If a business team knows the point of everything they do, they are securing huge wins along the way. This is why leaders must focus on delivering value to their people and align it to their set purpose. In this episode, the People Strategy Forum welcomes Katie Burkhart, Founder and CEO of MatterLogic™, who discusses the importance of understanding the target audience you are serving and the best way to deliver the right level of value at all times. She presents the steps on drawing alignment between value and purpose, as well as the power of helping people experience individualized value. Katie also talks about getting flexible with the rise of hybrid workplace setups and the three layers of asking the right questions to reach actual applicable solutions.
We’re a show that guides leaders on how to evolve the workforce overall. We believe that people are the heart of successful organizations. The team members’ well-being in their career development is essential to a happy, healthy, and successful workforce. This show discusses the practical and effective leadership strategies for top executives, senior professionals, and talent managers.
We have a group of professionals with us. We have Howard Nizewitz. Howard is an exceptional talent and HR coach. He helps organizations develop systems and put systems in place for compensation programs and general HR strategies overall. I’m fortunate to have Howard on. Thank you, Howard. We have Sumit Singla. Sumit is out of India. Sumit has a very long pedigree of consulting firms that he has worked with and for. We’re very fortunate to have him on as well. We have Char Miller. She is what I love to call a serial entrepreneur. She’s got tons of irons in the fire from a mountain of speaker strategy to help advocacies and being her own chief human resource officer. She’s got a lot of experience for us here.
I would love to introduce our main speaker, Katie Burkhart. She is the CEO of MatterLogic. She’s going to talk to us a lot about creating value for your people and in companies. She’s a driver of the value economy here. She has the theme of saying, “What’s the point of the things that we do and how we act that really drives meaning in the places that we work?” Thank you so much, Katie, for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how this all started for you, this journey, and so forth?
Thank you so much for having me. I am really excited to join such a great lineup of other thinkers and people here in the forum. My work and how I spend my time is, in fact, rooted in a real interest in making my own time matter. My first work experience was as a lifeguard. As much as I was excited to do it and it was the cool thing to do when I was a kid swimming in the same pool that I guarded, I spent a lot of time looking at empty pool water either because nobody was there yet or nobody was coming. It depended on the day. That meant I spent my shifts watching the clock tick by. It is time I would not get back.
I walked away from that experience saying, “This is not how I want to live my life. I want to make sure that I can be deliberate with how I spend my time. Ultimately, I want to see if there’s a way that I can help other people do that.” That’s really where this question of, “What’s the point?” came from of trying to understand the reason for why I’m doing what I’m doing but in a truly pragmatic way and less existential. I am more grounded in my own work and then in my work with clients.
When your clients come to you, what are the big things that they’re trying to solve overall?
Our clients typically come to us and say, “It’s that time in the lifecycle of our organization to look at our strategy.” Most of them are then also saying simultaneously, “We know this time around, we need to think about how we’re doing work differently in a really pragmatic way. We’ve done a survey. We’ve talked to people. We are seeing rumblings at large. We’ve realized that people are looking for something different. We’ve tried some things. Some have worked, and clearly, some have not. We’re not sure that this is all feeding together. Can you help us with that?” The answer is yes.
When we work with teams, we start with, “What’s the point of this business? Why does it exist? Why are you asking all these people to come in, get out of bed, and spend their time every day contributing to this business?” For us, that’s about the value you deliver and who you deliver it to. A lot of people can hear that and think, “I have to save the whales in order to be doing something really meaningful.” That’s not true. There are a lot of ways in which you are delivering meaningful value to the world. I got a pair of shoes that are fabulous. I am getting value out of them actively at the moment. The point is to be clear on what that is, to make that the point of the business, and to ensure that everything you’re doing is driving towards that.
The big shift there for a lot of businesses is that it’s no longer about throwing resources around every idea that crosses your path or every potentially interesting project and seeing what sticks in the goal of simply making more money. It becomes much more about being deliberate and filtering through, “What is the point of doing this thing? Is it going to deliver the value that we exist to deliver?”
