Often times, a “not-to-do” list is more important than a “to-do” list.

One Powerful Question

Extraordinary lessons to improve your business

By Tom Welch

It surely wasn’t the first time I’d heard this type of dissatisfaction. It was only the most recent and it came from Susan, a Senior Vice President of Finance at a major manufacturing company.

However, it could just as easily have come from an entrepreneur in a small or medium size business. No leader is immune.

As I listened to Susan air her frustrations, she confided that she was just not being as efficient as she would like to be. Nor was she executing well and her team was frustrated. Worse, she didn’t know what to do about it.

So, I asked her a question. It’s not an easily answered question but it’s one we could all ask ourselves, especially if we’re charged with leading others to success.

Why do you exist? That’s what I asked her. Why does this financial function that you lead exist? Susan, normally an energetic communicator, sat silently behind her desk. She had no immediate response; no different than most.

Yet, I knew she was contemplating an answer and soon a list of various duties performed by her group popped out. “We do timely and accurate financial analysis,” she said. “Also, the gathering of financial data, proposal support, partnering with program managers, bill of material tracking, labor reports, equivalent unit costs…” and she went on.

I listened politely while Susan finished her list. That’s a lot of stuff to do, I said, but what is the core reason you exist? What is the main purpose of your function? Simplify it.

After much back and forth, she got it. She really got it. “We exist,” she started, “to tell the current financial story of the business so we can help brainstorm and strategize the future state of the business.” Fantastic!

The reason that this focused, core responsibility is so important is because once you’ve identified it, you can then ask yourself and your team some additional questions. The answers to those questions will bring you lots closer to effectiveness, efficiency and successful execution which is why we asked the core question in the first place.

Once we had the main mission in place, I outlined the next phase of the project for Susan. My suggestion called for her to now meet in a group with all of her leaders. She should review with them the process we followed to answer the core question of “why do you exis.t"

Once her team understood and was in agreement with the primary mission, she could then ask three additional questions.

What are we doing that is not directly related to our core responsibility?

This question gives each leader an opportunity to assess what his or her group does on a daily basis and how relative those things are to the main purpose. With the “not directly related” tasks identified, Susan can move to the next question.

Why are we doing that?

Possibly, there is a good reason but more possibly, there is not. Depending on the brainstorming of the group, certain tasks become suspect. This leads to the third question.

Could we stop doing it?

Often times, a “not-to-do” list is more important than a “to-do” list. If tasks, processes, meetings or reports have become habitual or outdated, they may simply be time and efficiency wasters. You can choose to either stop doing them or make improvements so they are more relative to your core mission.

No matter whether you use these questions to assess and improve your own personal career, your function in an organization or an organization as a whole, the answers you produce will lead you towards greater effectiveness and success.

An update on Susan’s progress will be forthcoming as will a few additional questions to get you and your business even closer to where you want to be.

@Column-credit: Tom Welch, America’s Career Coach, is a leadership and peak performance expert. He is an executive coach to global leaders who want to accelerate business results. Tom helps people and organizations excel. Contact Tom at twelch@ricsearch.com or visit www.ricsearch.com

The preceding article originally appeared on tcpalm.com.

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