The Importance Of Asking ‘Who’ Questions
A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called Nothing to Nasdaq. The main thesis was a framework Dr. Art Langer and I developed at Columbia University. Based on this framework, we had come up with a seven-character initialism of SNSNSFTP (strategy, negotiations, sales, networking, finance, technology and people). The initial thinking was if you put the right people at the center of all activities, a great product or company will emerge.
Dr. Langer and I have deliberated further on this concept and have evolved our original hypothesis. Answering the age-old 5Ws and 1H (who, what, where, when, why and how) will provide solutions to all planning. These 5Ws and 1H have been instrumental for critical thinkers, investigators and even journalists.
We can evaluate these 5Ws and 1H from a business planning perspective. Let’s say your customer or your CEO asks you to implement a CRM system. Let’s imagine the sequence of events. In most of the seminars we have taught, the immediate response from executives is usually, “How do I implement this?”
But we almost never think of “Why should we implement ?” as the starting point. When we nudge people with a few follow-up questions, participants become aware that one has to start with the question of why. Let’s say there is clarity in the purpose of why, then comes the question of “When should this be implemented?” If the answer from your customer or boss is in the next few hours, then you better rush to get to the next available CRM or a SaaS solution you can find, depending on the importance of the assignment. If it is worth a few million dollars, then it may be worthwhile to spend on great software. If the customer or CEO had answered 300 days from today, then you could have slowly planned your implementation in a far smoother way.
Once you have addressed “why” and “when” questions, you certainly need to find answers to what and where. Those are easy now that you know the flow. Then comes the “how” question, be it an on-premise solution or a cloud-based one.
But the more deeply you process this thesis, the more clear it becomes that the priority goes to who. In all aspects of the journey, from a question (be it by a customer or CEO) to the answer, it becomes all about who.
Whether you’re running a software company or a furniture company, we all tend to believe what or how dominates the decision-making process. But eventually, we always arrive at who made a choice or decision. As we continue to be suffocated with information overload, it becomes extremely critical for us to know who is making the call. Even in the democratic nature of the information that is available on the internet, it is becoming more and more important to understand the credibility of the origin of the news we consume.
Technology search algorithms like Google have made an industry out of deciding who is more authentic than others via its page rank algorithms. As of this writing, there are more than 1 billion websites, and that number continues to grow every minute. In this wild jungle of information, how do you find the right information? That is why Google’s page ranking goes by the authenticity of a website itself based on more than 200 factors like the age of the site, the keywords and so on.
If you look at a macro level, Google is trying to find who is the author even before it finds what or any other questions. Authenticity is decided in a split second and then the site rank is assigned for you to consume the data.
So, most of the modern-day decision-making is happening via the first step of Google. Whomever Google searches rank as high becomes the de facto origin of our content creation or consumption. Can you imagine if Google started providing unauthentic data? The whole world would be in total chaos.
So let’s take a moment to apply all of this to organization building? When we are presented with a challenge or a project, instead of immediately thinking about how we can get it done or look at what is needed to be done, what if we ask, who is the best person to solve this?
I would reccomend that business leaders of a company ask the following questions when they’re getting ready to start their next project or are in the midst of dealing with a challenge:
• Who is the ideal person or team we can get to handle this project?
• Who should be the leader?
• Who should we learn from (an advisor or a consultant)?
Once these questions are clearly answered, then this group of “who” questions should help answer the “why” question. With clear and specific answers to “why” questions, the core purpose will emerge.
The majority of IT projects that fail to meet deadlines or go over budget happen exactly because of these issues. If organizations chose “who” questions way ahead of” what” and “how” questions, the costs of fixing such initiatives need not even arise.
This is where having a great recruiter in a team helps enormously. There is no company that has achieved greatness without having a small group of extraordinary recruiters. Getting the right who on your team is both a science and an art. That’s why you need great recruiting capabilities.
Whether it is human intelligence-based decision-making or Google-type artificial intelligence, remember the importance of always asking “who” questions.
(This article first appeared on Forbes )