Becoming an Organisation that Questions Everything
You are a bright, inquisitive person working for an organisation with long-established policies and work processes. You recently noticed one of those processes was not as efficient as it might be, which leads you to reasonably ask: “Why are we doing it this way? Is there a better approach?”
Experience has shown that your organisation doesn’t value or appreciate questioning – time and again, you have heard: “This is the way we’ve been doing things for 20 years. Who are you to second-guess us?” And quite often, the response has been: “Around here, we expect people to bring us answers, not questions.”
You have recently been promoted to a senior management position and innovation is key to operational success. Through extensive research, you come across an article written by McKinsey & Co, which has some interesting information on successful transformation. According to McKinsey & Co (2023), organsations that lead successful business transformations have five common characteristics. These companies do the following:
• think big by setting ambitious goals and value-creation targets (delivering 2.7 times the value initially estimated)
• act on several levels at once, with more than 50 percent of the transformation’s value generated from top-line initiatives
• move quickly and renew the pipeline, with nearly 75 percent of the value implemented during the first year
• focus on “rocks, pebbles, and sand” (that is, initiatives of all sizes); roughly 55 percent of the transformation’s
value comes from small initiatives that represent, on average, less than 0.5 percent of the full potential
• create a culture that fosters change, which leads to superior total shareholder returns (three times higher than the peer average)
Keeping the aforementioned in mind, you have also learnt that the industry has spawned several new competitors with sophisticated and innovative business models and technologies – they have fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. You have thus found it imperative to take heed of McKinsey’’s research.
You lean back reflectively and think – what are the consequences of opening the floodgates? For organisations seeking to innovate, adapt to change, and maintain an edge in fast-moving, competitive markets, a questioning culture, that accepts changes in technology, can help ensure that creativity and adaptive thinking flows throughout the organisation. From your recent studies, you have learnt that one of the ways successful organisations consistently separate themselves from the competitive pack is by critically examining and improving the business model from end to end. This requires leadership and it doesn’t happen overnight – it could take several months to change the culture to one of questioning and, ideally innovation.
You take out a sheet of paper and start to put some ideas down. How can the organisation create an environment where people are more inclined to question and accept changes? Is it possible to encourage the “right kind” of questions – the ones most likely to lead to productive results?
You decide to carry out some research into “a culture of enquiry” and find four key observations by reputable authors on the subject (Goldberg et al., in Berger, 2014):
1. A culture of enquiry starts at the top with leaders who question. Today’s business leaders should take on the role of being the chief question-asker. Not easy, since leaders are customarily the ones who provide the answers. Leaders who ask questions well won’t just ask highly practical and interrogative questions such as: “How much is it going to cost us?” or “Who is responsible for this problem?” They will ask more open and exploratory questions – the kind that can help anticipate what’s coming and where new opportunities lie, enabling the organisation to move in new directions. Leaders should use questioning to solicit inputs from people throughout the organisation, using surveys and other tools to ask employees: “We are thinking of doing this – what do you think we should do?” At the same time leadership should be willing to answer tough questions – from all levels and departments. At Google’s weekly TGIF sessions all employees are invited to submit questions to the company’s top executives and the one voted up by the rest of the organisation (often the toughest, most controversial questions) are then fielded on the spot by the bosses. It sets the tone that anyone can ask anything of anyone else.
2. Questioning should be rewarded (or at least, not punished). To encourage company-wide questioning your research says: “It’s not about slogans or putting up posters on the wall – it’s about the systems and the incentives you create to promote the behaviour”. You put a big question mark next to the following advice: “Companies should direct more budgetary resources to those who are exploring unanswered questions, conducting promising experiments, and taking intelligent risks and not to the person with the most confident, best plan or the person with no failures on their record”. You recall just recently how your colleague enquired about a problem and was told: “You found the problem now it’s your job to fix it”.
That was a sure way to get her to stop finding problems and asking questions. Perhaps the better approach would have been to ask her how much she’d like to be involved in working on the issue with the understanding that she would be given time and support as needed and that even if they never found a perfect answer to the question she would have earned credit by asking it.
3. Give people time and space to question deeply. The literature you read says that people need to “step back” from day-to-day tasks in order to tackle deeper questions and problems. The various well-publicised personal time policies adopted at companies such as Google, 3M, and W.L. Gore allowing people to devote 10-20% of their time to “passion projects” have yielded innovative and marketable ideas. Arguably to get to those breakthroughs people do need room to pursue ambitious questions that may not be part of their everyday work.
4. Provide the tools to question well. Questioning is a skill and a way of thinking. Your research indicates that it is employees’ abilities to organise their thinking around what they don’t know that is most valuable. Reflective thinking and the use of multiple question techniques is an important area for cognitive development (eg 5- Whys). Of course, there is the chance that the organisation could be flooded with poor quality questions so guiding employees to questions rooted in deep critical thinking about the particular challenges and issues of the organisation, its customers, and its industry will be key.
Armed with your preliminary research, you meet with other senior managers to discuss the need to take the organisation into the future.
Design and propose an organisational development strategy for the scenario provided above, focusing in particular on the following three sections: (25 marks)
• Financial performance,
• Customer satisfaction &
• Organisational member engagement
In your proposal, evaluate the role strategy, structure, systems, and organisational culture will play in organisational development. (25 marks)
Identify change management and other issues that may arise and strategies to overcome these. (25 marks)
Your proposal should conclude with ethical considerations in identifying, formulating and implementing the organisational development intervention. (25 marks)
Answers to Above Questions on Organisational Development
Answer 1: An organisation development strategy is the one that takes into consideration the attainment of proper alignment between the goals of a company and the effort contributed by its employees through knowledge creation and innovation. In the given case scenario, it is important to consider the important areas including financial performance, employee development and participation, and customer satisfaction as a part of the organisational development strategy.
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