The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge. ~Thomas Berger
In my advisory work I frequently find myself sitting alone with a CEO or business founder listening to them talk about their management team and their company. Not infrequently I hear the following statement, often made in a moment of frustration: “I think we need a culture change around here!”
If “culture change” were a product or a service, and I were a typical salesman, then that would be a definite buying signal and I would pounce, offering the solution. But that’s not the way it works. Culture change is not a product (would you like that in blue or green, Sir?).
My response to these and other culture change questions tends to be a question in return; actually 6 questions. And the interesting thing is, we both wind up learning a whole lot that we didn’t know before:
- Are you certain you need a culture change? (What is the evidence and how do you know culture is the real problem?)
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your current culture in relation to your business strategy?
- What are the 2-3 leadership and employee behaviours required to enable the delivery of your business strategy?
- Why do you have the culture you have? (What are the root causes and what sustains your current culture?)
- What is the role of the senior leadership team in perpetuating your current culture?
- Are you willing to change internal processes, policies, business practices, rewards and recognition to better match the new culture required?
Many of these questions the CEO can’t fully answer. And then a fascinating process begins. The search for understanding. And most business leaders and company founders are obsessed with understanding. It is actually one of the foundations of good leadership. Not just surface understanding, but a deep level of insight that often can lead to breakthrough ideas.
Management teams aren’t good at asking questions. In business school, we train them to be good at giving answers. ~Clayton Christensen
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!