Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with many great organizations, corporations, nonprofits, coalitions and associations. Some are making a profit by providing services or products in the marketplace. Others are making a difference and providing services in the community.
Whatever their primary purpose, successful organizations have a clear vision. The successful ones have established a road map or strategic plan to guide them on reaching their goals and have dedicated discussion on how to accomplish that plan.
They also have a core set of values. Many of them have identified these values and have written them down. No matter the size of organization, a written set of values helps guide them on how they want to best reach their goal. While other groups may not write their values down, values are present in the stories coworkers tell and the messages employees send each other and customers.
One value often overlooked in the workplace is curiosity. Curiosity is defined as "an eager desire to know or learn." We all know that person to whom we draw closer who asks great questions and genuinely listens to the answers. They want to know the "why" behind the "how."
The pursuit of curiosity is a crucial component in the success of organizations, and organizational curiosity comes from its people, including employees, boards, volunteers, etc. Curiosity in an organization is as valuable as it is in a person. Businesses need employees who ask questions and who seek to make processes and products better. Without curiosity, businesses are destined to repeat the same mistakes.
There is a quote by Bernard Baruch, a financier who was an advisor to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, that states, "Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why." Organizations that are naturally curious are constantly asking customers, employees and each other questions. They seek to help companies succeed by making existing products better, creating new products, improving services, making the company a great place to work and many other endeavors.
Nonprofit organizations also need to be curious, asking questions such as "Are we providing the right services? Can we deliver them more efficiently? Are needs changing?" In any organization, resources are scarce and must be efficiently applied. Continued curiosity can help ensure organizations are best meeting community and customer needs.
Some people are naturally curious. Others might need more encouragement. Some organizations might inadvertently discourage curiosity and should ask themselves "at what cost to our success?"
Here are three simple ways to encourage curiosity:
* Ask questions. Provide a way for customers, employees and stakeholders to ask any question. Carefully listen and discuss, even if it's easier to explain upfront "why we do it this way." Encouraging questions also helps you identify who are problem solvers in an organization and who cares enough about the outcome to try new things.
* Reward innovation. Present individuals with opportunities to use creative talents and learn something new. Publicly praise those with questions to demonstrate curiosity as a living value. Watch and reward as new ideas set your company apart from the rest.
* Seek curiosity in new hires. Look for candidates who are eager to learn and take smart risks. Allowing curiosity to take root in a company will inevitably lead to innovation, which will lead to greater profitability or community change.
The way questions are asked — and answered — makes a difference. If you are the one asking questions, think about how they will sound to the person answering them. If you are the one answering questions, think about how your response can either stifle or stimulate ideas.
Curiosity helps us better understand our audiences and stakeholders. It helps us better understand the world around us. Commit to asking questions, and watch your customers, clients, employees and the community draw closer to you. Then watch your organization move toward its vision.