8 must know question types for Effective Leaders

“The key difference between leaders and managers is that leaders focus on getting to the right questions where as managers focus on finding solutions to those questions”. Michael Marquardt

How many times have you found yourself wondering over a well placed question?

How challenging and stimulating is it to ponder over or doubt established beliefs and guided by a thoughtful question reach new lands previously unexplored?

You can think of the art of questioning as your compass towards a meaningful and productive answer and result.

Michael Marquardt in the insightful book, Leading With Questions How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, explores this very theme. He posits that leadership is all about asking the right questions.

Let’s look at some basic points he makes that will enable us to become better “questioners” and thus, better leaders.

 

question

 

TAXONOMY OF QUESTIONS  – OPEN ENDED VERSUS CLOSED ENDED QUESTIONS

In general, open ended questions stimulate thought and the overall discussion. Closed ended questions do the opposite.

In Procurement terms you can think of open ended questions closer to what an RFI or an RFP is aiming at and a closed ended questions closer to an RFQ.

Let’s look at an example:

Close Ended: “Did you meet your KPIs?”

Open Ended: “How has our KPI performance been going?”

It is evident that in the close ended version the answer is “Yes” or “No”.

The open ended version allows and welcomes commentary and frees up the dialogue towards constructive and productive interchange of ideas.The use of “why”, “how” or “what do you think about…” aims to structure open ended questions.

We have now moved on from a black and white world (if ever we were living in one).

Currently working on complex concoctions of all shades and colours means that we need to embrace tools that stimulate discussion, employee engagement (see here and here for more on this topic) and allow innovation to thrive (other tools for innovation can be found here and here).

 

WHAT TO DO: TAXONOMY OF OPEN ENDED QUESTION

  • what to do

There are various types of open ended questions for us to choose from. The basic ones are listed below:

1) Explorative questions open up new avenues and insights:

Example: Have you explored or thought of………..?

2) Affective questions invite members to share feelings about an issue:

Example: How do you feel about ………?

3) Reflective questions encourage more exploration and elaboration:

Example: You said there are difficulties with your project; what do you think causes these difficulties?

4) Probing questions invite the person or group to go more deeply into a particular issue. Words such as describe, explain, clarify, elaborate or expand aim to do just that.

5) Fresh questions challenge basic assumptions:

Example: Has this ever been tried?

6) Questions that create connections establish a systems perspective:

Example: What are the consequences of these actions?

7) Analytical questions examine causes and not just symptoms:

Example: Why has this happened?

8) Clarifying questions help free us from ambiguity:

Example: What specifically do you mean by that?

 

WHAT NOT TO DO: CLOSED and OTHER DISEMPOWERING QUESTIONS

what not to do

1) Closed Questions call for a specific answer, either yes or no, or calls for the respondent to select an answer from a limited range of choices. Closed questions often begin with what, when, or how many, or ask the respondent to agree or disagree with a statement.

Example: Do you like black or white?

2) Leading questions are those that force or encourage the person or group to respond in the way intended by the questioner.

Example: Were you at the meeting with Bob last night?

A non-Leading example would have been: Where were you last night?

 

SUMMARY

Continuous improvement and radical change relies on good and bold questions been asked.

Coming back to Procurement and Contract Management, results in a recent IACCM study,show that 88% of Contract Management professionals believe that improvement of the quality of the Requirements specifications was the number one factor to improve contract performance in their organisations (see here).

Imagine if the above tool of well placed and well thought of questions was used to clarify and specify Requirements Specifications for our RFx. 

How much better the Procurement and Contract Management process would then be?

 

 

Can you always find what you are looking for? What Heraclitus, Pasteur, Goleman and a recent marketing study posit about the benefits of focus

“Opportunity favors the prepared mind” Louis Pasteur

Wouldn’t it feel strange if you always found what you were looking for? Aren’t there times that it feels like when you are stuck on an issue and something someone says or something you read or see is exactly what you were looking for.

How lucky are you? But is it luck or something else at play here?

I have written before about how ancient philosophical tenets meet modern thinkers (here and here) and in this occasion modern neuroscience.

