Instruction

STRATEGIC THINKING 101: CRAFT THE RIGHT QUESTION

In my last blog article, I indicated that planning to meet was the One Step Action Plan for Strategy. I hope you are working to add thinking time with your teams to the calendar this year! In that article I also talked about 2 types of thinking rhythms: strategic and tactical.

Today I want to walk you through an important design element for successful meetings: Asking the right questions.

Effective meetings have an essential common element: the right question is asked at the right time.

When people are asked the right question in a meeting they have to stop and think.  What is the key sign that people are thinking? They stop talking.

The pause in a meeting is a sign you are asking a thoughtful question and that the people around the table are actually doing the most productive thing then can do: they are thinking. [Note: a long pause can also mean that people are terribly confused. You can usually tell by looking around the table and seeing if people are silently looking at YOU with, “What do you mean?” questions written on their faces, or if they are looking off into the distance. Looking up and off into the distance usually means they are thinking about the question. Looking at you means they don’t understand your question.]

The biggest asset any company has is the thinking power of its people.

Do you intentionally prepare for a meeting to harness the thinking of your team?

When was the last time you sat down and prepared a set of questions to intentionally shape the direction of the thinking in your team meeting?

To have a meeting actually pause while people think requires the right questions.

Here are some tips for Crafting Effective Questions for your next meeting:

First, a guiding principle: Different thinking environments call for different questions. Is your thinking environment strategic or tactical? These environments require different types of questions to be effective.

Tactical time is a monthly, weekly and daily event. These meetings are more swift and action-execution driven. Strategic time is best pursued in annual, quarterly and regular one-on-one meetings.

The monthly meeting tethers the strategic and tactical thinking of an organization. 

Strategic Meeting Tip #1:

The questions to craft in strategic sessions are Why, Who, and What questions.

  • Why is it important that this business exist and persist?
  • Who do we serve?
  • What do they need?
  • What is our value proposition?

Strategic Meeting Tip #2:

Limit How, Where and When questions in strategy sessions. These questions are more tactical in nature.

If you pose them, keep How, Where and When questions focused on vision, values and strategy. There are, of course, exceptions. When How, Where and When questions relate to the core values of the organization they are strategically significant. (ex: How shall we reflect our values in this year’s Winning Moves? How does this goal meet the mission and fulfill the vision of the organization? Where are our customers moving in their needs and thinking?) For the most part, How, Where and When questions are more appropriate for Monthly, Weekly or Daily meetings.

Tactical Meeting Tip #1:

Asking the right outcome-oriented questions keeps these meetings moving. What, Where, When questions are the ones to ask. Be intentional with How questions.

Tactical Meeting Tip #2:

Do not pose Why questions. Move them to when you have the appropriate amount of time to address them like a Monthly or Quarterly meeting.

Tactical Meeting Tip #3:

Limit How questions. How is the question you are paying people to answer, and when posed frequently by a leader is a sign of micro-managing. Use How questions sparingly and with intention.

Next Steps to get your meetings revved up in 2017:

  • Craft an intentional set of questions to pose during each segment of the agenda.
  • Plan out your agenda well ahead of time. For annual and quarterly meetings send the agenda 48-72 hours ahead of time; for monthly meetings send the agenda 24 hours ahead.
  •  Include your questions with the agenda you send to your participants.

Warning: Mixing strategic thinking with tactical thinking gets you into the weeds quickly.

As you plan and review your agenda, think through which questions need to be asked as you move through the meeting, and then craft those questions with intention.

You will find that, with the right questions, you advance the thinking of the group and create a climate of purposeful, relevant and timely conversations. Happy Meeting! 

TO LOWER YOUR LEADERSHIP HANDICAP: GET A COACH AND STICK TO THE FUNDAMENTALS

There is nothing quite like a game of golf:  the opportunity to enjoy Mother Nature, breathe fresh air, and create memories that will last a lifetime – all while enjoying time with friends, loved ones, and colleagues.

While many golfers find it fashionable to be self taught, it would be wiser to find a compatible coach and apply their instruction.  Why?  One reason is because golfers cannot objectively take in their own entire swings.

So it is with Leadership Handicaps.  It is wise for those who want to improve their game to seek the services of an experienced coach.  A Leadership Coach can help undo deeply ingrained flaws.  These flaws may be so deep that the leader is unaware of them at all:  the flaws are guarded by a well constructed blind spot.

