Tag Archives: Stakeholder Management

Papa Elf, the man behind the man, on stakeholder management

The-PenguinDoes Santa use the SRMM® maturity model to enhance his organisations stakeholder management practices?

This interview published in the ‘the penguin’ would suggest Papa Elf, the man behind the man, is at least acquainted with the Stakeholder® Circle methodology and his grotto organisation has achieved a high level of ‘Stakeholder Relationship Maturity’ – we will know for sure in a few days time……

To read the full interview with Papa Elf see: http://projectpenguindotorg.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/papa-elf-on-stakeholder-management/

Powerful Questions

Questions and Answers signpostYou can use questions to change peoples thinking, move their thinking to the ‘right answer’, or elicit information.

But questions are not neutral:

  • Asking ‘leading questions’ when you are seeking information closes off options;
  • Whereas asking ‘open questions’ when you are intending to move a person towards the conclusion you want them to reach can be counterproductive.

To be effective, you need to know the objectives of the questions you are asking and then design the questions to support the objective. This is a subtle art but well worth the effort of learning, particularly is you need to ‘advise upwards’ and influence the thinking of senior executives, project sponsors and steering committees.

One of the best short demonstrations of the art of leading questions is in this video clip from the UK ‘Yes Prime Minister’ TV series – its an oldie but a goodie…… spend couple of minutes and watch an expert: http://youtu.be/G0ZZJXw4MTA

You need to be more subtle than ‘Sir Humphrey’ to make this technique work effectively on senior managers but when you need something, asking a few well planned questions can very often lead the person towards the idea and instead of responding to your request, they have an idea of how to help you be more successful. Effectively advising upwards is an art – you really cannot ‘manage you managers’ but you can be an effective advisor. The art of advising upwards is the focus of my book: Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Adv_Up

Questioning for effect is a key part of any sales process, including selling ideas such as the desirability of actually working to the project schedule or making the promised resources available on ‘Monday’.

However, when you are seeking information and insight you do not want to sell your ideas to the people being questioned, you want to find out what they know and think. When framing questions to gather information  (eg, during requirements gathering) you need to be really careful to ensure they are open and do not predispose the person being questioned towards a particular view point. Unfortunately the art of open questions seems to have disappeared from academic teaching; well over 80% of the research questionnaires I look at have the objective of eliciting the answers wanted by the researcher to support their preconceived hypothesis.

A question like “Do you want to go to Kentucky Fried or McDonald’s for lunch?” presumes:
a) The person wants to go out for lunch, and
b) The person only eats takeaways.

Change the question to “Where would you like to go for lunch?” opens up other possibilities (eg, the really good salad bar down the street), but still assumes the person wants to go out for lunch.

You need two questions to remove all presumption; first “Would you like to go out for lunch?” and assuming a positive response, “Where do you suggest?” Even then the first question has a presumption of ‘with me’ built in.
The art of question has discussed at some length in the past, some useful resources are:

Developing your team

teambuildingIf you are a leader, you are responsible for building the team you lead! One of the key stakeholder management roles fulfilled by effective team leaders and project managers is helping their team members grow and improve.

Remember, you cannot be successful as a leader unless your team succeeds in achieving its objectives! And helping team members develop their capabilities has two paybacks – helping people develop their skills and capabilities is a great motivator (see more on motivation) plus having more highly skilled, capable and motivated team members gets more work done. A win-win outcome that can return big dividends for a relatively small investment.

Coaching

As a leader you have four basic options to choose from: teaching, coaching, counselling and mentoring. Understanding the differences and selecting the right option for each situation helps you help your team to be successful.

Tutoring / Teaching
The focus of teaching is to impart knowledge and information through instruction and explanation. And the goal for the student is to acquire a skill or pass a test. The learning has a one-way flow and the relationship between teacher and student is low. These days’ web tools can be used to deliver teaching on demand.

Teaching is effective for: Simple knowledge transfer. This can be facilitated by external experts delivering focused training sessions or asking a skilled team member to do the teaching. Your job is to make sure the right training gets to the right people at the right time.

Coaching
Coaching usually focuses on task and performance. The role of the coach is to give feedback on observed performance and this usually happens at the workplace. The coach is likely to set or suggest goals for the learner and measure performance periodically as the learner develops new skills. This needs a good working relationship between learner and coach.

Coaching is effective for: Driving improved performance. Every elite sports team has a committed coach. As a team leader, you need to take this role seriously if you want to lift your team’s skills and performance to the elite level!

