What if…? – using the power of a good question

Five questions that describe my longing for a different way of working

Recently, I have been asked questions like “This ‘future of work’ topic that you’re so excited about – what does that mean more concretely speaking?” So, to make it more tangible – here are a couple of “what if…” questions I would love to help address and solve as a change catalyst and enabling companion/coach.

Please note that these five points are deliberately phrased as questions because no-one has the answer and there is no such thing as the one right answer. The exciting (and sometimes painful) truth is that every organization will pave its own path.

There are dozens of methods on agile working, great books and a plethora of tools. In essence, the most important thing I found is that you need to really embrace the underlying mindset of curiosity, humility and trust in the capabilities of people. Leadership can only ever be an invitiation.

  • What if we would co-create the next re-organization together with our people instead of among senior leaders with an expensive consultancy behind closed doors? People would truly co-own the company and we would need no more “change management” because the change would come from within and would be self-chosen
  • What if we did not need performance management and bonuses? What if we assume people do not need a “carrot” or a “stick” to perform at their best? What if we just took away all that demotivates them? They would be motivated by simply following a noble purpose (solve a meaningful problem without causing others) and by the visible impact they have on customers/colleagues instead.
  • What if we could eliminate the invisible “waste” that is bogging our people down? What if your company knew how much energy is wasted because of malfunctioning systems and processes (e.g. financial planning process)? What if you could tap into this enormous amount of energy and use it to help our people and customers? The organization’s productivity would skyrocket.
  • What if people could really hold their managers accountable to leadership behaviors? What if the performance of anybody who is responsible for enabling others was evaluated by the people in their charge? You would quickly notice toxic managers and could improve your organization’s reputation and the trust people have in the company.
  • What if we could turn our employee survey into a real-time diagnostic tool that inspires action on the ground and fosters true and profound change bottom-up? Employees would suddenly see that they have real impact right in the team that they’re part of. They would start to have a whole different sort of “quality conversations” eye-to-eye within the team, supporting each other with care and candor instead of leaning back and waiting for the “action plan” to be cascaded down to them.

Again, I do not claim to have the answers, but a good question can be so powerful that this is worth more than giving an answer or advice. Frame the question, let it linger and see what happens. For question five, if you find this interesting, I encourage you to check out Imran and his work at Kokoro. They have a fascinating approach – a measurement and an intervention at the same time that makes conversations happen, eye-to-eye.

Finding the path to more a human-centered working environment is a bit like hiking in unknown terrain – exiting and needs you to be fully present.

“What if…” can be a very effictive way to ask questions because it puts people into imagination and solution mode and invites them to think the unthinkable. That’s why this question is often used in design thinking. Try it for yourself – what are the “what if”s that you would like to help solve?