As per my last post,at the end of 2012, I was doing a family vacation in Taiwan. Being with family for 2 weeks is quite an expose into mannerisms that each of us have. I was particularly intrigued by my brother’s questioning of my mother. My brother would constantly ask my mother things like “why are we going to [city_name]?” instead of “what are we planning to do when we get there?” and “how much time will I need to prepare the kids to sit in the car?” Luckily, we had my mother there fueling the ridiculous line of questioning. 90% of the time, her answers had nothing to do with the questions he was asking.
- “Why are we going to [city_name]?” “Oh, let me tell you, when I was growing up, I used to play with my cousins there.”
- “Mom, why are we going to [city_name]?” “Oh, did you see that beautiful view over there?”
- “Mom, can you please just tell me why were are going to [city_name]?” “Don’t worry, you will love it. It’s beautiful there.”
There are two items I’d like to diagnose. First, are we actually listening to the question? Second, did we understand the question?
The first is fascinating to me because I’m not sure we actually are listening. Many of our reporting organizations are pure intake, create, output engines. We grab the data that is asked for, create the report and send it out hoping we got it right. Basically, we are spec takers. Second question follows right after the first. Much of the time, we don’t know why report requesters want the data at all. We could be asking ourselves why they want to know, and if the data we are providing helps them solve a problem. If we are really cool, we could be asking if they are even trying to solve the right problem or not.
Here are a few questions you should explore when data requests come your way:
- How are you going to use the data?
- What is the core problem you are trying to solve for?
- Are there other data elements or analysis that we have that can help further?
- Are there other correlated problems that we should try to answer at the same time?
For all intents and purposes, this post is the exact corollary of the prior on how to ask the right questions. The problem with being a non-strategic reporting organization is that if the wrong questions get asked, the output is doomed to be the wrong information as well. But even works, sometimes the wrong question gets asked and we still give the requestor the wrong data back. All this does is create turn – another report request, or bad data going to managers (who in turn trust HR a little less the next time around).
In the case of my brother, he asked the wrong question in the first place. It would have been much more advantageous had he explained why it was important for him to prepare the children for the outing, have the right clothes, have enough food along, and maybe get them extra sleep. I’ll never know if my mother would have given him the right information in return, “yes it usually rains on that side of the island, it’s 40 minutes away, and we will be in a friend’s house so they can’t get too wild.” But the crafting if the right answer is a tight collaboration of both sides creating understanding of what the objectives are.