The Key Attribute of a Performing Organization

By Uju Onwuzulike Chief Results Officer, MCL

“We run the company by questions, not by answers”…. Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google)

Often times, when I ask people in organizations to list their attributes or what classify them as a high performing organization, the list is always long. Organizations on their own also invest in so many things or areas they think will make them high performing at least by their own assessment. However, one key attribute – that is critical to innovation, transformation, growth, new discoveries and new ways of doing things has been kept off the radar all these years. And that is “creating a culture of questioning”. Intentionally, ask yourself, in our organization do we have a “culture of questioning” as part of our attributes?

In this era of competitiveness, a major advantage organizations will have over others is the ability of their employees (regardless of unit or department) to ask smart or thought provoking questions. Every transformation, innovation or initiative stem from understanding or knowing the right questions to ask. Conversely, most failures in organizations have occurred because someone was unwilling to ask questions about things going wrong, things he/she does not understand, things that show great concern (and if not resolved can cause serious problems). Yes, it is true that thought is what precedes change, but what is more important is to know that all thinking is stimulated by questions.

Does your organization have a corporate culture of questioning as opposed to depending only on answers? Frankly and sometimes, it appears better and more respectful to always provide answers to customers, managers and even business owners. This also explains why salespeople are quick to provide impressive answers too often and eventually do not win the business. The business landscape of today requires people who will not just provide answers, but know how to ask smart questions (and problem revealing questions). Little wonder Robert Focazio, (former National Vice President of Sales, AT & T) once said, “If you improve your questions by 10%, you increase your sales and productivity by 20%...and that’s being conservative. I understand, the urge to appear smart always drives us to seem to be providing answers where we ought to ask questions (or even listen) in order to be on the same page with our managers and customers alike. The CEO of Google (Eric Schmidt) knew the importance of having a corporate culture of questioning when he said: “We run the company by questions, not by answers”. My personal understanding of this is that great companies can only be built by asking questions that have not been asked before as opposed to providing answers that have already existed.

But someone might say, making our organization to have a culture of questioning is something we can just introduce in our organization and that does not require serious effort or investment. I think any organization that thinks in that manner has missed it, because asking smart question and asking it in the right way (to yield result) is an art that should be learnt by organizations. Organizational activities like marketing, hiring the right staff, problem solving, improved performance, negotiation, and improving the corporate culture etc can be greatly enhanced when employees have mastered the art of right questioning. Without learning the art, organizations might only be building up questions that will always backfire. These include lousy questions, dangerous questions, manipulative questions, prying questions, showing off with questions, asking at the wrong time etc. Having dwelt over the years with the above wrong questioning skills have not helped organization in any way. So what employees need now is a comprehensive guide that will sharpen their questioning skills – that way they will know what to ask, what not to ask and how to ask the right questions in almost any managerial or marketing situation.

Leaders and managers have a key role to play in creating a corporate culture of questioning. They are to create a questioning business environment where staff members will feel safe and able to trust the system and the people involved. By so doing, they will build a culture in which questions are welcomed, assumptions are challenged, and new ways to solve problems are explored. As a matter of fact, questions establish an inquiring culture in organizations, and such an inquiry and culture will build a learning organization.

Final Note: Organizations should develop a culture where asking questions is permissible, safe and desired. The old erroneous belief that leadership is all about knowing all the answers should no more apply in today’s business world. Leadership in any facet should be viewed as knowing the right questions to ask, and carefully listening to those answers. Every organization possesses an array of knowledge, wisdom, creativity, and energy, and the surest way to harness those assets is to encourage questioning as part of the organization’s culture.

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