News and advice on management and the business environment — June/July 2015

An Auckland accounting firm hires its first robot staff member, while “PowerPoint karaoke” revolutionizes office presentations in Silicon Valley.


Firm hires first robot accountant

With an iPad for a head and a Segway-style body, George may not look like the other employees of Auckland accounting firm Wise Advice, but he’s a valued team member all the same. Firm director Brad Golchin bought “George” — named after futuristic cartoon dad George Jetson — from California-based Double Robotics so staff could remotely attend conferences, meetings and training programs using the robot’s virtual technology, he told The New Zealand Herald. Employees can control George’s movements from any location, and use a real-time Skype-like video feed to communicate. At press time, George was scheduled to attend New Zealand’s largest accounting conference, Xerocon, and already had his own Twitter account (@george_Robot). As for any actual accounting work, Golchin says he hopes George will be able to do clients’ books.


A fun twist on PowerPoint presentations

Cats in movie theatre 

The latest trend sweeping Silicon Valley may soon find its way to an office near you. Colloquially referred to as “PowerPoint karaoke” — although technically there’s no singing involved — it requires presenters to get up in front of a crowd and improvise a speech based on an impromptu subject, riffing off whatever slides appear on screen. But the images aren’t your run-of-the-mill graphs and charts; instead think funny cat photos, comic book illustrations or celebrity outtakes. The aim is not only to lampoon a technology that’s way past its prime, but also to build employee engagement and improve workers’ comfort level with public speaking. While companies can easily set up their own PowerPoint karaoke sessions, firms such as San Francisco-based Speechless will tailor a slideshow special for you.


Desperately seeking self-awareness

It’s no secret that business leaders consult executive coaches when facing work-related challenges. But the specific areas senior managers most commonly seek help with might surprise you. According to a survey of 200 business coaches from around the world conducted by corporate recruiter Korn Ferry, self-awareness is one of the most frequent skills leaders ask to work on with a coach — and it’s the No. 1 request made by C-suite executives. Other top coaching subjects are interpersonal relationships; listening skills and empathy; influence; leading during times of change; communication skills; and motivation and engagement. In other words, all the abilities you’d hope someone in a leadership position would already be good at. Well, better late than never.


Accounting Ninja, at your service

Corporate job titles just keep getting wackier, a trend fuelled in part by the pressure social media puts on professionals to establish a cool personal brand. Some of these revamped titles, however, are more than a little tricky to decode. To that end, staffing firms and human resources managers recently deciphered the following unusual monikers for Fortune magazine:

  • On-Demand Executive temp
  • Growth Hacker marketing manager
  • Director of First Impressions receptionist
  • Scrum Master project manager
  • Design Consultant sales rep
Now you’ll know exactly who you’re dealing with.