The top three key fundamentals to improve your leadership game are:

·       Grip

·       Stance

·       Posture.

Get a Grip

A leader needs to get a grip.  As the only connection to the business end of the enterprise, the team, too tight a grip tends to stifle desirable action.  Too loose a grip risks loss of the control needed to ensure that team members perform to the best of their ability. 

To check your grip, ask these questions:

·       Have I given enough direction?

·       Does my team have the time, tools, and resources to succeed?

Take Your Stance

Another often overlooked key fundamental is stance.  Why?  Stance dictates how far away the leader stands from the team in the tee box.  Too far away and the leader will be forced to make unnecessary and taxing compensations to execute.  Too close and the leader may not be able to get out of their own way.

To check your stance, ask these questions:

·       Am I setting the right parameters?

·       Does my team have the freedom to move nimbly on their own?

 

Assume Your Posture

Posture, perhaps of all the fundamentals, is most easily violated.  This is because a leader’s posture may feel right but, in truth, be completely wrong for the desired outcome.  Too much weight on the heels leads to bad execution and unforced errors.  No flex in the legs results in inconsistency.  It is wise for leaders to maintain a little flex if they want their teams to perform consistently over time.

To check your posture, ask the following questions:

·       What are my non-negotiables for performance?

·       Do I communicate these regularly to my team?

Other Leadership Fundamentals are:

·       Avoid Bad Habits

·       Focus on the Task at Hand

Avoid Bad Habits

Enroll with a Leadership Coach as soon as possible.  Do not wait.  Take advantage of this opportunity and you will be glad you did.

Focus on the Task at Hand

As you work, it is easy to reflect on something bad or a missed opportunity.  Do not do this.  Try your best to focus on the present, concentrating fully on the now rather than the past.

Try to gather your thoughts, breathe a couple of times, relax, and focus on the present.  You will notice an improvement and lower your Leadership Handicap as a result.

DON’T LOCK UP THE WHITE OUT!

When I first began working, White Out correction fluid was ubiquitous in offices everywhere.  It was used to cover errors so that corrections could be typed over them.  While White Out is no longer a workplace staple, it has not entirely disappeared.  I was reminded of White Out when I ran into a friend of mine after work recently.  She had an incredulous look on her face that said, “Do I have a story for you!”

That very day, as she handled client calls and emails, managed projects and priorities, she received this memo from “management”.

“We are locking up the White Out.  If you have any White Out in your desk, you must bring it to your supervisor.  They will keep it in a locked cabinet and only give it out upon request for specific, authorized changes. It then must be returned promptly.”

Whatever mistake lead to the White Out Lock Up one thing is certain: the response is all wrong.  Locking up the White Out for an entire office as a solution to an over-correction error, whether that was made by many or by only a few of the team, simply served to make the staff feel like children.  My friend was demoralized.  It seemed to her to be both absurd and shaming all at once.

So what went wrong?

Clearly, someone made a mistake, a mistake that no other remedy could be thought of except to consume the time and talent of the supervisors by making them responsible for checking in and out the White Out.

My friend observed, “Someone is using White Out when they shouldn’t and we are all paying for it.”

True.

It is always true that, in some way, when training is needed to improve performance, everyone pays.  It costs to take time to train someone to do a job to specific standards, just as it costs to have sub-par performance, and as it costs to hire a new team member when we have to replace someone.  Training costs.

The challenge for leaders is to spend their time and talents wisely.

When we have a training issue, a flaw in a process or performance, it is often easier to Lock Up the White Out or, better yet, do it ourselves rather than take the time and spend the effort training someone to do their work accurately.  Yes, it is true, training takes time.  It is an investment; an investment well worth the return.

Is there a performance issue you have been avoiding?  Is there someone who needs extra time and attention to learn to get it right?  Is there someone who needs to clearly understand the expectations and know the consequences of their actions so they can work more effectively?

Address this issue now:

·       Take the time to communicate your expectations clearly. 

·       Sit down with someone and show them how you’d like it done.

·       Ask them to repeat back to you what your expectations are and the process by which they can achieve those expectations.

When we are direct and clear in our instructions and when we ask for those expectations to be repeated back to us, we discover where the misunderstandings begin.  We can correct our people problems without Locking Up the White Out.