It’s always surprised me that management gurus frequently ignore one skill I find extremely valuable in employees. That skill is foresight–the ability to think ahead as you pursue objectives at work.
The average employee is constantly dealing with a new crisis, something they never saw coming. The exceptional employee, on the other hand, has developed the habit of orienting themself to the future. They understand the big-picture vision and are always on the lookout for upcoming roadblocks.
Like a nimble skier, they keep their eyes on what’s ahead, fluidly navigating through trees, rocks, and whatever else might rear up in their path.
As I read Kirk Dando’s Predictive Leadership, I was very happy to see him place a special emphasis on the skill of foresight, particularly as a business scales. As he puts it:
Growing a business uses “see and solve” strategies. Scaling a business uses “predict and prepare” strategies.
That means switching to an entirely different mode, one where you’re looking ahead, predicting and preventing problems instead of solving them after they happen. And it’s not enough for you, the leader, to switch into problem-prediction mode. You must help all your employees do the same.
Problem Solvers Aren’t the Real Heroes. Problem Predictors Are.
As Kirk points out, problem solvers usually get most of the attention in the organization. Their heroics appear to save projects at the last minute.
Yet far more valuable are your problem predictors, who can spot issues ahead of time. Once your employees become problem predictors rather than problem solvers, your business will be far less likely to veer into one of the many icebergs that loom on either side of your path ahead.
This is a cultural change that will take consistent effort from the top. As always, questions are one of the best tools in the leader’s toolkit. Whether you’re CEO or a manager, use these seven questions to develop the habit of foresight in your employees.
7 Questions to Encourage Employee Foresight
1. “How likely are you to achieve your critical goals on time?”
Instead of asking how far along the employee is on her goals, use this wording to activate her predicting mind. After all, she might be 80 percent done but have no idea how to get that final 20 percent done.
Don’t accept vague answers like “I hope to.” Try asking for a 1-5 rating of the likelihood, forcing the employee to stop and think about the future.
2. “What’s one setback you experienced recently that might have been prevented?”
This question is about mining the recent past for lessons: What warning signs did I miss? What might I be missing now? Ensure that your tone does not come across as accusatory.
3. “What opportunity do you currently not feel empowered to explore?”
Foresight isn’t just about seeing problems; it’s also about proactively pursuing future opportunities. Dig deeper to see what’s holding the employee back from capitalizing on those opportunities, whether it’s lack of time and resources or absence of organizational support.
4. “What three issues are you most likely to face this month?”
There will always be unpleasant surprises, but asking the employee to come up with a few of the most likely ones will unlock important discussions and drive preventive action.
5. “What do you feel is the most important metric for our team to monitor?”
This question is designed to find the signal in the noise. You don’t want employees predicting about everything. You want them predicting about the right thing. This question prompts a discussion about the metric or target around which foresight is most vital.
6. “If someone took over your role for today, what would their priority be?”
Forecasting expert Philip E. Tetlock calls this taking an “outside in” view. The simple trick of putting someone else in their shoes creates psychological distance and helps employees spot previously unseen priorities–and the related problems that may lie in wait.
7. “What’s one thing you think I should know but don’t?”
How many times have you been shocked by a negative development–a lost customer, a missed target, the sudden departure of a key employee–and found out later that everyone else saw it coming? You’ll have to create a trusting relationship with the employee for this question to work, but it’s invaluable when people feel comfortable bringing you problems that are still in the seed stage, before they bloom.
Use these questions liberally with your employees, and look for every opportunity to reward and publicize foresight when you notice it. Call out the employee who knocks on her manager’s door with a smart observation of a developing problem. Tell the story to the broader team.
Show that being a problem predictor is part of your company’s culture–because it’s also key to the company’s long-term success.
Originally appeared Inc.com