How many times have you heard one of your newly hired interns or entry-level accountants remark that what they are being asked to do in the work environment is not something they learned in school? The typical remark that I heard from new grads was, “Boy, they didn’t teach us this in college!”
Because people learn so much more from other people than they do from reading and experimenting on their own, maybe it is time for you to work with your partners to develop a culture of answering questions. So, if you as a leader are going to answer questions, YOU have to create the opportunity for your new employees (and even experienced employees) to ask questions.
Dan Rothstein is the cofounder of the Right Question Institute, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that exists to promote an idea he’s been nursing for more than a decade (that asking good questions is a life skill far more important than we realize). He believes that learning how to ask questions should be considered as critical as learning how to read, write and do basic math. He thinks the ability to use questions strategically can make people smarter and better at their jobs.
The skill of asking questions is not deliberately taught, we assume that anyone can do it. I think this describes a lot of what really goes on inside accounting firms. Communication suffers because so many people do not listen, so many people do not ask questions and so many experienced, skilled, experts in tax and auditing/accounting don’t talk about what they know and open themselves up for questions from others. They might be quite skilled at asking questions and answering questions when it comes to clients, but don’t practice that same skill with their team members.
Younger accountants inside CPA firms are afraid to ask questions because they might appear dumb to their peers (and bosses). Older accountants are afraid to ask questions because it just might create some form of confrontation. Remember when I talk about “the partner nod?” They nod their heads in silence rather than speak up and say what’s really on their minds or to ask pertinent questions so they better understand.
I love the team members in firms who speak up and ask the “dumb” question. Most firms have one of these, maybe two (because so many others are afraid of looking dumb).
My advice to experienced firm leaders and young new hires? Get over it. Ask questions.
John A. Simmone, Sr.