Shut up and eat your french fries: Asking Effective Questions

I suck at marketing. There I said it.

One of the best received sessions I have delivered in the last two years has been one about asking better questions. The trouble was, few people attended. It sounded way to boring. I tried a few different titles:

  • Asking Better Questions
  • Asking Effective Questions
  • How to ask better more effective questions

IMG_3966Then I came across a comedy routine performed by Louis CK about his daughter asking him, as daughters are want to do, over and over again, “Why?” The routine ends with him muttering, “Shut up and eat your french fries.” It is hysterical, but also makes some great points. Inspired, I renamed the session, Shut up and eat your french fries. Voila! People started showing up!

A few months back I had the honor of presenting it at the Los Angeles Accounting and Finance show at the LAX Hilton. Coincidently, my daughter, Éirinn, happened to be in LA at the time and was able to see me deliver this.

Abstract

This session is dedicated to the possibility that professionals can greatly increase the value they provide to their customers if they hone their skills at asking better, more effective questions. Developing an enhancing this skill is not easy because it requires us to rethink the paradigms and prejudices of the past. If you would like to contribute to a conversation about this topic, please join Ed Kless, Sage senior director of partner development and strategy.

Video

Slides

Your Cancer Is Called a Timesheet

Dividing cancer cells
Timesheets: the cancer of the professions

I stood silently among a group of a dozen managing partners of regional firms as I hooked up my MacBook to the projector to begin my talk about becoming a firm of the future.

They had just been presented a state-of-the-profession address by an MP of a Top 100 firm. I have heard much of the content of the presentation before at other gatherings of professional accountants.

The litany of “challenges” repeated the narrative that has been well documented and continues to grow for over the last decade:

  • While there are more people graduating with degrees in accounting, fewer of them are sitting for the CPA exam. This is leading to fewer new hires for firms.
  • The new hires they do have are “millennials” who desire a challenge and think they should be made partner sooner rather than later.
  • Attrition, especially at the mid-career level, is over 10 percent and is mostly initiated by the professional, not the firm.
  • The loss of people in the middle and bottom of the pyramid is eroding the traditional economic model. Non-equity partners are increasing and funding for partner buyouts is disappearing.
  • Cries of “We must become more efficient,” and/or, “We must embrace new technology,” and/or “We must hold people more accountable,” reverberate in meetings.
  • Compliance work continues to flat line and while new offerings are growing revenue, they are not growing fast enough. Worse still those that do this work are often not even CPAs!

After my presentation was successfully displaying on the projector – the modern equivalent of the campfire in this narrative. I paused to get their full attention.

“Here is what I heard,” I began.

“Our profession is sick, even dying. We might have cancer. We really don’t know, but it is bad.”

After another pause and with no one disputing my summary, I continued, “I think you are right. I think you do have cancer. The good news is, I believe I know the cause and it is curable.”

They all looked at me in hopeful, but suspect anticipation.

“Your cancer is called ‘a timesheet’ and you must cut it out completely before it kills you.”

There were a few barely perceptible nods and even some smiles and hushed chuckles from the two “younger” people in the room. The chuckles quickly morphed into coughs as they remembered their MP was seated among them.

I proceeded to dismantle all the arguments (there are only four) in favor of the timesheet before anyone else could say anything. I even went so far as to do something I rarely do in a public live event. In fact, I call it the nuclear option.

The brief exercise is so stinging, so devastating to the timesheet argument that I fear that it could cause emotional damage to everyone in the room. Because of this I usually reserve it for online anonymous events so that folks have some time to themselves to recover.

“How many of you have ever filled out a timesheet?” I boomed as I raised my hand in the air. All hands joined mine in pointing heavenward.

raised hands“How many of you have put down on your timesheet the incorrect number of hours you worked on something, be that too many hours or too few hours with full knowledge that it was incorrect?” As is the case everywhere I have done this exercise, all hands remained with mine in the air. One participant, I do not know who, meekly mumbled, “Every week,” under his breath but audible to all.

I paused again, then quipped softly, my hand still in the air, “The ethics session begins later today,” trying to make a bit of joke to relieve their inner guilt.

