High-Gain Questions Lead to Wins

When supply chain professionals implement a new, faster process or procedure, they need to take time to plan great questions — high-gain questions — before moving forward.

Too many questions won't help, but asking consultative, or high-gain, questions fosters progress. By planning high-gain questions in advance, you garner information and buy-in for winning results.

Many people are “tell-assertive.” They are direct, to the point, with an eye for action. Others are “ask-assertive.” They much prefer to ask questions rather than tell people what they think. Which are you? Are you getting the results you want?

Try this exercise at your next meeting. Do not make any statements. Only ask questions. If the exercise is uncomfortable, you may be driving rather coordinating the process. The flip side of the exercise requires only making statements during the next meeting. If you squirm in the seat when you can't ask questions, maybe you need to learn to share your knowledge more frequently.

For example, recently I read the novel House Rules , a mystery by Jodie Picoult. A teenager with Asperger's syndrome plays a big role. Asperger's is a high functioning form of autism that affects more and more families today. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others.”

Now this not an article about Asperger's, but repeatedly, throughout the book, the characters did not ask the right questions. So they didn't get the right answers.

Here are some scenarios where high-gain questions come into play:

The scheduling scenario
You decide, as the Manufacturing Manager, that you want to change the Master Schedule. If you don't consult with the team when you change the MRP system, the new schedule may require excessive resources, making matters worse than better. Planning with the team and cross functional departments for parts, components, and other resources can prevent disaster. Ask the right questions to sell your idea and assure a good pilot program before full implementation. Your questions need to be thought-provoking to gain data to predict the outcome.

The job-seeker scenario
You interview with a team of engineers who may become your colleagues. Do not be afraid to ask, “Will I get your vote to be hired?” The team member says, “I'm not going to be the one to decide.” Your response might be, “I'd bet your input will be valuable. Is there anything we need to discuss to assure I'm the person for this job?” Risky, yes? High gain, you bet. You want to overcome any objections.

Sales professionals
Expert sales professionals know how to discern where the pain in the customer's organization is. You need to do the same. When you want to persuade, you are in sales. Asking how you can solve the pain or challenge helps you finalize your sale. Call it solution or consultative selling. You need to ask quality or high-gain questions. Sales people plan questions in advance to gain high-quality answers. Gather the data before making the sale.

Your questions
What issues are causing your heartburn or high blood pressure? By facing the issues directly, but asking high-gain questions, you are likely to gain traction or make the “sale.” Write the questions in advance. Predict what the other party will ask you and be prepared to persuade through quality questions.

What are some of your high-gain questions? My favorite is, “How can I help you?”

13 comments on “High-Gain Questions Lead to Wins

  1. Tom Murphy
    June 5, 2013

    Thanks for this story, Ruth. I think it's something that many people overlook in business and social situations. Generally, people talk a lot and ask a lot of questions, but they don't say very much or learn enough. High-gain questions get right to the point and demonstrate your sincere understanding and interest in a job, new car, potential mate, or just about anything else.

    What question(s) would you ask if you wanted to boost profit in your company?

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 5, 2013

    Excellent points in this article. I particularly agree with the idea that asking the right questions and listening to the answers is critical.

    I was trained in a method of facilitating group processes called “Appreciative Inquiry.” In broad brush strokes, AI supports the idea that the best way to support organizatoinal change is to focus on what is going right rather than on what's not working (We naturally navigate toward that which we focus on so by focusing on the negative, we are steering for the rocks instead of open water if you get my drift.)

    By asking “What is going well and how do we do more of that?”, you get a different and highly useful data set. I've used this successfully in corporate settings but it can be hard. Organizations largely want to focus on what went wrong and whose fault is it…

    This high-gain question idea has that same flavor. I'd be interested in knowing if others have stumbled into high-gain questions when trying to  optimize the supply chain. Does anyone have a favorite query that yields good results?

  3. Ruth Glover
    June 5, 2013


    Thank you for your remarks.  I was taught to concentrate on starting with what is going well but also asking, “What are your developmental needs?”  In other words, what resources or training might be needed to improve the individual or group.  

    During my tenure as a recruiter my responsibilities often required doing reference checks—not the criminal backgrounds, but a series of questions about the candidates which would discern the candidates' strengths and weaknesses (or developmental needs).  The results sometimes resulted in rejecting the candidate. Preparing the questions in advance certainly helps us focus on the future.



    June 6, 2013

    I tried this with my wife one time.  I thought for a whole evening I would only ask questions and see if that enhanced our relationship.  She still hit me with the frying pan 😉

  5. Ruth Glover
    June 6, 2013

    Maybe you need to plan the questions again!  🙂

  6. Tom Murphy
    June 7, 2013

    Flying Scot: Try high-gain questions like — what can I do to make you happy? Instead of “Do you know what I'd like?”

  7. Tom Murphy
    June 7, 2013

    Hailey: I see value in asking questions from a postiive point of view. But I also think that asking “what's wrong” is probably the most important question that a manager can ask. If you truly listen to the answer with an open mind, you may find out and be able to fix it. If you only ask “What's going well?” you may never find out your biggest problems until it's too late. Then you have an employee who says “I could have told you…”

  8. elctrnx_lyf
    June 10, 2013

    Asking right questions or may be sometimes just questions is an important attribute for any person who has to drive projects or programs. The leaders always have the virtue of thinking differently and also ask questions that could really help the employees to find new solutions or more effective solutions.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 10, 2013

    @Ruth, planning the questions in advance is critical, I agree. At the same time, it's also vital to remain present to the answers and ask unplanned questions based on what we hear. Too often, prepared questions create a situation where asking the question becomes the job rather than really hearing and analyzing the answer. Prepared questions create a framework, but the follow ons are what really flesh out the real picture.

  10. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 10, 2013

    @Tom, i want to be clear that this is not a Pollyanna approach that I am supporting. Clearly, fiiguring out what has gone wrong and finding ways to change flawed systems in critical. These questions, though, aren't the ones i would choose to move the organization forward. When it comes to creating new directions and allowing people to innovate, i beleive this more positive focus is what moves us forward.

  11. Tom Murphy
    June 10, 2013

    Hailey: As long as questions are being asked and answers are being heard, I think the process is moving in a positive direction.  Asking both: “What's wrong?” and “What's right?” may yield two sets of data upon which to make better decisions.

  12. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 10, 2013

    @Tom, we are in agreement… more information is always better. Broader information, carefully used, moves things forward in a positive way.

  13. John F. Predmore
    August 18, 2014
    Video Comment

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