Questions That Change the Game

Written By Randy Hall  |  Coaching, Leadership 


One of the most basic questions leaders often ask is how do I get the people in the organization to do what the organization needs them to. I was working with the president of a multi-billion dollar business when he said, “my biggest problem is that I know exactly what the people in this business need to do to make it successful, but I don’t know how to get them to do it.” I think that sums up the biggest challenge many business leaders face.

The answer itself is relatively simple. People will move in a given direction when they can answer yes to four basic questions. The leaders job is to make sure that the answer to each of these simple questions is yes. And just because the questions are simple, doesn’t mean answering them with a yes is. Here are the four questions that will change the game.

Do they want to?

In that very same business where the president was struggling to get his people to change behaviors I encountered one of his lieutenants saying this in a meeting about a new direction the sales force needed to take: “I don’t care if they buy into it or not, I just need them to do it.” I immediately understood one of the reasons the president was feeling challenged if he had other leaders thinking that way within his business.

The bottom line is that you can think they should, wish they would, pay them accordingly, give incentives, threaten and prod but unless people want to move in a different direction, they wont, at least not when you aren’t standing there watching them. Leaders learn how to create a vision people can connect to and believe in. They understand that motivation to do something different comes from inside every individual in the company and that any efforts focused on process or policy that don’t take that into account are doomed to fail. If leaders can find a way to make sure the answer to this question yes, it goes a long way toward getting people in their business to commit to doing what it takes to drive sustainable growth.

Do they know how?

If people want to do anything bad enough, they will find a way to learn how. Leaders have to make that as easy as possible though, so they lift the barriers to change and get some of the roadblocks out of the way. If people are left to figure everything out on their own, the “want to” can fade over time as they slow down for all of the speed bumps on the road. Build a business where learning is continuous and everyone feels that part of their job is to get better at their job.

Many younger workers take, and stay in, a job for that very reason. They understand that they want more from a job than a paycheck. They want a company to help them get ready for their next job as well and they will make that next job happen somewhere else if they aren’t being developed where they are. The return on investment here is significant as the potential for the business increases every time an individual within it becomes stronger.

Do they believe they can?

Change can be hard and it’s extremely uncomfortable at first. Doing something different means that people have to deal with new failures that weren’t there when they were doing their safe, comfortable thing yesterday. They are using new muscles that haven’t been developed and it’s easy to feel slow, less valuable, and inadequate early on in the change. This is where the coaches in your business are critical. They are the ones that step in and help, teach, encourage, push and support. If you have made the investment to help everyone in your business, including yourself, to be a world class coach, it will pay off handsomely every time an individual in your company isn’t sure they can be successful doing things a different way.

I still struggle to understand why many companies put people in management roles without helping them become great coaches. Effective coaching is the only real lever you have to influence individual performance. You will never consistently get high performing teams out of low performing coaches but many businesses try on a daily basis.

Do they see others doing it?

Here’s where culture fits in. There certainly are people who are completely comfortable going against the grain and doing things differently from everyone else around them but they are the exception, not the rule. This is the high school dance phenomenon. No one wants to dance until someone already is. Walk into a room where everyone is dancing and it’s much easier to get out there yourself. I may want people in my business to do things a certain way but I can be sure that if they look around and see others who have been there longer doing something different, it won’t matter much what I wanted them to do. This is why businesses often put a new strategy in place but then fail at executing it. They have a culture built to execute the old strategy, not the new one. Culture makes millions of decisions every day in your business, leaving it to chance makes no sense.

Leaders who focus on making sure that yes is the answer to these questions in their business will see it grow faster, adapt more easily and achieve more success than their peers. It’s challenging to focus on issues like this when the business has so many other moving parts that need your attention. The reality is though, that if you ignore these, the other parts wont matter much.

Many leaders don’t spend the majority of their time paying attention to these questions in their business but they can make this shift, if they want to, and know how, and believe they can, and see other leaders doing it.

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