Reflecting on these notions, serendipity seems suddenly less influenced by luck and more a matter of statistics.

It appears that Heraclitus (the Dark Philosopher), Louis Pasteur (the French chemist and microbiologist) and Daniel Goleman (the writer of Emotional Intelligence) may have had a lot to share on the subject.

Heraclitus

HERACLITUS 

“Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those that have rude souls” Heraclitus

Heraclitus, the so-called Dark philosopher was a Greek Natural philosopher that lived in the city of Ephesus around the 500 BCE. Most of his work was lost and/or destroyed. We currently have access to only a few fragments of his writings. The most famous phrase attributed to his philosophy is the below:

“Τα Παντα ρει” – “All things pass and nothing stays” (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

Apparently, it cannot be proven that he actually wrote this but it pretty well sums up key tenets of his philosophy.

What is of interest for this blog is a lesser known jewel from his fragments, the one that posits that eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those that bear rude souls.

What Heraclitus seems to be suggesting with this tenet is that when we are predisposed to view a situation from a particular perspective we tend to favour a positive or a negative interpretation of stimuli depending on our character, our state of mind and maybe how well we are attuned to ourselves, how well we “know thyselves” (i.e. our “soul”).

Heraclitus was not alone in the view that, the way we interpret things is the key (see here).

For example, imagine you graciously give up your seat on the tram or train (person A) to a person that appears to need it (person B). There may be two responses to this action:

  1. a positive response may be that you (person A) get a “thank you” based on the acknowledgement of your gracious action (from person B) OR
  2. a negative response when e.g. person B perceives this action as if someone is thinking less of his/her capabilities i.e. as if person A is putting them down. So, in this example person B chooses to tell off person A in the most ungracious of ways.

I am sure you can reflect and recall a few such examples when the disposition or attitude allows for a polar opposite interpretation of an action.

Reflecting on Heraclitus’ quotation we can also phrase it as follows:

“Eyes and ears are good witnesses to those that have refined souls”

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur

LOUIS PASTEUR

Similarly minded about the usefulness of focus and attitude was Louis Pasteur (French chemist and microbiologist).

Pasteur was very persistent and enormously successful in the fields of vaccination and the prevention of disease, as well as, his invention of “pasteurisation” which is a technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination. He always tried to find solutions to problems and break new ground.

He focused on finding solutions and this focus appears to have reaped results as the solutions came to him (combined with hard work of course) resulting to his breakthroughs.

Hence, he articulated:

“Opportunity favors the prepared mind”

The two great thinkers do agree that if one is focused on something e.g. an opportunity, a question, a required result to a problem, it is as if the mind consciously and unconsciously seeks the solutions.

When you set your mind to something you usually find a way to succeed.

Solutions are out there, in the combination of things, the re-engineering of processes. Focused attention is sometimes the missing ingredient.

Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman

DANIEL GOLEMAN – How Heraclitus and Pasteur were onto something

For me, all of the above was just quite reasonable empirical deductions towards developing a positive attitude in life until I came across Daniel Goleman’s classic book, Emotional Intelligence.

In it, Goleman describes in layman’s terms the different functions of the parts of the brain and in particular the functions of the Limbic system and the Neocortex. The results are surprisingly revealing in support of both the great thinkers.

A Short History of Brain Development:

There are three stages of evolution in the brain:

