The value of Q&A

By Sam Geist

Questioning can become an effective business strategy that instigates thought and motivates action - but only if you ask.

Little kids question everything -Why is the sky blue? Why does it get dark? Why do I have to eat my peas? That’s how they learn. Socrates, one of the first philosophers, gained notoriety 2,300 years ago by asking questions that required his students to search for answers. That’s how they learned.

But questioning has unfortunately slipped from favor. It is reputed to make the “questioner” appear uninformed and the “questionee” uncomfortable, even dangerous (after all, Socrates was sentenced to drink hemlock because of it). It’s out of date.

I beg to differ. Questioning is adult stuff - business stuff. As a matter of fact, if it’s used well, it could become the next “new” management strategy. Here’s why and how.

Questions challenge. Questions instigate review. They provide new perspectives. They motivate change. A most interesting phenomenon occurs when a “questioning-focused” approach is taken. As soon as the first question is asked, wheels begin to turn. More questions spring up - more options - exciting new possibilities.

Questioning instigates thought. Answering motivates change - action. And after all, change - action is the lifeblood of a business. It’s what keeps a business ahead of its competitors. So here are a couple of tough questions to get you started:

• Why should someone do business with your company, rather than someone else? Today? Tomorrow?

• If your business disappeared from the face of the planet tomorrow, would anybody notice, or mourn?

It’s a challenging yet exciting exercise that forces you to look at yourself and your business - with all its warts. Once you see yourself, work at minimizing weaknesses and maximizing strengths. Look for solutions that turn possibilities into realities.

Ask about your marketplace

Ask questions about your environment - about the lifestyles and work styles of your customers - about changing technology. What’s happening in your extended environment? Who are your customers? What are their needs/wants? What’s changed in your business in the last 10 years, last year, last week?

Changing times call for asking yourself action-oriented questions and providing new, viable answers.

1. Since fence-sitting is “out” during changing times, what steps have you taken to execute an aggressive decision making strategy?

2. What new advantages are you providing to your customers that you didn’t provide last year? What advantages are you planning for next year?

3. When was the last time you asked your customers why they do business with you? With your competitors? What did they say?

Ask about organization

What makes yours different - better - special? How do you communicate that difference?

Our marketplace is inundated with look-alike products and do-alike services. Cut through the clutter. Seize the opportunity to differentiate yourself by taking a different approach.

Does your performance have pizzazz? Is it involving, different than everyone else? No it’s not easy to be “a hit” everyday, but since you’re already in business, it makes good sense to polish up your production and put on “show time” everyday.

Ask and answer these questions, so you adopt a differentiating approach that gets rave reviews from your customers and keeps them coming back again and again.

1. What can you change in your business to encourage your customers to choose you more often? To create pleasure - involvement, excitement?

2. Would you do business with you? Why?

3. What have you included in your strategic marketing plans to attract new customers? Encourage existing customers to come more often? Use services more often? Use different services?

Ask about service strategy

Today customers expect “heroic” service. They are no longer willing to accept shoddy products, disinterested staff and inconvenient policies.

“Heroic” service begins by under promising and over delivering; it continues by doing what you promise - every time - and it is permanently maintained by trained, empowered and dedicated service providers.

There are many questions to ask and answer-but start with these.

1. “Moments of truth” are each point of contact between someone in your company and your customers. They offer the opportunity to serve or “disserve” - the potential to build or destroy the relationship. Where are the “moments of truth” in your organization? What are you doing to make them “moments of triumph”?

2. How do you rate the execution of your service strategy on a scale of one to ten? What can you do to make it one better?

3. Are your staff ambassadors or assassins? (Ambassadors are the emissaries who build your image and communicate it to your customers. Assassins are staff who destroy your image, your relationship with customers and ultimately your business.)

Ask about your leadership

Astute leaders question about how well they communicate - how effectively they lead. Great leaders are catalysts - they energize their workplace from the sidelines, permitting their staff to revel in the limelight.

They give gifts - not just little gifts like tickets to a ball game, or a longer lunch break. They give their staff big gifts - exhilarating challenges, purpose to their work, recognition and empowerment. Gifts worth giving. What do you give?

Ask yourself tough “leadership” questions.

1. Would you follow you? Would you want you as a leader? Why?

2. As a catalyst for action, what promises could you make, what gifts could you give your staff that you are not giving?

3. A boss says “go.” A leader says “let’s go.” Are you a leader or a boss?

You now are in possession of an outstanding strategic tool. Use it well-ask questions you haven’t considered before. Questions that stretch the possibilities, enlarge the opportunities.