Last week I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation to become Dean of Innovation and Learning for the Purposeful Planning Institute. The PPI consists of legal, financial, wealth and lifestyle advisors to high net worth individuals and ultra-high net worth family offices. They are a great bunch of people who, as their Institute’s name suggests, seek to go beyond simple financial planning and look deeper into the purpose it is meant to serve for both this generation and those yet to come. To do this they need to find out what really matters to their clients so that financial and legal decisions are driven by and serve the client’s fundamental beliefs and values. Being able to do this is a real skill and that’s where I come in.
I have been working with them over a number of years and indeed I will be speaking at their conference as I do each year in Denver in August.
They did a very striking thing recently. They surveyed members about the most pressing kind of innovation needed in the field. What came back was that approximately 60% of respondents said that the greatest need for innovation was in the area of client conversations.
So, not fancy new products, just how to engage in good conversations that ensure people are clear about how to create a future for themselves and others that is in keeping with their goals, values, beliefs and aspirations. To achieve this you need to be able to shift from presentation to elicitation.
That’s why this year my session is entitled “How powerful are your questions?” While some questions are more useful than others in drawing people out there is no magic set of all-purpose ‘powerful questions’ which you can just fire off in any situation.
In addition to having the right question there’s the small matter of rapport and timing. Ever noticed how someone can be technically very competent but not good at putting others at ease? Well it’s the same with elicitation: if you don’t have the rapport it doesn’t matter how good your questions are. Similarly timing really can be everything. It may be the right question but is it the right time to ask it? Instead of defaulting to a few favourite questions which just become a habit, it’s better to have an understanding of what’s going on when you ask a question. Then you can engage appropriately.
So in a nutshell, whenever we ask a question we send the brain on an internal search. The question is how useful was that search? One thing we can do to improve our questioning skills is ask ourselves, what are we’re really going for?
Advisors then would do well to ask themselves a question before they ask their clients anything, namely, ‘What is the quest in my question?’ Or to put it another way, what kind of search am I seeking to trigger?
Although this is a perfectly learnable skill, very few people exercise such intellectual discipline. It’s incredibly helpful because if you know what you’re going for, you’re far more likely to notice if you don’t get it and you’re much less likely to be distracted by an out of left field answer. Outstanding communicators invariably know what they’re going for and don’t get distracted.
As ever innovation begins with how we think. Just how rare this is as a mindset was brought home to me by a student in an Innovative Skills program I was running recently who exclaimed: “You want me to think before opening my mouth? Wow! That’s pretty innovative!”
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