One of the things management consultants tend to do is ask a lot of questions. In fact I’ve heard from time to time that its because we don’t know have any answers and asking questions keeps clients from figuring that out. There is actually a little bit of truth to this, now before you start thinking I’ve just let the cat out of the bag or sullied the reputations of management consultants the world over. I will say that asking the right questions is how you get to the right answers. Its a real skill and a capability that can enable you to change your organization, improve performance and help you meet your goals.
Sometimes management consultants come into a set of circumstances with more information than the client but those times are rarer than you think. This is for fairly obvious reasons if you stop to think about it. The management consultant may be an expert in a particular field, set of tools, or market space but they are generally not experts in your organization, your problems and your particular situation. What most good management consultants do have is a combination of domain expertise, experience and problem solving skills that can help them ask questions that will lead them to the answers. They also have a fresh perspective on your organization without all of the preconceived notions and stale thinking that can come from living an organizational problem every day.
Whether or not you decide to bring someone in to help you work through a problem you can learn from these pros and give yourself a leg up in solving organizational problems by taking the following three steps to asking better questions:
- Focus on the information you need to make the decision, solve the problem or get to that next level of understanding. To often people spend more time pursuing comprehensive understanding as opposed to focusing in on the keys that will unlock value.
- Use a systematic approach to asking questions. There’s a reason you often see a consultant asking questions from a notebook and then furiously jotting down notes as you answer. In many cases consultants will even use structured methods and tools for data intake in order to ensure that they ask all the questions they need and capture all of the data. Unstructured interviews lead to stakeholders wandering across topics, tilting at personnel windmills and veering into off topic discussions.
- Ask the right people your questions. If you only talk to people that agree with you chances are you aren’t getting enough information to make good decisions. If you don’t ask a healthy cross section of stakeholders, you run the risk of optimizing a solution for one group to the detriment of others. Make sure you are asking the right people the right questions.
The above three items are just a starting point. We have entered into a world technology has enabled us to ask more, better questions across a broader set of stakeholders than ever before. Questionnaires, surveys and assessments are woefully underutilized by most organizations. Technologies like our Extensible Assessment Manager (ExAM4Enterprise.com) Salesforce app are attempting to change that. This is an area that is exploding as a myriad of companies like ours are looking at how to harness the power of the social enterprise to support their change initiatives.
Want better answers? Ask better questions.