Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Asking Questions is not Being Negative

Some of the comments after last week's entry about questions that I have after reviewing the financial statements for the Arts Board, including the Rawlinson Centre, focused, not on the questions, but on my alleged constant negativity.  I found this interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, I deliberately started the entry by saying how much I enjoy attending a wide variety of functions at the EAR, and that it is a wonderful facility.  However, going through the financial statements raised a number of troubling questions.  Asking these questions doesn't mean that I want the facility to close; it means that I want it to function well, within the rules and policies that have been developed; it means that I think that council needs to do a better job of ensuring that the tax payers' dollars that are used for this facility are spent as efficiently as possible.  Second, those complaining about my negativity did not address the concerns that I raised, or provide any explanations.  I guess it's easier just to resort to name calling, rather than providing constructive input.

Apparently, in the minds of some, asking questions is just being negative.  I'd be interested to know if they follow that same principle in their own lives, just going along with and approving whatever happens, because to do otherwise is to be negative.  If a mistake is made in their order at a restaurant, they wouldn't question it, because that would mean that the restaurant was terrible.  If an item at the grocery store is scanned incorrectly, with a higher price being charged, they wouldn't question it, because that would mean that the grocery store was terrible.  If an employee consistently comes in late, they wouldn't mention it, because that would mean that hiring that employee had been a mistake, and the employee was terrible.

However, most of us are reasonable enough to recognize that mistakes happen, and asking questions about what led to those mistakes may result in improvements to service.  Most businesses would much rather you brought problems to their attention, so that they can make improvements, rather than losing your business, and possibly the business of others, who may have had similar problems.  That chronically late employee?  Unless you ask, you won't learn the reason for their lateness, and they won't learn that punctuality is important in your workplace.

The unfortunate culture of the day at city council is that to ask questions is not acceptable, because it suggests that the way the city is run is not perfect.  I'm not sure where the Utopia is that some members of council seem to have come from, but my experience is that, even if something is going well, you can probably improve things.  That's actually the basis of the principle of continual improvement - a principle that most successful businesses and organizations have adopted as a fundamental way of doing things.

If we don't answer questions, if we don't figure out what led to problems, then we can't even start to improve things.  Constant cheer leading doesn't bring about change, it just leads to complacency.

I've mentioned before about the experience that my children had when they were in the local music festival - the adjudicators always told all the participants how they could do better, and this often came after the adjudicator had asked questions about how their performance had come about.  If children can be expected to take criticism and use it to improve, why is it so hard for city council?

"If you're really good, then you know you can be better." - Lindsay Buckingham

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