Once there was a boy named Jack who sold his family’s cow for some magic beans. Jack had to count those beans to make sure he got a fair deal (at least in the fairy tale world). I’m not sure if that’s the origin of the term “bean counter” but I can say that euphemism is far from what it really means to be an accountant. Today’s accountants and financial professionals are so much more. To truly be at the top of your game in this field, you need to have the pulse on the entire business and understand what is happening. It’s not enough to explain how you got to the numbers on the financial statements but you need to understand the underlying “why”. And in order to accomplish that, you can’t be a desk jockey.
Any financial professional MUST make time to connect with the people in the trenches. Yes, being able to communicate with the C-Suite and deliver the right message is important. But it is equally important to talk to the people doing the grunt work day after day. They can often shed light on issues and offer ways of improving the business that no one ever considered. Just because they don’t have a fancy degree or a professional designation doesn’t make their suggestions any less valuable.
When I worked at a food manufacturer as a Cost Accounting Supervisor, one of my most illuminating experiences was spending three hours on the line packing cookies with a bunch of ladies that knew every nuance of the process. I learned about equipment issues, the most efficient way to get the job done and where the bottlenecks existed. It was in some ways a better education than the hours I had spent doing coursework for my accounting designation. And do you want to know something? Because I listened to them and participated in what they did every day, they respected me and trusted me. They knew that I was willing to listen to what they had to say and use it to improve the business. Other departments in the plant heard about what I did and were willing to share their thoughts with me. All of this led to costing structures that more accurately reflected what was happening and helped the company make decisions about what was profitable and what was not.
Now I’m not saying you need to don the hairnet and steel-toed shoes to accomplish what is needed but anyone that just sits at their desk and thinks they know what makes their company tick is missing out on so much. Communication at all levels of the company is a wonderful thing. Everyone, and I mean everyone, brings value to the end product. If they don’t, why were they hired in the first place? There are many cogs and wheels, both big and small, in an organization that make it work. As a finance professional, it is your responsibility to ensure you understand how all those cogs and wheels fit together and how they drive the numbers you see on the bottom line. When you do that, improving the numbers is possible.