  • The brainstem (which is the primitive brain) which we share with all other species that may a minimal nervous system. This is where the basic body functions are regulated e.g. breathing.
  • The limbic system (from the word limbus which means “ring”). This is built upon the brainstem and is also called the emotional brain g. when you are overwhelmed by craving or fury (“I can’t think straight”) that’s the limbic system taking over. The limbic system refined two essential tools forhomo sapiens a) learning and b) memory. Key structures of the limbic system that do much of the learning and remembering are:
    1. Amydgala – is the part that does most of the learning and remembering in terms of the emotional flavor of events. The Amygdala is the specialist for emotional matters.
It has been found that if theAmydgala is severed then
      1. We lose recognition of feeling as well feeling about feelings,
      2. Lose the urge to compete and cooperate, have no sense of social order.
      3. Emotion is blunted or absent
      4. Repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have 
known in full awareness
    2. Hyppocampus – is the part that deals with registering and making sense of 
perceptual patterns than with emotional reactions, it provides a keen memory of context (e.g. recognizes the 
differing significance of a bear in the zoo than a bear in the 
backyard) and retains the dry facts whilst the amygdala retains the emotional flavor e.g. hyppocampus – that is your cousin, amygdala - you don’t like her.
  • The Neocortex (also called the thinking brain) evolved as of 100m years ago and is the center that puts together and comprehends what the senses perceive. Strategizing, long-term planning, art, civilization and culture are the successes of the Neocortex.

How do signals get processed?

Sensory signals get processed from the ears and eyes through a structure called the Thalamus, to the Amygdala through a single synapse and at the same time to the Neocortex. The signal reaches the Amydgala at 1/3 of the time it takes to reach the Neocortex. So, the emotional brain begins to respond earlier than the thinking brain.

The usual way for sensory information to be processed is from the eyes and ears through the Thalamus and then to the Neocortex where the signals are put together into objects, as we perceive them. These are then sorted out, recognized for what they are and what they mean. The signal is then sent from the Neocortex to the Limbic system and from there the response is coordinated internally and externally.

The usual way takes precedence if the Amydgala is not aroused by the direct signal for e.g. fear of danger. If the Amydgala is aroused then we instinctively respond to the signals before the Neocortex has a chance to analyse the information.

So, essentially, the Amydgala is a repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have never known about in full awareness.

And this is where it gets very interesting.

LeDoux (Goleman p.18) proposed that the Amydgala’s role in memory explains the “startling experiment in which people acquired a preference for oddly shaped geometric figures that had been flashed at them so quickly that they had no conscious awareness of having seen them at all”.

So, the Amydgala and Hyppocampus, as part of the emotional brain, can be viewed as a subconscious sorting mechanism to the myriad of signals that come through our eyes and ears so, we “choose” to distinguish and pay attention to the ones that are emotionally charged only.

In this way it becomes apparent that if we provide significance and emotional charge to specific things these are registered in the recesses of the Amygdala and the Hyppocampus (in the limbic system) and so, we can distinguish them subconsciously within the sea of signals we encounter everyday.

EXPERIMENT USING “THE EYE CONTACT” DEVICE PROVES THE POINT

As reported in The Guardian’s article “Shopper’s eye view of ads that pass us by” as the result of an experiment in marketing conducted in 2005 in the city of London:

In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products….. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages. ……The experiment, analysed with the help of ID Magasin, the company which developed the device, highlighted both the extent to which individuals are bombarded by commercial images and how adept most have become at screening out advertising messages. The results of our experiment showed that 99% of adverts make little or no impact.

The marketing messages encountered in a day in a metropolis like Melbourne (my home city) cannot be far from this number. So, out of the thousands of brand cues we encounter we tend to recognise and consciously pay attention to just a handful. The above brain mechanism Goleman analysed is the one that allows us to do so.

SUMMARY

So, what we choose to focus on and in general our attitude towards things i.e. on whether we perceive challenges or opportunities, on whether we focus on why something would not work rather than how something could work plays a huge role at the cues that our emotional brain selects to display into our consciousness, the things that help us move forward and solve the challenges we encounter.

A healthy attitude and targeted focus on what matters most is thus, keys to developing a productive lifestyle.

5 milestones to Sourcing Excellence

“Sourcing excellence = professional knowledge + market knowledge + product knowledge” Jonathan Dutton

As per a recent study conducted by IACCM, 88% of Contract Management professionals indicate that improvement of the quality of the Requirements was the number one factor to improve contract performance in their organisations (IACCM – Contract and Commercial Management – A Operational Guide).

I have discussed the importance of understanding and clarifying the scope with your vendor as part of the Iron Triangle (here).

As we all know, having incomplete, erroneous or unexamined specifications for a product or service category lead to confusion, rework or simply sub-optimum  results.