As far as how that ends up helping your people, work becomes meaningful because your team members understand the reason for what they’re doing in the first place. That is a huge challenge still faced by many businesses. They’re like, “How do I help the person several tiers down or several positions over to the left understand how their contributions fit in?” This question goes a long way to helping make that happen.
It also goes a long way to one of the themes that we see with a lot of our clients, which is an increasing interest in their teams looking for more empowerment. If we all are clear on the point of the business, have the core developed around that, and we’re all on the same page, we can all use that as a lens for our decisions. It makes it much more effective as everybody is going about making choices as they’re doing work for the company.
Companies have been talking for years about their mission and their value statements. What are they getting wrong in terms of what you discussed?
In most cases, they’re misdefined. In a lot of cases, they’re putting together what is a wonderful, fluffy, and highly aspirational marketing message. Their goal is, “This is somehow an extra tactic or a tag along to what we’re doing. It’s going to make people feel really good and feel inspired.” The bottom line is it has nothing to do with how our business runs. It’s not centered on the strategy of the actual business versus saying, “We are going to exist and drive everything towards delivering this particular value.”
This is usually where people say, “Don’t we have to make money?” You do. Saying the way that we make money and the way that we bring in the resources that we need to pay our people well, bring in the talent we need, and do the things that we need to do is by inextricably linking the value you deliver to the way that you make money. This is why it’s so important to understand who you serve and the value that they’re looking for from you and discover ways to deepen delivering that value.
It is transitioning from a tag-along or a nice, fluffy statement to thinking about this as the core of your business strategy. It is then developing all five pieces, which for us is purpose. Why do we exist? What’s the ultimate value we deliver? There’s vision. What is the world that we’re trying to create? Where are we going? There are the outcomes. What do we have to help our people do or achieve in order to experience that ultimate value and get to that vision? There’s mission. What interrelated actions does your business take multiple? What do we take to deliver that value? There are then your values, which are the practices. How do we take those actions in a way that is distinct to us and ultimately deepens our ability to deliver that value?
I like all those pieces that you mentioned. We should dive into each one of them. I have a question for you. For instance, there are some companies out there that have this really easy. Their mission is to solve global warming or save the whales. There are others that are like, “We make sheet metal. This is what we do,” and so forth. It’s a little bit tougher for a person who is working the line or the press, or whatever it may be to draw that alignment to that purpose-driven organization. Let’s go through your steps on how a company can really draw that alignment. The first thing you mentioned was purpose overall.
What you’re really thinking about is moving from the super aspirational to thinking about value more broadly. As part of being in the value economy, we are starting to ask those questions in different ways than perhaps we have before. In this case, I would take something like my father’s an electrician. That’s something where people see that very much as a trade or it’s a thing you do. I can almost guarantee that this may not be a conversation that their company is actively having, but they can.
My dad, in a funny way, has a really good answer. It is, “All of these amazing things that the world is creating, all this new software, your AI, and everything else, it all stops the minute that you can’t plug your machine into the wall.” There’s a wonderful story there about the value you’re delivering. To keep it from being this huge, crazy world-changing thing that doesn’t make sense, I would be sitting with that company.
The way we work with teams is a little different. We create working groups of their C-Suite. We create a working group of their staff. We create a working group of their customers. We create a working group of their partners if that’s important to the business and then donors if they’re a nonprofit. We engage these working groups in the development of this core because we don’t want the C-Suite to say, “We think they care about this.” Why do we have to think? Why don’t we ask them what is it that they’re looking for from you to deliver value?
In the case of that business, I’d want to understand who specifically you are serving and what value are they really getting from you. Is it that it’s about speed? There’s a way to do that, but it does require sitting down. Instead of navel-gazing, it is going out, being really curious to understand the people that are attached to your organization, and looking for the truth of the matter as far as what value they need and what they need to do and achieve. They’re looking for you to help. It is then tapping into the collective brainpower of your whole team to say, “What’s the best way for us to go about doing that? What’s going to most effectively get them where they need to go?”Value is not about the power to do the things that you do. It is also doing them more quickly. Click To Tweet
You mentioned the next step. What’s the next step?
