Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | August 7, 2012

Better Questions Lead to Change Management

Better Questions Lead to Change Management
By Martha Finney
(on behalf of the PIHRA Foundation)

Researchers and IT professionals know this simple, but profound, truth: Better questions lead to better answers. Do your own people know this? The question they bring to you may not be the question that will lead them to the success scenario that would really help your organization fulfill its potential.  So, as a leader tasked with taking your company to a better future (the ultimate better “answer”), one of your responsibilities is to make very sure that your people are asking the absolute best questions they can.

That’s change leadership, which elevates your role in the company far above change management (which all your competitors are focusing on; too bad for them).  This is going to take some nerve on your part. So Jeff Nally, Organization Developer–Executive Coaching for Humana, Inc., offers these keys to breakthrough change leadership:

Slow down by asking powerful exploratory questions.  Instead of immediately diving into the presenting problem, ask your people, “How clear is your thinking about this issue right now?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how big a priority is this for you right now? What would make it a 10 for you?” “Cast yourself into the future, three weeks from now. Do you expect this to be as important then as it feels to you now?” “What new ideas have you already had that you would do well to acknowledge before you figure out what other solutions there might be to this immediate problem?”

Make sure that their assumptions are up to date, not stuck in yesterday. Remind them (and keep in mind yourself) that so much is changing in business so quickly, that yesterday’s critical variables could be completely irrelevant today.  What old assumptions, experiences, facts, or feelings are they carrying forward to the current day that no longer exist or might be holding them back in some way? What is the negative dominant logic that they can set aside or get rid of entirely so that they can have fresh thinking about the problems before them today?

Help all your employees (not just your leaders) refresh their thinking around who they are, what direction their career is going in, what will fulfill them.  The question, “What do you really want?” might result in a sardonic laugh and immediate response, “to hold on to my job.”  Granted, depending on what’s going on in your company and market at the time, that might be the best instant response. But as soon as you can get people to look up from the initial problem, be their coach to improve their own thinking about their crucial decisions around career and life.  This could be your most valuable tool for engaging people and retaining your essential talent for the long run.

Don’t just manage change. Lead it. Use these keys to lead your organization’s approach to planning its future.  And you’ll probably find that your own career blossoms as old questions make way for exciting answers to new ones.

Bio:  Martha Finney is an employee engagement consultant, speaker and creator of the CareerLandscapes team-building workshop.  She is also the author of The Truth About Getting the Best From People and co-author (with Libby Sartain) of HR From the Heart. This article was originally published on the website HR Career Success; reprinted with permission.  For more information, contact


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