If we are to be fully in service to our clients, we should be prepared to help them gain new insights to how they are supporting—and sometimes undermining—the changes they are attempting to make. In this regard, the questions that they ask may convey something very different than they intend. In We’re execs at Deloitte, and there are 3 questions we tell every boss never to ask, Geoff Tuff and Steven Goldbach identify three “don’t ask” questions that will shut down any drive for a culture of innovation.

  1. What’s the ROI? We hear this all the time, and for good reason. Is what is being considered a wise investment of time, money, and other resources. This can be a particularly tough question when asked of us as change practitioners. How do you compute the ROI of the change management work that we do? The authors challenge the “What’s the ROI?” question because it puts the respondents in a defensive posture. They propose as an alternative, “What’s a reasonable range of outcomes of our investment?” This question allows the focus to be on why you are recommending certain actions, and the results they are likely to achieve.
  2. Has anyone in our industry done this before? If your clients are seeking to foster an innovative culture, this question sets the absolute wrong tone. An alternative question, “What are the advantages and disadvantages of being first in our industry?” The former question, if the answer is “No,” will likely end the conversation in most organizations. The alternative question opens discussion and exploration.
  3. How can we prove this will work? Once again, this question challenges any drive for innovation. The only way to prove it will work is to do it. Be open to exploration. Ask, “How can we learn more about this?” or “How can we make a smaller move quickly?”

Tuff and Goldbach recommend the following questions as a means to foster innovative thinking.

  1. What might be another possible way to tackle this problem?
  2. Which customers will move this? Which customers will hate this?
  3. What behavior are we trying to change?
  4. How might we move faster? If we had to try something today, what would it be?

What is the heart of the culture your client wants his organization to exhibit? Are the questions he is asking fostering the culture he wants? Are you listening to his questions closely enough to be able to tell him when they are not?