Why is this? Why, in one of the most ethical and honored of professions, is this not only the norm, but ubiquitous? Why are these good people, moral and upright members of the community, whose commission is, in part, to identify, correct, and in some cases, prosecute financial wrongdoing (aka, getting the numbers right) sitting before me all guilty of that same crime?

The answer, again, is the timesheet.

In my session on Trashing the Timesheet, I speak mostly of how the timesheet is suboptimal as a pricing mechanism. There is no doubt about this, it is beyond dispute. However, my argument goes beyond this mere deficiency in pricing. The timesheet, not the people who fill them out, is immoral and unethical.

Why? Because it – the idea of a timesheet – is based on a falsified idea known as the labor theory of value which was developed in part by Karl Marx. Time/value equivalency is a false notion that causes bad things to happen. As explained by my “nuclear” exercise, it is the timesheet causes otherwise moral people to do immoral things; it is the timesheet causes people in a highly ethical profession to do unethical things.

I realize this is a dramatic statement, but it is nonetheless true. Think about it no one has ever said they have behaved completely honestly. In addition to this reason, my distain for the timesheet and belief it is immoral expands when it is applied inside the organization to judge individuals.

People come to believe that their worth is actually in their hours they “bill.” They start to believe their hours have a specific “worth” not only to the firm but to them as if hours “spent” with children or aging parents must be evaluated against the hours “spent” at work.

Country singer Jamey Johnson recorded a great song a few years back entitled The Dollar. In the video for the song, scenes cut back and forth between a little boy and his father. When the boy asks his mother, “Why does Daddy go to work?” the mom replies, “Your Daddy’s got a job, and when he goes to work they pay him for his time.” The child then goes to his piggy bank and returns to his mom and in the chorus of the song asks:

How much time with this buy me?

Is it enough to take me camping in a tent down by the stream?

If I’m a little short, then how much more does Daddy need,

To spend some time with me?

Cue weeping.

It is my contention that this song illustrates what happens to people who record their time. Over years indeed decades it affects their internal belief system about who they are in essence as people. It robs them of their humanity. This is evil and it must be destroyed.

It is time the profession rid itself of this meddlesome method of malevolence.

On the Enterprise Software Podcast

espodcastAt Sage Summit 2015, I had the honor of being interviewed by Bob McAdam, Todd McDaniel, and Darcy Boerio, hosts of the Enterprise Software Podcast. They “talk all things enterprise software a couple of time each month.”

Specifically, they wanted me to talk about value pricing, but the conversation ranges from hanging out at the Mint Lounge (now known as the Spirits Lounge – see photo below) in the Holiday Inn in Fargo, ND to the best pizza place in Allen, TX.

spiritsYou can tell by listening that I was pretty amped up on adrenaline from being at Sage Summit. In fact, I blathered on so long they had to break it up into two episodes. That said, I think I did a pretty good job of sharing some of the basics of value pricing including why timesheets need to be trashed, the need to “move off the solution,” and how to work through Mahan Khalsa’s Five Golden Questions in order to extract the understanding of the value to the customer.

Have a list to both right here:

Part One

Part Two

Sage Summit 2015 Session – Changing conversations by asking effective questions

This is the third in a series of three posts I will be doing featuring slides and audio from my sessions at Sage Summit 2015. Sorry that the audio is not quite the best.

Changing conversations by asking better questions

This session is dedicated to the possibility that professionals can greatly increase the value they provide to their customers if they hone their skills at asking better, more effective questions. Developing and enhancing this skill is not easy because it requires us to rethink and relearn conversation habitss. If you would like to learn how this questioning approach can strengthen your customer conversations, join Ed Kless us for this discussion-based session.

Slides

 

Listen

My Sage Summit 2015 Sessions

Sorry I am a bit late with this, but I have had a few requests for me to do this post even at this late date.

Here are the sessions I will presenting at Sage Summit 2015:

SageCity Live: Increasing user adoption – Tuesday, July 28th, 11:45am – 12:30pm – SageCity Live

This will be an intimate conversation on a topic I will presenting more formally on Thursday (see below). I hope to gather more stories for sharing and maybe even provide some advice to a Sage Customer or two that they can use back at their office.