That’s where we go as far as starting to build that strategy. Once you have that core, the next piece is really teaching your entire team, “How do I make choices based on it?” A lot of us work very hard to distinguish, “This is my strategy. This is my execution.” I don’t quite look at it that way. To me, strategy is about making choices. Whether you’re making choices at the absolute core level or making choices way down here, you’re still making choices. We need to be making them in a strategic manner and in a way that’s ultimately, driving the value that we exist to deliver as a business.
This is where that, “What’s the point?” question starts to come in because we’re allowed to look at that throughout the internal workings of the business. What actions is it choosing to take? How is it choosing to take them? It’s not only what it spits out at the end of that process, whether it’s a service or a product. We’re really working that through. We are asking those questions and getting people to think about their business and their team as one living, breathing organism versus studying it as disparate or separate parts. That becomes a big part of the process.
The final step is calibrating that while we’re working with them on that first pass. It’s not set in stone forever. You should be constantly calibrating your business and checking, “With that choice we made or that experiment we ran, how did it pan out? What did we learn? Do we want to double down? Do we not?” Starting to have that type of thinking and doing that more regularly makes that question of, “What’s the point?” really important so that you can be checking in on, “Should we even be doing it in the first place?” That is where you start to get to, “How does that drive value for our people?”
There are two specific examples that whacked me in the face. One is meetings. The number of people that are sitting in completely pointless meetings. I had somebody say the adage is we call a meeting to determine why we should have a meeting, and then we call a meeting to determine what should be in the meeting. We have the meeting that we should have had versus saying, “Why don’t we determine that there’s a really good point to this meeting?”
Make sure that the people on the call are only the ones that are essential to have this conversation and make good use of the time that we come together. Coming together is an important part of work. There are times when you need to talk to other people. The other one that strikes me is how we understand productivity. The focus here is also misaligned and has a tendency to go toward how many hours you spent. That is where so much of the, “Should we be working in a distributed fashion? Should we all be sitting in the office?” It ultimately comes down to that issue.
Getting people to say, “The number of hours isn’t the point. The point is did you make the contributions that I need you as a team member to make in order for us to be delivering that value? What’s the point of your role being here?” becomes the thing that I want to be monitoring and making sure is happening versus checking whether or not you’re typing on your keyboard for enough hours every day. That boggles the mind as far as useless and poor use of energy. I would hate to be the keyboard monitoring person.
You have leaders that are going, “Hours are easy to track. I know when somebody did an hour. If Char moved the needle from here to there, I don’t really know.” What do you advise your leaders in that situation?
Much of this is about creating, sitting down, and looking at that business as a whole. One of the things we look at is your workflow and understanding what are the roles and contributions to that workflow. One of the mindset shifts here is a role can be occupied by an employee that can also be occupied by a vast number of other things. Maybe the role needs to be occupied by an agency. Maybe it’s occupied by an independent contractor. Maybe it’s occupied by technology.
There is a role that needs to be in here or something that needs to be done because there are contributions attached. The contributions that we’re putting a bunch of them together, we have a role that is going into our workflow. Taking the time to design that thoughtfully and making sure that we’re asking, “What’s the point?” which ties back to our core, we are seeing, at least in our work with clients, is becoming an increasingly important part of what we’re doing.
We’ve had a couple of clients elect to not engage in that work with us for a variety of different reasons. They’re usually the ones that aren’t quite as successful because they’re in their own way. They, in many cases, still have misaligned measurements because they’re sticking with whatever they were doing before. They’ve got people that are, in some cases, running into each other. They’ve got things stuck in their workflow that maybe, at this point, they shouldn’t be doing because it’s not de delivering the value that they exist to deliver.
