Disclosures: Difficult questions are better than easy answers

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

TO be more precise, asking dumb questions are better than correcting dumb mistakes. This is what prompts me to raise many boat-rocking questions that could go beyond testing the objectivity and trustworthiness of people. To a supplier, I would ask a point blank question like—how are you related to any of our corporate executives? To a job applicant, why do you want to leave your current job? To a fellow-volunteer in a nonprofit organization, who are your consultancy clients or prospective clients among the candidates in our annual awards?

My nosy neighbor in Parañaque tells me: “If you’ve asked these difficult questions and no one could give a convincing answer, then you’ve created a religious cult.” My ex pen-pal, now my huggable roommate Bonnie, opines differently: “One big reason why men lie is because women ask so many questions.”

On my side, I believe you can only judge a man by his questions rather than the quality of his answers.

After the introductions and brief overview of the candidate’s qualifications, the face-to-face interview must begin. The purpose was to ask specific questions designed to elicit honest answers and to test the validity of self-serving written statements. For example, what is the weakness of your proposal, personality or program, if there’s any?


But more than this basic question, I’d like to raise one basic question to the candidates: How are you related to anyone of us?

This is “disclosures.” It’s a major part of the selection process that you can find everywhere to test whether the decision-makers are not influenced by anything other than by their cold neutrality. Besides the selection process, “disclosed on the topic” is part of Apple’s iconic culture. Adam Lashinsky in Inside Apple (2012) quotes a former Steve Job employee—“you can’t talk about any secret until you’re sure everyone is disclosed on it.”

“Trustworthiness is not assumed,” Lashinsky emphasizes. I guess this is one reason why Apple has remained to be a competitive and profitable company.

Full trust among members of an organization may take some time. Some might take a year or two. But what happens along the way is very important to any team or organization. If not “your mistakes are your tuition,” said Eiji Toyoda (1913-2013), the proponent of the Toyota Production System.

One of the most common complaints I hear when I talk about new issues, dynamic suggestions, or difficult questions, I would normally encounter wide-eyed people as if they’re like “street dogs in the headlight” keeping silent at the first instance, then run away. As I’ve written some time ago, the sound of silence is dreadful, and if one bothers to say something, you can hear something like this:

“I just started this year, and I really don’t know. But please give us room for error as this is a pilot project.”

I suppose that this should not be a problem at all because there’s another person working right beside him. And I’d like to assume that this person is the one responsible for mentoring. But when I asked that person, he too complains that he’s also new.

And I wonder how something as crucial to the success of an organization as the transfer of knowledge or the advocacy of total quality management, for instance, can be treated so lightly. Why can’t some people be accountable and responsible enough to accept this? When I confront some alleged leaders about problems in their work area, we’re often told that it takes time to learn and be trusted on their own.

Now I know. Age and knowledge don’t always come together. At times, some people just get the age. Worse, if they stop learning, they become old, even if they’re only 25 physically.

When I started working with people and different organizations through and through in these past three decades back, I find that they are similar and have basic needs. Managing people must go beyond just giving better pay and perks. You can throw all kinds of incentives, give them extraordinary facilities and work environment for them to blossom.

If you’re a manager or a leader, the key is knowing the people’s career aspirations (or personal agenda). But how can you do it if they’re not willing to disclose anything? Well, OK, then my suspicion must remain.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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1 Comment

  1. years ago when i was a child most working class people worked in factories. Now when a sibling or cousin or friend was looking for a job you would go to the foreman & ask him if there was a vacancy for you relative or sibling. He would have him along & interview him but he would also know how well you worked for the company, & that went a long way in getting him or her that job as they realised if you were a good worker then your sibling, relative or friend would also probably be a good worker. Here in the philippines it is just the opposite. Now is it the company at fault or the family or friend at fault, but someone is surely at fault. My stepson works in a casino & has a good job, he is honest & loyal & now his younger brother who has worked at a company for 10 years but doesnt earn anything like his brother would like a job like that but the company wont hire him because his brother works there. I think you have very stupid people running these companies as to employ him they would soon find he is an asset to their company as he was to his previous company. As the words from a famous song springs to mind here, ” when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn “.