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Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

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Leaders are confident that they are capable, through their actions and attitudes, of creating a healthy work environment. They foster open communication that encourages employees to freely ask questions and discuss any concerns.

True leadership requires open and regular interaction between leaders and employees. Leaders understand that they cannot lead from their office or behind a desk: to get a sense of what is actually happening in their organization, they must be actively involved.

It is important to understand that good leadership doesn’t demand leaders directly help employees perform their jobs. Rather, by simply maintaining an active awareness of what is going on in their organization, leaders can anticipate problems and opportunities, and respond accordingly. Furthermore, when leaders communicate and maintain a presence with their employees, they establish great rapport. As a result, employee trust and loyalty deepens and organizational cohesiveness broadens.

Leaders can encourage open communication with their employees by practicing the following techniques.

Encourage Questions

Leaders work with employees who have various levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. They must encourage everyone to regularly ask questions. This kind of interaction makes employees more comfortable with the concept of speaking up, and it also gives them confidence to approach the leader without hesitation or procrastination when the need arises.

Besides vocally encouraging employees, leaders must also support their people with actions. Specifically, leaders should be open and receptive when approached with a question, no matter how trivial the subject. Leaders who simply brush-off the questioner openly convey that questions are not welcome or there is no time to discuss them. Consequently, they undermine the process of open communication.

Look for Opportunities to Ask Questions

Leaders must not passively wait for their employees to come to them with questions. The nature of leadership demands being out among employees, asking questions and soliciting input. In this fashion, leaders can communicate their interests to each employee while keeping tabs on the activities and direction of the organization. Thus, they can anticipate and handle an issue before it explodes into a major problem.

Moreover, when leaders actively solicit questions and answers, they communicate care and concern for their employees and the entire organization.

Ask ‘Personally’

In the age of instant electronic communication, it is important for leaders to ask questions in person. Email doesn’t communicate the tone and nonverbal cues that people often require to fully understand a question. Additionally, face-to-face questions give leaders the opportunity to clearly explain their intentions and get a more comprehensive answer.

While email may be efficient, leaders should understand that not all employees are good writers and, therefore, some may not have the ability to communicate adequately in this medium. Many employees who are uncomfortable with email might not even attempt to reply unless forced to; in which case, responses will tend to be short and/or incomplete.

Respect the Questioner

In the daily workplace routine, it is not uncommon for a leader to hear a range of questions, from trivial to extremely important. In an open communication environment, leaders know they must treat every question and questioner with respect, even if the topic is trivial or lacks urgency. Rather than embarrass or alienate the questioner, good leaders validate the specific question and thank the employee for bringing it to their attention.

Listen Actively

When approached with a question, leaders know that it is important to give the employee their undivided attention. However, if the leader’s attention is necessitated elsewhere, they should ask the employee if the question could be discussed later, at a specific time convenient for both. The time selected must be sufficient for a full discussion, without any urgency to hurry the process along. Once the appointment is set, leaders make a point to keep it.

Again, effective leaders strive to always encourage open communication through their actions and receptivity to questions. However, circumstances and the workplace environment may not always make this practical. In such cases, rather than be short and appear to disregard the employee’s question, leaders need to explain that the timing is simply not right and that they would like to talk when they can provide the needed time and attention both the employee and the question deserves.

When finally discussing a question in-depth, leaders should paraphrase parts of the question or the entire question back to the employee to help clarify and understand the concerns being raised.

Be Cooperative

In most workplace environments, leaders are dealing with daily problems and issues that produce varying degrees of stress. Under these circumstances, it is easy for any individual to appear defensive or adversarial when asked a question, especially an unexpected one.

Effective leaders, however, will maintain a consistent attitude and posture that fosters a cooperative spirit within their organizational unit. They keep a friendly and open demeanor with their employees by paying attention to their own moods, habits, attitudes, body language and tone of voice.

Take Responsibility, But Don’t Solve Every Problem

All people in every organization have limits and responsibilities. When approached with questions, a leader should not respond by doing the employee’s work for him or her. But there are times when the leader is responsible for developing a solution. The key is to understand the appropriate response for the particular question.

Leaders need to set firm and fair limits on what they are willing and able to do so that employees don’t place unreasonable demands on their time and energy. At the same time, it is unrealistic for leaders to expect their employees to solve every problem without guidance. Generally, the appropriate course of action is somewhere in the middle, where the employee and the leader brainstorm to arrive at an acceptable solution.

