The purpose of a question is to solicit an answer. But an answer to what? Just the question on its face? Or the deeper misunderstanding posed by the question? In business, when you are building a team, you must pay very close attention and read between the lines to ascertain not just what your new team member is asking, but more importantly, why he or she is asking that particular question.
Often the question posed shows a giant incorrect assumption about how your business works, how the customer receives your product or service, or what the various relationships are between the critical parties in your supply and distribution channels. What happens if you give them the short answer that just addresses their immediate query? They remain off track, but now they feel validated in their erroneous assumptions, and start to take actions based on wrong judgements that can hurt your business.
That’s why we recommend that you take the time to look through a new hire’s questions to discover those wrong assumptions and correct them. This may seem tedious and you run the risk of being accused of giving a speech where a simple answer would do, but as we say, “When the cement is wet, you can move it with a trowel, but when it’s dry, you’ll need a jack hammer!”
Questions that indicate deep misunderstandings show that there’s room for improvement to your orientation and training documents. You’ve got to teach the basics. You can’t assume new team members have a good foundation in business because they worked for a big company or have a big degree. We found incredible basic misunderstandings about business from some of the apparently most qualified for the job. Many times schools and their former bosses failed to lay the proper foundations.
We had a supply manager who asked repeatedly, “Why does the vendor always get the order wrong?” when the correct question was, “What do we have to do differently to reduce the likelihood of wrong orders?” This person had “a good college education” and had several jobs where it was OK to blame the other party when something went wrong – and that there was nothing he could do about it on his end.
We had a top administrator ask, “Why haven’t I had a raise in two years?” when the correct question was, “Why hasn’t our bottom line improved in two years?” This person assumed the money came from the owners, not the customers.
And we had a sales manager who asked, “Why won’t my distributer’s sales rep get the reorder?” when the correct question was, “How do we create an incentive plan that reduces out-of-stocks?” This person thought the distributer’s rep was going to perform on a new, unknown product like ours, without an additional financial consideration beyond their salary and commission.
Questions can tell you more than they ask – if you listen closely. If the question fits into the “this-doesn’t-make -any-sense-to-me” category, you’ve got the clue that you have work to do. There may not be any stupid questions, but there are some stupid answers and most of them are short. Short answers are saying, “Go away, don’t bother me!” but they are also asking for trouble down the line. Sure, workers can continue with their immediate jobs without a detailed explanation, but later they will surprise you with their deep-routed misconceptions.
Oh, and “Why do they call it duck tape? Because if it dries out, it can quack!”
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.
To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.