Do we ask the right questions?

On a recent flight, I had an engaging conversation with the CEO of a large global company. After broadly discussing the business environment and how he is leading his organization through the changes taking place globally, I asked him about some of the current issues and challenges that he is currently focused on. Among the top 3 mentioned were:
– technology is the business now, not just the enabler;
– bridging the skill gap required for his vision of the company; and
– pushing the team to learn to ask the right questions with customers, partners and suppliers.
It was the last one that caught my attention as I was intrigued by the behavioral issue he had raised, “Are we asking the right questions to learn and listen more, build collaborative solutions or are we just putting out there about what we know”?

One of the most interesting points I captured from this conversation was about the effectiveness and business impact this key aspect has created in his company. At his organization, the teams which are able to ask the right questions to their ecosystem of customers, partners, suppliers, etc. have consistently outperformed the rest by 50+% across multiple quantifiable parameters. Why should asking the right set of questions be difficult? Why should everyone not be able do this naturally? Does this need training and coaching? Who asks the best and leading questions? They may often make it seem effortless, and yet they need much experience and knowledge on the subject, along with a broad set of business acumen in technology, domain, industry, people, process, and of course, a curious and open mind.

In the fast changing world, where every industry is massively disrupted by technology, where software is impacting every business, where digital, mobility, data science, cloud, cybersecurity, predictive analytics, etc. have become mainstream, and where partnership is the mainstay to deliver overarching solutions for an effective business outcome; any meaningful solution can only be achieved through intense collaboration. Collaboration comes through leading with thoughts and asking the right set of questions. Engaging in thought-provoking conversations and often asking counter-intuitive questions are key for a full view of the opportunity dimensions, and also helps us think through multiple scenarios of an issue as well as be a useful guide in crafting possible solutions. It is important to focus on enabling the thoughts rather than providing instant answers. It is important to learn to ask the right questions.

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