Follow Up

Open communication demands that leaders follow up on their responses to employee questions by making sure the solution is understood, acceptable and implemented. Obviously, the degree of follow-up needs to be proportionate to the question’s impact and importance. That is, small problems probably only need a simple follow-up question to make sure that things are going alright, while bigger problems could necessitate a series of subsequent meetings.

Follow-up keeps communication with employees open because it often triggers additional questions, input and feedback. In this way, the communication process becomes a continuous, effective loop.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on improving communications within the workplace to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. Click here to learn more.

Related:

Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility

Eight Ways to Improve Communication

Your Personal Attitudes Shape Your Environment

Communication Must Be Personalized To Be Effective

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

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In employee led groups or in an individual context, individuals can begin to take over the responsibility of using questions to help foster a deeper understanding of material, information, key concepts or issues.

Through the use of questioning, employees engage in a social process that is fundamental to learning. Individual learning and self-development begin on the social plane, through interactions where employees think and respond with others who possess varied levels of knowledge. Employees should take an active role in exploring, finding and researching answers to their own questions.

Through self-inquiry based questioning, individuals develop questions that need to be answered and then research the answers to support their thinking and responses. Inquiry is not always a specific question, but can be simply a contemplation about something that needs to be investigated further. There is usually not one correct answer to meaningful questions of inquiry, but through the process, employees actually gain understanding, generate more questions to ponder, and find further issues to research. This technique helps provide a structure for looking through information and sorting out relevant from irrelevant facts, sources and data.

Within the process, it is important to eliminate incorrect information, confirm reliable information, and ask further questions about the meanings and implications of certain words and phrases. After the discussion, they review and confirm the accuracy of summarizations and understandings.

Questions have the ability to buttress comprehension. Their intended use is to make the sharing of new information a collaborative process, with shared responsibilities for ongoing discussions and conversations as well as problem solving outcomes.

Within the questioning process, it is essential for employees to invite questions that effectively probe for understanding. One effective method is to apply “why” types of questions that tend to redirect an individual’s attention. An example is, “Why are you sure that when you say ____ will happen, it will?” It is also important for employees to ask questions that model comprehension monitoring, “Does (this) or (that) make any sense to you?”

POSSE Questioning

POSSE questioning is an effective framework to guide employees to facilitate better comprehension, particularly when solving problems. POSSE stands for:

  • Predict (predict what will happen as a result of the problem);
  • Organize (organize knowledge and ideas into categories and details);
  • Search (read to identify key ideas and details of problem-related parts);
  • Summarize (identifying the main problem rather than its symptoms);
  • Evaluate (ask a question, compare, clarify and predict).

Within the POSSE framework, questioning tends to be embedded in the Predicting, Searching, and Evaluating stages of problem solving and is structured in a “Shared Inquiry Discussion” format that is designed to promote creative, thoughtful and critical thinking. As such, the leader continues to play a key role in the inquiry process. Within this framework, however, he or she avoids asking employees’ questions that tend to cause them to speculate about something that is outside immediate, contextual boundaries. He or she also avoids questions that tend to require making predictions about something.

Applying the POSSE Framework to Make Questioning Visible

How can employees become proficient in using questions effectively in their own problem solving/work-related situations? There are two major challenges associated with this question. First, while widely existing in any workplace, questions are so common that employees tend to simply take the process for granted, rather than analyzing how the process of questioning works. Which is, how questions are formed, the purposes they serve and the information sources they probe. Second, even when the questioning process is discussed and detailed to make it “visible,” employees still need opportunities to engage in active questioning practices themselves. The goal of the questioning process should be to increase and enhance proficiency in seeking out information and to generate higher levels of insight and understanding.

There are specific ways in which to practice the skill of questioning for reaching this goal:

Think Aloud Sessions

A “Think Aloud Session” is one way to make a relatively common or invisible process like questioning to identify important information more visible by allowing employees to share insights, reasoning and perceptions through the art of inquiry and the language of questioning to generate positive results. When a leader applies Think Aloud Sessions, they should model or demonstrate “Questioning Use Strategies,” and the vocabulary of “Question-Answer Relationships” (see below).

