By: Scott Anderson
Growth is painful. I guess that’s why they call them growing pains. But I’ve learned over the years that growth requires one to learn hard lessons. Prior to beginning my career in public accounting, I had spent years working the type of jobs where feedback or job performance evaluations were only a part of the first week of training. In fact, I spent most of my college years answering the phone as a customer service representative for one of the nation’s largest wireless phone companies. And although our calls were “monitored for quality assurance,” the skills needed to fulfill the requirements of this job were acquired in the first couple of weeks, after which I spent years coasting.
Needless to say when I entered public accounting, I was completely unprepared for not only the frequency of performance feedback, but the specific and pointed nature of the feedback I received. Hadn’t I arrived? With a post-graduate degree and the CPA exam behind me, didn’t I already know everything? The answer to anyone who has spent any time in public accounting is obviously “no.” But that was a lesson I had to learn because I did not enjoy receiving review notes. Not because I thought my work was perfect, but because I did not want to adapt my work to the way someone else wanted it done. On one particular day in March during my first year I was busy preparing individual tax returns. I had already prepared what seemed like hundreds of tax returns, when I received a review comment I had never received before. I don’t remember the nature or the significance of the review comment, but I remember thinking if it needed to be done this particular way, why had no one else pointed it out to me a month ago. So I foolishly approached the senior and asked for clarification on the review comment. When further explanation confirmed what I was to do, I simply said, “no one has ever told me to do that before.” The expression on this senior’s face told me neither the tone nor the content of my comment was appreciated. For the next couple of years, I was labeled, and justifiably so, as someone who did not handle feedback well.
I’ve since learned job performance evaluations are absolutely essential to personal and professional growth, especially in the challenging career of public accounting. No one enjoys hearing negative feedback. But sometimes it’s the negative feedback that is needed to elicit change. A couple of years into my public accounting career, I received the worst evaluation I had ever received. I was frankly told if I did not make some changes then I was not going to make it much longer. Up to that point I did not realize there was a problem. I remember leaving that evaluation mad and feeling I was being treated unfairly. However, looking back I view that experience as the turning point in my career. I realized then that the effort I had been making was not going to be good enough. And although I didn’t enjoy hearing it, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I owe that particular manager a great deal of gratitude for having the courage to have a tough conversation with me. And I always try to remember as I continue to receive feedback and also give feedback to others.
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Scott Anderson, CPA, is an Audit Manager at Cherry Bekaert & Holland, LLP, in Raleigh. He is a member of NCACPA and the Young CPA Cabinet. Scott can be reached at [email protected].