Inspiring collection wisdom for greater decision-making

Source: Leo GUAN Date:2020-03-13



emlyon Global DBA participant


President coach and business consultant of VISTAGE

Independent Director of CH’MEI and Forbon

Anchor of "Using questions to motivate team performance"

Hello everyone, I ’m Leo. Welcome to watch my live streaming and thank emlyon business school, SJTU Overseas Study Club, KNX Mado, Noteman Update School, I Love Class, Eddic and other organizations for your support.

Today, I will cover 3 topics.

Here’s the first topic:

Positive mindset and brainstorming multiply the efficiency of management meetings and decision-making

What are the common characteristics of inefficient decision-making? Here are some of my findings as a CEO coach:

  • The boss has the say, while the others are either echoing or silent.
  • Start to solve the problem in a hurry, without defining the problem;
  • Unable to gain insight into the problem and spend too much time on a wrong problem;
  • Although the nature of the problem is identified, the root cause is unclear, so the solution is not effective;
  • Hesitate among a bunch of alternatives;
  • Even if the meeting has identified the action plan, it isn’t implemented immediately;
  • The meeting is full of debates, with different opinions and even accusations, which prevents a strategic consensus;

Solution? Here are three practical tips I often use at Vistage-China Group:

Tip 1 Stay positive and set rules before the meeting

I’d like to share the principle I’ve learned at Vistage.

One of the world's leading CEO development organizations, Vistage has focused on improving the career achievements and life quality of CEOs since 1957, with nearly 30,000 CEO members in 19 countries and territories. The Vistage Group is not only known as the originator of the private board model, but also the only best-practice practitioner in the world. Vistage creates a unique, trustworthy, peer-to-peer and interactive learning environment that can express deep-seated ideas, bring CEOs and executives the leadership needed to look at the big picture and train them to become more outstanding leaders.

When I organize group meetings and host executive meetings, I stick the above principle on the wall of the meeting room. Why?

In the coaching business, we all know that mindset determines behaviors, which lead to results. If the meeting participants do not have a positive mindset, the inefficient meeting I just mentioned will occur.

If the meeting can follow these rules, the atmosphere and efficiency of the entire process will be different. As a coach and moderator, I have the right to require each participant to abide by the above rules. Here are a few examples:

  • Show your weakness: When you are able to show your weakness, you will help other participants open their hearts and speak frankly. No one is willing to tell the truth to a self-righteous person.
  • Comply with the timeframe: Everyone speaks an average of 1-3 minutes. If you are too voluminous, I will intervene, otherwise the meeting will deviate the schedule;
  • Actively ask questions and be concise: Asking questions is a prerequisite for efficient decision-making. Everyone can only raise one question, unless the room is completely silent. And you must answer the questions concisely so that others can remember what you said;
  • Open to different perspectives: I once went to a well-known company and host a project strategy workshop. An executive asked me why I need this rule. shared my experience, that is, participants must be curious. The real wisdom comes from participants sitting down and sincerely discussing with each other. It isn’t a zero-win situation. If you come to the meeting with Idea A and go out with the same idea, not willing to listen to Idea B of others, it will be detrimental to your personal growth and destroy the atmosphere at the meeting. In essence, a stubborn manager who does not listen is not actually a competent manager;

Tip 2 An efficient meeting assigns roles beforehand

In a group meeting at Vistage, the coach acts as the host and controls the pace and atmosphere of the entire decision-making process. Meanwhile, the coach will select several participants as assistants. For example, a timekeeper controls the meeting time, a rule officer decides whether the entire meeting follows the rules on the wall, a quote officer records the wise words of the participants and the parking lot officer sums up some irrelevant topics that have emerged during the meeting. Before the end of the meeting, if there is still time, the discussion continues. If out of time, you can make another appointment to discuss later. It is designed to ensure that the meeting will proceed according to the set agenda and will not go off track.

Tip 3 Efficiency is evaluated at the end of each meeting

At the end of each meeting, everyone will use a formatted "meeting evaluation form" to rate each of the rules and the efficiency of the meeting. Take the rule of time for an example. Use a 1-5 scale, in which 1 is the worst and 5 is the best. Each person chooses the right rating. If your rating is as low as 2, you need to propose how to improve next time. The purpose of the evaluation is to remind participants of the meeting rules and continuously improve meeting efficiency.

