Springfield, MO

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Career climb calls for multifaceted approach

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Rachel Dwiggins has known she wanted to be an accountant since she was in the fourth grade, and since she joined BKD as a staff auditor nearly 13 years ago, she’s had her eye on moving into leadership with the firm.

“My goal then was to be a partner someday, and I still want to be a partner,” said Dwiggins, a certified public accountant who’s now a senior manager at BKD.

While her goal to climb the corporate ladder isn’t unusual, leaders in business and education say the journey is more smooth if employees clearly understand the company’s expectations.

Promotion principles
At BKD, there are five standards – integrity, expertise, professional demeanor, responsive reliability and principled innovation – for which all employees are regularly evaluated, said Eileen Wollenburg, director of learning and development.

“Those standards spell out their expected behavior and growth,” she said, noting that 90 percent of BKD’s accounting staff join the firm as client service professionals until they pass their CPA exams.

Other factors that lead to upward movement include involvement with community and professional groups and completion of continuing education.
“When they are hired, they are assigned a coach to guide them through their career and give feedback,” she said.

For Dwiggins, who earned her accounting degree at Missouri State University, the first step on the career track was passing the CPA exam. She is a member of BKD’s national construction and real estate group and its not-for-profit and government group, serving the latter as the industry team leader in the Branson, Joplin and Springfield markets.

She also is a member of Junior League of Springfield, the government accounting committee for the Missouri Society of Certified Public Accountants and Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, for which she serves as treasurer.

Law firm Neale & Newman LLP also looks at several aspects when deciding who will make partner. The firm assigns mentors to its new attorneys to help them move ahead, said Ray Dees, administrator.

“An attorney has to be bringing in business, be productive, get around and glad-hand with the other partners and be involved in the community to be considered for partner,” Dees said.

There also are subjective considerations to determine whether a would-be partner is a good fit and a long-term asset for the firm, Dees said, noting that attorneys are typically invited to join as partners after a few years on board. Of the firm’s 20 employees, he said, Neale & Newman has 14 partners.

Promoting from within also is common at BKD, where Wollenburg said most of the managers in the firm’s Springfield office were promoted from within.

The learning link
Sometimes, heading back to the classroom – particularly for those who never earned a college degree – can help employees move up the ranks, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, said Laura Ward, director of Webster University’s Ozarks regional campus.

“Education is just one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Many times, people go back to school and expect to get a promotion automatically. That usually just doesn’t happen.”

Ward said employees should look at the complete puzzle, which takes company culture and expectations into account.  She noted there are benefits to continued learning beyond new job titles.

“There’s a case to be made that people who continue their education create an environment with more opportunity in the business sector and with the general population,” Ward said. “The higher the level of education, the higher-level and higher-paying jobs come to our community.”

Even for professionals whose undergraduate degrees are in specialized fields such as architecture or engineering, a Master of Business Administration can be a good addition for making career progress, said Kelley Still, executive director of Drury University’s Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

“The MBA gives a very broad view of how the business world works,” Still said. “It is a credential, not necessarily an indicator of what you can do, but a way to signal the market you have certain achievements.”

Still also recommends that specialized managers take courses that teach them about their employees’ jobs, and she said those who are considering starting and leading their own businesses can take classes in leadership development, accounting or management.
“Diversity training is also important,” Still said.

As for Dwiggins, while she hasn’t yet made partner, her efforts have caught the attention of co-workers, who nominated Dwiggins for the 2010 BKD PRIDE Award, which she received in November. The honor, which comes with a $10,000 check, recognizes passion, respect, integrity, discipline and excellence, and is presented to one partner and one employee each year.[[In-content Ad]]


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