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The art of being useful in your business

May 28, 2024

by Steve McDonald, CPA

Nearly every business owner or leader has this goal in common: to be successful. But success can mean so many things, and it can be measured in so many ways. We often place emphasis on the numbers when describing it: dollar amounts, metrics, and the like. But over the past couple of years, our firm’s leaders have focused less on the numbers and more on a singular task: being useful.

When reflecting on challenges we face as a firm as well as those faced by our clients, we realized that our highest calling as partners and managers is simply to find ways in which we can help. It’s not grandiose. It’s not complicated. But it is powerful.

By expending our energy scheming how we can make someone else’s day better, we’re able to—as cliché as it sounds—make a difference. The satisfaction and, yes, the success that comes as a result is palpable.

As this theme of “being useful” has resonated throughout our firm, we’ve found there’s more to it than telling our staff to “go be useful!” For us, it boils down to two guiding principles: to be curious and to remove obstacles. Here’s how we’ve applied each within our firm.

First, be curious.

The idea of “being useful” is nothing new. Management guru Peter Drucker espoused it in his classic executive self-management book, “The Effective Executive.” More recently, the phrase has gained traction thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s New York Times Bestseller “Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life.”

Putting it into practice, however, requires more than aiming to be useful. It starts with being curious.

For us at Abdo, this means asking the right questions of the people we are trying to help. Instead of making presumptions, we pause and ask questions. Our goal is to dig in to the situation and find out what’s really going on. This might mean calling for a sit-down meeting with a staff member, or asking a client how they’re pursuing their biggest opportunity. It’s not a surface-level interview; it’s taking a deep dive into the person’s thought process.

The result is two-fold: Not only do we get the insight we need to ultimately be useful but also our staff member or client feels seen and heard.

Next, seek to remove obstacles.

Often, the most useful thing we can do for our staff members and clients is to remove obstacles. This could be helping to break barriers or freeing them from whatever is holding them back.

When it comes to removing obstacles for staff members, we aim to do it in ways that won’t create barriers in the future. For instance, if a new hire is struggling with learning technical work, we find a way to remove the obstacle without doing the work for them. This requires some creativity—as does removing an obstacle for a client. It’s not always straightforward. With the insight we gleaned from being curious, however, we always have a good place from which to start.

How can you be useful in your business?

Thinking about being useful versus successful has led to a transformative shift in our firm. It’s helped us infuse even more purpose into our work, and we’re hitting the metrics that matter. For me, the best part has been hearing our firm’s success stories told through a lens of being useful.

To learn more about our firm’s endeavors in being useful, check out our case studies.


Meet the Expert

Steve McDonald, CPA

Under Steve’s leadership, Abdo has helped governments, nonprofits and businesses find their path to success.

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