The Ultimate Question to Transform Corporate Culture


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We regularly work with CEOs and senior leaders to help them build uplifting service cultures and improve service performance. Most leaders understand their roles and are eager to provide direction and support.

However, given their intensive schedules and responsibilities, it’s unreasonable to expect high-level leaders to know the details of all service improvement and culture-building initiatives. While they meet to review initiatives periodically, the Ultimate Question 1.0 can significantly leverage their time and commitment every day.

Ultimate Question 1.0: What is your team’s best idea to improve service today?

Why is this question so effective?

  • It’s simple, easy to remember and to ask.
  • It works throughout the organization: from leadership teams to frontline and across all departments.
  • It connects leaders with employees by demonstrating interest and desire to listen.
  • It creates conversations for ideas and possibilities. Conversations for action will naturally follow.
  • It does not ask for final answers. It asks for good ideas.
  • It drives teamwork. Even solo superstars should collaborate to answer this one.
  • It can be asked and be effective every day.
  • It is free of risk and fear.

Why focus on ideas, and not actions?

The first step to sustainable results is people thinking differently from the past, with good ideas and then actions towards the future. (If you haven’t seen it already, watch Ron’s video on Measuring What Matters.)

In a nutshell:
Good Ideas –> New Actions –> Stronger Culture –> Sustainable Results

Keys to Success and Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Leaders should ask this question inside a larger context towards transforming an entire culture.
  • Don’t get hung up on the quality of ideas you hear. Encourage a volume of new ideas instead. Ask first. Listen second. Analyze for new actions third.
  • An internal communications team can support and reinforce this question, but should not drive the conversation by themselves. Asking this question and listening to answers is a good use of leader’s time.
  • Wikis, suggestion boxes and online portals deliver scale, but simple emails and hallway discussions will keep this question personal and engaging.

What do you think?

As you read this post, you may already have an opinion about whether your leaders will or will not ask this question, and whether it will get a response.

Give it a try!

Ultimate Question 1.0: What is your team’s best idea to improve service today?

Ask this question today. Send it to your leaders and ask them to try it, too. Observe the reactions of your team, and share what you see with us in the comments below.

PS: What is the Ultimate Question 2.0? “What new action will you take to improve your service today?”

Categories: Service Culture
Tags: , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. David says:

    Hi Shyam

    I’d certainly endorse your comments….and I think there’s a further dimension to add. Yes, leaders need to be concerned enough to ask, and for sure they need to listen to the volume of ideas that your question will generate. I would add a third factor: having asked and listened, they must then be seen to do something about what they hear! All the benefits of your technique will be lost – and morale destroyed – if the people who give the suggestions cannot see any ACTION being taken on their proposals. I always recommend a 24/72 ‘law’ for this…..acknowledge the idea within 24 hours, and then get back with an idea of what’s happening to the idea within 72 hours – even if it’s just “we’ll be debating it next week’, or whatever.

    Good post, Shyam, and a useful reminder of some of the things we need to keep doing!


    • Excellent point, David! The question by itself does not sustain the effectiveness of the questioning – it needs to exist inside a culture which acknowledges, appreciates, reinforces and applies the ideas.

      Asking the question does creates access to these practices by raising other questions like “Now that we’ve asked it, how do we sustain the power of the question?”.

      I think the 24/72 law is a good starting guideline and I’d recommend asking your colleagues regularly what turnaround time they value. (Different people value different things, at different times.)

  2. Andrea says:

    Thank you Shyam, for a great post.

    What a wonderful reminder for the Sr. Management to “manage by walking around” – and talk to the people… Open dialogue about their ideas, experiences, and feedback.

    When exchanging ideas, it is important to “think out of the box”. The tendency is to work within “what is possible” or “how things have been done at the past”… some of the best ideas are the ones that are completely new, innovative, and have never yet been considered!

    It is also really great to acknowledge ideas (and those who created them) in front of a peer group. It will encourage people to participate, and it will make idea creation a part of the culture.

    Thanks Shyam… great ideas here!!

  3. Tariq Mahmood says:

    Great ideas.I totally agree with all the three people. I would like to add that one should challenge the status quo (as mentioned by Andrea, out of the box thinking). I always encourage my subordinates to come up with my ideas, irrespective whether they can be implemented immediately or not. This helps them in brain storming and enhance their capabilities and confidence. They also think that they are also contributing something ( results in team effort).

    Further, every one should keep on reviewing their ideas,experiences and feedback on a regular basis.

    The ONE MINUTE MANAGER’S GAME PLAN should be followed.

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