The positive mindset I just mentioned is the prerequisite to make efficient decisions and solve tough problems. Each participant shall hold the correct mentality for the meeting. Otherwise, even if they have strong capabilities and insights, the whole meeting will act like a runaway wild horse, unable to move forward correctly.

Not only efficient meetings call for a positive mindset. In fact, the mindset determines the success or failure of individuals, teams and organizations. A mindset is the underlying thinking of every person. If there is a cognitive blind spot, it will easily narrow your viewpoint and it is difficult to communicate well with others. A mindset is categorized into personal mindset and team mindset. Here is a book for you, "Smart Leadership and Efficient Team" by by Roger Schwartz, a well-known expert in team mindset. Last year, I translated this book along with Liu Bin, my schoolmate at CEIBS. It is hoped that a team and an organization will have a basic understanding of team mindset, thereby helping themselves to get out of trouble and achieve good performance.

Next is: The importance of brainstorming for efficient decision-making

The wisdom of the team must be greater than the sum of personal opinions. I have learned a lot about this from Vistage, Robert Deertz, the world's NLP master, Richard Hackman, Professor at Harvard and other experts.

More than 60 years ago, Robert North, founder of Vistage, met a few executives and finally came up with a simple but revolutionary idea, that is, sharing knowledge and experience with each other and helping their companies get better results. Soon, this group of business leaders began to discuss, ask questions and give advices to their peers. They challenged each other, worked together to solve problems and sought development. At that time, the first decision-maker leadership program in the world was born. They called it Technical Exchange Committee (TEC), the predecessor of Vistage. Unlike business schools and training institutions, Vistage gives companies and executives an important and differentiated weapon to “accelerate” personal growth. Each Vistage member appreciates the importance of people different from their own views and experiences and helps themselves by helping others.

And Robert Deerz said that a team needs resonance, synergy and derivation. Resonance is what we have in common and where we are connected. Synergy is the difference between you and me and how to complement. Derivation explores whether there is any other possibility and what's new through interaction.

Therefore, truly smart leaders inspire collective wisdom rather than using personal power, otherwise individuals, teams and organizations will soon encounter growth bottlenecks.

Next, let me talk about the second topic: 6-step framework for problem-solving and efficient decision-making

One of the most classic services of Vistage is to help CEOs solve problems. When I first became a CEO coach, I went to Vistage US headquarters for training. The mentors I met were all the top CEO coaches in the world. I learned from them the most professional techniques to solve problems with collective wisdom. The essence of this process is that different stakeholders look at the same problem from different dimensions and it is important to challenge assumptions by asking questions.

Based on this process, while also referring to the tools of problem analysis, problem-solving and decision-making, I developed a 6-step framework of global problem-solving last year, as shown below:

Step 1: Discover the problem
Step 2: Define the underlying problem
Step 3: Probe the root cause
Step 4: Develop a strategy
Step 5: Evaluate the strategy
Step 6: Take actions and accountability

Let’s take a pause. Which of the six steps is the most important for efficient decision-making and difficult problem-solving?

Steps 1 and 2, that is, discover and define the problem. Many people think that Step 6 is the most important, so many managers focus on team execution. However, the source of poor team execution is that the team has not yet learned the nature of the problem.

But at work, many people are used to solving problems before they are discovered, and the results are often futile.

Remember the story of blind men touching an elephant? Everyone thinks that what they have touched is an entire elephant, so they hold their own opinions and argue with each other. People who can't discover the problem are like blind men, who see the problem one-sidedly.

In fact, if a problem cannot be solved, 80% of the reason is that the problem is not discovered. Therefore, to solve a problem, you must first discover it. As an efficient manager, discovering the problem is more important than solving it! In the past, when I was a consultant, I was proud to help customers solve problems. I provided what clients needed me to provide. Only recently did I realize that what is really most valuable to customers is to help them discover problems, break through the blind spot and realize new possibilities. Thus, I am glad to help clients find problems as a business coach these years.

For example, a few years ago, a traditional fund manager approached me for consulting on Internet finance, hoping that I could help them plan Internet marketing for new products. In fact, after the project started, it was not Internet marketing that restricted the rapid growth of this new product. Because the development of new products was subject to the influence of the industry system at that time, marketing efforts only achieved half the results. The true priority was to sort out the product. Experts will help clients plan marketing solutions, while business coaches will guide clients to understand the underlying problems.

And what does it mean to define the underlying problem?

To define the underlying problem is to find out the real problem underneath. What does it mean? It is to ask further questions on the problem discovered. You have to find out what the root cause of the problem is.

