Janet Jarnagin is an executive who works in the field of board and management reporting. Widely acknowledged as an expert in the industry, Janet spends her days analyzing data, both quantitative and qualitative, and synthesizing it into polished executive presentations. She also helps revise and stabilize business processes and then proceeds to make recommendations about how to improve their efficacy. Janet Jarnagin currently lives and works in New York City.

What do you love most about the management reporting industry?

I’m one of the lucky ones, without a doubt. I love so much of my job. If I had to pick one or two elements to mention specifically, it would be the acts of organizing and communicating. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved organizing things. When I was little, I used to organize everything I could lay my hands on. I alphabetized the books on my bookshelf. I sorted my toys by size and color. I would prowl around the kitchen pantry to make sure that all the spices were arranged properly. In school, I kept fastidious notes in impeccably organized and labeled binders. I think that lateral hanging files are still one of the greatest inventions in business. Successfully translating that skill into a fruitful career has been gratifying. As for reporting, I derive a certain satisfaction from presenting the results of my analyses to board members and executive management. It gives me a sense of fulfillment to know that my recommendations will help companies function a little more efficiently, and, in turn, reduce costs.

What does a typical day consist of for you?

I spend my days analyzing data and ascertaining what it says about a department’s operations and the overall company’s risk profile. Another part of my day involves reviewing processes and routines, including workflow charts and process maps, and other sets of data in the hopes of pinpointing possible problems and opportunities in productivity and workplace efficiency. Often, I conduct a series of short interviews with senior leaders, managers, and individual employees. These interviews are a critical part of my job, as they’re how I gather the information I need to make an informed analysis. After I’ve gathered all the requisite data and examined it, I deliver the results to leadership and we determine a path forward.

What keeps you motivated?

The idea of building strong routines and processes provides me with ample motivation. I’m a very results-oriented person. When I wake up in the morning, the first thoughts I have are about how I can help to better organize a certain report or an operational process to be more effective. The idea of completing my research and distilling my findings all into an insightful and polished report that I can hand over to a client is what drives me. The other major thing that motivates me is my professional reputation. I feel compelled to do the best job I can in order to further cement my good standing in the industry I work in. 

How do you maintain a solid work/life balance?

When the workday is done, I’m the same as every other person; I like to relax and let off some steam. In that respect, I find that exercise is immensely beneficial. Whether it’s going for a jog or doing a crossword, the act of moving around and burning off calories seems to calm my mind and center my thoughts. Without exercise, I think my work/life balance would be thrown significantly off kilter.

What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?

I think my leadership style can be best described as ‘hands on’, but without micromanaging. In my line of work, it’s very important to be close to the work and understand the day to day operations. This allows me to understand inefficiencies and find ways to help. It also demonstrates to my team that I would not ask them to do anything I would not to myself. At the same time, it’s counterproductive to be constantly asking the team questions all day or otherwise interfering with their normal activities. A careful balance must be struck. 

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

One piece of advice I like to share with new hires out of college is to avoid taking an overly contrived approach to networking. Forget the forced coffee dates and catch-ups. Keep things organic. Any professional can smell one of these unnecessary meetings a mile away, and they’re usually—forgive me—something of a waste of time. The same career advice that can be dispensed by making a special trip to Starbucks for an hour and a half can also be dispensed in typical interactions throughout the course of daily work at the office.

What is one piece of advice that you’ve never forgotten?

When I was just starting out in my career, I had some anxiety about making a good impression at my first real job. I was worried about being noticed by the executives, being assigned to high-profile projects, and being put on the fast-track for promotion. I had a mentor at that time who, upon listening to my concerns, related some wonderful words of wisdom. “Work hard and be nice to people and the promotions will happen,” she said. I followed that piece of advice as best I could throughout the years, and she was unequivocally right. It’s so simple, yet so effective—as the best advice often is.

What is the biggest life lesson that you have learned?

The single most important and valuable resource that any human being possesses is their time. It is finite, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. It cannot be made up or gotten back. When I realized how universally true that was, it caused me to drastically change my behavior both professionally and privately. Now, when I’m at work, I make sure that I turn my attention only to those matters that are necessary, productive, or promote optimal behavior in my colleagues. For example, going out of my way to congratulate a coworker on a job well done is not necessary strictly speaking, but it instills positive reinforcement and can lead to a more harmonious workplace. After office hours, I try to use my free time to enrich myself. I keep unproductive activities, such as updating social media or binge-watching television, to a minimum (although it definitely happens!). Sometimes these activities can be helpful in a regenerative capacity, but it usually just amounts to a diversion and I end up wishing I’d done something else.

What trends in your industry excite you?

I like to celebrate situations where managers have stabilized existing processes that work reasonably well but may not have been running optimally. When I say that, I mean things like building and maintaining comprehensive task calendars, keeping meetings brief and to the point, and even doing away with some meetings entirely if there isn’t enough information being exchanged to merit them taking place. Lately, this inclination has taken something of a hold in the field of management reporting, and I find that development quite exciting.