10 Smart Questions that Challenge the Drift Toward Irrelevance
Organizations, apart from intervention, always drift toward irrelevance.
Leaders look like fools when they challenge comfortable patterns.
Use courage and tact when challenging drift. Don’t unnecessarily offend those you’re working to influence.
10 smart questions that challenge the drift toward irrelevance:
#1. What are we afraid to say out loud?
- Use an anonymous process for responses. (If you’re afraid to ask this question, it’s time to ask it.)
- Discuss responses publicly.
- “What behaviors hinders forward facing candor?”
- “What might we do to build a safe environment, where optimistic candor is normal?”
#2. If we fail to achieve our goal, what will we not have done? You might add a time constraint like, “If we fail to achieve our goal in six months….?
Use this question to address patterns of poor performance.
#3. What assumptions drive our decisions?
- What are we assuming about ourselves?
- What are we assuming about others?
- What are we assuming about this situation?
- What are we assuming about success?
#4. If we were replaced tomorrow, what would the new team do?
#5. Who is underutilized?
#6. What are we doing that isn’t working as well as it used to? Or, you might ask, what do we need to stop?
#7. What results best fulfill our mission and justify our existence?
#8. If we couldn’t fail, what would we do next?
#9. How might we create our own frustrations?
#10. What’s the easiest thing we could do today to move the ball forward?
Bonus: Where have we slipped into fixing problems rather than maximizing strengths?
It’s easy to forget that businesses can go through cycles. The business was perhaps started with a new idea/technology in mind but as time goes by, it gets superceded and if the business fails to change and be innovative and sticks with what it started out with, then it will ultimately go belly up. I was working for an IT company which specialised in Novell networks and was doing really well until Microsoft rendered Novell obsolete. While most companies changed, ours stuck to Novell til the end. Novell was apparently technically superior but that didn’t save Novell or our business. I think it’s a very good example of how businesses need to keep reinventing themselves and going through that often uncomfortable or painful change process to stay in business.
Rowena your remarks are so right on.I have seen this attitude time and time again. Anytime someone’s says “this is how we have always done it” you know you are in trouble. There is another attitude that can be just as destructive. When a new manager throws out everything to make the current team theirs. Change for the sake of change can be just as destructive as not changing. Its is your job as a leader to determine the value/risk of each. Many of the steps that Dan listed can help in making those decision.
Thanks very much, Walter. I know exactly what you mean about these people who are set in their ways. I worked in database marketing when it first came in many years ago and I always seems to work in new positions and my arrival heralded the change. IN one place, they still had a typing pool, tea breaks and my boss used her computer as a noticeboard and it was covered in sticky notes. Membership forms had been completed by hand and the boss had a fetish for triangular paperclips. In retrospect, I should’ve seen the signs: “Danger! Warning Will Robinson!” I like Dan’s suggestions.
Thanks Rowena. Love that you brought up how Novell was superior to Microsoft. I suppose some people might challenge that idea. But, the point is, your company chose to go down with something that they believed superior.
Let’s face it, it’s easier to stick with what we know than learn new code, methods, or systems.
Dan, my husband is a Novell Network Engineer but has moved forward…I’ve heard quite a lot of anti-Micrsoft talk over the years…broken windows for example. I think for my boss it was a matter of personal integrity and not wanting to advice his clients to take up something he didn’t trust. As a side point, he also lost qall interest in working in IT and is a great musician but it didn’t pay and so he no longer had the passion for it. Fortunately, staff filled the gap but ultimately it wasn’t their business. At this point, the future of the business was unfortunately a no brainer.
I think it’s also helpful for people to learn from others. I don’t really see the end of this business as a failure but rather that it had reached the end of it’s life and it was time.
Excellent and useful framework for getting at some real issues. I generally frame this as “The Round Wheels of today become the Square Wheels of tomorrow” and engage people in discussions about the things that are working that need improvement and the other ideas that are already in the wagon.
Wagon pullers assume that things are okay, since they cannot hear anyone yelling and screaming that they aren’t and they are generally isolated from the hands-on reality of the wagon pushers. The conversations can also be rare between them, since meetings are generally to push information tops down at the workers and not to actually sit there and facilitate a discussion about possibilities.
John LeCarre wrote, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” which I think has lots of applications to today’s organizations and “budding irrelevancy.” The data on engagement in the US (30% and a global HIGH (ugh.) ) tends to support the idea of a lack of involvement and ownership of improvement ideas.
Your list of questions is a great framework on which to build some solid discussions about current issues and possible alternatives for the future. It is about Continuous continuous improvement, emphasizing continuously improving. (I got that idea from the Department of eRedundancy Department, if you are interested. The old DoRD went online…)
Have fun out there and keep improving.
Thanks Dr. Scott. Your square wheels approach gives me the opportunity to feel the issue as well as understand it.
I’m so glad to know that the old DoRD finally became the eDoRD. It’s about time. 🙂
A real discussion is a rare, but beautiful thing.
Thanks Dr. Scott. Your square wheels approach helps me feel as well know how ineffectiveness sneaks into organizations.
It’s great to see that the DoRD has finally entered the electronic age. The eDoRD has lots of opportunities for spectacular redundant redundancy using technology.
Great post, pain creates suffering which in turn rallies healing. From a business standpoint Leaders will seek solutions and change the oath to suceed in most cases! Failures do occur, pick yourself up and start over, reinvent the wheel when necessary, go to your team and challenge them to make the company’s strong again. You can succeed or you can fail if you allow yourself to stagnate the way we do business or lead the company.
Thanks Tim. You are so right. Pain and change are often connected. You can feel discomfort and change or you can feel discomfort and close your eyes and stay the course. In the end, trying to avoid pain cause more pain.
“…If you’re afraid to ask this question, it’s time to ask it…”
Careful. If asking that question leaves blood on the carpet and a team so fragmented they can barely stand to be in the same room afterwards, ask if the cost/benefit stacks up.
One thing a leader can do which helps nobody is a gesture that effectively pulls the house down on top of himself and everyone else.
Dan, These are some great hard-hitting questions for any leader and leadership team. I have a strategy meeting coming up with my organization’s Vice President of Quality for North America. I will start the two day workshop with this article. Thanks!
Every question widens scope for organizations to look beyond boundary. It is true that when organization runs smoothly, no one questions. It is assumed that everything is aligned and nothing to think beyond. And most of the leaders develop resistance to raise their voices even they have better reason for it. Questions like what will happen when something goes wrong, or who will be responsible in case something does not work. It is natural tendency as long as we do not have clear reason. Leaders who have stronger reasons, they come forward and raise their voices. They have confidence in them based on facts and data.
In ineffective organizations, leaders keep blind eyes to practices that they feel is not right. They wait for something bad to happen. When it happens, they come forward to question and try to take credit. Then they suggest to take some measures.
Effective leaders take measures beforehand and try to stop wrong doing. They do not hesitate in anticipation of unfavorable consequences.