Questions based consultancy

Earlier this month I attended a business retreat with my forum which is always a wonderful way to assess my current understanding of the way we run the business, as well as an introduction to new strategies and tools. While going through my notes and reflecting on the lessons learned, my thoughts circled back to the importance of questions.

Human beings learn though the mechanism of questions. Every parent (or older sibling) has experienced the relentless barrage of questions that toddlers and young children ask. This is how we learn. Sometimes asking the same question over and over again until there is a satisfactory answer, or at least a consistent answer (which will be the lesson in itself). 

For some reason though, during our school and college years most of us stop asking questions. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been told it’s annoying, or the question is ‘stupid’. When we attend conferences, seminars or webinars we don’t want to ask questions as we don’t want to be seen as the only person who doesn’t understand what the speaker is talking about. When you’re lucky there is the opportunity to email or text the speaker to ask the question in private, but most of the time you will be left with the unsatisfactory feeling of unanswered questions and not fully grasping the topic at hand and its impact on your life.

On the other side of the spectrum it seems that people who continue to ask questions are the ones who tend to keep an open mind and a healthy desire for life long learning. 

I believe that the moment we stop asking questions is the moment we stop learning. 

Whenever we are in a new situation, or faced with a new challenge or topic, it’s important to ask questions to analyse the situation. Or to analyse the amount of learning it requires to become skilled and experienced in this new topic. Most of the times, the questions are needed to be able to make a conscious decision.

On the other hand there are also people who think they have all the answers, and as such don’t need to ask as many questions (apart from the questions that make them look superior or to confirm that they have a well developed understanding of the subject) . But I seriously question if it is really possible to have ALL the answers? After all, the world is constantly changing and evolving… shouldn’t we evolve as well? And if we are to evolve with the changing nature of our environment, doesn’t that mean that we need to continue to ask questions? Even if it is to challenge the status quo. To understand if there is a better way to do things. Or a more elegant/subtle/more effective way to complete a task.

For this reason I have learned to approach my consultancy assignments from a questions based philosophy. 

To get a solid understanding of the situation, and where I can help or add value, I need to ask questions:

  • Clarifying questions on the best experiences to share.
  • Clarifying questions to identify the maturity or understanding of a certain topic.
  • Clarifying questions to be able to understand where they are ‘stuck’ and what the impact is of this situation.
  • Clarifying questions to identify what the nature of the pain is and how / if we can help

But that’s not all – while working with the client there will be many more questions at every stage of the project. 

  • Leading questions as part of an educational experience or workshop
  • Leading questions to help the other person to arrive at a specific point / thought
  • Checkpoint questions to confirm that we’ve covered all the steps that needed to be completed before going to the next stage of the project.

In the past 20 years I’ve mentioned many times that my favourite English word is WHY. Why is such a powerful word. Keep asking WHY helps you to dig deeper and to get a richer understanding of the true underlying problem. This helps to guide the implementation teams to understand which way to utilise resources more efficiently and not waste time and energy on superficial solutions that won’t provide any benefits in the long run.

Helping professionals unleash their potential

Asking questions doesn’t come naturally to everybody, especially when you’re a bit self-conscious about the questions you ask based on previous experiences. Being put on the spot about a specific subject can be stressful (to say the least). Your brain stops working and you simply can’t think of a smart or clever thing to ask.

That’s why we created the Self Assessment Toolkits. We want to help you unleash your potential….. through the power of questions. 

Each toolkit has hundreds of questions you can ask at various stages in you consultancy assignment or implementation project that help you get a better understanding and to bring focus to the implementation project at hand.

No need to stress about asking the right questions – simply choose one or a number of the questions from the toolkit and use it as a pre-project information gathering exercise, or use the questions as part of your project brief.

These questions can be used for conversation starters in meetings, or as the basis for your presentation to the stakeholders and/or executive teams. Armed with these questions you can go to the various subject matter experts in the company to identify where knowledge is stored and to what level the business processes are created, documented, measured and controlled.

What type of questions can you expect?

Each toolkit has questions that are sorted by business process maturity level:

  • Recognise
  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyse
  • Improve
  • Control
  • Sustain

There is also a folder with checklists that include questions based on specific topics that are appropriate for the subject of the Toolkit.

Lastly, there is a folder with resources to help you with your implementation projects. These resources go beyond the questions and offer templates for every stage of your project. A valuable resource irrespective of the type of project you do, or the project management methodology you may use.

Let’s have a look at an example toolkit to recognise the various styles of questions that are included in the Self Assessment Toolkits to help you in your professional career.

For more information on our Self Assessment Toolkits, and to discuss how you can benefit from the questions based consultancy products, contact us.

Like the toolkits? Sign up for The Art of Service Membership and automatically receive 60% discount on every toolkits you purchase in the next 12 months.

Written by: Ivanka Menken
Owner / co-Founder The Art of Service Pty Ltd (since Feb 2000)

Prior to founding The Art of Service, Ivanka was a management consultant in The Netherlands – working with companies in the Finance/insurance industry as well as government owned corporations.