We spoke with a number of established clients in developing Laing Russell’s positioning, seeking to understand what was the source of our value. A common theme that got us thinking was that whilst knowing stuff is important, clients speak in terms of the value is based on asking really good questions.
Aligned with our encouragement for all of us to engage in reflective practice, we wondered what makes a good question in our context? In the spirit of sharing our insight and encouraging a discussion, some thoughts follow. Let us know what you think.
The key themes from our reflection were that good, powerful and productive questions are:
- specific to context, good questions and their impact are socially constructed, they work best when they are relevant, based on human connection, have meaning and are significant. The nature of consulting engagements is that the context is significant, the harder bit is using all one’s skills and experience to build connection and asking questions that are and feel specific, we work hard to avoid generic, consulting playbook questions.
- Indicate a direction, one way to think of consulting is as a catalytic process, applying a new force to the complicated set of systems that are an enterprise. Good questions, point in a direction and guide either divergent or convergent thinking for the client.
- divergent questions would be… how might you?….what could you…?
- convergent questions would be…what are the priorities here?…why? which specific issue(s) should you address first?
- Balance depth and degree of challenge, deep, existential questions are mostly unproductive. Good questions encourage deeper consideration than a client would do on their own, the client should feel what we call a learning force. A force that builds on the human connection to promote new thinking. Noting we should not push or pull the client in directions that are unhelpful. The qualities of balance are embedded in :
- asking open questions that promote new thinking whilst remaining relevant to the context;
- holding the level of intellect required to engage successfully in any debate to the intellectual common denominator within the client;
- engender excitement through the realisation of possibilities.
In our experience, the foundation is the relationship. Powerful questions that challenge the client fundamentally require that human connection or trusted relationship. This trust is evidenced by client seeing you as integrated, yet distinct, part of their enterprise’s network.
To complete the loop, on reflection, our success in building enduring relationships with clients is dependent on our ability to ask really good questions – it’s certainly part of the secret sauce that we apply. The other part is working with the client to deliver answers, at pace.