How Many Accountants Does It Take to Change a Roll of Paper Towels?

by: Rachel Godwin

The other day I was sitting in my office when I heard a few ladies having a conversation in the hallway about how the women’s restroom was out of paper towels. In the course of the discussion, one of the ladies commented that she would get a new roll from the supply closet, but she didn’t know how to change it in the restroom. The other two said they didn’t know how to change it either. They determined that every time they needed paper towels, they just asked the office administrator, Mrs. Ann, to change the roll. In their defense, this is one of those large paper towel rolls that has to fit into a dispenser and then the cover has to be placed back on top and locked.

While listening to this conversation, I realized I knew how to do it and it didn’t make sense for only one or two people to know how to perform this task. So I joined the conversation and spent a moment teaching everyone how to change the roll of paper towels.

This is a silly example, but it got me thinking about how often we just continue to do things or perform tasks rather than empowering others to learn how to do things for themselves and share knowledge amongst our team. I’ve identified a few reasons I think this happens.

We often continue to do things ourselves out of habit if we’ve always been the one to do a task. I found myself in this scenario recently. We have a client that has several loans from individuals and the client asked us to make a change to their amortization schedules. Without even thinking about it, I immediately switched gears and began updating the information to revise the amortization schedules. Right about the time I finished everything, I realized I really needed to have shown someone else how to do this. Even though hb&k strongly encourages teamwork and teaching others how to tackle unexpected requests like this, I have to continue to adapt my mindset to break the habit of continuing to do tasks that could be passed along to someone else.

Job Security
It can make us feel important and necessary to have knowledge that others do not. Some may view it as job security with the idea that they are protecting themselves from someone taking over their role and possibly performing it better. This ends up hurting teams considerably because it creates an impression of lacking confidence in the abilities of employees and coworkers. As much as we may like to think we are indispensable and things just could not function without us, the reality is that we can all be replaced. How much better would it be to feel confident that our team is capable of taking care of things in our absence because we have provided them with the knowledge and skills they need?

Lack of Delegation
Often times, we think it’s just easier to take care of something ourselves rather than teach someone else. We’ve discussed this with our audit team and implemented lean processes to help the work move in the most efficient way possible, while still teaching the newer staff members. It can be natural to just give newer staff the less complex tasks on an audit while the more experienced employees take care of the complicated pieces. However, if we never challenge others to learn new things, we are doing them a disservice and not allowing them to grow and progress. It’s important to always consider that we should be training and teaching others to step into future roles with more responsibility and to fill our shoes as we progress and change roles as well.

While I’m sure there are more, these are just a few of the reasons that came to my mind as I thought about why we often continue to do tasks that could, and sometimes should, be taught to others. I am proud to say that because hb&k strives to focus on teamwork and creating efficient processes, it used to take one office administrator and four accountants to change a paper towel roll, but now it only takes the one person who uses the last piece.