It is being really clear on what those roles and contributions are and having those conversations. We often build profiles for the humans in the system, but we want to know what the roles and contributions of technology and other things are as well. It is so that we can look at it and say, “These are the things that we’re expecting you to contribute. Are you doing them?”
It is understanding that there are some roles, contributions, or businesses where this can get a little more challenging, but in a lot of cases, it’s pretty straightforward. If you take my studio agency, which does storytelling, it’s pretty quick to know if your contribution is to capture the video footage and edit it and you don’t do those things. I don’t need to know how many hours you sat there. I need to know how far along you’ve moved the things that you’re executing. That’s really the point.
I appreciate what you’re saying. It’s very vital that we do acknowledge the value and the purpose of other positions. As an example, I worked in healthcare. A physician does really appreciate the sterile processing as well as a surgeon. Sterile processing is doing their job to sterilize that equipment. If sterile equipment or tools are not cleaned properly, that can lead to disease and all kinds of adverse reactions, so a physician would appreciate that particular department.
Another example is the environmental services department. We have to have our hospitals clean. This is the janitorial department. I’ll say a janitor for lack of a different title, but they are valuable. One of the most important things in a hospital setting is that we have a clean, sterile environment for our patients or else it will lead to diseases and other adverse actions.
In my opinion, it’s important to involve those other perceived not-as-important departments in how we can break down those silos and assure that we’re working together. I call it breaking down the barriers to success. If those people are not doing their roles appropriately, efficiently, and on time, that can adversely affect my productivity in my current position.
Every single part of this organism or culture has to have its part. I have sat down with leaders who could not figure out how to articulate what the value of that position is. You’re saying one-on-ones are important to really sit down with each staff member and say, “This is your role. This is your value, your purpose, and why you’re so vital.” Are there other communication methods? What do you think?
It’s what you were covering, which is you also need to be talking about the entire workflow and what those broad roles and contributions are to everybody. It’s so easy to get stuck in your particular area because that’s what you look at every day. Most of us aren’t stopping and being like, “I’m playing for a bigger team.” Could anybody imagine a football team where the offensive line is paying no attention to the defensive line or the guy who catches the ball is out to lunge while the quarterback is throwing it down the field and then the ball’s hitting the floor? It is like, “What are you doing?” It’s because they’re not paying attention to the fact that it’s one team.
This is a small but mighty mindset shift for a lot of the clients we work with. They’re so accustomed to having teams within teams. It is like, “My team, your team.” We’re like, “Please stop saying that you have one team. We all have a role-playing for that team. We need to understand how we support each other in doing all of our best work. If you drop the ball, it’s inevitably going to affect everybody else on the team. We need to make this an actual one-team effort versus creating accidental additional silos in different ways throughout the organization.”Stop saying you have one team and everyone has a role in it. Instead, understand how to support each other and do the best work because if one drops the ball, it will inevitably affect everybody else. Click To Tweet
The individual ones are really important for clarity so that from a performance aspect, they’re not like, “I didn’t know this was the thing I was supposed to be doing.” As far as getting full team clarity and getting that mindset shift to everyone’s role here delivers value and is what allows us to be successful as an organization in delivering value to the people we serve.
Having that big-picture conversation and going over that workflow on a more regular basis even though it sounds very granular, technical, and unpleasant, if you’re doing it at a high level and looking at those key roles, and I can do mine for my studio on two PowerPoint slides, it’s important for people to understand how those pieces fit together.
What do you think, Sumit? Tell us.
In fact, I did have a soccer-related example that what Katie was saying brought to mind. You’ve got 11 people in a team and 1 of them is the goalkeeper. Initially, to begin with, all the ten would run to wherever the ball was. They would chase it and try to get control of it, and then try to score. Eventually, somebody figured out it was a waste of effort.
It’s not because you’re chasing the same purpose, which is to win the game, that it necessarily means that all ten have to do precisely the same job. That’s when they started organizing into defense, midfield, and attack. Everyone was assigned a role, but depending on what you’re doing, the rules are a little fluid. It’s not like if you’re a defender, you only stay in one corner of the field and when the ball comes to you, that’s when you act. Depending on whether your team is defending, that’s when everyone comes back, tries to defend, and launches the next attack.