Counselling
The counsellor uses listening and questioning to build self-awareness and self-confidence in the client. The goal is to help the person deal with something they are finding emotionally difficult. Once again learning is one-way and the closeness of the relationship low.

Counselling is effective for: Helping a team member deal with personal difficulties. Again, in appropriate circumstances don’t be afraid to bring a skilled external counsellor.

Mentoring
Mentoring is a partnership between two people and emphasises a mutuality of learning. The role of the mentor is to build capability and help the learner discover their personal wisdom by encouraging the learner to work towards career goals or develop self-reliance. Mentors may draw on a number of approaches (teaching, coaching and counselling) to help mentees achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves. Because the relationship is mutually beneficial strong bonds are often forged which often outlast the mentoring relationship. However, because the mentoring relationship is focused on the mentee’s personal goals it should be kept separate from direct lines of management control; it is very difficult to mentor a direct report. For more on Mentoring see: The Art of Mentoring.

Mentoring is effective for: Building the capability of the learner. Carefully select the people in which to invest the effort and emotion of building a relationship. If it’s not right for you, help your team member find the right mentor

Selecting the best option
Within you team;

  • Use teaching for simple knowledge transfer, there’s no harm in bringing in expertise or asking a skills team member to do the teaching.
  • Use coaching to drive improved performance – every elite sports team has a committed coach, as a team leader you need to take this role seriously!
  • Use counselling one-on-one to help a team member deal with personal difficulties; again don’t be afraid of bringing in external assistance from a skilled councillor.
  • Use mentoring to help build the capability of the mentee. You need to carefully select the people to invest your emotions in building a relationship with, if it’s not right for you, help the person find the right mentor for them.

The difference between coaching and mentoring is largely about focus and goal setting. Coaching focuses on improving performance, mentoring on building capability. The coach usually sets goals for the learner, whereas in mentoring the learner sets their own goals, and to help achieve these goals, a mentor may draw on a number of approaches: teaching, coaching, and counselling.

The other significant difference between mentoring and the other forms of development is the relationship forged between two people. Good mentors offer the learner the right kind of help and support and adapt to the needs of the learner – so what makes a good mentor?

What Makes a Good Mentor?
The attributes and skills of a good mentor include:
1.   Being committed to learning and helping others learn
2.   Being a good listener
3.   Displaying empathy
4.   Building rapport
5.   Encouraging the learner to speak
6.   Observation and reflection
7.   Providing constructive challenges
8.   Is self-aware and understands others
9.   Has intuitive wisdom from life experience
10.  Helping the learner reshape their thinking
11.  Is politically or professionally savvy
12.  Shares experiences
13.  Steps back from the detail
14.  Manages the relationship and not the goals
15.  Offers friendship

Finally, the mentor will keep the relationship confidential. What is said between mentor and mentee is confidential and never shared with others except in very special circumstances (See more on Mosaic’s mentoring options).

The power of coaching
Employees want a great deal more coaching than they receive. When leaders take the time to coach their team effectively, the results can be impressive. How Much Difference Does Coaching Make? Jack Zenger suggest effective coaching will generate:

  • Up to 8 times higher levels of employee engagement and commitment!
  • Over 3 times more willingness to “go the extra mile” for the team or organization
  • Up to 2.5 times higher levels of job satisfaction
  • Up to 2 times higher ratings of supervisor effectiveness
  • Only half as many employees thinking about quitting

Leading to dramatically higher levels of client service and satisfaction, and we know that engaged employees are a key ingredient to creating a high performance team.

Summary
However you choose to develop in your team members, the investment is worthwhile. An empowered, motivated and skilled team is the best underpinning you can have in your quest to be a successful leader.

4th Annual Nordic Project Zone Conference

Nordic_Project_Zone

Next week, I will be in Copenhagen, fulfilling an invitation to present at the Nordic Project Zone Summit 2013, which is taking place on 26-27 November at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia, Copenhagen. For more on the Summit, see: http://nordicprojectzone.com/

My presentation will focus on ‘Implementing effective stakeholder engagement: Stakeholder Relationship Management Maturity (SRMM®)’. – download the presentation.

The ROI from investing in building an effective stakeholder management culture can be significant (see earlier post) and the SRMM® model is designed to help organisation develop an effective culture of engagement that works for them.

The good news is the SRMM® model is freely available under a creative commons licence! Originally proposed in my book Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation published by Gower. The basic model can be downloaded from http://www.stakeholdermapping.com/srmm-maturity-model/

After a week in chilly Copenhagen I will be looking forward to getting back to the warmth of an Australian Christmas.

