Are you afraid to ask questions at the workplace? 

RISK WATCH with Alberta Quarcoopome: Obstacles can be blessings in disguise!
Alberta Quarcoopome

…. the causes of errors and financial losses

**This article was first published in Dec, 2017**

It is said that silence is golden…is it always? Of course not. Have you ever regretted not asking for explanations to instructions given you at work? For Christians, even though we should have absolute and child-like faith in God and trust Him, we are also expected to ask, seek, and knock. Mathew 7v 8:“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened”. It is in asking that we get answers and especially the basic reasons and concepts underlying the instructions given.

Banking is always about risk …Taking bold risks to make a return. Risk management therefore, is about maintaining a good balance between the risk and return. In taking these risks, Management evolves several policies as well as documents of standard operating instructions/procedures to ensure that every function/activity is guided by these processes. As human beings, how are these assimilated by the staff during implementation. 

What next, after policies and procedures?

“We have launched a new product. Yes. We have ticked all the boxes. Every policy and process is in place……both in hard and soft copies. The Regulator is aware”. We’re all busy, caught up in our day-to-day work to satisfy customers and get the product out there, which too often means taking a reactive rather than proactive approach to risk. But thinking about risk now can keep your organization from being the subject of negative press, avoid fines, penalties, and lawsuits, and missing strategic targets. Are the staff who will be involved in the fieldwork and operational areas assimilated the intricacies of the product that has been developed? Let me pose a few questions to them. 

Learning on the Job

Are you a banker or bank staff, let me begin by asking you a few questions:

  • Are you receiving regular coaching on the job?
  • How well do you understand your policies and procedures?
  • Do you understand the products of your bank….the benefits and features?
  • How were they handed over to you?
  • Was it by taking you through practical on-the job training?
  • Or, you were just asked to sit by a senior colleague to learn the job?
  • Or, you were handed the process manual and asked to start working….. This means you have been given a gun at a shooting range to try your hands on! Good luck.
  • Are you afraid of the likely comments others will make when you ask questions?

Like…..“He is too known”. “Why are you in a hurry? My friend, we came to meet it like that….that is how it has always been done. Just do it”

Even if these examples seem far-fetched, it may not be far from the truth. My interactions with many young bankers sometimes make me get an impression that many of them are working without much guidance from their supervisors, sometimes without standard operating manuals…..and this is the very foundation or cause of errors, some leading to customer complaints, and even financial loss.

The Learnable mindset

At my Alma Mater, a school that has low tolerance levels for students who do not have enquiring minds it was difficult. After every lecture, you are encouraged, or rather expected to ask questions, otherwise the teacher does not get satisfied. Anytime we attend lectures outside the school, the teachers who accompany us always pressurize us quietly to ask questions. This encouraged the students to have a learning mindset as they assimilated more through group discussions and tutorials, rather than “chewing, pouring and forgetting.”

If you are a Supervisor, you should believe in encouraging people to ask the right questions on the job, instead of just telling them what to do and leaving them to their fate. This creates success and pushes people to be successful. Asking the right questions gives people the answers they need to perform their functions well, as well as moving forward in their career and their private lives.


  • We learn the fundamentals of the job through questions.

It is scientifically proven that we learn about life by asking questions. Children naturally start learning about the world by observing, testing and asking “why.” In the banking field, staff who ask more questions, learn the cause-and-effect relationship much more quickly and, most important, the banking concepts behind the transactions to be effected. Don’t forget that although the principles of banking has not changed, banking itself has now evolved into a highly technological arena.

  • The more we question, the better answers we get.

Unfortunately, as we go up the organizational ladder and our responsibilities grow, some of us stop asking questions and sometimes settle down with mediocrity, with very few options to work with. After all, we feel that people expect us to understand virtually everything, so we relax and feel every decision taken is the best and should not be challenged.

  • The quality of our service delivery depends on questions we ask and our understanding of the answers given.

The quality of our service delivery as well as risk management is directly related to the quality of our thinking and assimilation of the policies and processes. Questions are the driving force behind thinking.

  • Questioning makes you wiser.

When you become more open because of a flexible brain, you become perceptive of many different perspectives. The more you ask, the more practical cases you appreciate. Your increased awareness makes you a better analyst and decision maker.

  • Asking the right questions creates a healthy working environment.

Imagine why cash in banks are kept under joint custody. Trust your workmates but verify every transaction that you oversee. Can you imagine the case of two vault custodians, who were also best friends, decided to compromise the joint custodian policy, enabled each of them to enter the vault without the other….Ah.. the trust was really absolute. Guess what happened. A shortage of Ghc10,000 one day, which remained unresolved up till today,                                                                                                   This incident wiped away the trust they had for each other. It has been ten years now and they have not spoken to each other! Did they bother to find out the reason behind the dual control policy? They felt that the policy was too “colonial” and outdated.                                                                                                                                                                                      When you are learning anything new, start by asking yourself simple but deep questions. When we ask questions and understand the reason behind certain policies, the easier it gets to accept ourselves and to take charge in ensuring best practices are maintained in our banking career.

  • Mastery over the Job

Dear manager, are you aware that staff who ask searching questions are those who master the job early. Obviously that mastery also helps you control your risk, doesn’t it? In establishing a positive culture for controlling risks, you must ensure there is adequate training, knowledge and understanding of what risk is, its implications, management and mitigation.

  • Building Strategic Thinkers and Fostering Special Skills 

Ever heard the saying “there are no stupid questions?” It’s really true. The impact of asking questions on the job is meaningful in both the short- and long-term. Asking questions can lead to building strategic thinkers which foster critical thinking skills as well as the following:

  • boost self-confidence
  • enhance creativity
  • strengthen relationships/partnerships
  • establish trust
  • develop oral communication skills
  • encourage good listening skills
  • encourage others to ask questions
  • spark lively and productive discussions
  • open your mind to other opinions/beliefs
  • protection against serious mistakes
  • make work more productive
  • make solutions more effective
  • help in taking better choices/decisions

 Final Remarks 

Dear manager, if you let your staff know that asking questions is an obligation as well as a right, whilst being there to offer guidance, then indeed you have given them a great gift. They have permission to be curious and creative. They get to think and question in a way that helps them become strategic thinkers. They get to strive for deeper knowledge and more meaningful answers. They get to grow in mind, body, and spirit. And you, dear Manager, get to help them make it happen…….and of course less errors and financial losses.

Please let us all remember that risk management is a journey, not a destination.


Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations ethics and fraud.


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