Why HR needs to cultivate curious teams

boardroom of diverse people, diversity, black inclusionWhen the Blackberry launched back in the day, they coined the acronym, AOAC – Always On, Always Connected.

And we loved it – we could do emails on the way to work, check in on the way home. Quick scroll down before bed and first thing in the morning. That was then and now, everything is available in a heartbeat– from newsfeeds to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and of course, the endless scrolling.

With all this information, so readily available throughout the day (and night), why should HR now be serious about cultivating curiosity in teams? Isn’t there more than enough information readily available?

Performance, productivity and effectiveness isn’t about multi-tasking or endless Zoom calls. The evidence shows that we’re less productive and less creative as we shift from one thing to another, fooling ourselves into a constant state of ‘busy-ness’.

Curiosity is the desire to learn, to understand new things, to know how things work or why people do or say the things they do. Curiosity widens the mind and opens it to different opinions, different ideas, different lifestyles. Creating diversity and building an inclusive culture in organisations needs us to be curious. As Ken Robinson says, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”

My interest is in the field of coaching and development. I want the people I work with to be more curious. I’ve been known to stick a post-it-note on my forehead with “Ask me a question!” written on it. When working with customer facing teams – whether directly with ‘sellers’ or, as I call them the ‘secret army’ – not actually sellers but trusted for their technical or specialist knowledge – I encourage them to be more curious. Curious to seek out not just the presenting problem but the underlying problem and to understand why a customer says what they say, or does what they do. There’s always a reason. Be curious and interested to understand why that is and not only do we build stronger relationships – and the additional revenue that goes with it – we understand others more deeply.

In a fascinating article by Elizabeth Smith, ‘Curiosity – the super power we might have overlooked’  (www.thebeautifultruth.org.uk ) published as the world went into lockdown, Liz makes the point that curiosity is both a behaviour and an emotion. And that when we are curious, we have a strong and genuine intention in our endeavours or cause.

No one person is responsible for creating the culture, but we’re all responsible for our behaviour. If HR recognises curiosity as the superpower it is, we can reward it accordingly. HR can create more opportunities for curiosity by encouraging new and different ways of working across teams and functions. But people won’t feel brave enough to be curious and try out new ideas, if they’re not trusted or enabled to do so. We need to be prepared to take the time to ask more questions, listen more intently and genuinely seek to understand. All too often we listen simply to unload our own thoughts, views and opinions. Let’s not talk about you, let’s talk about me … And in a constant ‘busy off’ with colleagues, we don’t have time to be curious.

HR can make a difference by encouraging people and teams to look at problems in a different way – to seek to understand what the real problem or issue is and to experiment, learn from what worked (and what didn’t) and try again. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes yet in organisations there is, too often, an unrealistic expectation that we have to get things right, first time. HR can change this – set up sprint projects, ideation, cross functional modelling and forecasting teams, prototypes for ideas that can be modelled, tried out and that can fail fast. They can encourage a culture of design thinking – curious about what the problem really is – looking for new angles to solve it. Bring people from different functions together to solve problems that matter now. Unleash that curiosity in reality and reward people when they use it.

Encouraging curiosity and greater understanding is the first step in creating more diverse and inclusive cultures. Curiosity and asking questions are at the core of effective coaching – helping people to work out, for themselves, what they could or should do, what they can do more of or what they can do differently. Seeking to understand why customers do what they do differentiates the good salesperson from the top performing one. In this area, people need to be curious around two aspects – ‘results’, the metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators) that an individual (customer) is measured on and ‘wins’ – the things that matter to them personally. A prospect or customer may be looking to reduce costs using your products or services, but they also want to look good and build their own reputation internally. Understanding both a person’s ‘results’ and their ‘wins’ makes us better able to support and serve them.

As we emerge blinking from lockdown – now is the time for reflection and understanding. To excel in any job role at any level we need to be curious – do things better, ask questions, learn from others, develop ourselves. As the guardians of talent, HR can and should unleash this potential and cultivate Isobel Rimmermore curious teams.

About the author

Isobel Rimmer is founder of training and development consultancy Masterclass Training and author of new book Natural Business Development: Unleash your people’s potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue

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