Life isn’t all marketing over here at bbr marketing. We sometimes talk about other things as well, like how a few simple adjustments can help you get more from your staff than you’d ever expect.
While it’s a myth that accountants are all shy anxiety-ridden geeks sporting pocket protectors, it’s true that the lampshade-bedecked party guest who shows up first, talks to everyone and stays until dawn doesn’t usually turn out to be the CPA. Stereotypes aren’t reliable, but some do tend to be based on statistically valid patterns of association and people who select an accounting career often come from the introverted third of the population. This both results in and stems from a good fit between the demands of the job and the personality makeup of those who enter the industry. Why, then, do we expect business environments designed for the extroverted majority to work well for the generally introverted accounting community? We shouldn’t, because they don’t. The optimal work environment for accountants differs significantly in multiple areas from the modern standard found in most businesses. An OpenForum online article about introverts in business inspired me to think specifically about the geography an introverted accountant faces at work. If you want introverts to contribute to their maximum potential, make sure they’re navigating in a landscape designed to meet their style as much as possible. Pay careful attention to:
Where they work: Introverts aren’t best suited to the current trend of open offices where space is shared and distractions are plentiful. Provide quiet alone space for them to work with focus. This avoids the low-grade anxiety that comes with constant exposure to people who may expect interaction. If your firm is big on peer socialization, separate it from purely work time by scheduling inclusive lunches or fielding a softball team. Accountants can thoroughly enjoy socializing if they’re not trying to manage it at the same time they’re trying to work.
Where they communicate: Introverts have as many good ideas as their more people-oriented colleagues; they just don’t like to share them in big meetings where they feel uncomfortably on the spot. Solicit ideas through email, anonymous suggestion boxes or surreptitiously thrown paper airplanes. You can certainly have group discussions of concepts that show merit, but you’ll access an accountant’s best thoughts by offering a less public way to propose them. The internet is an introvert’s best friend, sometimes literally, so harness its power by using online company forums specifically devoted to conversation about important topics. Without the physical presence of other humans, many accountants are able and willing to contribute and even (gasp) banter.
Where they innovate: An introvert resents interruptions more, perhaps, than most people. Let the ones at your firm keep a train of thought and develop their creative sides by allowing longish stretches of time when they are not expected to answer phones, open office doors or respond to email. It can take some schedule-juggling, but the result is worthwhile. With a solid chunk of personal space-time in which to think and work, safe from the incursions of Other People and their incessant demands, these mild-mannered employees may surprise you with their heroic feats of mental derring-do.
Where they’re right: Introverts, like all good accountants, excel at thinking through a new plan to see all the places it could possibly go wrong. This is annoying when you turn to them for support of an emerging idea you’re excited about, but it’s a great strength in areas like tax management, investment planning or structuring a business merger. It can also be an asset when your firm is adopting new strategies, especially if you pair a nay-saying introvert with a gung-ho trailblazer. They balance each other and, if you’re lucky, the plan is thoroughly analyzed to foresee potential pitfalls but allowed to proceed along bold and well-researched lines.
A little psychology can change the landscape so that all team members win by being themselves. Allow your introverts to use their gifts to strengthen the entire firm rather than stressing them out by asking them to perform in ways that are unnatural to their type. And please, amuse and enlighten us with examples of good and bad uses of the introverts at your firm.