Creating Question-Answer Relationships (QAR)

A Question-Answer Relationship is an effective questioning strategy, which emphasizes that a relationship exists between certain questions asked, the material presented, and the background of the responders. In this strategy, employees need to rely on four question/answer relationships or descriptors to find the information they need in order to effectively answer the question(s) being asked.

Question-Answer Relationships help employees and the leader develop a shared, common language for discussing and understanding how particular questions are designed to function. The leader may need to introduce QAR and to explain the four types of question/answer relationships that it encompasses:

Consider and Explore – The answer exists, but employees need to put together different pieces of information to obtain it. This is the most common QAR.

Right Here – The answer resides within the question and is usually easy to comprehend. The information is found without much effort.

Question Asker and Me – The answer is not explicitly stated. Employees need to think about what they already know, what the leader tells them, and how both pieces of information fit together in a meaningful way.

On Your Own – The answer is not physically given or implied. Employees should be able to answer the question without reading or researching information, simply by using their own experiences and background knowledge.

QAR Brings Together Knowledge and Information

This is information and knowledge that employees need to draw upon in order to answer particular questions, through various inquiry strategies. For example, a question asked could require a response that is part of the respondent’s background knowledge, or an “In My Head” response. In contrast, another particular question may require a response that needs to be obtained from past readings about something in particular.

Asking a question such as, “Have you ever been surprised when our production line shuts down?” cannot simply be addressed with information from reading something, even if what was read about tends to describe a situation like the one being asked. Further, a question like, “What might we do if and when the production line breaks down?” requires both an understanding of the dilemma and the ability to draw on one’s own background to solve the problem in a new way. To gain a better understanding for how the QAR relationship works, and why it is important, the process should be focused on question asking and answering within workplace contexts and their activities.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

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Critical thinking and working effectively with others relies on applying appropriate frames. Frames are cognitive shortcuts that individuals use to help make sense out of complex information and to interpret that information in a way that can be meaningfully represented to others. Frames help to organize complex experiences, occurrences and facts into logical and rational as well as understandable groupings and categories. By labeling these complex experiences, occurrences and facts it becomes possible to give meaning to some aspects of what is observed through them, while at the same time discounting other aspects because they appear to be irrelevant or counterintuitive. Frames provide meaning through selective simplification, by filtering people’s perceptions and providing them with a field of vision for a problem.

Frames significantly impact the critical thinking process. This is because they tend to be built upon personal beliefs, values, and experiences, where individuals often construct unique frames that tend to considerably vary. Frames normally exist prior to the processing of information and they highly affect identifying, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating information, upon which critical thinking is based.

Individuals tend to be separated not only by differences in personal interests, beliefs, and values, but also in how they perceive and understand things, both at a conscious as well as sub-conscious level. Within critical thinking, individuals generally apply framing not only as an aid to interpreting issues and information, but also at times, to generate or promote some form of a strategic advantage.

Framing is often the impetus for rationalizing self-interest, convincing others, building unity, or promoting a preference for a specific outcome. Numerous factors tend to affect how people frame experiences, situations and circumstances, which in turn, influences the path and direction that critical thinking takes.

The Importance of Framing When Thinking Critically

An essential element in critical thinking is understanding how and why frames affect decision making or problem solving development. In the context of critical thinking situations, disagreements often erupt. As a result, individuals tend to create frames to help understand why the disagreement exists, what actions are important to alter or negate it, why different individuals act as they do, and how individuals should act in response to what is occurring.

Within group situations and activities, frames serve as a type of strainer for information that is being gathered, assembled and analyzed. Personal framing tends to determine the development of priorities and ways to address and achieve them, which typically includes generating alternative solutions as well particular action plans for their implementation. Depending on the issue, problem or context of the task or goal at hand, framing may be used to conceptualize and interpret, or to manipulate and convince.

Framing tends to be tied to information processing, message patterns, linguistic cues, and socially constructed meanings. Knowing what the various types of frames are, and how they are constructed, allows individuals to draw conclusions about how they affect the development of critical thinking and its outcomes, as well as how they can be used to influence both. It is important to analyze existing frames from a personal perspective, as well as ones others use. Doing this offers fresh insight into the dynamics and development of group interaction, problem solving, conflict resolution as well as decision making.

