The Accounting major is popular in college because it is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get a job after school, and the most prestigious – and lucrative – route to take is to get a job with one of the Big 4 Public Accounting firms. My Accounting professor told me that working for one of the Big 4 Public Accounting firms was like going to grad school and getting paid for it. So naturally, that is what I strived for and started my career as an Audit Associate. For those of you that don’t know, an accounting role tends to be long hours in a non-collaborative environment, doing work that is repetitive and lacks creativity. On the bright side, however, accountants tend to get paid very well.
But after working in public accounting for two years, I started to realize that the “purpose” was not aligning with me. It seemed that the message to employees at the majority of public accounting firms is that the more years you put in, the more you get paid when you leave. That well-known “purpose” was the reason that most of my colleagues were concerned about leaving public accounting even though they were unhappy and unfulfilled at work. So when an accountant decides to leave the field, the most common next step is to go into the private sector, joining the accounting team at a specific company. Once again, since the “purpose” instilled in accountants from the beginning is money, most of my colleagues chose that next step based on the salary amount that the company was offering.
After spending three days last month at SB’16 Copenhagen discussing “Activating Purpose,” I couldn’t stop thinking about this word “purpose” and how it has been an ongoing issue for me in my career path. On a business level, companies are putting effort into developing a “purpose,” a reason other than profit to keep the business running and ideally growing. On an individual level, employees in all fields are searching for purpose in their work. Social Media, Marketing, Sustainability, even Sales teams are getting involved in developing and communicating their company’s purpose. It was so inspiring to see so many of these purpose-driven individuals and businesses come together and collaborate in Copenhagen, but I was left wondering… How do accountants find purpose? How can they find purpose within their role at a company, outside of salary?
The topic of “Activating Purpose” was explored deeply and in a variety of ways at SB’16 Copenhagen. Sandja Brügmann talked about Conscious Leadership and how deep inner exploration by high-level management can impact the culture within an organization. Giles Hutchins discussed his book, Future Fit, which provides insights for today’s leaders and entrepreneurs into the new paradigm to create firms of the future. Both of these topics rang so true to me; if business is going to truly prioritize purpose over profit, then this vision needs to be embedded within every individual involved in that business. This thought process and conscious thinking needs to trickle from the top down. Like most organizations, the culture creation starts at top-level management and trickles down the totem pole to entry-level staff. If, on the organizational level, purpose becomes more important than profit, than on an individual level, purpose will be more important than salary. If this change is truly embedded in every part of an organization, then even the accountants will feel it. Accountants need to feel this purpose within their organization, because accountants want purpose beyond profit, too.