That’s what Kerry was saying brought to mind about the objective or the purpose. The purpose is not to be the best defender that there is. The purpose is to help the team win. If your team loses by one point, the purpose gets defeated. You might have had a head of a game defending or in offense as well. It’s pointless. It might earn you a little bit of an extra bonus or you might become more valuable to other teams, but in the long run, it’s useless.
The second thing that I was thinking of when you mentioned purpose, and I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, was the one about when John F. Kennedy went to the NASA facility and met somebody who was carrying a broom. He said, “I am Kennedy. What do you do here?” He said, “I’m trying to put a man on the moon.” That was the purpose. The person didn’t say, “I empty 50 trash cans a day,” or, “I sweep these halls for eight hours a day.” Aligning the person to that purpose of the larger organization would, one, automatically make them look at productivity without you having to drill it into them by saying, “Your target is not to get men on the moon. You are responsible for the trash cans. The trash cans don’t really seem clean.”
100%. What you’re getting at with that particular story is something that I run into periodically. It is people who will say, “No everybody can go out and solve world hunger. We need people to do the other jobs.” I usually respond by saying, “What other jobs?” They come up with things like cooking food, becoming a waiter, or being a janitor. It’s the things that seem more normal. My response is always the same. I’m like, “Without those people, these organizations and these teams would not be successful.”
How do we start to move away from purpose, meaning, and value in work? There is an individual component to that, 110%, but to be more comfortable recognizing that the point of being on a team is that your contributions are going towards a larger whole. That’s a big part of what makes being part of a team so valuable.
Humans are very social creatures. That’s exciting. One of the things that sometimes I see people working as solo consultants miss as much as they like being a consultant doing the work that they’re doing is they’re not on a team in the same way. They don’t have that social power or those relationships that add additional meaning and value to the individual work that you’re doing.
Let’s say a company defines, “What’s the point?” and they go through all those steps. How do they then translate that into getting buy-in from all of the employees? People come to work for a whole range of different reasons. How do you get everyone on board? Do you need to get everyone on board?
There are a couple of things you can do. One, the fact that you are working to define your core based on the value you deliver to the people you serve, your customers, your beneficiaries, or whatever, that in and of itself and being able to say, “We engaged them in the process. This is what we heard from them. This is the reasoning behind the choices that we’re making,” goes a very long way to getting people on board. It’s not about whether Barbara thinks this is a cooler idea than Steve. We’re using their input and their insights. Quickly, that has a tendency to be a large leveling playing field to be like, “I see that. I can get on board with that. I can get really excited about that.”
I like to talk about how your customer and your team are two sides of the same coin. You need both. There are always going to be moments of trade-off. Somebody on your team may say, “This is a better way to deliver the value that they’re looking for.” Steve over there may say, “My way is the better way.” At some point, you will have to make tough choices and figure out how to communicate why you chose to do something and sometimes, more importantly, why you chose not to do something, which is often left out of communication.
We are inherently additive in leadership. To look like you’re doing something, there needs to be a new something versus really talking about, “We heard Steve’s argument. We heard Barbara’s argument. We ultimately went with Barbara’s. Here’s why. Here’s why we didn’t choose Steve’s argument as well,” so that people understand the reasoning behind what’s going on.
This does take some time. It does not happen overnight. People are comfortable with the fact that you’re going to say no a lot. A lot of running a business this way means you’re going to say no probably more often than you say yes. It is getting people comfortable with the fact that we need to do that because doing all of the things is not going to make us successful. We’re going to communicate about how we’re making those choices so that we’re being really transparent in our logic and our reasoning to move through our work. That’s a big piece of two ways to get through that as you move through.
As far as the third piece, which is people come to work for different reasons, you’re 100% correct. Those additional personal things that I’m looking to get out of work as an individual, you’re correct. They’re individual. Having those one-on-one conversations, building that individual profile, and understanding what that is is really important when it comes to delivering value to your team members, which is part of this equation.
