In business today, we are all going through post-traumatic COVID-recovery in one form or another. No matter what industry or size of your business, all of you are facing a common challenge: How do you help your colleagues and yourself shift from feeling fearful to productively thinking about solving your company’s most pressing problems?
One answer can be to ask people meaningful questions! Let’s dig beneath the surface of what may seem like a simple answer to this important question. Research studies reveal that our brains and particularly the part of our brains that works on complex problems (the Prefrontal Cortex) is stimulated when asked to solve meaningful business issues.
Questions and Mindset
Well-formulated questions will naturally shift most people’s fearful mindsets to a mindset of curiosity and searching for solutions. In our brains, this means a shift from our brain stem (amygdala) to our Prefrontal Cortex, the part of our brain responsible for creativity, play and complex problem-solving among other of our more positive human qualities.
Here are two examples of well-formulated questions:
- Let’s help me generate some unmet needs for our customers that could become a new product line.
- Let’s all create as many ideas as possible for new products our company could bring to market within 2 years.
The structure of these questions creates opportunities for broad thinking about possibilities for the future. The leader who is asking these questions is being inclusive and acting like a business consultant by requesting creative thinking. I coached a CEO to ask questions like those above of her highly technical organization who had been working remotely due to the pandemic.
She had been getting feedback that the staff, while productive, had been experiencing feelings of isolation and a diminishment of the unique “cultural buzz” that used to be evident when the majority of her staff were working on the same floor in their once-busy office space.
She posed these 2 questions during an all-hands meeting and asked everyone to anonymously post their answers on their Slack message board for everyone to read. She went on to further suggest reading the responses of others might further stimulate new ideas. She promised she would read the responses every other day and create a dialogue to stimulate further creative thinking.
At the end of 2 weeks, she created a small team made up of people from different departments and levels of the organization to analyze what were considered the most intriguing ideas and report back to the company in an all-hands meeting convened for that purpose.
A month later, a survey was sent to all employees by the VP of People, which revealed that the employee engagement scores had meaningfully improved. The top 2 ideas were being seriously studied for implementation in the 2nd quarter and the Senior Team was feeling more confident they had made a difference in supporting their CEO in her desire to impact the company by challenging the employees with meaningful questions.
What are the lessons to be taken from this short case study?
Every leader of any size organization can formulate meaningful questions to expand the thinking of their associates about their business. Including sole proprietors thinking about your own business and its future.
A leader can stimulate creativity and collaboration by asking meaningful questions of their associates with a positive attitude and warm invitation to participate.
The leaders’ active participation will help ensure the ultimate success of this creative idea-generation process. Full transparency of ideas and how they are ultimately ranked and acted upon is important to strengthen trust within the organization. The ultimate impact of how any ideas generated are ultimately implemented and the value they bring to the organization should be freely communicated and celebrated.
In general, questions stimulate a dialogue which is superior to leaders speaking to an audience that is merely listening. Research into organizations and virtual leadership development programs have shown that associates in the modern workplace has a shorter attention span than they did a decade ago. However, when a leader asks her audience a question, everyone in her audience immediately becomes an active listener. Nobody wants to be singled-out as not paying attention.
Since the pandemic, when meetings have been held on Zoom and other virtual platforms, small subgroups have been used successfully by senior leaders to help create stronger bonds of trust among associates. These subgroups can be used to discuss new initiatives, raise questions about policies, remote working issues, and exploring ideas for new products and services.
Discussing the answers to questions with others in a small group is a natural way to shift peoples’ thinking into a creative and collaborative mindset. Then, when all associates return to the larger group, individuals are more likely to speak up and engage with their leader in a free-flowing dialogue.
I have helped dozens of leaders and their senior managers boost their natural leadership strengths and enhance their virtual and in-person impact. To book a complimentary, confidential conversation on asking more powerful questions and impacting your leadership impact, just fill out the contact form below on my website. I promise you practical value for your time!