To be successful, you first need to fully understand the scope and alternatives yourself i.e. what the business really needs and different possible ways to achieve it.

Let’s see some practical tips on how to do so.

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The 5 milestone Road to successful Requirements’ Identification and Sourcing Excellence

1) Know your stakeholders

First of all, you need to know your own stakeholders.

Anyone, the project affects directly and indirectly is a stakeholder.

Some of them are affected more than others and some of them will have a greater influence in determining the success of the project. So, if during the procurement process, you miss out on engaging with a stakeholder, you then risk project failure.

HOW to: Brainstorming and looking at the process and usage of the product and service should reveal who you need to approach.

2) Know you business objectives

You also need to know your business objectives.

You should embrace a different approach if the business objective is a strategic one e.g. entering a different market, rather than a tactical or an operational e.g. improving a process or removing cost.

Moreover, different stakeholders will have different motives and will probably target different outcomes in order to consider the project outcome successful. These need to be identified and defined.

Hence, the stakeholders need to know and sign off on the final defined business objectives.

HOW TO: Use interviews and questionnaires to define the requirements, needs and expectations from each one. Then ask them to review and sign off on the final result.

3) Understand the Specification

This is self evident. If you cannot articulate the functional and technical specifications then you probably do not have a good grasp of the project and would not know how to evaluate the suppliers.

Try defining this using AMPP technique (Ask, Mirror, Paraphase and Prime) and see that you have a good understanding of it and its implications.

Moreover, check that the functional and technical requirement are aligned with the business objectives and that at the end of the process all stakeholders have a high level of confidence of the final defined results.

HOW TO: A number of effective communication techniques can be found in the book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al.

Phrases like e.g. “Please let me know if you see this differently….. If I understand correctly……. Is this what you mean…… In my mind this means that ……..” can help.

Moreover, make use of a requirements checklist, questionnaires, interviews, roundtable discussions and brainstorming sessions. Research and benchmarking are tools you can also employ.

4) Agree the acceptance criteria

After the 1-3 steps are complete you can crystallise from the feedback provided the acceptance criteria. These can be categorised in three categories:

i) Hurdles (the Must Have criteria) e.g. ISO certification, Insurances’ cover, No accident record.

ii) The Essential Requirements (for which the vendors can be graded on a scale) e.g. quality, price level…

iii) The Good to Have (additional attributes that may not be immediately required but an extension of the service) e.g. operations in another state or territory that may be a target for your company in the future.

Moreover, the project team needs to have a clear idea of

A) What is the procedure of picking a bid
B) What are the quantifiable, measurable criteria and
C) How assessment and grading will be made.

5) Change Management Process

Scope creep, the process of evolving and ever-changing requirements, is a major cause that many projects fail e.g. run over-budget, over-time.

However, ignoring that there may be changes is not an option.

So, especially for complex and longer on duration projects, a clearly defined practical change management process needs to be defined in order  to have a good chance of been successful.

Based on mutual trust a clearly defined process for approaching changes identified (which can be clearly linked to the business objectives) is key.

HOW TO: An effective way to do this is to agree to change control documentation and a sign off process.

Moreover, great tips on the 5 levels of building trust can be found in the book The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey

 

The Speed of Trust - 5 Waves

The Speed of Trust – 5 Waves

 

In essence, working on your internal and external relationships is the only way that will provide the necessary trust that is the bedrock on which any change management process can be based on.

 

RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT

The Requirements specification  as well as the overall Procurement and Contract Management process are heavily reliant on good relationship management skills.

Ron Larimer in his article My three issues with the Seven Step Model has made this very lucid in the Procurement model he supports:

The Sourcing Wheel

The Sourcing Wheel

 

So, in thinking about Sourcing Excellence I suggest that Jonathan’s quote needs to be modified a little to include the key element of trusting relationships.

Sourcing excellence = professional knowledge + market knowledge + product knowledge + well established trusting relationships

 

What are the successful ways you use to define requirements in your Procurement process?