If you’ve got somebody on your team who’s saying, “I really want to learn this new skill,” then you know that you’ve made the choice to pilot a new project where this person would have the opportunity to learn from people with that skill or develop that skill. It would be wise to find a way to get them involved with that particular initiative or give them an opportunity to spend a little extra time with somebody in a different role because they see themselves switching from their current role to a different role.
That’s another level of things to manage that goes into more specifically helping that person to experience individualized value. It is an extra level of value delivery that businesses get to do. First and foremost, we need to deliver value to the people we serve so we can continue to exist as a business. If we’re going to be successful and have the best people on our team, which, presumably, we want, and be able to cultivate and keep them here, then we need to deliver value to them also.
I like what you said about explaining why we say no in particular situations. There’s such a huge opportunity that’s missed in a lot of organizations because they don’t take the time to explain why they did not choose a certain methodology. A lot of times, there is a lot of merit, or you might forgo going in a certain direction because it may not make sense because of one little detail. A detail, if we explain why we didn’t choose that, it may be able to be overcome at a future date and could be a better idea ultimately. That’s something that really drives that innovation.
It’s a big one and is a part of being more strategic and working to come up with, hopefully, better ideas and refine your thinking. If you’re doing it well, we try to encourage clients, and we’re working to build a tool to do this more seamlessly, keep some of those things. It’s not because you said no now that it means in the future, you might not say yes. Understanding why you said no in the past may inform a future decision depending on what comes up again. It’s not uncommon that there are certain ideas that resurface whether because they’ve got somebody who is going to die on that hill or because, to your point, it is potentially a good idea but at this time as presented, the answer has to be no for this reason.Just because you said no now does not mean you will not say yes in the future. Your next decision will depend on the different factors that may come up. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk about a different issue that I often see in organizations. A lot of times, because of tradition, culture, or so forth, certain layers or levels in the organization may receive different types of treatment. Maybe they’re more senior. Maybe you have this new type of benefit or whatever that’s attributed to them. That gives us a natural sense of segregation in a way. What’s developing that’s more relevant is those that work at home, those that are in the office, and the hybrid nature of all those there in between. Organizations in the past have had an us versus them mentality. How can we switch that to ensure we don’t go back to that mentality?
That’s an interesting one because some of it’s going to vary very much from company to company and what’s creating the us versus them feeling. They come about sometimes because I feel like I’m in a preferred position and you’re in a non-preferred position, which is one particular challenge. Sometimes, it’s because we’ve created false, meaning we’ve simply created them, divider lines between different parts of our team that are, for whatever reason, friction each other. The one that you are particularly getting at is this sense of I’m in a perceived better position than you. How do we deal with that? Some of what we were talking about earlier can help with that. It is recognizing that we’re all on one team and we need everybody to do those things.
Let’s stick with, “I get to work hybrid and you have to come into the office,” which is a top-of-mind sticking point for a lot of people. There are businesses where there are components where you have to come in. There is no way for me to make your job virtual. It’s not going to happen. We are dependent upon you to come in.
If you are starting to think about that piece of value that this person wishes they had, which is the ability to be more flexible, look at what you can do to achieve that within perhaps the narrower confines that you can. Talk to them about, “If can’t get you working from home, what else would help you to do your job better and to know how much we value you as a team?” Don’t try to make it up. Go ask. Find out what you can do to help make them not feel like they’re somehow second class within your organization and be mindful of that.
There are some ways to add in. For example, Chick-fil-A is working 4/10 or something. They put in an interesting schedule where you still have to come in in person, but it added a vast amount of flexibility for their people. It was done very thoughtfully to support the type of people who are typically on their team and are often looking to put time towards school and being able to complete a college degree, if I remember the article correctly. I thought, “They’re really trying to think outside the box and figure out how to make sure that these incredibly essential people to their business model and the way they do work feel valued.” If I remember the article correctly, they did that by talking to them.
