Think Backwards to Improve Efficiency

Richie Holliday November 15, 2013 2 mins read

Not long ago, when asked about their ideal careers, over 80% of new graduates, students returning from studying abroad, and MBA Graduates, would all offer the same reply: “Finance”.

When asked what exactly finance was, why they were suitable for the industry and which specific part of finance they wanted to undertake, most candidates lost their earlier confidence and replied: "I don’t know, I just want to get into finance."

As a recruiter in the industry, I've noticed the most talented people in finance share a few special characteristics worth emulating. One of the most prominent traits is their ability to think backwards. As Steven R. Covey points out in his The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, back office financial employees typically have heavy workloads with time-sensitive items. Researchers in private fundraising, for example, have to write suitable industry reports, design financial models and perform due diligence and other responsibilities within a time-constrained framework. Credit appraisal and risk officers in commercial banks and financial leasing institutions must perform credit evaluations, due diligence, special financial client requirements, and on-site investigations with client managers all within certain periods of time. Faced with such large workloads, the ability to prioritize and communicate effectively between internal and external staff, suppliers and clients becomes crucial.

The ability to engage in backwards thinking—starting with the end result already in mind—is a precondition for success in the above-mentioned tasks. These successful people will use previous experience to predict a department's development focal point for a given quarter, then use this information to determine which clients need to be put in the fast lane, and which clients don't require immediate prioritization. This type of thinking allows them to proactively deal with the tasks at hand, rather than respond reactively as events occur. By having clear understandings of their ultimate goals before beginning, these individuals substantially increase their work productivity.

Richie Holliday's picture
Chief Operations Officer, Asia-Pacific
rholliday@morganmckinley.com