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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #78
(June 9, 2020)

Questions Are the Answer ... It's Time to Embrace the Power of 'Not Knowing.'

If you are a recurrent reader of CORE Bites, you know I'm a big fan of the Socratic questioning method—but only as it pertains to teaching with the intention to enhance learning. This type of questioning technique is typically a cooperative dialogue between individuals (e.g., mentor and mentee; coach and employee) based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions—better ideas are discovered by steadily eliminating those that lead to self-evident limitations or shortcomings. While not an absolute requirement, this technique tends to work best when the person asking the questions has, at a minimum, some understanding of the range of possible answers.

Although the Socratic method is a very effective way to engage a learner, it's not an expedient way to obtain information or recognize answers in the complex and somewhat alien (certainly foreign) world around us. Think during- and post-COVID.

For many of the issues/problems/challenges we are facing today, not only do we not have a good understanding of potential answers/solutions, but, in some situations, we have NO idea of what the correct solution might be. Many of these problems are intractable—without real, lasting solutions—because the rule book keeps changing day-by-day.

Many of us (myself included) find this extremely frustrating because we're accustomed to leading by solving problems/finding answers, planning accordingly, and executing with precision. I'm certain I'm preaching to the choir when I say that this is one of the skills that probably got you into a leadership position in the first place. Sound familiar?

As I see it, within the current landscape, we have two conflicting options: a) we can try to keep abreast of every issue and support our answer-providing habit by diving in and absorbing as much relevant information as is available on every nuance of the looming-ever-larger-in-the-windshield challenges we face or b) we can ask more questions.

The correct answer, of course, is it's unlikely that we'll be able to, individually, develop the level of expertise needed to deftly solve all these challenges. We'll need to accept that we may not know what's right, or best, for every situation. Yes, I know ... you're accustomed to having the right answers, so it's going to be hard to let go. But even if you've spent your entire career with the same organization or in the same industry, it'll be impossible to always be the expert.

The employees that work for you today know more than you do about their respective jobs (or, at least, they should know more than you). And, as you move up the hierarchy of an organization, this phenomenon will become even more pronounced—you will feasibly end up leading people that perform job functions that you don't understand (at least the technical aspects). Consequently, rather than using the answer-providing approach, leaders need to use questions to increase alignment and engagement (and accountability).

However, and the purpose behind this week's message, it's not just about asking more questions; it's about asking better questions ...

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

Good questions generate healthy reflections and deep thought, and become the catalyst for action from the listener. What's curious about this is the majority of leaders prefer to be asked questions, rather than be told what to do. And yet, many leaders give directions much of the time instead of asking employees or peers for their input. This week (starting today), try out some of these HVA questioning techniques to better engage your team:

Strategic Questions:

  • Where are we trying to get to (what are we trying to accomplish)?
  • What's the current reality?
  • What's stopping us from getting there?
  • What impact is this situation/problem having on our short- and long-term strategy?
  • What are the key drivers behind making a decision here?

Analytical Questions:

  • Where did this situation/problem come from (and why)?
  • Why is this playing out this way (why are things the way they are)
  • What circumstances or decisions have led us to this point?
  • What's the most important consideration here?
  • What things have been considered to get you to the point you're at right now?
  • Is there an emotional component to this decision that needs to be considered?
  • What factors/risks are unknown?
  • What's your biggest concern about making this decision?

Innovative Questions:

  • What could we do to solve this problem?
  • If time and money were unlimited, what options would we have?
  • If that's not possible, what else could we do?
  • What do you think an expert in this area would try when developing a solution?
  • Are there any other options that haven't been considered yet?
  • Are these options mutually exclusive or can they be combined?

Second-Order Questions:

  • Are there any unintended consequences to this course of action?
  • If we take these actions, what other problems might they cause?
  • What unexpected benefits could this solution bring?
  • What impact could this solution have on other areas of our business?
  • If this approach turns out to be wrong, is it easily reversible?

Tactical Questions:

  • What steps need to be taken to deliver on this solution?
  • Is there anything I can do or add to make this decision easier?
  • Which option makes the most sense to you?
  • Who needs to be involved in the solution?
  • How could I support you on that decision?
  • What can we do right now to get this started?

I end this week's CORE Bites with a quick 'asking the right question' story. Earlier in my career I spent a few impactful years in the brand-new (at that time) cellular industry. During a high-level meeting with one of our major suppliers, Motorola, their executive team told the story of Martin (Marty) Cooper, a young engineer who had been given a new assignment at Motorola to look at the next generation of the in-vehicle radiotelephone. On his first day with his new innovation team, Marty paused the conversation and asked what turned out to be an incredibly prescient question: "Why is it that when we want to call and talk to a person, we have to call a place?" This single question changed the entire trajectory of his work and became the foundation for untethering a person from a 'place' … the birthplace of the now taken-for-granted cell phone!

What GREAT question will YOU will ask this week?

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution."

— Steve Jobs —