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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.

 

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WHAT'S THE QUESTION?

two-people-listening_596057Too often managers come up with great “solutions” but when applied it doesn’t really solve the problem. One of the most common mistakes managers make trying to solve a problem is ask the wrong question. Great answers, but wrong questions


Hudson Guild is one of the oldest and largest non profit organizations operating in the Chelsea area of Manhattan in New York City. With a “collaborative community building” approach, Hudson Guild is committed to addressing common interests and needs based on social shared values. For more than 100 years, they work to make more accessible information, skills and opportunities to learn and grow to community members creating and strengthening “the social fabric that binds a community and enable its members to succeed in both good and bad times.”


 

 

This organization with around 150 staff members and 250 volunteers had a problem: Only a few of its clients were taking full advantage of the services available. Day care clients, for example, might benefit from ESL programs whereas job counselling clients might benefit from family counselling. In fact, many people who may benefit from programs were missing out simply because they were unaware that the service existed.

 

Hudson Guild’s executives believed that an advertising program might help promote the organizational services and inform the community on how they can access the many available services.

In order to answer the question: “How might we develop an advertising program to promote our service to the community?”, Hudson Guild organized a creative thinking laboratory. As they were working on how clients could access the full range of services whenever they needed to, a side conversation developed about the variable quality of the guild’s programs.

 

Although people were proud of their own service offering, they were unsure about the quality of the services provided by their colleagues. Furthermore, they didn’t have essential information about other services available. For example, one of the day care managers said that she would not refer Spanish-speaking clients to the mental health program because its services were available only in English. However, the director of this program said that although that had been true some years earlier, his staff now served clients in several languages including Spanish.

 

Further discussion revealed that each of the guild’s services, having evolved separately to meet emerging community needs, was operating with poor communication and coordination among programs and consequently with a very poor understanding of other guild offerings. Once that was revealed, a different question emerged that lead down a very different strategic path. The problem might not be that the community didn’t know enough about Hudson Guild but rather that Hudson Guild didn’t know enough about itself.

 

Instead of “How might we develop an advertising program to promote our service to the community?” the Hudson Guild’s team began to explore a very different question: “How might we know ourselves better so that we can feel comfortable referring clients to one another?” In a few hours, the group developed a Hudson Guild “ambassador” program, job sharing, and ongoing interdepartmental education. Instead of spending money on an external advertising campaign, Hudson Guild began a comprehensive client referral program. The result was a better understanding of client’s needs and expectations, more effective service offering, increased program use, and a dramatic improvement of its staff performance.

 

Too often, managers ask the wrong questions. Specifying the question is the most crucial step in order to solve the problem. You can plan your strategy carefully, allocate the best resources and even spend more money than ever before. But if you are answering the wrong question, at the end you will be wasting time and resources. Spending enough time to find the right question gives you a chance to hold back and not jump to assumptions about what the problem is. It is too easy to start off with obvious and often incorrect problem statements. But, if you start with the wrong problem, it’s unlikely you’ll ever arrive at an effective solution. Tim Hurson, an expert in productive thinking and innovation says: “one of the most common reasons that programs, products, and change initiatives don’t work is that the wrong question has been asked.”

 

Most of the times, solving a problem within an organizational environment requires that we do not rush to answer but to hang back, to keep questioning even when the answer seems so clear and obvious. One of the characteristics of good leaders is their ability to explore the symptoms in-depth in order to identify the right question, resisting the temptation of start working on quick answers.