The Sources and Forms of Frames

Many factors work to influence frames as well as their formation. Disagreements and opposite viewpoints are usually associated with a complex and reinforcing set of frames in oneself, and others, as well as associated elements of risk, what types of information should be applied to a given situation, and how decisions should be made. The frames that most highly influence disagreements and opposing viewpoints among individuals include ones of: identity, characterization, power, risk/information, and loss versus gain.

Identity Frames

Individuals tend to view themselves as having particular identities in the context of specific circumstances and situations. These identities spring from an individual’s self-conception and group affiliation. The more central the challenge to one’s sense of self, the more oppositional one is likely to act. Typical responses to threats to identity include ignoring information and perspectives that tend to threaten one’s core identity, reinforcing connections with like-minded individuals or groups, and negatively characterizing problems, issues or situations.

Characterization Frames

Closely related to stereotyping, characterization frames may be either positive or negative. Individuals view others as having particular characteristics and when they find themselves in disagreement or at odds with others often tend to construct characterization frames for them that significantly differ from how the other parties view themselves. Such characterizations often undermine others’ legitimacy, and cast doubt on their motivations, or exploit their sensitivity.

Characterization frames often tend to be linked to identity frames, which serve to strengthen one’s personal identity while justifying individual actions toward another, thinking for example, “I am a free thinker, but my opponent is closed-minded and because of it needs to be subdued or chastised.”

Power Frames

Because disagreement is often imbedded into critical thinking activities like decision making, individual conceptions of power and group control tend to play a significant role in them. Power frames help a disagreer determine which forms of power are justifiable, such as in the form of existing organizational structure. At the same time, power frames also help to determine certain forms of power that are likely to advance one’s own agenda or positioning, like authority, resources, expertise, or unity-building.

Risk and Information Frames

Disagreements that often erupt during critical thinking projects or activities often involve personal expectations about future events, where these events may either be risky, or where the likelihood of them occurring is quite uncertain. Within these types of situations, certain group members will often begin to construct risk and information frames that produce highly variable assessments about the level and extent of a particular risk.

From a positive viewpoint, risk and information frames work to indicate which sources of information tend to be reliable, and which ones are not. Risk and information frames depend not just on an individual’s points of interest, but also on the person’s level of training, expertise, personal exposure to the risk, familiarity with the risk, and the potential for disastrous or negative impacts due to it. Because of the ability to deeply analyze various risk factors and their potential consequences these critical thinkers tend to act and think in terms of the degree in which the risk is dreaded or feared.

Loss Versus Gain Frames

It is common for most individuals who work as a collective group in problem solving or decision making to focus on “threats of potential loss,” rather than on “opportunities for gain.” People tend to react differently to a proposed course of action when its expected consequences are framed in terms of “losses” as opposed to “gains.” Most times there will be individuals who hold firm to believing that preventing a perceived loss is much more relevant, significant, and high in value than securing an equal gain. This works to reinforce a psychological barrier in regard to taking a particular course of action or accepting a specific problem’s solution.

Reframing

Reframing is the process of purposefully managing one’s personal frames. With the help of reframing, individuals are more likely to find new ways to reach an agreement. Within critical thinking activities such as decision making or problem solving, the ability to effectively manage frames and the framing process can lead to important shifts not only in the frames themselves, but also in the impact that they have on group dynamics.

Reframing is intended to:

  • Clarify various viewpoints in order to bring about a more productive exchange of information by listening to ideas that were not previously considered. This includes expanding discussions to explore different courses of action or solutions that had not been previously addressed.
  • Enhance individuals’ understanding of their interests and how the forms of action they take are used to serve these interests, which is accomplished by examining potential processes for managing frames more productively and to reconsider patterns of interaction among other group members.
  • Identify concepts, issues, or informational areas that individuals tend to view differently, which is used to determine opportunities for compromise, negotiation or trade-offs, which can be based on these specific differences.
  • Identify differences to determine which ones cannot be bridged. As an essential part of reframing it becomes important to identify ways to reduce or eliminate areas of disagreement in a manner that does not violate these types of differences, which includes determining the degree of importance that is awarded to them.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

How Well Are You Communicating Your Vision?

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Vision communication can be thought of as expressing an ideal that represents or reflects the organization’s collectively shared values. Numerous studies have shown that leaders who enthusiastically promote and communicate their vision tend to create positive effects on employee performance, attitudes and perceptions.

