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The questions you ask drive the action you see

When it comes to changing behaviors in the workplace, the more questions you ask the more action you see.
Bill Schaninger

Designs and manages large-scale organizational transformations, strengthening business performance through enhanced culture, values, leadership, and talent systems

Taylor Lauricella

Advises organizations on a range of culture and talent topics with particular expertise in driving behavior change at scale through capability building, cultural transformation, and digital solutions

A manufacturer is striving to create a continuous improvement culture to enable their goals of expanding into new markets. After assessing their culture, they found that knowledge sharing is infrequent—a behavior that is crucial to drive improvements. Teams worked in siloes, solutions were recreated locally and people rarely asked for help. The leaders investigated companies that were world-class in continuous improvement and found that each of them had a robust knowledge management platform that made it easy to codify and share information. Having found the solution, the team invested millions of dollars into a knowledge management system only to find that months later, it was hardly used.

This manufacturer is not alone. During transformations, there is a tendency to jump directly from defining the aspiration to crafting the intervention. The step that is most often forgotten is to understand why employees aren’t engaging in the right behaviors today. Your employees are smart, hard-working and well-intentioned people, and it is unlikely that they come to work each day thinking, “I am going to avoid sharing knowledge today.” Therefore, it raises the question, if sharing knowledge is an easy and seemingly obvious behavior, why aren’t these great and well-intentioned people practicing it?

When you take the time to ask employees “the why,” you’ll find that they generally have a mindset that makes adopting these behaviors incongruent with their worldview. Without employees questioning and shifting these beliefs, interventions won’t drive action because they don’t address the underlying cause of the problem: the limiting mindset. Getting “below the iceberg” to understand these beliefs that are getting in the way requires holding focus groups and one-on-one interviews, using an assortment of questioning tactics from provocations to hypotheticals to pushing for detailed examples. Assessments can also be used to do this at scale.

Sample questions to uncover limiting mindsets

  1. What are some of the situations where knowledge sharing should be happening more and it isn’t?
  2. Why do you think knowledge sharing is important for the organization? If that is the case, then why do we not see it today?
  3. It sounds like you are saying that you don’t really want knowledge sharing in the organization and instead prefer to keep your knowledge. Could that be right? What more could there be to the story?
  4. What would you be afraid others may think if you started to share information broadly?
  5. What’s in it for you to share knowledge with others?

You will know you have uncovered a mindset when you reach a belief that is rational, relatable and shapes someone’s worldview. With respect to our knowledge sharing example, common mindsets we’ve seen include:

  • I am too busy to stop and share my knowledge with others (I can’t)
  • My knowledge makes me an asset to the team (I won’t)
  • I don’t have enough expertise to share knowledge (I’m not allowed)

Once mindsets are uncovered, driving actions requires creating interventions specifically geared towards addressing and shifting the limiting beliefs. For example:

  • Taking the first 5-minutes of all internal meetings for individuals to share a new best practice (I can’t)
  • Embed knowledge sharing into formal review processes to reward individuals who actively contribute new ideas (I won’t)
  • Integrate knowledge sharing as part of onboarding so all individuals are socialized to contribute their expertise (I’m not allowed)

Only once you have asked the questions to determine why individuals aren’t behaving a certain way today are you able to develop solutions that address and fundamentally shift the limiting mindsets standing in people’s way. When it comes to changing behaviors in the workplace, the more questions you ask the more action you see.

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