If you knew the answer, what would it be? As a trained coach and someone who spends a lot of my time helping people to get to the bottom of organisational challenges, this is one of my all time favourite questions. On the face of it, sure, it’s nonsensical. But when wielded carefully, it can be liberating, enlightening… and oh-so powerful.
At the heart of the question lies a truth that we consultants prefer not to talk about. Sometimes people already know the answer.
The solution to organisational challenges is not, of course, always blindingly obvious. It can sometimes take days, weeks or months of conversations, observation and analysis to get the bottom of an issue.
And sometimes the ‘answer’ staring you in the face can turn out to be a complete red herring.
But it’s surprising how frequently somebody somewhere in the organisation – or, indeed, everybody everywhere in the organisation – knows exactly what the problem is and what needs to be done about it.
The reasons that organisations don’t recognise that they already know the answer to the problem they’re facing, though, are many and varied.
Sometimes, the person with the answer doesn’t realise that they have it. Or they know they have the answer, but lack the confidence to tell anyone. Sometimes they tell people, but nobody listens to them. And sometimes people listen to them, but still don’t do anything to address the issue.
And so the role of the consultant isn’t always about coming up with the answer. Or, at the very least, coming up with an answer. Sometimes it’s about discerning the answer from the noise created by the organisation and the people working within it.
Because an answer generated by people who live with the problem every day is almost always worth listening to.
But you’ll only hear it if you ask them.