I didn’t grow up in HR. I came from IT and Operations. Early in my HR tenure, I was asked to run an investigation of some questionable behavior. I did my best, asked a lot of people what they saw, learned nothing of consequence from them, and reported back that there was “no evidence” of an incident.
Recently I was asked to review an HR book for an industry magazine. I love to read, and have some time on an upcoming trip, so I couldn’t say yes fast enough. We talked about the book, the length of the review, the editing process, due dates, style, and submission method.
The book review will be the better project of the two. Why? Because I asked questions. I understand the parameters and expectations. With the investigation, I did the best I could. It’s not because there was no one to help me, but because I wasn’t confident enough to ask.
Ironic, isn’t it? As we learn and get more comfortable with our abilities, we are much more comfortable asking questions. Well, I am anyway. And I’ve noticed that the best leaders ask a lot of questions, where as those trying to establish themselves (not always successfully) don’t. They make an effort to know the answers instead.
My advice to anyone, but especially those early in their career, is to get comfortable with and skilled at asking questions. And know that it’s OK to not know the answer.