Many critical decisions made in the business world are based on answers people receive to questions. Consequently, it goes without saying, that the information contained in those answers must be accurate, timely and meaningful. But if we take a step back and look at this process from a slightly different angle, it is immediately apparent that the questions themselves are as critical as the answers – and, arguably, more critical than the answers.
In a business, asking questions should be an ongoing activity. We are constantly being bombarded by information and information can quickly become meaningless if it cannot be sorted, screened, deleted, and finally evaluated for its efficacy. An effective method for examining received information begins with questions – questions from all areas of a business – and probably ends with more questions. The questions a business considers worth asking can speak volumes about business priorities and can oftentimes lead to unexpected yet valuable answers.
But when confronted by what appear to be more complex decisions, many businesses place this critical decision-making process in the hands of a consultant. If we can agree that the process that leads to the ‘answers’ can be as rewarding and productive as the answers, then we should ask ourselves, “Is this always the best decision to outsource this critical step to the ‘experts’, or are there occasions when the process in itself can be more instructional than the answers?”
The experts in this field or consultants follow a different process for arriving at answers and often (though not always) have pre-defined answers to questions that tend to streamline the role of the consultant more than focusing on the efficiency of the business.
Business consultants are professionals and definitely have a role in the life of many businesses. However, one solution does not fit every challenge and this equally true of the role of a consultant. In order to answer questions that address your specific business needs, a consultant needs to visit you on site, interview staff, etc., which can end up being a very costly process and not justified in every business case. An alternative to this approach is to instigate an internal process which will generate the questions that decision makers rely upon to make informed and all-encompassing decisions for their businesses, making them less dependant on external advisors.
The staff in your company can be a great untapped resource and provide you with ongoing relevant and useful information; the trick is to know how to ask for it. As mentioned above, we are not suggesting that we do away with consultants – they fulfill important roles in the proper context. Our approach is that we use should the proper tools for every business challenge.
As decision makers, we have a responsibility to our businesses to be the best information gatherers that we can be and here are some ideas and suggestions that we have to offer:
- Questions and ideas are generated from all areas and levels of a business; don’t discount the input of all employees because you presume they may lack vision for the business at large. Part of your responsibility as business leader is to build and foster a vision for the company that everyone can relate and contribute to.
- Don’t make decisions that impact all levels of the company without consulting everyone that will be impacted by the decision – employees, partners or customers.
- Develop and nurture the skill to ask the right questions that will enable you to select the feedback that will help you promote and grow your company.
This, in simplified terms, is the goal of this blog – to help business leaders develop meaningful questions that will ultimately lead to better answers. And, more importantly, we would like to help promote an environment in businesses that values the importance of questioning all and established practices and accepting the temporary disruption this may cause for the long-term benefit of the company.
And since we don’t claim to have the questions to all the answers, we are counting on our readers to provide some of them most of the time. We also invite your input on specific areas of business that provide ongoing challenges and would be best served by a number of leading questions.