For years we have all joked and/or raged about the "it’s not my job" attitudes we’ve encountered in organizations, big and small. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if there is a customer somewhere who thought that way about your organization? Or have you honestly wondered if you’ve got employees that are looking for jobs elsewhere because they believe that no one in your organization cares enough to fix internal systems? Dr. W. Edward Deming, the man whose name is forever linked with quality, believed that 85 percent of quality problems in the workplace are caused by systems, not by an individual’s inefficiencies. Our organizations are filled with policies and procedures that prohibit people from doing their best to satisfy our customers, and you need to know where it’s happening in yours.
This is the first risky-to-answer question we’ve encountered in our list. The answer to this particular question can often be a department or a person’s name. Please remember that an answerer may need some time to decide whether or not it is actually safe to tell you the truth. Describing an outdated policy or explaining an easyto-streamline procedure is a fairly safe answer. Identifying a bottleneck department or an obstructionist co-worker is another decision process entirely. You will have to consider time and place when you venture forth with this question. A comfortable pause after asking a high-risk question will facilitate your receiving a thoughtful and productive answer.
A word of caution: One of the ground rules of good questioning is that when a question is asked and an answer is given, the questioner does not (and often should not) respond. Given an answer, you should simply acknowledge the information, clarify any ambiguities, and assure the answerer that their opinion is valuable and will be considered. If you express an opinion or make a promise based on a single response to your question, you might find yourself in the middle of something more complex than that one answer indicated. This is especially problematic when a response to your question points a finger at an individual. An emotional reaction from you may satisfy the answerer but cause great difficulty for the other person mentioned. Your best response to this situation is "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. As I understand it, your situation is [restate the problem]. You have my word that I will look into this matter and will get back to you with a resolution. Please know that I appreciate your efforts to make our organization better." Now your job becomes one of detective. By asking more questions and listening to the additional answers carefully, you’ll be able to fulfill your promise to deliver a resolution to the original answerer. It may not be exactly what they wanted or envisioned, but they will appreciate the fact that you kept your word and followed through.