By Rachel Sargent, CPA
“Why do I have to make my bed?” “Why do we have to eat vegetables?” Children are notorious for asking a lot of questions. Sometimes it seems nearly all of them start with “why.” As infants, we start off as innately inquisitive, striving to understand the world around us. As we mature, our inquisitive nature fades as we develop a baseline of understanding our world – both personally and professionally. However, maintaining an inquisitive nature professionally is a major strength for CPAs that can help propel us forward with speed and accuracy.
Have you ever stepped back from the daily grind and questioned why you were performing a specific set of tasks? Do they reinforce your end goal? Do you even know the end goal? Is what you are doing still providing the value it once did? These are questions I ask myself daily when trying to solve challenges or question the status quo. It is very difficult to break the SALY (same as last year) habit, but to optimize your work in the professional world and to be as effective and efficient as possible, understanding the “why” is critical.
Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with very wise mentors who took the time to teach me the why behind various principles and practices in business. They also taught me to think holistically on all areas of business, and to not limit my thoughts only to the finance discipline. Before you can make improvements, you must fully understand what you are trying to improve. If you are leading a team, it is imperative to take the time and explain why you are doing the things you do. Just as critical as explaining the why, make sure you ask why, too. It is nearly impossible for one individual to know everything, but taking the time to explain and understand the why will provide dividends. The team will have a better understanding of their duties and roles in accomplishing the end goal. A team that understands the why will be able to continuously improve with limited extra effort. Encourage all team members to ask why until the concept is fully grasped and everyone understands their role in the final equation. Don’t stop until that understanding is complete.
Fully understanding the purpose and reason behind what you are doing is critical for optimization and improvement. Most companies are in an environment of continuous improvements and change, where the goal is to find the quickest way to the finish line with the least amount of effort. In the game of business, outperforming competition is key. The first steps in winning this game is fully understanding the why. Stay inquisitive, ask why, and remember, “The more you learn, the more you earn.”
Rachel Sargent, CPA, is chief financial officer with PPC Lubricants Inc. in Jonestown, Pa. She is also a member of PICPA’s Corporate Finance Cabinet.