Measuring what matters – Tuesday, July 28th, 4:30pm – 5:15pm – Learning commons 5D

Do your performance metrics reflect what’s truly important to your customers? This session explores the ways companies can increase financial performance by changing from inwardly facing measurements to measurements that extend outside the firm. Changing these metrics often requires firms to think differently than they have in the past. If you’re ready to think differently about your company’s measurement systems (or think you might be ready to think differently), join this conversational session facilitated by Ed Kless.

Creating strategy in a small business – Wednesday, July 29th, 11:45am – 12:30pm – Learning commons 4C

Even small organizations can create and execute meaningful strategic plans. Creating a well-defined strategy is hard work and not for everyone, as it requires us to begin to say “no” to stuff we usually say “yes” to. You are hereby invited by facilitator Ed Kless, to open a dialogue about how best to go about creating a strategy for your small business organization.

Creating Shared Vision in a Small Business 
– Wednesday, July 29th, 1:30pm – 2:15pm – Learning commons 4C

Have you defined a vision for your company and shared it with your teams? A shared vision enlists others in the work and provides guiding principles for day to day activities. Creating a shared vision can be hard work because it requires you to examine goals and beliefs and weave them into a cohesive picture of your future. If you’re ready to start this work on behalf of your organization, join Ed Kless to make this part of your 2015 action plan.

Leadership in the age of the quick fix – Wednesday, July 29th 3:30pm – 4:15pm – Learning commons 4D

Leadership thinking is is often based on manipulation – trying to “get someone to do something” which isn’t necessarily effective. Coming to terms with this idea is difficult and not for everyone because it requires us to examine some of our most deeply held beliefs and either dismiss them or at least think differently about them. If you are interested in rethinking the way you approach leadership, you are invited to attend this session facilitated by Ed Kless.

Increasing user adoption – dealing with resistance – Thursday, July 30th, 11:45am – 12:30pm – Learning commons 4B

Has your organization’s productivity or effectiveness been challenged by employees that are resistant to change? Perhaps you have new processes or tools you need them to adopt? This session is dedicated to the possibility that we can increase the level of adoption of new systems, processes, and tools in our businesses by changing the way we interact with our teams. If you are interesting in joining this conversation about dealing with resistance, you are invited to attend this session facilitated by Ed Kless.  

Changing conversations by asking better questions – Thursday, July 30th, 1:30pm – 2:15pm – Learning commons – Learning commons 4B

This session is dedicated to the possibility that professionals can greatly increase the value they provide to their customers if they hone their skills at asking better, more effective questions. Developing and enhancing this skill is not easy because it requires us to rethink and relearn conversation habitss. If you would like to learn how this questioning approach can strengthen your customer conversations, join Ed Kless us for this discussion-based session.

The Soul of Enterprise Live!

In addition, Ron Baker and I will be broadcasting live three episodes of our radio show The Soul of Enterprise from the Broadcast booth each day from 2:00pm to 3:00pm. We will be featuring Sage Customers and Partners, as well as Sage Summit Speakers and even a Sage Colleague or two. Come on by to listen in or even heckle some!

Book signings

Ron and I will also be selling ($20) and signing copies of our new book, The Soul of Enterprise: Dialogues on business in the knowledge economyat both 5:15pm on Tuesday and 3:15 on Thursday. All purchaser will receive a free Kindle-only edition of the book should they desire.

Who Are Your Heroes?

At the Academy Awards, Matthew McConaughey gave the most talked about speech of the evening upon receiving the Oscar for Best Actor of the year. The speech begins about 45 seconds in.


Matthew McConaughey – Acceptance Speech…

At about 2:40 in, McConaughey answers my favorite interview question. In fact, if I could only ask a candidate one question, it would be “Who are your heroes and why?” I guess that is actually two questions.

My reason is that it is the best question in order to get to know someone. Most people answer family members, spouse, parents, grandparents, even their kids.

While there is no right or wrong answer to the question, the answer I like to hear least is, “No one, I do not have heroes.” To be frank, if I am the interviewer and someone answers the question this way, it is highly unlikely I would recommend hiring that person not matter how qualified they were for the position.

I thought McConaughey’s answer was excellent.

What are your thoughts on the question and McConaughey’s answer?