Asking Yourself the Hard Questions

22 Feb 2011 Sandeep Mehta

Industry Week article Asking Yourself the Hard Questions has some interesting points about R&D strategy and planning:

Truth can’t be the first casualty when businesses are making major strategic decisions

The article suggests that leaders need to be more open and sincerely request feedback on strategy and plan. They need to encourage subordinates to ask tough questions:

Of course, asking tough questions won’t do you much good if you’re only talking to yourself. Good leaders need to be able to create an atmosphere in which employees can honestly say what they think. This can be particularly tricky if an executive is known to fall in love with his own ideas. Why risk the boss’s wrath, employees quickly figure out, if their views won’t be heard anyway? In situations where employees can speak freely, this is not a license to be disrespectful, nor is it an invitation to chaos. Think of it more as preventive medicine. It will almost always be cheaper and easier to prevent a problem, or to minimize a problem, than it will to fix it after months or years of denying there is a problem.

I think this approach of asking tough questions is absolutely critical while setting up R&D plans and technology roadmaps.  Since most technology plans are developed by experts and there are not too many people who can question them without repercussions, it is important to institute a culture of constructive skepticism.  Furthermore, most organizations have many myths surrounding R&D  planning and a tough questioning is important to finding the right strategy.  In fact, one can even consider having a well balanced checklist to ensure that the tough questions are asked and addressed in strategy formulation.
One thing not to do is form a tiger team or a commission tasked to study strategies.

In Washington, of course, politicians have developed a clever method for avoiding the hard questions. They appoint a commission to study difficult issues and then release a report. Washington is awash in commission reports, which is a barometer of how divisive and difficult our politics are now. These reports lay out the hard facts and suggested remedies and then, time and again, their remedies are ignored because — that’s right — the remedies require politicians to make tough choices.

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