New Year’s Resolutions – A look back at PSA…

public_sectorWednesday’s blog is written by Maddie, who gives us a solid run down of the busy year that she’s had at Grant Thornton, and all the things that she’s been involved in: from public sector audit to social media strategy. Read on to find out how life as a third year PSA grad can be, working in our London, Euston office!

A New Year, and a chance to reflect…

Having not written a blog for a while, and with the start of the New Year behind us I wanted to write a brief ’round up’ of the last year to give some insight in to what a complete year looks like for an Associate working in Public Sector Assurance. When I started to look through my diary I realised that my year has been so varied that it would not be as much of a ‘year in audit’ blog, but more a reflection of how much opportunity there is to be involved in things outside of your core service line work. So I’ve broken the year down into two blogs…. here it goes.

January

The year started as 2014 had ended for me – leading  workshops at our national training centre, Bradenham. All new starters go to Bradenham and do a week of learning basic accounting and double-entry bookkeeping. It was a great opportunity for me to brush up on the basics and facilitating has made me much more confident in public speaking, and helping to support more junior team members – all in all, a great few weeks and something I would recommend people got involved in.

This was also the start of planning for our upcoming audit season, and the first time I was returning to the same set of clients I had been working on in the year before as I had moved from Bristol to London the year before. I spent some time working on parts of Voyager files (audit software packages) I hadn’t tackled before, and was much more involved in the early planning stages than I had been previously. Over the course of the year I found it really helpful to boosting my understanding of the audit process to have been involved at these early stages.

February

The end of January and beginning of February brought two great day-long events.

First, the Spilling the Beans day. We got together as a team and planned our approach and strategy for the next season, and heard how the recruitment team were doing against their targets and if there are any areas we could help to focus on with them. It was a great chance to catch up with people who I work closely with each day/week but very rarely see, and I left with a fresh wave of enthusiasm for all things social media and for our new strategies for the year. This was followed by some lovely drinks and news that I had passed my exams – a good day all round!

Next was the first PSA Associate day. A group of us had planned a day for all trainees in Public Sector across the country to come together, discuss any issues we were all facing, hear a bit more about changes to our qualifications, and to find out about possibilities for our future careers. The team put a lot of work into organising it, and I was really pleased to have been a part of putting something of that scale together. I also gave a session on the day which helped me practice my presentation skills again, and confirmed to me that I definitely enjoy public speaking!

March

March brought the start of college for our next set of exams, which were in December. I always find it a struggle to apply myself to learning for something which I won’t need for 9 months, but it was nice to spend some time at college with people from my intake and get a taster of what it is I’m going to be stressing myself out over when it comes to October and November!

April

I spent April tying up loose ends on the planning stages of our audits, as at the end of April we receive the draft accounts from our NHS clients and the hard and fast NHS busy season starts. It’s definitely the calm before the storm, as our NHS audits last for two and a half weeks only, so I was doing everything I could to make sure I was as prepared for that as I could be!

April was also the month where Sam and I took over the Social Media Coaching initiative within Grant Thornton and so a lot of my time was spent working out how best to take that forward, and looking for people we knew within the firm to help towards creating coaching relationships between junior and senior people on how to better use social media in our day to day lives, which was really interesting.

May

NHS Busy season, and my first NHS season as an ‘In charge’ (effectively being a team leader out at a client’s offices). Juggling two NHS Trusts as the In charge was a new challenge for me, and I definitely felt as if I was being stretched to do more than I had done before in audit. I worked most weekends, and late into some evenings to try and make sure I didn’t let my managers down and to make sure we signed off both audits at the end of the month. It was really hard work, and a lot of responsibility to take on as a trainee, but I knew my peers were doing the same thing, and there was a lot of messaging each other for support and to see if anyone had any idea what this step was actually asking us to do… We all got there in the end and the mental boost at the end of it all felt really rewarding.

May was, in hindsight, a big learning curve for me. It also provided me with so much more audit experience in that month that I gained from January to April. I learned a lot about time and project management, as well as taking a lesson in when to say no to things if I didn’t have time, and when to ask for help when I thought I was struggling.

June

In June I In charged a Fire and Rescue Authority. This was a new type of authority for me, but gave me a chance to put into practice all those things I had learned from the NHS season.

I also had my annual performance review, so a gentle nudge to remember to get feedback in for all the work I had been doing, and to look at what I would change to make future work even better. It definitely left me with food for thought, and a conversation with my people manager on what I want my next few years at Grant Thornton to look like added fuel to a fire I had forgotten about during the busy months – what were my plans post-qualification? I knew I wanted to stay with Grant Thornton, but I was also keen to explore what some of the other parts of our firm were doing. The connections I had throughout the firm were invaluable to me here, in setting up meetings with people from other departments to chat about how they actually spent their days and what their teams were up to.

Finally, last year the PSA team decided to change the way we operate on a day to day basis, and our approach to achieving our strategy as a team. The public sector assurance market is changing rapidly at the moment, with bodies being given the chance to appoint their own auditors for the first time, rather than having the appointments made for them by the (now abolished) Audit Commission. This means that more than ever we need to be aware of how we are positioning ourselves in the market, and business development is more important for us now than ever. Along with some of the less desirable quirks of the way we used to operate, these changes acted as a catalyst for change, and the creation of our new ‘Soft Groups’ focussed approach. ‘Soft groups’ are effectively interest groups, some of them are geographically focussed (eg South West London), some sector focussed (eg Local Government), and some service offering focussed (eg. Internal Audit or Advisory). Now, everyone signs up to the Soft groups which interest them, and their work schedule is built around the groups they are a part of. This effectively allows people to become experts in some areas, and also to be involved in both audit work and business development work around these areas… In theory!

As with any big change it hasn’t come without its challenges, and a group of us across all grades in the department have been meeting to discuss how to make the transition as smooth as possible, as well as coming up with the new structure initially! Being a part of this group has meant I have been able to see a side of team management which I probably wouldn’t have seen until I was much more senior otherwise, and it also means I could help plan team days – something I really enjoy!

So that’s the first half of my year in a nutshell – part two to follow soon…

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