are taking what they learned from their experiences developing business and then building a strategy around their knowledge into the HR division. This is a relationship business, and knowing a lot of the partners of the divisions around the firm, I feel well-positioned to bring it all together, to build cohesiveness.
“It’s the philosophy of constant discomfort that maximizes your growth.”
You’re a “Richter baby” – you started here as a summer student and made partner in early 2017. What made you want to change course after reaching the partnership level, to jump into HR?
(TG): Actually, I didn’t see it coming until at the end of August, last year. When I started my career in the firm, I began in the Assurance division where I stayed for five years, although developing a Tax expertise was always on my radar.
When I became Vice President in Tax in 2015, my fellow Partner Vincent DeAngelis – who was one of the HR partners of the Tax group at the time – started encouraging me to broaden my knowledge base. I always had an interest in learning, challenging myself, and working with people, so Vincent helped me learn the HR side of our Tax practice. I started doing interviews, helping out with Richter’s Mentor & Apprenticeship Program (MAP), and mentoring other tax professionals. So, for about two years, my focus became Tax and HR. I started really enjoying all of these HR projects – and I realized how much it was a passion of mine.
When I became a partner, I asked to be on the firm’s HR Committee. I wanted to be there because I was new on the block and there were all these partners with years of experience that I could learn from. Originally, I thought that in a few years’ time, I could be a prominent player in this space. Maybe it was fate, because during this time, we were also discussing what we were going to do with HR going forward. We put forth a lot of ideas, and it was just through a discussion that the idea came to me: I wanted to do more for the firm, and what’s the point of being a partner, if I couldn’t empower as many team members as possible? Could I have more of an impact if I could help bring HR to the table?
Of course, it was a big decision. I love tax because I love the human relationships, helping people with their own dreams – for me, being a tax professional is about being a trusted advisor to my clients in a constantly evolving tax environment. But I knew in my heart that I couldn’t do both. After much thought, I decided I wanted to help our team members find their own passions, and align our business values with our people culture.
Is it possible to have a fulfilling career progression without jumping from firm to firm, or through different industries?
(TG): Yes! There are so many examples of this at our firm! Almost every partner of every practice group started somewhere and moved divisions at one point in time. Remember that back in the day, you had to start your CPA career in the Assurance division – which is a good thing because Audit is so fundamental to any advisor’s skillset – so if you were a Tax partner in 1995, you switched your day-to-day expertise at some point in your career – the same for any professional working in VLT and Restructuring. Finding new avenues within the same firm is a unique opportunity for one’s career progression; it helps lend to a career that’s very fulfilling. It also helps you become more well-rounded: with broader expertise, you can work with the same client but from various angles – from looking at financials, to tax planning, then valuations of the business, and more. Like a family business has a life cycle, so do we as advisors. Even within Audit, you see so much in assisting clients in the journey of their business’ life cycle, and personally, you go through so much in the life cycle of your career.
What are the advantages you see as you look back on your decision?
(TG): I know many people that have left the firm and come back. If you’re like me – a learning addict – sometimes after a full year working at a company, you’ve seen everything in your role and you feel like your learning is becoming stagnant – meaning you need to make a lot of lateral moves in the industry to keep challenging yourself. Every two years, the learning is done, you get frustrated and you move onto a new company. But in my opinion, if you want to learn continuously, you’ll always be challenged at our firm. I think the ability to grow your expertise and explore your potential at Richter is huge.
“If you want to learn continuously, you’ll always be challenged at our firm.”
What do you hope to achieve in the first year in this new role? And, in two or five years from now?
(TG): If you ask me this question in two or five years from now, it might be a completely different answer! I’ve only been in this role for about sixty days. We have so many legacy policies to work on and we’ve never challenged them. Some policies came into effect years ago – the world is changing at an incredible pace so I’m going to be asking; what works in today’s market? I want to update some trains of thought. With HR nowadays, it’s not about “support”, it’s not about just keeping employment records up to date, frankly we could have robots doing that HR function pretty soon! We need to adopt a strategic mindset.
I also believe in a strong alignment. I think I bring, and all the leaders bring, their own unique perspectives. I want to pull all of their insight together strategically. We’re going to design our culture around our purpose, and our business strategies. It’s a lot of discussions, and I want to be everywhere, out there, knowing the people; what type of value do people bring to our business; how can we engage our people; keep them happy and learning; and leverage each other. We’ll work towards defining our vision for our people, so that we’ll be able to execute strategy supporting it over the coming years – it will be a constant evolution.
Do you believe culture is something you can enforce? Or does it have to be naturally occurring and then molded?
(TG): Culture comes from the top. It trickles down because people look up and naturally model the leadership group. If someone’s been here 20 years, people who have been here for only six months look up to them. New people are trying to look up to those people to fit into our culture. But what’s great about Richter and what we want to encourage more of, is the “bottom up” mentality, too. We want to empower new people to propose new ideas that will mold our culture – first-year ideas are welcomed! This is where alignment comes in and where collaboration starts.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
(TG): I think it was in the second or third year of my career when (now-retired) partner Michael Frankel told me to never get too comfortable. The minute you’re in your comfort zone, you’re not learning. I always live in a discomfort zone and that’s where I grow as a human being in constant evolution. I look back with each year and say “wow! What just happened?”
Also, I believe in the “two years, then out” policy when it comes to learning a specific skill set such as preparing a particular tax election. Year one – you’ll likely screw it up! In year two – you learn from the previous year’s mistakes. By year three, you’ve hopefully got it down and can move on by teaching someone else your newly learned skillset, so you’re not doing the same things over and over again. It’s the philosophy of constant discomfort that maximizes your growth. So when you get comfortable it’s time to move on.
Read more articles in the Culture Corner series: