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?

 

 

In pursuit of Best Practice – Intrapreneurship

This article first appeared on Procurious.com as a guest blog contribution. You can find the original blog post here.

 

At its simplest, Best Practice means we are doing our job better than others. …that might translate to closing deals faster, achieving consistently good negotiated results, establishing terms and change processes that support high-performance relationships or realizing results that regularly exceed expectations. So we want to be better, faster, contributing greater value, making fewer mistakes” Notes on “What do we mean by Best Practice” by IACCM

As already elaborated here, an essential aspect for becoming successful in the future, is Creativity.

The term, Creativity, most probably conjures up images of successful Entrepreneurs that have a vision and the courage to pursue their dreams.

Outstanding Entrepreneurship is a well-defined quality behind every successful organisation.

Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson are followed and their ideas celebrated in the public domain.

However, it would most likely be better for an organisation to not only try to maintain its competitive edge on the ideas of one or even a handful of forward thinking individuals, but also find ways to tamper into the creativity and ideas of every one of its employees.

Hence, organisations should also look into the promotion and support of Intrapreneusrship.

Read on if you want to find out more about this idea, as well as, get to learn about one way to harvest the concept of Intrapreneurship as a means to pursue Best Practice within your own organisation.

Outside the box

Intrapreneurship

Jeroen de Jong and Sander Wennekers explored the concept here.According to them:

“Intrapreneurship refers to employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new, without being asked to do so.”

There are a few companies that actively promote intrapreneurial behaviour e.g. Google  allows its employees to spend up to 20% of their time to pursue projects of their choice.3M and Intel appear to have programs towards similar promotions (see here).

However, intrapreneurship is not only about the pursuit of new products and revenue streams.

Intrapreneurship contains an element of innovation. Innovation refers to the production and implementation of useful ideas, including the adaptation of products or processes from outside an organization. As Antoncic and Hisrich highlights (here)

“Intrapreneurship is about “emergent behavioural intentions and behaviours that are related to departures from the customary ways of doing business in existing organizations”

In other terms Intrapreneurship is about the pursuit of Best Practice.

In parallel, it is also important to note that the support of the practice of Intrapreneurship also helps maintain engaged teams that always challenge themselves and evolve the organisational practices, processes and results (read more about team engagement here and here).

Ideas Charter (a simple and practical way to pursue Best Practice)

As part of an effort to promote employee engagement and Intrapreneurial behaviours, I developed the Ideas Charter.

This is a simple process which ensures that all new ideas are captured, evaluated, and then through a process that promotes and supports undertaking innovative projects, implemented.

The Ideas Charter Process works like this.

i) A champion is assigned to capture all ideas that can enhance processes or contribute to efficiency and effectiveness in a simple spreadsheet called the Ideas Charter (see template here). This is done on a non judgmental way to the perceived value of the ideas i.e. following Edward De Bono’s six hat definition – by wearing a green hat.

ii) The ideas are then evaluated and validated by a selected committee and approved or not approved for further development.

iii) If an idea is approved, then that idea is made available as a potential candidate for a future side project to be done by a team member or a team.

iv) Every two months the team is asked to select a side project to work on. Each team member is encouraged to pick one of the Ideas in the Ideas Charter and work on it. A due date is allocated.

v) At the end of the allocated period each member presents his/her side project along with a benefits analysis.

vi) The side project outcome is placed into production. This outcome  could be a change in process, a development of a business case i.e.  it could be anything that promotes efficiency or effectiveness.

vii) After 3 side projects are completed and presented, the team is given the opportunity to vote for the best one. The winner is celebrated.

This is a simple but effective way to work towards Best Practice in small teams. From personal experience this concept has the power to engage the team and also to elevate the level of efficiency and effectiveness as delivered by its outputs.

Finally, it works towards Yves Morieux’s vision elaborated in his presentation about “How to Develop a Winning organisation” – see here . Yves eloquently summarised his position as below:

“The real battle is not against competitors. The real battle is against ourselves. Against our bureaucracy, against our complicatedness” – Yves Morieux

What systems do you have in place to promote and support the pursuit of Best Practice?

 

 

 

Image courtesy of glendale inquiry

 

Procurement as a differentiator – Part 3 (what kind of differentiation?)

In a previous post (Part 1) I explored an expanded definition of what Procurement is becoming and then how it can become the link between Customer Demand and Supplier Innovation.

Then (Part 2), how Procurement’s potential could reinforce the basic Strategies of Organizational differentiation.

In this post I will explore in more detail what this differentiation could look like.

Innovation Anna betts

C. PROCUREMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION

The argument that Procurement can become a key Differentiator is supported by the fact that Innovation is a key contributor of business growth and that Procurement can be a great curator and creator of Innovation.

Jimmy Anklesaria in his great book “Supply Chain Cost Management” posits that Procurement should:

“leverage [the] collective intelligence of the extended enterprise (your customers and their customers, your suppliers and their suppliers), and generate substantial results”.

and also that

the next generation of cost management is: “breakthrough solutions”.

C1. COST LEADERSHIP AS A DIFFERENTIATOR

Jimmy Anklesaria also highlights the fact that genuine cost management is different from cost cutting.

Indeed, genuine Cost Management does look at the business as a whole and asks questions like:

-Do we really need this service?

-What is the value this service provides to the business?

-Is there a better way of doing this?

Moreover, he stresses the importance for Procurement to move towards embracing a Strategic perspective as, according to him, successful Cost Management will be the key differentiator in the future:

“So, here we are in the twenty-first century. What will differentiate your firm from its competition? Will it be technology? Or maybe it’ll be quality and reliability? Perhaps speed of delivery? Or excellent customer service? Or do you think your firm is the onoly one in the industry doing e-business? The answer,…, is that nowadays, frequent technological breakthroughs, high quality, reliability, on time delivery, top customer service, and e-business are merely the prerequisites for being in the global race for market share. Today’s customer expects this from a supplier; rather, demands it. And there are enough firms around the world that have overcome the “preliminary rounds” of technology, quality, reliability, delivery, service and e-business.

So, why should they choose your firm?

In a few years the only differentiation will be cost. Companies that best manage their costs through the entire supply chain to bring you the latest technology, best quality with on-time delivery at a price lower than the others will take home the prize-your check. There is no prize for coming second”.

C2. INNOVATION AS A DIFFERENTIATOR

Now, reflecting on the power of Innovation to drive growth we find evidence in Kate Vitasek’s reminder of Solow’s Law that states that business growth is driven by innovation.

Specifically,

“The population and the labour supply grow at a constant rate and capital intensity (or capital per employee) can be regulated. But without technological progress, Solow continued, growth rates for capital, labour and total production would all be about the same. As a result, technological development would be the motor for economic growth over the long haul. In Solow’s model, if continuous technological progress can be assumed, growth in real incomes will be determined by technological progress”. (Kate Vitasek, outsourcemagazine)

But probably the most important contribution Solow demonstrated was that only a small proportion of annual growth could be explained by increased inputs of labour and capital. Just how small? Thirteen percent.

In other words technological growth makes the crucial difference when it comes to economic growth – a whopping 87 percent. Now keep in mind technological growth happens in two ways: product and process improvements.

For both these ways, Procurement can play a pivotal role.

This notion is also reinforced by the view of Cavinato and Kauffman when they detail Technology Advancement (e.g. Product and/or Process Improvement) and Supply Chain Synchronization (e.g. Process Improvement) among the four key trends that will most likely fundamentally shape tomorrow’s procurement practices (here). The other two key trends being Globalisation and Industry Consolidation.

 

CONCLUSION

I think that the above amounts to a strong argument for Procurement to be one of the primary differentiators for the organisations of tomorrow. Utilizing the Procurement function towards clever Cost Management and stimulating Innovation will mean that organizations will empower a yet not fully explored source of creativity and immense potential.

 

Where do you think Procurement will be and should be by 2020?

 

 

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Image courtesy of Anna Betts/ www.flickr.com

 

Procurement as a differentiator – Part 2

In the previous post (here) I explored an expanded definition of what Procurement is and how it can evolve into becoming the link between Customer Demand and Supplier Innovation.

It is important though to also explore the Procurement potential through the lens of Michael Porter’s model of Organisational Success in an effort to understand how the basic Strategies of differentiation could be reinforced through the Procurement profession.

Michael Porter

Michael Porter

B) PORTER AND COUSINS MODEL FOR ORGANISATIONAL SUCCESS

Michael Porter in his seminal book “Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance” describes three generic strategies for businesses.

These are:

“”Cost Leadership” (no frills), “Differentiation” (creating uniquely desirable products and services) and “Focus” (offering a specialized service in a niche market)”. (mindtools)

The above easily brings to mind the airline Tigerair reputed for low cost, 3M reputed for innovation and Qantas which with the formation of Jetstar pursued the “Focus” strategy (niche market differentiation).

Reflecting on this model it is evident that Procurement can clearly respond to 2 out of 3 of Porter’s differentiation strategies i.e. Cost Leadership and Differentiation and can affect the 3rd one.

B1. COST LEADERSHIP

Cost management and cost cutting has been an archetypal quality for Procurement.

 

B2. DIFFERENTIATION

I believe that the second differentiator i.e. Innovation, is the next frontier. Procurement can and is slowly moving

from

“purchasing goods and services at competitive prices”

to

also focusing on cost reduction techniques, improving cycle times, reducing time-to-market, and constantly seeking to exploit actual and potential innovations from within the supply market. 

Moreover, in the current environment, and considering Strategic Supply Management, the Organization should constantly re-evaluate what is core and what could be outsourced. So, Make or Buy decisions will become more common.

As Cousins et al, highlights:

“Supply strategy is increasingly a factor in identifying the organization’s boundaries. Supply management assumes responsibility for developing and implementing supply structures that will sustain the competitive position of the firm” (Cousins P. et al, 2008, Strategic Supply Management)

B3. CAVEAT

The necessary caveat of course is that the Organization views and enables Procurement to function in a strategic and collaborative way, internally and externally, and that the Organization has and is clearly communicating the preferred differentiation strategy it has chosen to all, so, that alignment of goals and business unit strategies is ensured.

 

In the next and final post of this three-part series, I will explore this differentiation could look like.

 

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia / www.wikipedia.com