Most small business owners are used to giving answers, not asking questions. If you followed around some of the world’s top CEOs and leaders, you would find the exact opposite is true. The best leaders are great at asking questions, so that the best ideas win and the best answers quickly become evident, even if they arise from the least-expected team members.
Management expert Peter Drucker was well-known for asking smart questions like, “What changes have recently happened that don’t fit what everyone knows?” Read that question again and let it sink in for a minute.
Most leaders start their meetings with assumptions, biases and beliefs about their market. They see any change in the market as something to be dealt with based on their existing talents and tools. They almost never assume the solution is entirely out of their wheelhouse. They simply go about fitting every “nail” to their hammer. Drucker’s question, however, forces you to stop and ask what you don’t know.
If revenue and profit are up this quarter, why? Start with what you might not know. Maybe there’s a new employer in your area offering excellent dental insurance. That might be the unknown source of your good fortune. Perhaps the referral campaign you did 60 days ago is finally catching up with busy schedules and parents who want to get their kids into the dentist before school starts again in the fall. Maybe consumer confidence has a lot to do with your growth, etc.
The list should be long of possible reasons why something different is happening in your business, but you’ll never articulate the real reason if leadership insists on giving answers instead of asking smart questions.
Here are five of Drucker’s questions to ask of your team at your next meeting:
- What is our mission?
- Who is our customer?
- What does our customer value?
- What are our results?
- What is our plan?
Too many small business owners can’t articulate a powerful and meaningful reason why they exist in the marketplace other than the fact that they want to earn a living and they like what they do. I’m sorry, but the market doesn’t care that you like to straighten teeth or perform surgery or help clients with legal problems. The market only cares how much value you can deliver in solving problems for consumers.
Too many small business owners are unclear about exactly whom they serve. When I was in private practice, we were crystal clear when we stopped treating adult patients. We’ve never looked back and we continued to grow, even by carving out 25% of our previous new patient flow. We knew exactly whom we served and we knew precisely what they valued.
Finally, what is your plan and how will everyone in your organization know if you’re making progress? Drucker says, “Progress and achievement can be appraised in qualitative and quantitative terms. These two types of measures are interwoven – they shed light on one another – and both are necessary to illuminate in what ways and to what extent lives are being changed.” Know what your results are and how to measure them.
If you need some inspiration in making your next quarter one of your best ever, stop coming to the table with all the answers and instead start asking better questions. Set the framework and keep asking, “What more can we do to delight our patients?” Your team will have answers. Give them the freedom and motivation to pursue them in service of your mission.