A client saw a portion of a talk I gave at the Human Capital Institute conference. She shared with her HR leader who interpreted it in a way I had not predicted:
My statement: Every person in my organization has worth and value and can make a contribution.
What HR leader interpreted: Every person in my organization is top talent (worth = 9 box high potential status)
My response: Thanks so much for this feedback and questions. The short response is that treating people with respect and as having a potentially-valuable contribution to a situation/opportunity does not absolve us of the responsibility as leaders to make judgments about people’s performance and over-all value to the organization. I can treat you and your ideas with respect and still insist that they get better or else.
This is actually where “powerful questions” come in. You come to me with an idea or a question about what to do. If it is unclear, I ask you to clarify it. If it seems wrong because it doesn’t take some important facts into consideration, I can ask, “what will you do about X?” If it shows a lack of consultation or preparation, I can ask, “what did X say about that?”
The same is true of an assignment. Powerful questions let me deal with results that don’t measure up in a respectful way, but still focus on getting it right. “What else did you consider?” “Who did you involve in this?” “What if this premise is wrong?” “What assumptions did you make about our customer?” They focus the attention of everyone on learning how to get it right. After you’ve asked several of these questions, you will not have people coming to you without having done their homework. It takes a little more thoughtfulness and time up front and it saves lots of time down the road.
At the same time, some people don’t learn and talent processes are designed to surface those persistent gaps in performance and identify a path to improvement or a path out of the way. Using powerful questions surfaces the thinking processes of people around you so you make less biased judgments about them. If you don’t ask these kinds of questions, you end up getting rid of people who annoy you because of mannerisms or cultural differences rather than true ability to do what we need of them. The consequence is steadily diminishing diversity of thinking planting the seeds for group think and other enemies of performance and innovation.