Specific core components need to be incorporated to effectively communicate one’s vision. These are:

  • Displaying a charismatic, forceful, animated and confident communication style;
  • Taking action to support the implementation of the vision, such as by serving as an exemplary role model;
  • Intellectually stimulating employees and building their confidence while continuously promoting the vision.

A well thought-out vision concisely but openly expresses a leader’s values and energy. In this way, vision content is communicated through imagery that generates a vivid mental picture of possibilities in relationship to existing realities.

When communicating their vision, leaders should focus on detailing its strategic emphasis and response to necessary changes. This includes outlining expectations as to the vision’s degree of control over those changes and its relationship to employees’ self-interests, as well as combining specific needs and values into a unified and collaborative effort.

Describing the Vision in Terms of Mission, Values and Goals

Communicating a vision effectively needs to incorporate components of the leader’s organizational mission, strategy, values and goals. Leaders need to communicate the vision in such a way as to integrate all these elements and place them into a visual framework that works to guide future action. Communicating a vision needs to motivate the setting of specific task-related goals, which in turn affect and alter performance.

It is essential to maintain clarity when communicating visional direction, with goals specifically detailed and explained. As part of this communication process, statements should include imagery that is specifically related to:

  • Performance
  • Achievement and improvement
  • Future time perspectives
  • Assumptions of personal responsibility
  • Initiatives and their acceptance
  • Anticipating future possibilities

Goals should be described in desirable terms that reflect ways to address challenges or the future orientation of the organization. For example, results-focused company goals may become the equivalent of task-specific targets such as “doubling production output within the next two years.”

The Importance of Modeling the Vision

While effective communication of a vision has a direct and obvious effect on performance, it is more likely to generate indirect impacts on motivation, acceptance, and perseverance in overcoming challenges and hindrances. Indirect positive results are realized when employees know the purpose behind the vision’s structure and understand its content, attributes and interrelationships from their own personal perspective.

As simply communicating a well-formulated vision is not enough to guarantee results, leaders within the organization must “walk the talk.” As part of the communication process, leaders need to reinforce the vision’s inherent values through consistent and animated positive role modeling as well as in the way they select and work with employees, acknowledge small changes and reward successes.

Vision Needs Visibility

Leaders often tend to articulate a vision taken straight from their organization’s strategic plan or their own personal planning process. When doing this, they begin to rewrite a modified or restructured vision and mission statement, or sometimes even find themselves devising and establishing an altogether new set of organizational values. Most times these efforts only muddy the visional communication process and leave employees confused. This in turn results in hindering the goals they desire to pursue, and effective ways to achieve them.

Communication of a vision does not rely on the underlying rationale as much as it does on making exciting possibilities “visible” within the organization. Leaders can accomplish this by openly communicating and stressing the following:

  • Inspiring with a sense of passion;
  • Employee well-being as a direct benefit of the vision;
  • Vision as an adaptive tool for organizational and group survival;
  • The necessity of building and maintaining work effectiveness;
  • Courage and a willingness to take a stand;
  • The rewards of ambition and perseverance;
  • Integrity, ethics and values;
  • Generating self-esteem and emotional stability;
  • Developing patience, endurance and tolerance for ambiguity;
  • Quality decision making;
  • The importance of stimulating creative thinking and innovation;
  • The intention to utilize all employees’ functional, technical and organizational skills in pursuit of the vision;
  • Priority setting as a necessary tool to accomplish assignments, projects and tasks in a timely and effective manner.

To align and communicate vision-related responsibilities, leaders utilize terms related to organizational values and mission, exciting challenges, unified efforts, and work-related incentives to help get the attention of employees. Doing this makes the vision concrete and tangible, and sets in motion key elements for reaching the necessary goals that steadily lead to its attainment.

