Six Steps to Asking Better Questions

Jenny Hodge

My professional career has been rooted in data and information.  The goal of market research – however you choose to define it, that’s another topic – is about gathering facts, data, and information to improve the quality of decisions.  

Some decisions are worthy of more effort than others.  For example, opening a new retail location in a new geographic market is a substantial business commitment; choosing a new paint color for the bathroom is far less risky.  Good market research will always scale to the importance of the decision under consideration.  This short column is aimed at helping ask better questions.

Think about the Big Picture

Why are you considering this decision?  What is the real goal?  Are there other factors pushing or influencing the need to change? What is the long-term vision?  Over what time frame?

What are the Costs & Consequences?

Is it possible to identify a high-, medium-, and low-cost plan for achieving the goal?  What exactly is involved in making this decision?  For each possible outcome, what are the downsides?  Upsides?  What are the costs, and over what time frame?

Trade-offs

What happens if you do not move forward with this decision?  Is it possible to quantify?  What is the most challenging question you’ve been asked about this decision?  What are you not thinking about?

Alternatives

Rarely, if ever, is there a single solution.  Is there any other way to achieve your goal?  Could it be a staggered decision over the next 18-24 months, or does the situation require an immediate solution?  The strategic importance of the decision will likely influence creative thinking to identify alternative approaches.

Define Success

Be honest – how does the “success” of this decision look to you?  Is it a gamechanger for your business, or will it be forgotten in a few weeks?  Be brutally honest in terms of revenue, relationships, service, or whatever your desired outcome is.  Describe it vividly and visually to be sure you know it for yourself.

Listen

Depending on the decision, it’s likely that experts, employees, or other important people in your business will be impacted by your decision.  Gather their input, too.  Be sure to ask people for their potential solutions.  But you must LISTEN honestly to ensure that everyone feels “heard” and can then “buy into” the outcome.  Again, the strategic importance of the decision will guide the level of input.

While some decisions deserve a lot of time and information, incorporating these six ideas will help improve decision making overall as it becomes part of your process.  

Jenny Hodge is a principal with HPS Consulting Group which focuses on market research and the manufactured housing industry.  She may be reached at [email protected] or (513) 910-9455.

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