From Davis Balestracci -- "How do I use QBQ! as a Leader?"

Published: Mon, 09/26/16

From Davis Balestracci -- "How do I use QBQ! as a Leader?"
Easy: by using it on yourself first

It's like the strange pumpkin I once saw at a county fair. It had been grown in a four-cornered Mason jar. The jar had since been broken and removed. The remaining pumpkin was shaped exactly like a small Mason jar. Beside it was a pumpkin from the same batch of seeds that was allowed to grow without constraints. It was about five times bigger.

Organization structures and systems have the same effect on the people in them. They either limit or liberate their performance potential. Many organizations induce learned helplessness.
[DB emphasis]                                                                                             -- Jim Clemmer

[A breezy, but challenging 5-minute read to enjoy over a break or lunch]


Brief review of QBQ!

Hi, Folks,
[For more information about the Question Behind the Question, see my previous newsletter]

Given today's political climate and its effects on our society, we seem to have become a nation of victims -- the Who/Why/When questions accompanying the constant finger-pointing are relentless.  There is a remarkably simple solution.

In response to the "Who," "Why," or "When" question, ask the person (or ourselves) to restate the question as a QBQ! under the following conditions. It must:

  1. begin with the word "What" or "How,"

  2. include the word "I"   (Note: not we, you, they, them)

  3. contain a (responsible) action.

If there is an immediate attempt to avoid the issue by saying, "But I don't have [time, money, people, support, etc.]," Make it clear that:

  • "Lack of..." is never an option

Any "lack of" is only a perception created and tolerated by the current culture.

  • Lack of "time" = Lack of "priority"

This technique allows you to make the person accountable for solving things that are appropriate for them to solve -- any QBQ! becomes a teachable moment, especially for observers, that will begin to create the belief, "If I play the victim, I'm going to be asked what to do about it.".

During a presentation, meeting, or results-reporting, many Who/Why/When questions are as predictable as well as the excuses why people can't do something. Of course, each person has total justification for their answer. Any time a situation exhibits the victimitis virus, you now have to make yourself accountable for resolving it by asking a QBQ! of your own:

"How can I address this situation to make this person come up with his or her own QBQ?"

Note:  if QBQ! was a cultural expectation, anyone in the meeting could (and should) ask the person, "How about a QBQ! here?" This is especially powerful coming from a colleague -- and can even become a humorous group acknowledgement of our humanness. My experience has been that after the QBQ! is asked, many people in the room who "get" personal accountability will gladly offer their help.

You might have their QBQ!, but you're not off the hook yet!

QBQ! Redefines Leadership Roles

QBQ! also redefines leadership roles (yours included): after you (gently) force them to ask an appropriate "What" or "How" / "I" / "Action" question. Do not make the mistake of backing them into a corner saying, "Good. Do it! I expect results." (as one CEO did when he was using QBQ! on everyone...except himself).

Now, make yourself accountable for their success. When they are finished with the process above, you then ask leadership questions-to-create-success like the following:

  • What can I do to make that happen for you?”

  • How can I help you succeed in that effort?"

  • What anticipated barriers can I address to make it easier for you?

  • How can I keep track of your progress and deal with any unexpected things that come up for you?  Perhaps meet again in 10 days?”

  • Since you feel time is an issue, how can I help you to decide what you should stop doing, start doing, and continue doing?"

Jim Clemmer has found the "stop, start, continue" technique to be quite effective when people put up the smokescreen, "But I'm too busy and don't have the time!" After restating to them, "Lack of time = lack of priority," you can then facilitate the person or group to create that priority by completing the following statements:

  • STOP:  “What I do that doesn’t make sense is…”

  • STOP:  “If I were brave, I would stop doing…”

  • STOP:  “I question the effectiveness of the following activities but do them anyway:  …”

  • STOP:  “I could immediately stop doing…”

  • START:  “I can better understand why…”

  • START:  “I can improve the way we…”

  • START:  “I don’t do the things in the six statements above because I need to START…”

  • CONTINUE:  “Meanwhile, I must CONTINUE to…”

You can then use similar leadership questions-to-create-success as above to support them in this process.

Regardless of the situations with which you deal (including workplace conflict), make sure that anyone who asks an appropriate QBQ! will succeed...and then celebrate their success.  This will begin to sow seeds of belief in the culture that they are truly empowered and supported. What would a belief like that do for your improvement efforts?  

Be forewarned:  It takes a l-o-o-o-n-g time to change a cultural perception.

"How can I accelerate this process?"

Another new part of leadership's job description:  every day, each formal or informal leader (ourselves included) should ask himself or herself:

"What can I do to deal with undesirable behaviors of our people -- acting so bureaucratically; the lack of customer focus; the lack of innovation; resisting change so fiercely; the poor teamwork regardless of the work team or project? "

Jim Clemmer has a great quote [DB: my emphases]

If we are unhappy with the behavior of people on our team or in our organization, we need to take a closer look at the system and structure they're working in. If they behave like bureaucrats, they're likely working in a bureaucracy. If they're not customer focused, they're probably using systems and working in structure that wasn't designed to serve the servers and/or customers. If they're not innovative, they're likely working in a controlled and inflexible organization. If they resist change, they're probably not working in a learning organization that values growth and development. If they're not good team players, they're likely working in an organization designed for individual performance. Good performers, in a poorly designed structure, will take on the shape of the structure.

Working on these symptoms of unhealthy culture can create a culture that would feel empowered and, only then, respond positively to kaizen efforts or similar empowerment strategies.

Wait a minute:  Do I hear you saying, "I'm too busy" or "I don't have enough time" or “When is someone going to teach me, support me, or show me how?” Then substitute "priority" for "time" and ask yourself, "What can I do about that?"  

I've got one answer right here:  Stop yourself and work culture wasting time sitting in silly meetings drawing circles around numbers. Start plotting data over time. *

Continue changing yourself and take John Miller's advice:

"Isn't QBQ! the best book that everyone else should read? If you think that, go back and read it again."

Until next time...

Kind regards,
* Chapters 1 through 4 of my book Data Sanity cover results-based leadership skills (for all leaders) -- including plotting data over time and QBQ!
Data Sanity: A Quantum Leap to Unprecedented Results is a unique synthesis of the sane use of data, culture change, and leadership principles to create a road map for excellence.

One of its major goals is to create a common organizational language for healthier dialogue about reducing ongoing confusion, conflict, complexity, and chaos. 

Click here for ordering information [Note:  an e-edition is available] or here for a copy of its Preface and chapter summaries (fill out the form on the page).

[UK and other international readers who want a hard copy:  ordering through U.S. Amazon is your best bet]

Listen to a 10-minute podcast or watch a 10-minute video interview at the bottom of my home page where I talk about data sanity: .

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