We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

We all do it: We all ask questions day in and day out. But have you ever wondered if you are asking the right questions?

A few days ago I stumbled across a book I hadn’t read in years, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, written by John G. Miller as an aid for reframing questions in order to generate more personal accountability, which in turn results in a shift in attitude and resulting behaviors.

As I thumbed through the book, I reread his guidelines for creating a QBQ:
1. Begin with "What" or "How" (not "Why," "When," or "Who").
2. Include an "I" (not "they," "them," "we," or "you").
3. Focus on action.
You get it. Not "When are they going to do something about this?", but rather "What can I do?"

Sounds simple until you start putting it into practice in difficult situations where you’d like to blame someone else. By using the model you’ll find yourself taking some personal accountability for the solution that is needed. Isn’t that what our bosses are looking for today? Employees with creativity and a willingness to take risks in order to make a difference?

So when the book opened to the short chapter (it’s only two pages) entitled, "The Risk of Doing Nothing" I saw the conundrum our workplaces are dealing with having one foot in old school practices and beliefs and one in the new, yet to be defined. We’re asking employees to avoid failure, but at the same time be creative problem solvers. How can we expect new solutions and new thinking if we’re not prepared to applaud mistakes?

Is Inaction a Viable Alternative?

Some people will avoid taking a risk at any cost. This avoidance is usually fueled by fear. A fear of failure, of losing credibility, of stepping into the spotlight, or worse, a fear of making a mistake and losing a job as a result. But in today’s highly-competitive market, can anyone afford to allow fear to hold them back?

We all recognize that no job comes with a guarantee of job security – just look at the unemployment statistics. And it may seem like not rocking the boat will afford smooth sailing, but the counterintuitive reality reveals that the fear of taking initiative because of the perceived risks that may be involved could just land you in the unemployment line tomorrow. As Miller writes, "Taking action may seem risky, but doing nothing is a bigger risk!"

Organizations that have embraced lean manufacturing and Six Sigma methodologies recognize the importance of taking action through a process of asking the right questions. The right questions come from examining processes with the primary goal of maximizing customer value while minimizing waste.

When organizations encourage and nurture cultures where employees can safely step outside their comfort zone and take actions that have an element of associated risk, those employees are:
  • Learning and growing. Inaction on the other hand leads to stagnation and the inability to deal with change.
  • Discovering new solutions to old problems. Inaction is focused on the past, not the future.
  • Demonstrating courage and leadership. Inaction speaks volumes about fear.
  • Building confidence. Inaction shines a beacon on self-doubt.

As Miller writes, "It’s better to be one who is told to wait than one who waits to be told." Which behavioral style is your organization seeking?

So What’s Next?

Many organizations are still built on models of competitiveness and reprimands for failures. Performance management systems that rank employees against their peers. Reward and recognition programs based on the success of "established" processes, regardless of their current value to customers. It’s time for HR and OD leaders to take risks – to step out of the box and embrace bold changes. Inaction in this global, fast paced environment could cause the organization to stagnate and die.

I believe it’s time for leaders to develop organizational transition plans geared at shifting cultures. We need to embrace collaborative and supportive environments where individuals are encouraged to share knowledge and information, working together to find new solutions to organizational problems - and that means getting comfortable with failure. Did you know that Henry Ford, known today for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, failed in early business attempts that left him broke five times before he founded Ford Motor Company? Making mistakes is an important part of the growth process. As information evolves and is transmitted so quickly, we need organizations filled with employees willing to share knowledge, not hang on to it because they want to be promoted over their colleagues.

It’s also time to re-evaluate our performance management systems and move toward continuous recognition of individuals for their strengths and contributions, as well as how they partner and work with others to improve workplace performance, profitability and customer satisfaction. In an environment where knowledge and ideas must be shared across disciplines and business lines in order to survive, it just doesn’t make sense to support old HR processes that undermine teamwork. The old "forced ranking" system that American businesses came to love as a result of its success at GE appears to be fading. A recent report published by the Institute for Corporate Productivity indicated the percentage of "high-performing" companies using forced ranking systems has plummeted from 49% to 14% in just two years.

Successful organizations are realizing that it’s not only time to ensure we have the right individuals doing the right work, but we need to be asking the right questions. A one-size-fits-all approach to operational and people management isn’t practical. These organizations are recognizing the value of cultivating a solid approach to organization development planning and implementation. They know there is no magic bullet or short-cut to good management practices of people, and ultimately the management of the business. It’s not about ranking or the numbers, it’s about dialogue.

So, are you and your business leaders asking the right questions? As you prepare for your fall retreats and strategic planning events for the coming year, I encourage you that this might be the most valuable question you can ask.

As always, I welcome your comments to my article. Please share your thoughts below. If you found this article helpful, I appreciate you sharing it with others. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR, CEO and Sr. Organizational Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are passionate about change and embracing the organizational designs and needs for a successful future. Contact Debbie for more information: Debbie@evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032.

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