I was reading a post over at Skip Prichard’s blog the other day, which sort of prompted this post. Skip was writing about a question he has asked hundreds of times to new clients.
Skip writes, “Why did you choose us? I love to call new customers and ask. I’ve done this hundreds of times throughout my career. In all of those conversations, I’ve never had a new customer not want to tell me the “why.” ”
I loved that article, and I loved the question he posed of his customers. I think those of us in business (or any endeavor where we need people to join us) don’t ask that kind of question often enough.
Prichard’s post made me think about some of the times I have used a great question to gain insights.
Several years ago I had supervisory responsibilities of a team of people who did not work in the same location I worked in. I had to travel to visit, and often enjoyed the chance to meet people whose work environments were not exactly the same as mine.
I always enjoyed doing exit interviews for people who had completed an internship with our company. Somehow people who have worked for a brief while (2 years or less) with your company are able to give you insights in to strengths and weaknesses of your organizational culture.
I was interviewing one such intern when I asked a question I had not really given much thought to, but which turned out to be one of the best I could have asked.
“Has the experience here been what you expected it to be?”, I asked.
The answer was both thoughtful and lengthy. The intern gave me about a 10 minute description of the positive things of the internship, as well as some of the not quite so positive aspects.
This was far better than I could have hoped for, and certainly contained better insights than I might have gotten had I asked less of a leading, yet open ended, question.
I learned something that day: The power of a good question.
I didn’t realize it was as good as it was, but the response was encouraging enough (meaning, the amount of discussion that ensued) that I decided to try it again.
Not long afterward I was in a very similar supervisory role. I was conducting an exit interview again for an intern. I asked the very same question.
As before, the question elicited a really thoughtful response, and I knew I had a question good enough to continue using. I use it to this day, and not just for exit interviews.
Asking someone if their experience has been what they expected it to be opens up a huge opportunity for people to share with you both what they expected, and what they experienced. Sometimes the two match up, but, frequently, they don’t.
When they match up that good question helps you sense how you are doing in getting the right people on your team or on your workgroup. When they don’t, they point out some places you need to begin improving.
Asking good questions lets you learn about the one you asked, but also about yourself and your organization.
That’s my thought. What do you think?