That’s a good question…

One of the most important tools a HR pro can have is the ability to ask good questions. You won’t find it in many of the “earn yourself a seat at the table” articles, but trust me it’s true. Good questions are your best friend.


To start with, good questions help you out when you don’t know what else to say. They help you enter a conversation and are a brilliant way of interacting above your organisational level. Generally, the more senior you get, the more you like the sound of your own voice. Asking questions plays right in to that sweet spot and gets you noticed.

Good questions help you learn. They give you knowledge, insight and understanding that you otherwise would not obtain. They’re your key to learning more about the business and developing your commercial and strategic acumen. Good questions are personal development on speed.

Good questions help you avoid making a fool of yourself. Too many times when things go wrong you have the, “why didn’t you tell me” moment. Which of course has the answer, “you didn’t ask”. Good questions replace volume, they get to the issue quicker than lots of questions and they identify issues before they happen.

Good questions make the other person work. You only have to develop your repertoire of good questions once, but you can deploy them time and time again. The person on the receiving end, however, has to do the thinking. Not only does it make them smarter (and they’ll thank you for that) it also means you can spend the time listening, it’s a win win.

It’s too easy to think that getting yourself noticed, getting influence, getting that organisational recognition is about being heard. And too many HR people spend their time talking and talking to try to fill that space. Next time you’re tempted, ask a question instead (but make it a good one), and see what the response you get is.

Trust me, you’ll never look back.


Disappointment and performance

As a proud Welshman, I was hooked to the television on Saturday morning to watch the Welsh rugby team play France in the semi final of the Rugby World Cup. The Welsh were favourites after a series of strong performances in earlier games and it seemed that it was almost a matter of time until I was watching them in the final for the first time.

But with less than 20 minutes gone, their captain was controversially sent off and reduced to 14 men for over an hour, the effort was too much and they lost by a single point. Unsurprisingly, the post match analysis and the media focus was all on the sending off, the rights and the wrongs, the ins and the outs. In the words of the Coach Warren Gatland,

 “the destiny of having the opportunity was taken away from us”

In business I have seen so many people who feel the same way. Passed over for a promotion, working for someone who they don’t respect, not paid the amount they think they are worth, on the project that is going to the wall because it is being led by “that idiot”.

And that is the thing, it is always someone else’s fault. And often the one at fault is the guy in charge.

I’m not going to say that the world is without injustice. Sometimes bad things happen. But my point is that obsessing on these things just isn’t healthy. It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t improve your performance it ultimately will not bring you success.

There are certain factors that you can control in your life, in your work, and there are others that you can’t. Focussing on and trying to control the things that are out of reach of your influence is a sure-fire way for a life of resentment and frustration.

The Welsh players can’t go back and change the decision that was made. But they can prepare for the third place play off and show the world why they are the team that everyone would wish to be in the final. And then they can go on to the Six Nations on a high and with a chance to show the world once again their abilities.  They need to accept that they didn’t lose because a player was sent off, they lost because they scored less points than the other team.

Likewise, you can’t go back and get that promotion, change your manager, increase your own pay or run that project. But you can focus on the next opportunity, the next chance to shine and you can prepare yourself to make the most of it.

Disappointment is natural, we all want to do well. But most of the time it is your fault when things go wrong. Accept that, work out what you’d differently and focus on improvement. It takes a bigger person to do and sure it will hurt at times, but I guarantee it will be ten times more effective than focusing on past failures and looking for someone to blame.