3 Questions to Ask to Drive Better Conversations

The Newport Question Trio for Better Conversations

A client of mine recently shared several questions that they use in her organization to help leaders and managers, at all level, gain clarity, focus and accountability in their conversations. I call them the Newport Question Trio after my client. These questions are:

  1. Why? – Is this conversation going to make our business stronger?

This question gets straight to the point, is this conversation going to be of value and contribute to the business’ success? If not, then the conversation should not be held.

Key to doing this well is to make sure you frame what the conversation is about (and equally importantly what it is not about) properly. Your conversation frame needs to be tight, well-defined and clearly articulated so there is a shared and common understanding of what it is and what it is not.

  1. What? – What is our role? Should this be our decision?

Role: Too often conversations are held for their own sake, this leads to lots of discussion and no action. If the conversation is going to make your business stronger then you need to determine what your role is in what is being discussed. Your role may be key in which discussion is needed, or it may be tangential in which case no or little discussion is necessary.

Decision: You need to decide is this your decision? Here you have to distinguish between being accountable for a decision (i.e. the buck stops with you) and actually being responsible for making and implementing a decision. Too often senior executives get pulled into operational issues when they should be standing back and allowing those responsible for the work to do it. The decision should be made at the level which it is best made and implemented by those with the right knowledge, expertise and insights required.

  1. How? – Are we being clear in our conversation

Here there are two guidelines to help you. Firstly, are you saying everything that needs to be said? And secondly, are you saying nothing that doesn’t need to be said? Focus on what is important and relevant, don’t get side-tracked, and keep on point.

Use these 3 questions for yourselves and your peers, and cascade them to those who work for you and see how your conversations improve and help to drive better actions and results.

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Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How Starbucks Demonstrated Leadership During Hard Times

Millions of people and businesses have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by the recent stockmarket drops in China and elsewhere. It is a cause of concern with over $1 trillion being wiped from Asian markets recently, the Dow Jones Industrial Average being sent plunging, as well as in other markets.

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz decided to do something about it. He proceeded to address some major concerns – not directly to customers, but rather, to his employees (these are known as “partners” in Starbucks parlance).

All 190,000 of them.

Here is the brief memo that appeared in the Washington Post.

To: Starbucks partners; managing directors for company-operated and joint venture markets
Date: August 24, 2015

Re: Message from Howard: Leading Through Turbulent Times

Dear Partners,

During our 23-year history as a public company, we have experienced–and successfully navigated through–several periods of extreme stock market volatility. And although we are not immune from the global stock market selloff that has now made its way to Wall Street, my confidence in our company and in all of you has never been greater. We are in the midst of another record-setting year – combining our unique “third place” in-store experience with highly relevant coffee and tea innovation and differentiated customer-facing mobile and digital technologies. We are making a profound social impact in the communities we serve around the world, and will continue to do so today and into the future.

Our company has weathered many different types of storms. But our brand has never been stronger or more relevant. Our pipeline of new products and breakthrough innovation has never been more robust. And our long term commitment to delivering an elevated partner experience is unwavering. I can assure you that we will continue to lead and manage the company through the lens of humanity, doing everything we possibly can to continue to make your families proud of our company and all we stand for. You have my word on this.

Today’s financial market volatility, combined with great political uncertainty both at home and abroad, will undoubtedly have an effect on consumer confidence and perhaps even our customers’ attitudes and behavior. Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have–remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.

Our growth plans for the future of our company will not be impacted by the turmoil of the financial markets. We will positively manage through today’s challenging environment just as we have positively navigated through challenging moments in the past. The experience we deliver in our stores, the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU. I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.


In this brief memo Shultz did a number of things:

  1. Expressed pride and confidence in the achievements of Starbucks and its employees (paragraph 1)
  2. Provided strong, unwavering leadership and personal commitment to all employees (paragraph 2)
  3. Encouraged employees to reach out and show special concern for customers , and that Starbucks earns success from its customers (paragraph 3)
  4. Reassured employees that Starbucks and its employees would weather the storm as it has weathered other storms previously, and that current future success is because of the employees (paragraph 4)

Shultz did this in just 382 words! Brief, concise and effective. If you were a Starbucks partner how would you feel reading this?

My question for you is this: what can you do for your employees and customers to provide them with the support, confidence and direction they need? How will you lead through turbulent times?

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.