A little joke first. If you are a girl and someone comes to tell you that your husband and your best girlfriend fell into the water, which one will you save first?

The answer is not who won't swim. You should at least think about it. Why did they both fall into the water? What is the story behind the story? If you know it, maybe you won’t save any of them :) This joke tells you the importance of defining the underlying problem. Don't make a move immediately when you encounter something, but first find the underlying problem.

Peter Drucker, a management guru, once said,

The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.

To discover the right problem, you must clearly define what is the underlying problem, otherwise the correct solution is invalid and becomes a huge waste of resources.

Therefore, before solving the problem, you must first discover the problem, starting with defining the underlying problem, by asking questions.

The most important part of Vistage's problem-solving process is to discover and redefine the problem. Without answer, this part helps you discover the problem by asking questions.

Why can we only ask questions instead of advices in these two parts critical to decision-making?

In “Learning to Solve Problems”, D. H. Jonassen, an expert of teaching design in USA and a representative of constructivism, says that questioning is the most basic cognitive element, which is used to guide people's reasoning. It is to say that asking questions is the core of solving almost all complex problems, while asking questions is the key to finding problems.

OK, now let ’s talk about the core topic of this live streaming: How to inspire the team to think deeply by asking questions and empowering the team to understand the underlying issues behind the problem. This topic is very important for a manager, because if your subordinates encounter problems and come to you for answers without thinking over, you will be in misery, because you have to do everything by yourself and your subordinates will not grow up.

Many of the listeners in this live streaming event are students who have listened to my 30 online lectures on “Encouraging High Team Performance with Questions”. I will now reveal the answer to the question raised in the fifth lecture, “Define Underlying Problems | Discover the Essential Issues Behind the Problem”.

This is a real case. I went to a company for a two-day seminar on defining the underlying problem. One subordinate mentioned that the customer turnover was low that month and he went to his superior for help. He hoped his manager would provide more promotions, product discounts and online ads.

If you were the superior, how would you help him solve the problem?

In reality, superiors often give answers directly to their subordinates and they lack the skills to ask questions. In this way, not only are they physically and mentally exhausted, they also restrict the growth of subordinates. Questions drive thinking, while answers stop imagination. Giving answers deprives subordinates of their thinking and greatly reduces decision-making efficiency. On the other side, subordinates don’t take responsibility, because they only carry out a decision that they may not even agree with.

Jack Welch, one of the top CEOs in the world, in his book “Win”, states that leaders must truly be the ones who ask the most and the best questions. The key difference between leaders and managers is that leaders are good at asking questions, while managers focus on answering questions.

How to find out the underlying problem by asking questions?

Liu Bin also actively explores the field of problem definition. Once he recommended that I use the “problem space” technique created by Newell and Simon to define problems.

I combined it with my experience of interacting with trainees in coaching, and today I share it with all of you. I still use the above example of customer turnover to help you understand.

In the future, if someone is confused and comes to you, you do not need and should not give advices immediately. Instead, you can use the following 6 questions to inspire him to think and help him find the true essence of the problem:

1)What is the problem to solve?

This is a question about the status of the problem.

Specifically, you can use each of the following questions to understand what he needs to solve.

  • For whom?

For example, for a problem of poor store results, is it to help the shopping assistants, the store manager or the area manager? Who cares more about it?

  • Can you clearly define the keywords?

Take customer turnover as an example. Who are the customers? Offline or online customers? Old customers or new customers?

  • Is the goal clear, well defined and measurable?

For example, how much shall the turnover rate be increased? From 3% to 7% or 10%?

To increase the turnover of regular customers or new customers? How long does it take to reach the goal?

2)Why do you need to solve the problem of turnover? (Also the status quo)

One important reason why you don't give advices right away is that maybe this problem is not important at all and it is not worth talking about. So before making a advices, you must first decide whether it is necessary to sit down and talk. The criterion is the severity of the problem and the frequency of occurrence.

For example, what is the specific impact of low turnover? The revenue or profit? Or does it cause a backlog of inventory or seriously affects the confidence of front-line employees? Are there more important problems to solve other than turnover, such as footfall?

3)If the question is solved, what do you expect?

This question refers to the target state of the question. To ask a question, you must first ask about the goal. Before giving an advice, you must reach a consensus with the other party on the goal. Without it, any advice is invalid, because the method varies with different goals.

For example, a boss may ask a subordinate:

  • Who are involved in increasing customer turnover?

