- 15. If I Ask a Foolish Question, I'll Look Foolish
- 16. Unasked Questions: If You Already Know the Answer, It Is Unnecessary to Ask the Question
- 17. Someone Else (of Higher Authority or Greater Experience) Will Ask
- 18. Saved Questions: I Will Save My Question for Another More Appropriate Time
- 19. My Question Will Make Waves and Making Waves Is Bad
- 20. Normalization of a Defect
18. Saved Questions: I Will Save My Question for Another More Appropriate Time
There is no more appropriate time to ask than when the question occurs to you. This is true even when you know the answer will be delayed, such as with voicemail. The rule of thumb that managers should adopt is to ask questions early and often.
But, the advice in the preceding section recommends putting a question off if the circumstances are not quite right. This is contradictory advice and something that all managers, when they arrive in any management position, quickly find out is all too common.
Yes, there is no time like the present—so ask now, while you still can. And yes, the question can also be put off, but not saved.
Saving a question implies that there is no real urgency for the use of that question. Questions are not like money. They do not grow interest in the question bank while awaiting withdrawal. Rather, their job is to produce a return on investment as soon as possible.
The previous recommendations suggest that a phone call or face-to-face meeting with the respondent is most desired, if possible. If not, e-mail or text messaging is the next best approach. This should be done as quickly as possible before events occur that might have been avoided had the importance of addressing the question been communicated. All businesses have inquisitors. Not all of them sit with business teams. Some are on boards or in research, but they are not always available to ask the tough questions so that others do not have to.
There is another exception to the “ask as soon as it occurs to you” rule: any question that might be asked in anger or with an intention to do harm. These should be put off—for good. What kinds of question are these?
We all know them well.
“What kind of an idiot are you?” is one of my favorites. I witnessed a senior executive explode one afternoon at a business review. He screamed this into the face of a mid-level manager. The manager had just finished explaining that he had authorized the construction of a $100 million manufacturing facility without doing any of the usual preliminary work to make sure the new process would actually work. Normally, the business built a small-scale pilot plant to prove out a new manufacturing process. But, these small plants could cost up to $20 million, a significant cost penalty to a business with slim margins. However, to make a mistake bypassing the smaller facility could risk losing an investment of close to $200 million.
“A highly paid one,” was the quick reply. This “wise guy,” a middle manager who risked the company’s money by building a facility using an untested process, was later promoted to vice president. The manufacturing facility never did open; the process didn’t work. If only more questions had been asked by the senior VP, instead of venting anger and allowing humor to replace reason, the business might have avoided building a very large white elephant that was later sold off for about $20 million—to another company that wanted to use it as a pilot facility.
Questions might grow into problems when left unasked, even though asking them is no guarantee of being problem free.