Understanding the Question Before Trying to Answer it

Understanding the Question Before Trying to Answer it

May 16th, 2013 // 2:42 pm @

QuestionOften in business conflict is caused when a problem is tackled before the question at hand is fully understood and agreed upon. The problem is often not finding the right answer it is agreeing the question.

There are a number of reasons why we all do this:

The first is simply we are keen to solve the issue. People, particularly the highly motivated are problem solvers, and some of us to the point we are constantly scanning the future looking for the next one to get to grips with. This is good to a point, but it tends to make us leap to the solution before really getting to grips with agreeing the question. It is for many of us a learned skill to slow down and get agreement on the question, before trying to solve it.

What people perceive as the question is very dependent on where they are in the company and their own personal objectives. It is also true that in many cases what people tell you their objectives are and what they really are can be significantly different. This is often not even conscious, but the inner drivers of human beings behaviour is often a desire to feel safe, or answer deep internal personal issues, and no one tells you those at a business meeting.

I have had the pleasure of working with several entrepreneurs, and all of them have told me their number one goal was making money, it has in every case transpired their real inner goals were very different, and were focused on answering inner questions or fears about themselves, and it was these that drove them. And it was this that shaped how they approached any specific business question.

Equally within large professional companies managers often have hidden or even subconscious agendas. Looking good in front of the boss or protecting your position or budget is often a critical decision driver. And in many organization such priorities are necessary too ones political survival. And if your staff are operating in this way, do not blame them; they are merely reacting to the culture of the company.

To give an example of people trying to answer a question but with different agendas, I remember working in a food processing plant in Hungary, which had never made a profit, was at risk of being closed, and its most major issue was its inefficiency, which was driven by making too many different products.

We sat down, some dozen plus of us to discuss whether to continue to make one specific product (Super large jars of Gherkins!).

For me the answer seemed clear, we sold this product exclusively to the only market Russia, where prices were low, making them involved a lot of hand working which was disruptive, they were clearly very unprofitable, and to continue to make them would involve capital investment.

At the end of a lengthy meeting I asked for peoples thoughts on what we should do. I was surprised that every single local manager said we should keep making them. I somewhat angrily overruled them and stopped production, and could not understand their thinking.

With hindsight I was answering a different question from them. I was answering the question “How do we get this business to profitability quickly and save it from closing”

The local managers were answering a very different question, “How do we carry on making our customers happy as has been our priority for 50 years, and keeping as many local people as possible in work”

In that context both answers were right, my mistake was not spending time agreeing what the objective was. Had I got agreement on the goal being getting to profitability to save the factory, I suspect the answer from my colleagues would have been different.

There is an old adage worth remembering “No one makes a stupid decision” or at least no one makes a decision that seems stupid to them. When faced with what looks to you like a stupid decision, remember to the person making it, it is logical. The trick is to get inside their logic.

To get a clear decision made, one that everyone will buy into there are a number of steps to be taken:

  • Who should be involved in the process and to what purpose, who makes the decision, who needs to approve it, and who is involved for input and information only. It may sound obvious but when this is not clear conflict is likely. For example if you involve someone so they are aware that the discussion is happening and can have input, but you will make the decision, but they believe in the absence of clarity they have a veto, conflict is close to inevitable.
  • Agree the goal. As discussed earlier this can be difficult, but getting to an agreed outcome is critical. With an agreed goal the correct answer is normally clear and hard to argue with. Had I in Hungary got the goal agreed, I could have avoided the conflict of overruling the entire local management team.
  • Possible solutions need explored, but if the question is clear this is often relatively simple. If you get to this stage and you are getting weird possible solutions it is probably a sign you have not got agreement on the question.
  • Agreed and communicated solution.

This may all seem obvious but it is the fact we think it is obvious that makes us skip parts of this process, and brings us unnecessary conflict.

 

 


Category : Blog &Management Technique &Other Thoughts

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