In fact, improving turnover involves the front-line salesforce, marketing, product R&D, production, design, training and user experience teams. If the product is of poor quality, the design is inferior, the production is out of stock or the training is insufficient it will eventually affect turnover.

  • What are their expectations? Why?

Shopping assistants expect to meet targets, receive bonuses and increase confidence. But here is a special reminder that different stakeholders are concerned about different interests. If customer turnover is low, while other teams such as training, product R&D and design are indifferent, this problem will be difficult to solve. Therefore, a manager with a global view should first improve his thinking and coordinate with different stakeholders at a higher level. Before solving the problem of turnover, relevant stakeholders shall reach a consensus on expectations.

4)What are the possible sub-problems involved?

This question is about the relationship between the composition of the question and the questioning factors. In other words, it asks what the key barriers to turnover are.

For example, the factors that cause low turnover are not limited to insufficient promotions, high prices, lack of discounts and low awareness due to less online ads. It may also because front-line salespeople lack selling skills, inaccurate target customers, poor product design or quality.

Therefore, a smart boss should help his subordinates explore other possibilities that affect turnover by asking sub-questions, rather than just a narrow perception that low turnover is caused by high product prices, insufficient promotions and lack of visibility.

Remember, a solution must be related to the core factors to achieve the goal, otherwise the solution is ineffective. Rather than finding a solution, you may not have discovered the root cause of the problem.

5)What solutions have you tried? How do they work? How about others?

It asks about what the potential alternatives to the problem are.

At this point, you understand that a smart boss will not play cards first. Instead of telling the subordinate your advices, it is better to inspire him to think and let him find a solution by himself.

Also, I need to remind you that you should not ask the subordinate what the new solution is, but first ask him what he has done in the past to improve customer turnover. For example, in order to improve the conversion rate of customers, did you give customers discounts or gifts or use online advertising in the past? If so, how did they work? If the results have been poor in the past, you can ask your subordinate why he needs promotions, discounts or ads this time.

If the subordinate can't think of other actions, you need to capitalize the collective wisdom by asking other participants.

For example, if the others think that promotions and ads are not optimal, which are less preferred than defeat analysis and data analytics to screen out the best customers for campaigns. Because everyone has different opinions on the same issue, only from the perspectives of different stakeholders can the problem be viewed more comprehensively and objectively.

6)What are the constraints?

There are internal and external constraints. Internal constraints often refer to the funds, personnel, time, business processes, standards and policy support that you need to solve the problem. External constraints include regulations, policies and patents.

For example, a subordinate needs you to grant a fund of RMB50,000 for online advertising, but the company has no budget to advertise. This advice is meaningless. For example, if the current front-line salesforce has a low willingness to work, while the boss wants to solve the turnover problem within one week. Even if advertising and promotions are approved, it is impossible to immediately increase turnover. These are all constraints.

When making advices, few think about the cost behind the advices, which is wrong. If that’s the case, all the advices are a waste of time, because they can't be done.

Well, with the case of improving turnover, you understand that by asking questions, you can find the true essence of the problem and define the underlying problem. In the future, if a subordinate comes to you for help, please do not rush to an answer. You must first clearly define the question through 6 steps. These 6 powerful questions will inspire the subordinate to find the answer instead of giving it directly.

Focus on the problem rather than just a tool to solve the problem, that is, focus on What and Why instead of How. However, in real-life decision-making meetings, too many people directly give advices on How rather than exploring the underlying problem. It is a huge waste of corporate resources. Please be sure to discover and define the problem before solving it.

Welch stated, leaders must be the ones who ask the most and the best questions. The main difference between leaders and managers is that leaders are good at asking questions, while managers focus on answering questions.

As a CEO coach over the years, I have profoundly realized that a truly efficient manager manages his own thinking and inspires the potential of others. It is the most cost-effective and efficient way.

To wrap up, in order to meet the challenges at work and improve the efficiency of meetings and decision-making, you need to follow a few key points:

  • Rules must be set before the meeting;
  • Brainstorming is important. Try not to think and make decisions alone;
  • Efficient decision-making requires systematic thinking. You can follow the 6-step framework of decision-making, that is, to discover the problem, to define the underlying problem, to explore the root cause, to develop a strategy, to evaluate the strategy and to take actions and accountability;
  • In the future, of a subordinate comes to you for help, do not rush to an answer. You must first clearly define the problem with 6 questions. These 6 powerful questions will inspire the subordinate to find the answer instead of giving it directly.