My work day is filled with questions. Depending upon the day, the client, and the specific role I am playing, determines whether I am the one asking the questions or answering them. But in either case, the underlying motivation is almost always the same. How do we improve the business?
Perhaps every question sent through email, vmail, text message, IM, fax, memo, etc. ought to begin with the phrase “In order to help me better understand and improve the business, would you please . . .” But the truth is that almost none of them begin this way.
As a result, it’s easy for people become offended by some of the questions that are being asked and the implied “tone” in the questions. This happens to all of us, and can often be more frustrating than the question itself. With that in mind, it’s important to take a step back and remind ourselves of the actual motivation . . . to better understand or improve the business.
Most important business decisions are made by getting input from people with various backgrounds. The required expertise may include product, technical, finance, sales, marketing, manufacturing, operations, etc. Even in the same company, and even when that company is small, people from various disciplines often speak “different languages”. Terms, phrases, and abbreviations that may be clear to people who work together all day, may not be clear to people from other departments or to people who operate outside of the company walls (bankers, Board Members, consultants, and the like).
As a result, it’s critical that people do their best to answer questions in a way that is clear to the person doing the asking! This means taking extra time to provide information and detail that may be second nature to the people answering. It may also mean “taking people back” to the last conversation and reminding them of a few of the basic facts and context that they may have forgotten.
For example, I recently got a request to spend $5,000 on capital equipment at one of my clients. While this request was fairly well presented I still went back and asked how it tied to the capital equipment budget we reviewed the week prior before signing off. I wanted to make sure it was for a budgeted item and the amount was in line with our prior discussion.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the answers to questions tend to beget more questions. As people build their understanding of the business, they will continually drill down to the next level of detail. And if a question remains unanswered, it’s a pretty good bet that it will keep coming up until they are ultimately answered.
So, the next time that you are answering a business question (perhaps the same question more than once), remember that it’s probably worth a few extra minutes to provide the context needed so that the person asking clearly understands the answer . . . and even then, be ready for “the follow-up”!
Next month . . . “I Love A Good Audit”!
If your business could benefit from fractional CFO services, I would welcome the chance to speak with you. Please give me a call at (314) 863-6637 or send an email to
your cash is flowing. know where.®
Copyright @ 2009 Homza Consulting, Inc.