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Building in Margin

By Alex C. Eng, CMA, CFM, CPA
February 1, 2018
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Let’s check how we’re doing in 2018. Our objectives have been laid out, and, as I discussed last month, we’ve set forth to become better versions of ourselves. To use another travel analogy, the first flights of the day are off to a great start. Yet as the day progresses, schedules build up, weather or other out-of-our-control delays happen, and, before you know it, those gate agents working later shifts are rebooking you just because. You. Will. Miss. Your. Connection.

 

What’s the appropriate response in those circumstances? If you’re an airline, it’s: Fly faster. Don’t schedule flights so close together when you know there will be delays. Treat the customer right when you fail. And, especially, build in margin. That’s how an airline can promote a 90% on-time reliability for a route yet can be 30 minutes early by seemingly just leaving on time. Some may call it padding; others just chalk it up to an expectation of needed contingency.

 

Our careers are no different, which is why we need to make time for these “extras”—to build in margin. Few career professionals, including myself, will say they have sufficient time for everything in their 8-to-5 lives: leadership, investing in corporate culture, continuing education, technical expertise—earning the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) or CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis) certifications—emails, performance reviews, and other regular work.

 

Studies have shown that only a small percentage of people can get by effectively and consistently with less sleep. After I factor in my nightly six hours of shut-eye, dedicated time with my toddler-turned-preschooler, service to IMA, exercise, extended family, and more, it becomes even more important to focus on the quality and intentionality of my workday schedule rather than idealisms that inevitably fight against pragmatism (“I can do it all, and I can get that perfect 10!”).

 

Focusing on quality and intentionality means evaluating the remainder of our professional tasks for their true value proposition. In the case of leadership, it means taking additional time to network, mentor, and learn. Investing in corporate culture may mean making the tougher choice to focus on doing something the right way (competently and ethically) rather than merely “checking the box.” Continuing education can mean capturing a learning opportunity now—during audit season—or committing to attend IMA’s Annual Conference & Expo in June.

 

Setting these priorities and building in appropriate margin allows each of us that extra investment on the critical path to our 2018 milestones. Achieving those goals that are highest on a vertical list of professional 8-to-5 tasks will allow us to gain the most from the limited time with which we are blessed.

 

I challenge each of us to prioritize, build in margin, and set forth to make 2018 the best-quality year of our professional or student life!

 

I welcome your comments at aeng@imanet.org.

 

Alex C. Eng, CMA, CFM, CPA, Esq., is Chair of the IMA Global Board of Directors and vice president, U.S. Corporate Finance at EDF Renewable Energy.
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