When to Say No

Installing ExcelI recently overheard two employees chatting with their supervisor. “We want to learn Excel” they said. “Can you teach us?”  They do not need to know Excel for the work they do currently.  Much of the time they are doing data entry.  However the next position up the pay scale uses Excel extensively.  The supervisor said something to the effect that she couldn’t teach them because she didn’t have the time and she wasn’t that great of a teacher.  You need to take a class, she offered.

They say that job satisfaction is tied to opportunity to learn and opportunity for advancement.  Here were employees looking for both, and they were more or less rebuffed.

I can sympathize with the supervisor, however.  My brother and I wanted to learn mechanical drawing when we were kids.  Our father gave us lessons for about two weeks, and then it fizzled out.  I wanted to learn Japanese, and my boss gave a few of us lessons after work.  That lasted about two weeks.  I felt there was a need for more accounting knowledge in our department, so the internal auditor and I gave a series of weekly lessons to staff.  Because it was offered during the work day, that class lasted the full 10 weeks.  There was no real engagement in the class, and no detectible improvement in anyone’s job performance or job satisfaction afterwards.

I have concluded that there are times when “I want to learn” actually means “I wish I knew”.  Those who “wish they knew” are actually daydreaming in a way that people dream of winning the lottery.  You put in no more effort than to purchase a ticket, and then you wake up one morning and now have lots of money without having had to earn it.

I started my career at a large bank.  There was no actual accounting involved.  I then moved to the loan department of a very small bank.  My new boss started talking to me about debits and credits.  I panicked. That day, I signed up for an accounting class at the local community college.  That led to more classes and eventually my decision to pursue an MBA at night.  When I then applied to a school district for a job as a budget analyst I was still in that MBA program.  I had not taken any classes in governmental accounting, though, so I checked out a book on the subject from the local library and studied it intensely for about a week.

One interview question was to describe a book I had read recently that was related to my career.  Slam dunk.  I described that accounting book and why I was reading it.  I got the job.

More than anything, employers are looking for employees who take responsibility and who take initiative.

So Robin and Bobbie, sign up for an Excel class.  I’m sure your supervisor will be more than happy to help you if you have questions or get stuck along the way.

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