Communicating Success

As reported by PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession™, an organisation’s ability to meet project timelines, budgets and especially goals significantly impacts its ability to survive. The Pulse study also demonstrated that the most crucial success factor in project management is effective stakeholder communication. PMI’s findings show that high performing organisations are more effective communicators and that organisations assessed as highly-effective communicators are five times more likely to be high performers than minimally-effective communicators. To read more download the report: The High Cost of Low Performance – The Essential Role of Communication.

There are probably several reasons for this strong correlation between effective communication and project success. From the broader stakeholder management perspective, projects and programs are only really successful once their outputs have been adopted by the stakeholders within the end user community and are being used to generate value. This means changing the way the stakeholders and the organisation work, which requires change!  Creating the desire for change within the affected stakeholder community requires highly effective communication and interestingly, if the communication is believed, the way people react and feel changes in response to the messages.

Research in Australia, New Zealand and the USA has consistently demonstrated physical changes in people based on what they have been told. Scientific studies ‘down under’ have shown people who are told wind turbines cause health problems experience health problems. The symptoms of ‘wind farm syndrome’ are only found in English speaking communities that have been exposed to anti-wind farm propaganda.  For more on this see: Wind farm:  https://theconversation.com/how-the-power-of-suggestion-generates-wind-farm-symptoms-12833 and https://theconversation.com/new-study-wind-turbine-syndrome-is-spread-by-scaremongers-12834

Positive effects can also be communicated, in a 2007 study, Harvard researchers told one group of female hotel attendants that their usual duties met the surgeon-general’s recommendations for an exercise regimen. Four weeks later, the researchers found improvements in blood pressure, body mass index, and other health indices among the informed group, relative to a control group of attendants that had not been so informed.

These effects appear to be real, Hilke Plassmann, Assistant Professor of Marketing at INSEAD reports that a study she co-conducted in 2008 measuring neural responses to drinking wine showed different responses to ‘cheap’ and ‘expensive’ wines. But, the researchers deliberately misled participants about the prices of the wines, claiming one cost US$45 when it actually cost US$5 and presenting another as costing US$10 when it really retailed for US$90.

Participants were instructed to sample various wines through a straw from inside an MRI machine which allowed their brain activity to be observed while they were consuming the wine. What was found were changes in the neural activity in an area called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which is an area that encodes our experience of pleasure.

The findings highlighted the speed with which humans form lasting impressions that synthesise all types of data. The bias kicks in at a very early stage, and for the wine tasters, it really changed their taste perception.

From sportswear to cars, expectations of a product or service can actually create a resulting experience. Consumers are constantly told that the latest Nike running shoes or Mercedes-Benz can offer higher performance. Consumers believe it, they make a purchase and they experience it. What this implies in the realm of project stakeholder management is the conversations around your project will have a direct effect on how people experience the change!  Negative gossip and scaremongering will cause bad reactions, positive news creates positive experiences.

The expectations created by communication (or lack thereof) will tend to become self fulfilling prophecies – to make this work for you, you need to communicate to your stakeholders the expectation that the change your project is creating will be beneficial and good for the majority of the stakeholders.  If this message is both true and believed (the two elements are not automatically connected), the experience of the stakeholders is more likely to be positive.

Achieving this level of communication requires a combination of strategic thinking backed up by effective implementation, with a clear thread of responsibility running throughout.  The best strategists believe:

  • If I can’t articulate how we’re actually going to make this project work, it probably won’t work. They know that there are a lot of gaps, holes, and challenges in their strategies. They tirelessly keep a critical eye on the viability of their plans and stay curious — continuously asking themselves and others, how will this really work? When they find issues, they team up with others and fix it.
  • While it’s painful to integrate execution planning into strategising, it’s even more painful to watch the strategies fail. Good strategists understand that effective planning leads to effective execution and outcomes.
  • Sounding smart is overrated. Doing smart is where the real value lies. Ideas are just that — ideas. They know that if they’re not executed well, their strategies are nothing more than daydreams.

The best executors believe:

  • They need to be involved in the strategy process early and contribute practical insights to the overall development of the objectives.

  • They need to know the “whys” behind the strategy. They want to know the intent and the thinking behind the strategy.

Communicating for success means making a significant proportion of your stakeholders into ‘executors’ who believe in the benefits of the project/program and use their beliefs to influence others. Authenticity is crucial but so is passion and communication.