Excerpt: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Vision: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $16.95 USD

Related:

Five Critical Steps to Maximize Performance

Execution: Six Action Steps

Performance Plans Create Results and Maximizes Performance

Objectives Allow Managers to Focus on Obtaining Results

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

“Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

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Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald's

Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald’s

In addition to allowing themselves to have their own thinking challenged, the great leaders also challenged the thinking of others, to help them to consider all possibilities and options. Consider the example of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s). “Suppose someone comes up with a proposal that McDonald’s should serve turkey sandwiches… Everyone on the board of directors can think of nine good reasons why turkey sandwiches would be a bad thing for us. They would blow the idea out of the water immediately. But Ray would say, ‘Wait a minute; let’s examine what this might do for us. Maybe we could make it work. If not turkey sandwiches, maybe we should try turkey hash.’ He wouldn’t let go of it until all possibilities had been considered.” 1

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) illustrated this point of challenging the thought process, when he remarked, “One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints is well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored. Further, important issues should be presented in writing. Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.” 2

Peter Drucker commented, “Dissent, even conflict, is necessary, indeed desirable. Without dissent and conflict there is no understanding. And without understanding, there are only wrong decisions. To me the most fascinating parts of [Alfred] Sloan’s [General Motors] book [My Years With General Motors] are the memoranda in which he first elicits dissent and then synthesizes dissenting views into an understanding, and in the end, into consensus and commitment. Sloan implies that leadership is not charisma, not public relations, not showmanship. It is performance, consistent behavior, trustworthiness.” 3

James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) was “never one to fill his staff with employees who were afraid to state their minds, Burke enjoyed having different viewpoints on board. ‘My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,’ he told Fortune (October 24, 1988). He always wanted his employees to fight for what they believed in, without fear of repercussions.” 4

Henry Luce (Time Magazine) was known to challenge other’s thinking. It was reported, “‘Far from being pained by new ideas,’ Mr. [Hedley] Donovan [Editor in Chief – Time Magazine] said, ‘Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time.’ This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said: ‘His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once.’” 5

  1. How He Made McDonald’s Sizzle (Success Magazine, March 1, 2009)
  2. Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)
  3. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  4. Watson Stephanie, Business Biographies: James Burke (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/A-E/Burke-James-1925.html)
  5. Whitman Alden, Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Magazine Empire, Dies in Phoenix at 68 (The New York Times, March 1, 1967)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Eight Problem Solving Traps

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The process of problem solving can at first blush appear relatively simple: the difficulty is defined, facts and evidence are collected and analyzed, and a solution agreed to. However, because imperfect people make decisions, the entire process is fraught with traps that can lead to serious errors in judgment.

Problem solving is not to be taken lightly: it is a step-by-step process that when properly sequenced and followed should produce solid results. Unskilled problem solvers will often misinterpret the issues, attempting to solve symptoms rather than root causes, and makes the situation more confusing than it has to be.

It is important for individuals to understand that effective problem solving often consumes more time than most people are willing to invest. Rather than go about it properly, many just want to react and deal with the problem quickly. However, the time invested to thoroughly investigate and solve a problem more often than not produces a more successful solution—and happier employees and customers.

Individuals can easily fall into a number of common problem solving traps. The resulting consequences are often faulty decisions based on poorly framed questions, inadequate analysis and a host of other factors. Rather than solve anything, these traps often complicate the problem, making it more difficult to resolve.

‘Plunging In’

In this case, individuals begin to gather facts, data and information and form conclusions without thoroughly exploring the problem. They are in a reactive mode and desire to quickly dismiss the problem, which leads to faulty decisions based upon unsubstantiated assumptions. Such hastiness can worsen the situation and make the solution more elusive.

Wrong Problem

Individuals set out to resolve the wrong problem because they have established a mental framework for their decision with little or no forethought: they incorrectly frame the problem or use the wrong boundaries and reference points, causing them to overlook the best options or to lose focus on the issue.

Lack of Definition

Individuals fail to consciously define the problem in more than one way. In other instances, their definition is biased or unduly influenced by others.

Problems must be viewed and framed from a variety of perspectives to adequately define and resolve the problem. When definitions are limited, so are the available solutions.

Overconfidence

Individuals are too sure of their assumptions and opinions and they become overconfident, failing to collect key facts, data and information. They trust their intuition and the most readily available information or convenient facts without taking the time to fully investigate the problem.

Lack of Adequate Analysis

Rather than taking a systematic approach to problem solving, many individuals instead believe they can keep the facts straight in their heads. Consequently, they believe they are making intuitive judgments based upon the information available and don’t engage in careful analysis. Here, one often overlooks key evidence that can impact the ultimate solution.