 

6 additional pitfals to avoid during a negotiation: Cognitive Biases

It was Richard Feynman who gave the most profound warning: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

 

Following my post which highlighted the importance of identifying Logical Fallacies and showcased the 6 most prevalent ones with practical examples, I feel that it is time to also  touch upon another significant field that can become a pitfall in a negotiation, that of “cognitive bias”.

Read on if you want to find out and become conscious of 6 prevalent tendencies to self-deceive yourself by restricting into thinking in a particular way i.e. fall a victim of cognitive biases.

Gaining consciousness of this “bad reasoning” will assist to identify them and so, improve your negotiation skills.

250px-Kaninchen_und_Ente

Do you see a duck or a rabbit?

DEFINITIONS

Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses.

As per the Webster’s Dictionary (Consice Encyclopedia)

“Cognition includes every mental process that may be described as an experience of knowing (including perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, and reasoning), as distinguished from an experience of feeling or of willing”.

So, a cognitive bias is a tendency to commit certain errors in the process of reasoning.

How is this different to a Logical Fallacy?

“A [Logical] fallacy is an actual mistake in reasoning. A cognitive bias is a tendency to commit certain sorts of mistakes. Not all fallacies are the result of cognitive biases, and having a cognitive bias doesn’t guarantee that you’ll commit the corresponding error”. AskPhilosopher’s

6 COGNITIVE BIASES TO WATCH OUT FOR

There are many cognitive biases (see list here).

The below 6 form a useful reference list of some fairly common ones that you can identify even on a daily basis:

 

1) Forer Effect or Barnum Effect 

This describes the effect when individuals believe that general enough statements that could apply to a wide range of people are supposedly specifically tailored for them.

This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of e.g. astrology as well as, some types of personality tests.

Below is a interesting video highlighting how this effect works:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.59.33 pm

2) Bandwagon effect

The tendency to do (or believe) things because they are popular at the time. This is also known as herd mentality or groupthink.

Examples can be found in politics and consumer behaviour. Look at how the “cool” product, a popular leader or the latest fad attracts consumers – until the next one comes along. For example:

A political party holds a rousing rally, with music, speeches and much cheering. Those who go are encouraged to ‘keep the faith’ and ‘bring others on board’ and otherwise keep the bandwagon going. (changingminds.org)

Popular diets, popular books and popular “5 step to success” schemes may fall in this category.

 

3) Framing effect

Drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented.

“This course of action has a 20 percent failure rate,” few managers would approve. When that same solution is presented as having an 80 percent success rate, the same manager is going to consider it more deeply—even though a 20 percent failure rate means the same thing as an 80 percent success rate! The frame changes the decision’.” Stever Robbins – The Path to Critical Thinking

 

4) Pareidolia

This is a psychological phenomenon during which vague and/or random stimuli (often an image or sound) are perceived as significant.

e.g. seeing a face in the clouds, the face on mars, and hearing non-existent hidden messages on white noise or on records played in reverse.

Face-on-mars

5) Stereotyping

This is the expectation that a member of an ethnic, religious, geographic, gender or other group has certain characteristics just because they belong to that group, without having more information about this person.

As an example:

What comes to mind when you hear the word economist? Probably a male figure of some sort.

Substitute the word “economist” for “nurse”, “teacher”, “scientist” or “doctor”.

Well, there you have it.

 

6) Halo effect

The “what is beautiful is good” effect.

The Halo effect describes the tendency we have to form perceptions of one’s personality (or other characteristics) based on a particular likeable or unlikable element such as the person’s physical attractiveness.

“One great example of the halo effect in action is our overall impression of celebrities. Since we perceive them as attractive, successful, and often likeable, we also tend to see them as intelligent, kind and funny”. (psychology.about)

 

The above six cognitive biases are just a small sample of the wide variety of bad reasoning out there. However, these are a good start on the journey to establishing integrity in thinking towards a successful negotiation.

How many of them can you identify in your daily interactions?

 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

“The rabbit–duck illusion is anambiguous image in which a rabbit or aduck can be seen….. The image was made famous by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who included it in his Philosophical Investigations as a means of describing two different ways of seeing: seeing that/seeing as”.

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