Stakeholder Relationship Management a top 20 best seller

SRMM_BookThe 2nd Edition of my book, Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation is one of Gower’s Top 20 selling e-Books in the period Jan – June 2013.  For the other books in the ‘Gower top 20’ download the PDF.

The take-up of the book and our software, the Stakeholder Circle® by universities over the least few months has been really encouraging.  Now all we need is the commercial world to follow.

Stakeholder Management Supporting Senior Managers’ Executive Round Table

Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd is co-sponsoring the 2013 Senior Managers’ Executive Round Table that is being run in conjunction with ISSEC  and PMOz.

Hosted by  Kirk Botula, CEO of the CMMI Institute and supported by a range of industry experts, the Executive Round Table is a strategic level forum which aims to address the question: Achieving Business Value through Program Success – why is change so ‘hit and miss?

This is an exclusive event, separate from the rest of the ISSEC and PMOz conference programs open to executives and senior-level management – invitation only!  The round table’s goal is to promote and encourage dialogue and sharing of lessons learned among peers. The key benefits of attending the Round Table are:

  • Collaboratively defining potential solutions to the current challenges faced by organisations;
  • Using real data on the benefits and returns-on-investment from implementing proven methods to address these challenges; and
  • Learning from the presenters and each others experiences.

This fully hosted event is an initiative of the Systems and Software Quality Institute and PMGlobal and will be run in conjunction with ISSEC and PMOz.

Venue: Grand Hyatt Melbourne
Date: Wednesday 18 September, 2013
Time: 11:30am – 2:30pm

The good news is that as sponsors of this exclusive event, we have a limited number of invitations available – if you would like to join the ‘round table’ call or email our office before the 3rd September

The social dynamics of governance – Bullying and Pressure Projects

A number of current news items have highlighted the complexity and interconnectedness of governance in organisations. The blog post is going to draw together four elements – high pressure projects, bullying, the need for organisations to provide a safe workplace and the need to support people with mental illness; all of which have interconnected governance implications.

To lay the foundation for this post, the interconnected nature of governance has been discussed in our post Governance -v- Management: A Functional Perspective  and is best displayed in this ‘petal diagram’

Petal Diagram Governance

The catalyst for this post are some recent changes in Australian workplace legislation that is forcing all types of organisations to consider how they manage the mental health of their paid and volunteer workforce.  In essence these codified requirements are no different to the pre-existing requirements to protect the physical wellbeing of the workforce and others interacting with the organisation, the only difference is mental heath and wellbeing are now overtly covered.

The new uniform national workplace health and safety laws require employers to ensure that workplaces are physically and mentally safe and healthy, and the work environment does not cause mental ill-health or aggravate existing conditions.  Under these harmonised laws ‘reckless conduct’ offences incur penalties of up to $3 million for corporations and $600,000 and/or 5 years jail for individuals.

These challenges cannot be avoided; it remains illegal to discriminate against individuals on the grounds of disability, including mental disability, in the same way it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age, sex, race, and religious and other beliefs.

These are not trivial issues as the  $230,000 penalty (fines and costs) awarded  by the Victorian Supreme Court against the former operator of a commercial laundry for ‘workplace abuse’ and the  reputations damage suffered by CSIRO (Australia’s premier scientific research organisation), over on-going bullying allegations demonstrate.

There is a growing awareness of psychological hazards in the workplace including bullying, harassment and fatigue; and the consequences of organisational failures in this area can extend well beyond the strict legal liabilities.  To avoid prosecution and reputational damage, organisations are increasingly being required to take proactive, preventative actions and implement a culture, reinforced by effectively implemented policies to manage these aspects of workplace health and safety. Attitudes are slow to change and creating a culture that properly respects and protects mental wellbeing will require a sustained focus at the governance levels of the organisation as well as in the day-to-day management of the work place.

The payback for good governance and effective management in this area is that organisations that promote good mental health in the workplace are seen as great places to work, and have higher levels of productivity, performance, creativity, and staff retention, and tend to financially outperform other less well governed organisations. These are very similar findings to organisations that actively support and embrace ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – apparently the good guys finish first (not last)!!

However, managing this change is not going to be simple!  Organisations are under ever increasing pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and to produce ‘more with less’ to survive. One of the key capabilities enabling quick and effective strategic change is the domain of project and program management. In response to these organisational pressures, project managers are increasingly being placed under stress to be faster, cheaper and better and to deliver the new capability or ‘thing’ in record time.  Couple this to the mistaken belief of some managers that setting ‘stretch targets’ is a way to motivate workers (even though sustained failure is known to be a major cause of stress and demotivation) and you end up with a classic governance dilemma.

