Leadership is All About Asking the Right Questions
Five Question Frameworks Every Leader Should Know
Asking good questions is considered one of the most important skills in business. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google said, “We run the company by questions, not by answers.” According to management expert Peter Drucker, “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answer; it is to find the right question.” Quality guru Edwards Deming said, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” In short, questions unlock value in organizations.
Against this backdrop, and given the enormous amount of data companies collect and process these days, one can get the right insights from data and analytics if the right questions are asked. But how does one ask the right questions? While questions can be closed-ended or open-ended questions, open-ended questions are more valuable as they are detailed and thoughtful. But how can one ask a good open-ended question? While there are many frameworks designed to ask the right open-ended questions, here are five important question-generation frameworks. Regardless, knowing the objective or context is a prerequisite to framing the right question.
1. The 5WH Questioning Framework
The 5WH Framework is considered the basic framework in information-gathering. The 5WHs acronym stands for Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. This framework offers a quick snapshot of several stages that question the fundamental characteristics of an event, entity, situation or context. An example of the 5WH framework can be:
- Who is the customer?
- What did the customer buy?
- When did the customer buy it?
- Where did the customer buy it?
- How did the customer buy?
- Why did the customer buy it?
While the first five questions have a direct answer, the answer to the “Why” question requires a thorough analysis
2. 5-Whys Framework
The 5-Whys Framework involves repeating why five times to find the root cause of the problem. The basic idea is that each time you ask why, the answer becomes the basis of the next why. Below is a simple example of using the 5-Whys Framework to find the root cause of the problem:
Problem: Project delayed by three months
- Why didn’t the data pipeline routine get deployed on time? Because the development could not be completed on time.
- Why was the development not completed on time? Because the testing of the application took time.
- Why did testing the application take time? Because there was no quality data available to test.
- Why was data quality poor? Because data was manually entered by poorly trained users.
- Why were the users not trained? Because we don’t have a data literacy program in the company.
Root Cause: Now we know that the project was delayed by three months because there is no data literacy program in the company.
3. Bloom’s Questioning Framework
Bloom’s Questioning Framework helps to compose questions on six levels of cognitive thinking, which are: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Below is an example of the application of Bloom’s taxonomy in business:
- Knowledge - Who are our top five customers by sales order value?
- Comprehension - Compare the performance of the health drink business unit in 2017 and 2018.
- Application - What is the impact on quality when the price is reduced by 12%?
- Analysis - What are the variables that impact my retail store sales?
- Synthesis - What is the impact on sales by consolidating two sales offices?
- Evaluation - Can I issue this purchase order to this new vendor?
4. Socratic Questioning Framework
The Socratic Questioning Framework is designed to challenge the accuracy and completeness of thinking. Here is an example of applying the six types of questions:
- Clarifying concepts - What is the definition of customer acquisition cost (CAC)?
- Probing assumptions - Is the data used to calculate CAC accurately?
- Probing rationale, reasons and evidence - What is the source of data?
- Questioning viewpoints and perspectives - Is the CAC value in line with the industry standard?
- Probing implications and consequences - What would happen if the CAC value increased by 10% in the next six months?
- Questioning the question - What is the value of knowing the CAC value? What if I don’t have this information?
5. Six Thinking Hats Framework
The Six Thinking Hats Framework investigates the problem from a variety of perspectives, in a clear and conflict-free way in a team setting:
1. White hat represents the facts related to the problem of the argument. What data do we have?
2. Yellow hat helps to think about the problem optimistically. What are the advantages of staying in the current situation?
3. Black hat drives attendees to think about the problem or suggestion cautiously and defensively. For example, “What are the risks?”
4. Red hat presents the stakeholders’ feelings about the problem and their gut reactions. “What is the gut reaction?”
5. Green hat is the creative thinking part of the discussion.
6. Blue hat is the process control plan to manage difficulties during the discussions.
Each of the five frameworks has different strengths. The 5WH Framework is about getting a baseline of questions. The 5-Whys Framework uses a series of questions to find the root cause of the problem. Bloom’s Framework is to critically question the situation and the Socratic Questioning Framework is designed to bring holistic thinking. Finally, the Six Thinking Hats Framework is designed to elicit questions from the entire team. However, there could be a framing bias if the question is not formulated well, and this can result in wrong insights. However, one can address framing bias by reframing the problem from at least three different perspectives.
Albert Einstein once said, “Question everything” because questioning is a clear indicator of curiosity and critical thinking that is required to foster innovation and change. But asking good questions is an art that often takes time and effort. But with proper practice, persistence and active listening, one can master the art of good questioning and have it as a powerful tool in the business transformation tool kit. This tool will help you derive valuable insights to understand a problem better or to see an opportunity you were not aware of before.
Identify your path to CFO success by taking our CFO Readiness Assessmentᵀᴹ.
Become a Member today and get 30% off on-demand courses, tools and coaching!
For the most up to date and relevant accounting, finance, treasury and leadership headlines all in one place subscribe to The Balanced Digest.
Follow us on Linkedin!