Asking the Right Questions for Results

February 5, 2020

This morning, I spent about an hour with a business officer who was wrestling with some really tough decisions related to the trifecta: enrollment, budget, and personnel. Like many of you are finding, creating a budget for the 2021-2022 academic year is not for the faint of heart. These phone calls have been more the norm since March of last year.

Whenever I am in situations like this, I ask a lot of questions. I find that asking good questions is the best way to get to the heart of the matter and tease out what is really going on and why something is happening at a given moment. When my kids were teenagers, they called me Mrs. 20 Questions because that was my way of coaxing them into talking about what was important to them. They would say, “Mom, that was only 3 questions, you have 17 more!” As if that was going to deter me!

Questions are critical in gathering information, but also taking the temperature of the situation when emotions may be running high. With some of the conversations that are occurring in senior leadership meetings and board meetings these days, questions can help overcome the emotions and anxiety that can be a big part of decision-making in 2021.

To some, asking questions is a perceived weakness. In Good Leadership is About Asking Good QuestionsJohn Hagel III asserts, “Especially when they find themselves in the midst of crisis and uncertainty, leaders should ask powerful and inspiring questions. Asking questions well can put you on the path to solving intractable problems and will also help you connect with others and, counterintuitively, to earn their trust.” This idea of connecting with others and inviting collaboration is paramount in building trust within and beyond your school or university.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we have delivered in the past?
  • What are emerging unmet needs of our customers that could provide the foundation for an entirely new business?
  • How could we leverage the resources of third parties to address a broader range of the needs of our customers?
  • How can we move from standardized, mass-market products and services to personalizing our products and services to the specific needs of each customer?

Another resource, 10 Questions to Guide Boards Through the Pandemic, focuses on questions for boards to ascertain and plan for both the operational and financial health of their corporate entities. While we may be seeing an end to this pandemic with the vaccine, boards and senior leadership should be vigilant and continue to ask and answer these questions regularly:

  1. What can you do to ensure the health and safety of your workforce?
  2. What is your CEO succession plan?
  3. What is the company’s ability to cover near-term expenses?
  4. What tradeoffs do we have to make around payroll expenses?
  5. Do we need to adjust our supply chains?
  6. Are we prepared to work remotely for an extended period of time?
  7. How do we keep our company culture alive?
  8. How are we interacting with the financial markets?
  9. How strong is our underlying business model?
  10. Are we behaving as a socially responsible organization?

Since Mrs. 20 Questions has 6 questions left, let’s continue this conversation on our regular Monday Lunch with PAISBOA meeting at noon this coming Monday, or email me with questions in discussion at your school or university. I am happy to compile them and share them out live at the meeting and on the e-list anonymously.

Once again, PAISBOA will be co-sponsoring, along with SAIS and other independent school associations across the country, the next installment of Through the Pandemic and Beyond: What Will Sustain Independent Schools? on Tuesday, February 9, at 4:00 pm. Speakers will include Moira KellyGrant Lichtman, and Ian Symmonds. For more info, and to register, click on the title to be directed to our customized webpage.

We look forward to continuing to be a resource for you and your leadership team, and please reach out if you need assistance or just to chat.

Take Advantage of the Power of the Flock...

Share this post:

Comments on "Asking the Right Questions for Results"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment