To get the right answer, you must first ask the right question. A basic premise of coaching and leadership that we are all aware of, but what is the right answer?

Lockdown is affecting both our personal and business lives and we have significant pressures on us for the first time leading to a variety of thoughts, feelings and emotions.

I have spoken with many leaders and businesses in the last four weeks and we know the pressure is not only at an individual level. There is currently no neural pathway on how to deal with this. Not many business continuity plans were written to cover an eventuality that impacted everyone in the country at a personal and business level at the same time. Actions are being taken and altered daily to react to the changing times.

Of course, we are all keen to know how our people are coping with the current conditions. One obvious tactic to get feedback from our people is a staff survey, but it does come with a health warning.

As a business, we are currently going through the process of creating one to better understand how our people are feeling and this image kept coming to the forefront of my mind.

One of my guilty pleasures in life is watching old comedies, and there is a wonderful scene in ‘Yes, Minister’ where Bernard and Sir Humphrey are debating how to ask the country what they felt about re-introducing conscription to the armed forces. Two different question sets inevitably lead to two different outcomes.

Currently, with so many variables at play, it is crucial we do not inadvertently lead an answer and reach a conclusion that is not the reality.

Data from any source is only as good as the interpretation and story that sits beneath it and getting to this has never been more key than it is now. For example, hearing that shoplifting has reduced from the same period last year is wonderful data, but when we consider that shops have been largely shut for a month, we can make a better interpretation. It is true that statistics don’t lie, but they don’t always tell us the whole story.

The value at this current time is in conversations, the soft facts that sit underneath a black and white answer. Yes, this sounds like (and is) a longer process involving more time, effort and energy from our leaders but it is in these conversations we can bespoke our support to each person we are serving as a leader.

Getting constant feedback at all levels is key, but we must be mindful to ask the right questions to get the answers that will be most useful to us in leading our people.