Are You Asking the Right QuestionsOperating inside the centralized versus decentralized paradox and finding the right balance has been a perpetual conundrum for many organizations. Deciding which model to use is often a values issue centered on issues of control, trust, and autonomy.

We’re working with a high growth international resources company acquiring and adding new sites and divisions across the globe. Their new CEO is leading a major culture shift. Part of that transformation is moving to a decentralized model with head office functions serving the local business units.

A strategy retreat of these key leaders was set up to agree on the company’s evolving “decentralized model.” A key starting point was getting agreement on the roles and responsibilities of the local business units and the roles and responsibilities of each corporate function in providing local service and support as well as corporate governance. To prepare for these discussions and move the corporate leaders toward serving the local business units, functional leaders needed perceptions and feedback on their function’s effectiveness along with current and expected services.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” In preparing for a strategy retreat with corporate function and local business leaders an assessment survey was developed.

Time and effort was invested in developing assessment questions that best framed the issues/opportunities and prepared everyone for the planning discussions. This survey was designed for learning and development only. It wasn’t being used to measure performance or hold leaders accountable. Each local business unit rated each corporate function. Each functional leader also rated each corporate function including their own.

Their ratings were confidentially sent to us and only we saw the ratings and comments. We tallied the ratings and provided corporate functional leaders with a feedback summary along with personal one-on-one coaching. The focus was on helping corporate leaders prepare a development plan on how their function could best serve and support the local business units.

In conjunction with the confidential ratings each local business unit provided for each corporate function, they were also asked these questions for each function:

  • Please list the 3 to 5 most effective corporate services provided
  • Please identify any critical shortcomings or serious gaps of this corporate function
  • What additional services should this function provide to improve local usefulness/service levels?
  • Other comments/observations/suggestions

If you’re leading a support function like HR, IT, engineering, accounting, procurement, safety, training/OD, etc. you might want to use a variation of these questions. You could have a neutral third party consolidate and feedback the responses or use an anonymous reporting service like SurveyMonkey.

This is “servant leadership” in action. As Baseball Hall of Fame player and manager, Casey Stengel (nicknamed “The Old Professor”), put it, “managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits.”