Want Better Answers? Try Better Questions

In order to grow your business, you need to have a strong definition of your identity and goals. Norm Levy explains why you need to take the time to ask yourself simple yet crucial questions like “why does my company exist?” or “what are our most important goals?”

May 10 2011 by Norm Levy


Answers to the future growth of your business depend on your ability to ask the right questions. These are the fundamental questions that underlie the core of your intention.

Why does your business exist?  This question reveals your true purpose.  It is the most powerful question, and all other questions revolve around this nucleus.

Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks, authored It’s Not About the Coffee and expressed “when organizations are clear about their purpose, they find the energy and passion to do great things.”  This enabled his team to carry out the essence of their mission, “to inspire and nurture the human spirit.” The result: a place where people love to meet.

Go beyond just products and profits in expressing your purpose.  What is your company’s unique value contribution to the world?

Which business are you really in?  This question implies a choice among alternatives.  Choosing wisely depends on the linkage you make to your core ideology.

For example, Steve Jobs’ core ideology at Apple is the intersection of technology and the arts.  This strategic context led to iPods, iPhones and iPads.  Each became blockbuster post-PC successes.

In exploring alternative choices you have for your business, identify which central theme will remain a predominant driver of your decisions.  This answer may lead to a fresh examination of opportunities to pursue.

Who are you?  This question focuses on your people and brand.  Building great brands begins with your own expression of what you stand for, reinforced by the perspective of your customers.

For example, Disney spans amusement parks, movies, video games, music, cruises, and TV.   Their brand focuses on one central theme successfully carried out by employees: making people happy.

How do you describe who you are?  How does the marketplace describe who you are?  Decide which aspects of your identity will remain constant and which aspects will evolve over time?

Where is your business headed?  This question addresses your vision and future market position.

For example, Coca Cola’s vision is “to have a Coke within arm’s reach of everyone on the planet.”  While perhaps not achievable, this image leads one to explore many possibilities.

Ten years from now, where could your business be positioned?  Engage your executive team in “painting the canvass” of your future.  With this end in mind, work backwards to determine what it takes to get there.

What are your company’s most important goals?  This question demands measurable results over a set timeframe.

As humans, we are energized by a compelling goal.  President Kennedy’s goal to land a man on the moon and return safely by the end of the 1960s moved an entire nation to action.  His goal was simply stated and compelling.

What single goal, with a metric and timeframe, is moving your entire company to action?

How will you achieve your goals?  This question deals with a process or methodology.

For example, GE holds an international reputation for nurturing extraordinary leadership talent in their many businesses.  Their leadership development processes include extensive leadership training, constant executive reviews of leadership, top brass getting to know the families of upcoming leaders, 360 leadership assessment surveys, and a culture that revolves around leadership.

How do your business processes directly support your goals?  Which areas need to be strengthened or eliminated?

When will you take steps to address critical issues facing your business?  This question addresses the timing of taking action. Create a storyboard so that you know how each action step will lead to your desired outcome.

For example, in order for the Washington Business Alliance – a non-profit comprised of CEOs – to address critical issues in Washington State, their first action step is to demonstrate deep understanding of the issues.   This leads to the other four elements of their work: collaboration, innovation, advocacy and achievement.

What is the sequence of steps your team must take in order to address the critical issues in your business?

Conclusion: These powerful questions serve as the core elements of inquiry that combine to form strategy.  They reveal the fundamental dimensions of intention: purpose, choice, people, position, goals, process and action. If you routinely use The Seven Questions® as a model, you’ll discover better answers for growing your business.