Having that conversation and understanding that is going to be really important. It is also recognizing that there are some universal throughlines. Everybody is looking for more flexibility. If you can’t allow Fred to work from home and Diana can, understand that Fred may not like that. What else could you do for Fred to make sure that he’s feeling valued? He is a valuable part of your team. I don’t know if that quite helps.
It does. Thank you. I’d like to revisit the core message that you have. What’s the point? That really gives a lot of leaders a first place to start. It’s also a way to dive in and understand how we can become more strategic, drive more value, and be more efficient. There are a lot of pieces there. Is that what your intent was when you were coining that particular phrase?
It was an accident. It’s a phrase that I use all the time naturally, whether it was earlier in my career where I was on the team or I was the contributor in one role or another, a consultant, or whatever. I would often be sitting in meetings and they’d be talking about, “We should do this.” My gut reaction was almost always, “What’s the point?”
People would lock up in a lot of cases because they weren’t sure. They were tossing out a thing to do versus saying, “This is the point of doing something.” If that’s the point, what’s the best something to do? It gets back to my own deliberate nature in thinking the way some people would say minimalist, but I prefer the term essentialist. If it doesn’t need to be there, why are we putting time towards it? There’s only so much time in one day to be able to put things towards.
I know everybody’s like, “AI will do it because it works when you sleep.” That’s all lovely, but for human beings, there is only so much time in one day. If we’re going to be bringing people in, bringing people together, and working on things, let’s really make sure that we understand the point of this, not just why. A lot of people will say, “Why don’t you ask why are we doing that?” My answer is always the same. It can get very existential. I’m not looking for the existential answer. I’m looking for a pragmatic answer. What do we want, whatever we’re doing, to achieve before we sit down to do it so that we can make sure that the choices we make are going to achieve what it is that we’re setting out to do? Often, we miss this step and we don’t talk about that much.
That’s really where the question came from in all of my work and ultimately developing a framework. We’re exploring developing technology tools to support it. Where it comes from is how do I help people to ask questions, which is such a human thing to do? Asking better questions is about as simple a tool as you can get to hopefully be more deliberate and strategic in what it is they choose to do and choose, in so many cases, not to do because they didn’t need to do it in the first place.
I was doing some reading. You are talking about asking questions. In your blog, you were referring to asking those three layers of questions. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
This is specific to my role as an outsider working with a team, but leaders can do the same thing. Sometimes, as a member of a team, so can you. It is to take a step back and really listen to what the person is asking. What you’ll find is that people will ask a question. In a lot of cases, they ask almost the question they intended to ask. You’re like, “This is what I hear you saying. Let me make sure that we’re there.” You help them clarify their own thinking and answer question one, like what they asked. You help them clarify their thinking to the question they were trying to get to. There may even be a question they didn’t think to ask. What is this aspect? What is this perspective perhaps that they’re not considering because that’s not the vantage point from which they’re sitting?
This is one of the pieces of having a team that as a leader, you get excited about the fact that, “I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to occupy all the perspectives. I have a room full of talented people who can help me to do that and help me to check in on that question. I didn’t think to ask because that’s not how I was looking at the issue or that’s not my role in the greater teams. Even if I tried to put myself in your shoes, I would come up with the same questions that you would come up with.”
Working through those three levels is something I like to do with clients. In fact, I’m preparing for a session. I’m working through some of those questions as far as, “Here’s what’s coming up directly here’s what they’re asking about based on what I’m seeing. Here are a couple of things that maybe they didn’t consider but would help to fuel a more well-rounded conversation.”
That’s really fascinating. Asking good questions is so important. That’s one of the benefits that we can get from this onset of AI coming our way. Learning how to become a prompt engineer and ask the right questions to AI has brought a lot of interesting realization to me. Sometimes, we ask the question in simple terms and we don’t really think about it. It’s like, “What is the answer to X?” We get something that is definitional or something that’s very limited and not in context so the more we dive in and think, “What is the question I really should be asking and in what context and to what person?” All those things that you’re thinking about bring better answers and more understanding. I find that fascinating.