Groups that fail to use good problem solving skills and processes can also fail to make sound decisions, or they fall into a groupthink mode where everyone agrees with one another without using critical thinking skills.

Faulty Interpretation

There are instances when people refuse to properly interpret the results of their analysis because it runs counter to their beliefs or does not fit their own set of assumptions. In other cases, pride gets in the way of arriving at an appropriate decision.

Failure to Keep Track

Many individuals assume they will automatically remember their past experiences. Research has demonstrated that when individuals maintain systematic records that they periodically review, they can distill valuable lessons that could be applied to later situations.

Failure to Have a Formal Process

People who fail to develop a formal problem solving process that they can use fairly and consistently will often repeatedly fall into the problem solving traps detailed in this lesson.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Creating a Culture of Innovation

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Hewlett-Packard Company co-founders David Packard (seated) and William Hewlett run final production tests on a shipment of the 200A audio oscillator. The picture was taken in 1939 in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California, where they began their business.  Photo courtesy of Hewlett-Packard/Newsmakers

Hewlett-Packard Company co-founders David Packard (seated) and William Hewlett run final production tests on a shipment of the 200A audio oscillator. The picture was taken in 1939 in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California, where they began their business.
Photo courtesy of Hewlett-Packard/Newsmakers

Effective leaders are the key influence in bringing about innovation and opportunity. Their search for ways to advance and grow the organization takes them far beyond the traditional structures, methods and concepts that have worked in the past. In today’s fast-paced market climate, empowering members to test new approaches and ideas is critical. This creates the innovation, creativity and opportunity needed to drive change.

The forces of change come from both inside and outside the organization: customers are the source of demand for product and service innovation; process innovation generally comes from within the organization itself and through its employee members. There are definite factors needed to create the innovation—in essence a willingness to break from past methods—to effect positive change and incremental transformations.

A major function of the leader’s role is to stimulate innovation and creativity, to bring about incremental transformations that improve an organization’s products, services and overall quality. This is necessary in order to meet both external and internal customer needs. Accomplishing this is done through developing an empowered environment that instills and reinforces innovation.

In order to create an environment conducive to the full empowerment of its members, leaders must depend on consistently influencing others while keeping all communication channels between units, divisions and upper management open. Leaders realize that employees doing the frontline work are the best resource to utilize in designing more effective processes, generating creative ideas and quality improvement concepts, and implementing the best solutions to overcome inefficiencies.

Only when employees take an active role will creative innovations, new ideas, processes, services and product improvements consistently flow within and out of the organization. Whether this state is successfully attained or not depends on whether leaders acknowledge the factors generating imagination, resourcefulness and risk taking in their employees.

There are three chief characteristics of an environment supportive of innovation, creativity and risk taking. Successful establishment of this environment is dependent upon leaders building recognition of these factors. They include:

Experimentation and Breaking Away from Constraints

Leaders are experimenters by nature. However, they need to instill this desire in employees to experiment with new approaches to old problems, to accept the challenge of trial and error. Throughout this process, leaders actively help employees remove the barriers to creativity and innovation by identifying and breaking down self-imposed constraints on personal perceptions, thinking habits and patterns.

Outsight and Insight

Because innovation depends upon creative ideas—most of them coming from outside general conventional thinking—innovation within an empowered environment depends heavily on what is referred to as “outsight.” Outsight is the ability to perceive external realities. It is the necessary forerunner to insight, or the ability to apprehend the inner nature of things. An awareness and understanding of outsight forces comes through openness and flexibility. It is up to leaders to open the doors to the world beyond conventional boundaries and expose employees to a broader spectrum of situations, problems and concerns.

Developing a ‘Hardiness Factor’

Uncertainty and risk are part of the price both leaders and employees pay for being innovative. Leaders generally thrive on uncertainty and risk, but it is often another matter for employees. To overcome feelings of insecurity in regard to these two areas, the question becomes, “How do employees within the organizational unit learn to accept the inevitable failures and accompanying stress of creative innovation and the circumstances surrounding it?” The answer rests in cultivating a sense of hardiness and resilience.

When a healthy sense of hardiness reveals itself, it will be observed through actions and beliefs mirroring the sentiment that “uncertainty and risk are more interesting than being fearful.” Employees know they do have a definite influence on specific outcomes, which motivates rather than intimidates. They see uncertainty and risk as opportunity.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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