Failing to ask a question

In June 2015, I wrote a blog about the importance of asking the ‘right’ questions as advocated by Dr Atul Gawande. He writes in the context of medicine. Recently, failing to ask a key question cost me several hundred pounds and gave me an insight into the potential consequences of separation of functions in a large company. 

Foolishly, in hindsight, I wanted to avoid a small fee for moving my broadband and landline with the same provider to my new house. The sales consultant found a way to do this. I failed to consider that my move might be delayed. He did not explain the costs should this occur. In the event, I moved out nine weeks before I completed on the new house. The answer to the question would have been that I would be billed all the usual costs, despite no longer owning that house. 

This result became apparent 6 months later when hundreds of pounds were direct debited from my account. I did not see an statement or invoice. At least six phone calls later, at my cost,  I understood better what had happened. A key factor was the apparent complete lack of communication between the sales team and the billing team. The billing team continued to charge me for four months when, under their rules, I was no longer liable. I did achieve some refund but no manager agreed to speak with me despite my registering a complaint. 

My analysis of this scenario is the lack of communication and understanding between the sales team who set up new lines/broadband and those responsible for invoicing may have significant financial consequences let alone reputational risk. Some management theorists call this relationships that of ‘internal customers and suppliers’. This telecommunications company would benefit, in my view, from investment in the relationships and communication with internal suppliers/customers. I have learnt that seeking to save a relatively small amount of money can lead to a much bigger loss, if I do not understand the whole picture. I will work harder to ask the ‘right’ questions in future.

Recognition of the impact of understanding the values, priorities and needs of other roles and teams in an organisation from your own improves the working of systems and processes as well as professional relationships. This in turn supports the achievement of agreed outcomes. For example, as a university Head of Division, I quickly realized the value and importance of working collaboratively with the Admissions Team, the Finance Team and with colleagues in Human Resources. Taking time to understand their perspectives and responding promptly to requests led to the best relationships possible with my ‘internal suppliers’. 

This message also applies to the Hospice UK ‘Hospice Trustee: what you need to know’ one day masterclasses for trustees, which I lead. The understanding between the Board of Trustees, who undertake their governance role and the Chief Executive and the senior team, who have responsibility to manage the hospice is key to working together successfully to achieve the aims and objectives of the hospice. It is part of the consultancy role in organisation development.