Two Key Questions

Someone told me that the ultimate scientific question is “why”. If you keep asking “why” eventually you will be able to delve into the scientific backgrounds of why we do things, why thing happen, how the world turns and more. Children seem to have a phase where they seem stuck in continuing to ask “why” and I don’t know about you but it wore me out in those days.

So “why” is a pretty powerful question and I encourage you to use it a lot. You learn lots by asking “why” and it helps you not to jump to conclusions but to give the person who you are asking the opportunity to explain what happened and other circumstances.

Yet this is not one of the questions I wanted to highlight today. Today I am pondering the situation that we all encounter as managers. You want to find out how a particular piece of your department is running. Other than the regular reports and updates you want to get a good understanding of what it is that your managers and supervisors, charged with keeping this part of your department or company running, are doing and how things are going.

A wise colleague of me use the following two questions, and I found them easy to use and powerful in their effect.

How is (then the name of the piece of the company or department that this person is responsible for) running?

This usually triggers a marketing blurp of all the good stuff that is happening and why the responsible person is such a great leader. This response gives you a nice overview but may sometimes overstate the actual case and so you may want to ask to elaborate a bit on some items.

The next question however I found more powerful: And how do you  know?

The response to this question gives you an insight in how they keep an eye on the business, how they evaluate, what success for them means, what, if any, measurements they have in place, and how well all of these synch with your desired course for the company or department.

Two simple questions, but in my experience underused.


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