The other side of it, too, and maybe it’s a US thing, is we’re very quick to want to answer and solve the problem. Sometimes, you need to pause and try and get to the question that they want to ask or that they haven’t thought about asking versus reaching for the quick solution.
That’s such an essential thing that you said, which is taking that bit of extra time to think. People get very excited about being knowledge workers, the laptop class, and whatever else. It’s amazing how much even those people are not given space to think before they go about trying to do work. For leaders, especially, I read a report that we put in very little time to think strategically. There’s such a pressure on, “We’ll spend even less time on it.” I’m like, “What if the problem is that we’re not spending enough time on it, not that we need to do it faster?”
That is so true.
We’re reaching the top of the hour here. When you think of the main takeaways that you want our audience to be thinking about, how would you summarize that?
What I would say is, “What’s the point?” is a key question even for yourself and your own life as a human being. Look at all the things that take your time and understand the point of them. Do all of them together. Create a life you want to live. It’s equally applicable there as it is to think about how businesses are running, what that means for the team members that are a part of that business, and how work gets done.
Taking away what’s the point of the business should be the value that it delivers to someone. It is then understanding that you can then ask that question of every action the business takes so that you’re delivering that value. In turn, it makes the work you’re asking your people to do more meaningful and therefore more valuable to them.The point of the business should be the value it delivers to someone. Every action you take must be centered on it, and your team should do more meaningful and valuable things for your target audience. Click To Tweet
It is being able to then apply that question also to some of the things that they’re looking for out of work and being able to be personal about maybe it’s growth that they’re looking for in addition to the particular things that they’re doing. Maybe it’s relationships. Maybe it’s a leadership opportunity. Maybe it’s something else. Take the time to also understand that you deliver value to your team members, first and foremost, by paying them. Second is by respecting their time and thinking about the, “What’s the point question?” to make sure you are. Third is by finding those other potentially more personal points that they’re hopefully looking to get out of the time they invest in their work with you.
For our audience out there, if you have any questions for Katie, this is the time to think about those. I do want to mention our sponsor here, TMA USA. TMA is a tool that can help us increase communication with our teams. What we’re talking about a lot here is diving in and asking, “What’s the point?” In TMA’s particular situation, it is, “What’s most meaningful to them and how they do their best work?”
As we are engaging with our people and learning more about them, and you can use Katie’s framework as well, we’re like, “What’s the point in your career?” That’s to get some good conversations going forward. For those of our audience that are looking to learn more about you and so forth, how can they contact you?
There are two easy ways to be part of my community or network. One is to go over and find me on LinkedIn. I’m pretty easy to find. Feel free to connect. If you have any questions or want to chat with me for any reason or get to know me better, please feel free to drop me a direct message. Let me know if you read this. I’m happy to make that time for you and have that conversation. I also post pretty regularly. If you found any of this remotely interesting, that’s a way to hear a little bit more about it.
I also write WTP, which stands for What’s The Point? It is a Substack publication. You’re welcome to give that a follow. It’s free. I try to publish once a week with articles about work and business, but also the larger value economy and what that means for us as people and participants. I talk about how we can move ourselves in that direction. Clearly, we’re interested, so how do we get from where we are to over there, and what does that look like? A way to find that is WTPFocus.Substack.com.
Thank you so much. It’s been a wonderful conversation. Thank you for joining us.
Thank you so much for having me. Thank you to everybody who asked really thoughtful questions and added intelligent contributions. It’s always great to be with a crowd of people who clearly care about people and work.
Thank you very much.
We’ll see everybody on the next episode of the show. Take care.
Katie Burkhart is the mastermind behind MatterLogic™, the only system for running a business in the value economy. An essentialist thinker, Entrepreneur contributor, thoughtful speaker, and jargon slayer, she shifts your focus by asking “What’s the point?” For more of her thinking, connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/katharineburkhart/ and subscribe to WTP wtpfocus.substack.com.