“Strategic direction is more important today. It's about providing a framework for managers to navigate through the fog of complex chokes. No company can avoid this."

– C.K. Prahalad –

PoS May 2013 | Inquisitive Organisation – The Leader’s Role

The need for inquisitive orientation in firms has never been greater.

Practically every industry has been rapidly and extensively commoditised. Cost advantage is not sustainable for long enough. Differentiation is quickly imitated. In this environment, knowledge, especially tacit knowledge has become the holy grail of business success.

How competitive is your firm? Write to me.

Learning by Doing

A singular characteristic of learning organisations is their propensity to learn by doing. Their managers routinely engage in inquiry and experiments that deepen insight.

By acquiring, sharing and embedding explicit and tacit knowledge in the organisation they compete more effectively and sustain their advantage.

Learning organisations are naturally inquisitive. They encourage and enable managers to regularly conduct ‘finding out’ exercises, or ‘projects’. Projects help managers build and test hypotheses, gain insight, support intuitive judgements with data, and facilitate objective decision-making.

How inquisitive is your firm? Write to me.

In my consulting work with many organisations, I have observed that in some firms, managers carry out projects with greater aptitude and enthusiasm, while in others they shirk them. I decided to find out why this is so.

Rating The Boss’s Behaviour

In 2012, I conducted the study – ‘The Inquisitive Organisation: Leadership Behaviour, Organisation Culture and Practices among over 1800 managers in 32 Indian companies of different sizes and from diverse industries.

The focus was on middle managers because they are the engines of ‘project’ work. They answered an online questionnaire anonymously stating the number of projects they had done over the previous two years. They also rated certain aspects of behaviour of their bosses and senior managers on a five-point scale.

The findings squarely pointed to the indelible role senior managers play in fostering inquisitive orientation.

Promoting Inquisitive Behaviour

Easy accessibility of senior managers for discussion of business problems and issues facilitates project work.

By listening attentively they create an environment that promotes objectivity – use of data, analysis, and insights.

Discussion does not remain based on impressions alone. This appears to be a unique characteristic of leaders in inquisitive organisations.

A Penchant For ‘Finding Out’

My research indicates that inquisitive organisations expect managers to develop insights, form judgements and take decisions.

This belief is conveyed by the behaviour of senior managers and leaders. They demand that managers engage in ‘finding out’.

These firms expect managers to work in teams to solve business problems. Collaboration brings diverse experiences, approaches and viewpoints to the table.

It draws on expertise across roles and functions from different parts of the firm. More, organisation culture stresses that insights so gained are communicated to a larger, relevant audience within the firm. Knowledge is thus created and shared across the Company.

Summing Up…

The role of leaders in shaping the destinies of their organisations has always been critical. How learning organisations create strategic advantage has also been written about.

This research connects and extends that knowledge by identifying specific leadership behaviours that encourage curiosity and a penchant for learning. I believe Indian business leaders can use it to improve the learning ability of their organisations, and enhance their capacity to compete effectively.

V.N. Bhattacharya
Business Strategy Consultant

Download a copy of the research report summary.