Deciding how to best balance these competing demands require an overarching governance policy supported by a sympathetic implementation by management to achieve both a safe work environment and an effective management outcome.  In the absence of effective governance managers are left to sort out their own priorities and frequently are driven by short term KPIs focused on easy to measure cost and time performance criteria. In these circumstances concern for performance frequently outweighs concern for people.

These issues are compounded by the fact that far too many middle and project managers lack effective people skills and can easily drift from pushing for performance to micro management to outright bullying. The mental wellbeing risks include applying undue pressure to perform that induces stress leading to depression; as well as more overt acts of aggression and bullying. The Australian Fair Work Amendment Bill of 2013 defines workplace bullying as ‘repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health or safety’.

Unfortunately, at least in the Australian context, bullying is a major unreported problem. A recent survey by the University of Sydney (see the report summary) has found that workplace bullying tends to be peer-to-peer and occurs at all levels of organisations. Most incidents occur within the presence of one’s peers, including bullying in meetings and other managers are unlikely to intervene. The problem is insidious, nearly 50% of the survey respondents reported bullying in the last year, and only 16% organisation assisted the situation when the problem was reported. But, ignoring the issue is a high risk strategy.

All types of organisation need to develop focused strategies to reduce the opportunities for bullying to occur at every level from the board room table down to the shop floor; and to policies backed by procedures to deal with bullying effectively when it does occur, in ways that support the victims. Bullying is illegal, causing damage to a person’s mental health is illegal (and bullying is only one way this can occur) and failing to effectively manage the consequences of mental illness is illegal.

The ongoing damage being caused to CSIRO’s reputation by the publication of the report into bullying within the organisation demonstrates the way these problems can escalate into a major issue for the Board. The on-going publicity associated with potential litigation and prosecutions has a long way to run before the final wash up allows CSIRO to move forward with a clean slate. And, as the CSIRO report suggests, the consequences of breaking the law are likely to be a small part of the overall damage caused governance failures in this important area.

The reason this is primarily a governance issue is the challenge associated with developing a philosophy and culture that empowers management to resolve the dilemma associated with balancing commercial objectives against personal wellbeing objectives – there is no ‘right answer’.  It is all too easy for executives to decide the organisation needs a new capability, managers being tasked to deliver the required outcome with inadequate resources, and the project manager to be given an unreasonably short timeframe for delivery.  The pressure to ‘perform’ inevitably leading to increases in stress, conflict and potentially bulling. But whilst there are many questions, and decisions, there are few clear answers:

  • When does the need to perform and work extended hours slip into workplace fatigue and an unsafe work environment?
  • When does the project manager’s desire to push team members for maximum performance slip into bullying?
  • Who is responsible for creating the unsafe work environment:
    -  The PM operating at the tactical level?
    -  The managers that set the strategic objectives?
    -  The executives who created the overall environment?
    -  The ‘governors’ who failed to offer appropriate leadership?

Good management can certainly alleviate some of the symptoms, but good governance is needed to eliminate the root cause and promote mental wellbeing in the workplace. At least in Australia there are now effective laws to help and the data shows improving this aspect of an organisation is good for business, and of course excellent stakeholder management.

Stakeholder Management Maturity

Recognition of the importance of stakeholder management has taken a huge leap forward since the release of the PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition.   The next challenge, addressed in this blog, is for organisations to be able to map their maturity with a view to improving their stakeholder management capabilities.

The PMBOK® Guide lays out the fundamental framework for effective stakeholder management and aligns fairly closely with the structure of the Stakeholder Circle® methodology we have been developing for the last decade. Within the PMBOK:

  • Process 13.1 deals with the identification of stakeholders and the creation of a stakeholder register.   This is directly supported by the Identify and Prioritise steps in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology. The key difference is the PMBOK tends to classify stakeholders based on simple 2×2 matrices, the Stakeholder Circle uses a more sophisticated analysis that prioritises stakeholders based on their importance to the project rather than just their attitude (positive or negative).
  • Process 13.2 Plan Stakeholder Management, links the stakeholder management section of the PMBOK to the Communication  section and focuses on defining the current  attitude of each stakeholder, the realistically desirable attitude we would like the stakeholder to have, and the communication strategy needed to maintain satisfactory attitudes and beneficially change  attitudes that need improving.  These concepts directly align with the Visualise and Engage stages in the Stakeholder Circle methodology.
  • Then the hard work of effectively engaging and communicating with the important stakeholders begins (without ignoring the less important ones).  The planning, managing and controlling of communications (from Chapter 10) link to process 13.3 Manage Stakeholder Engagement. Issues identification and management is a key element in this process and a core element in our Stakeholder Circle database tool.  The next upgrade of the Stakeholder Circle database tool will add a contact management module to facilitate the rest of this process.
  • The final process in the PMBOK® Guide, 13.4 is the standard PMBOK controlling process that actively encourages the regular review of the overall stakeholder management process and aligns exactly with Stage 5, Monitor changes in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology.  As with effective risk management, the environment needs to be continually scanned for emerging stakeholders, and if the current engagement strategies are not working with identified stakeholders, new ones need to be tried.

The good news is the framework we developed in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology nearly 10 years ago and the framework adopted by PMI in the PMBOK® Guide and most other competent stakeholder management methodologies all lay out the same basic steps.  And, as PMI claims for the PMBOK in general, these processes have become generally accepted good practice.

The challenge now is to build these good practices into the culture of organisations so they become simply ‘the way we do business’.  Maturity models such as P3M3, CMMI and OPM3 look at the stages of developing and implementing good practices in organisations.  The SRMM® Maturity Model has been designed to provide a similar framework for organisations seeking to develop an enhanced stakeholder management capability.

The five levels of the Stakeholder Relationship Management Maturity (SRMM®) Model are:

  1. Ad hoc:  some use of processes
  2. Procedural:  focus on processes and tools
  3. Relational:  focus on the Stakeholders and mutual benefits
  4. Integrated:  methodology is repeatable and integrated across all programs and projects
  5. Predictive:  used for health checks and predictive risk assessment and management.

And for each level of maturity, the SRMM Model defines the key features, the good practice components, and the expected tools and reporting process expected at that level of maturity, together with some general guidance.

SRMM is designed to be an open system that would support any effective stakeholder management methodology (not just the Stakeholder Circle), which means SRMM is a useful tool for implementing a stakeholder management methodology based on the PMBOK’s processes as effectively as one using the more sophisticated capabilities of the  Stakeholder Circle.

The SRMM® Model is available for downloading and use by any organisation planning to implement effective stakeholder management under a free Creative Commons licence. Download you copy of the SRMM® Model.

Leading Knowledge Workers

Peter Drucker announced the passing of the ‘command and control’ style of business leadership in the 1950s. He and others recognised it is an act of futility to tell a person she MUST come up with a bright idea to solve a problem; but this does not stop a lot of ‘C’ and ‘D’ grade mangers from exacerbating failure by trying to control everything and blaming everyone else when the inevitable happens. Knowledge workers need motivating, guiding and inspiring by their leader so they feel empowered to deal with the issue or challenge.

This is not a new concept, the military developed the concept of auftragstaktik at the beginning of the 19th Century (see: Command or Control). Ever earlier, Laozi said “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say ‘we did it ourselves’.” Laozi’s Tao Te Ching underpins Daoism, which in modern China is both a philosophical tradition and organized religion. He advocated humility in leadership and a restrained approach to statecraft. His emphasis on ‘naturalness’ translates into a way of life characterized by simplicity, calmness, and freedom from tyranny.

One way you can translate these concepts into the modern workplace is through the effective use of questions. Christine Comaford, an executive coach and author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together advocates asking five ‘teaching questions’ for every one piece of advocacy or instruction.

If you continuously give detailed orders, you are teaching your team dependence. Whereas asking questions encourages learning and development, and frees up your time as your team takes on the new skills.

The type of discussion recommended by Comaford goes like this: ‘George’ comes to you and says, “Hey boss, how should I process this order?” And you say, “Well, what would you do? … Okay, what else? … Who should we loop in? … What could go right? … What could go wrong?”

She has found that if you ask that person the five questions on three separate occasions; by the end of the third inquiry session, they are going to ‘get it’ and start to forge a new pathway, and they’re going to go, “Wow, whenever I go and ask the boss for orders, he actually asks me what I would do”. ‘George’ will come to you for one or two more validation sessions – then he’s off and running. He owns his area of responsibility.

The most effective intrinsic motivators are autonomy, authority and achievement (see more on Motivation), and the skilful use of effective questions is one effective way to crate these factors in your team (see more on Effective Questions).

And the really good news is that by teaching your team confidence and competence with questions rather than dependence with orders, they are more likely to have the ideas and skills that will help you succeed.

So what’s your ratio of orders given to questions asked?