This question comes from a book I wrote called 75 Cage Rattling Questions to Change the Way You Work. That book still is being used to help companies move out of ruts into action. Here is how you would use this question:
- to probe deeper into discovering what is attractive and unattractive about working with you. It will give people the chance to express their opinions based on who has been hired recently and who has departed.
- to create an awareness about hiring and firing policies.
- to address troubling problems such as turnover and absenteeism.
- to address creative ways to think about issues around working with you and your company.
This question was perfect for a group of senior consultants at a management consulting firm. They had been having problems with a few clients who felt their thinking had a “sameness” to it. One of the clients claimed they had hired the firm for fresh approaches but they were coming up with “tired old ideas.” Or, as the client bluntly put it, “if we wanted ordinary strategies we’d just assign these projects to our own people.”
When we asked this question on a whim (we weren’t quite certain if it would lead in an appropriate direction), we struck pay dirt. The group agreed that most people left because they were overworked and bored; they also agreed that they were attracted to the firm because it seemed like a challenging and glamorous work life.
What happened in between? The problem, most of them maintained, was that their clients all had the same, unsolvable problems–how do we operate leaner, how to re-engineer without downsizing, how to become a global company. Every client engagement began to have the same feel, the same issues. Because most of the consultants had similar backgrounds–they’d all come from a handful of prestigious MBA program–their thinking was very similar.
As the group talked, they came to the conclusion that it would really help if the firm developed a new process for working with clients, a process that would stimulate new (if somewhat riskier) ways of grappling with clients problems. They also suggested that it would be beneficial to hire some non-MBA types who might contribute to a new process.
The caution we issue to every facilitator asking this question is: Use both parts of it together. The dynamic of the question requires that people think about both why people leave and why people want to join. There is usually dissonance between the two, and the dissonance produces neat ideas and lively discussions.
You can tweak this question for use in different situations. For instance:
- Why did you join the company; why might you leave it? This personalizes the question if the discussion isn’t going anywhere when the focus is on others. It is also good for an individual to use as a thought starter.
- Why did Jack leave the organization? Why did Mary just join it? By substituting names of real people, you give the question specificity that takes it out of the theoretical and anchors it in real employees.
- Who do you think might leave the company in the next year? What type of people do you think will join this orgaization. This is a good discussion tool for HR. It helps them figure out what types of employees they are attracting and those they are repelling.
Let me know if you use this question how it served you and other questions that came out of this question.