The Most Powerful Question Leaders Should Ask

During my days as a revenue manager I ran countless reports, performed daily analysis, and often presented my findings to bosses.   We all do. Very early in my casino career, I walked into my boss’s office and informed him that we were selling a lot of room nights to ‘retail’ customers, those that did not hold loyalty program cards (we’ll call this customer segment ‘Retail’).  I had (and still have) utmost respect for that boss… he is a great guy, and I enjoyed and appreciated working for him.  His question was unexpected, and it caught me off guard.

“So what?”

I literally paused in my step, and I now wish I could have seen the look on my face. I quickly composed myself and answered that we actually sold more Retail room nights than our lowest rated loyalty segment (let’s call them ‘Segment X’). The average rate we charged our Retail customers was higher than what we charged Segment X, as we discounted rates for them as part of their loyalty benefits.

“So what?”

I lifted an eyebrow, and continued. I told him that after we accounted for Retail’s stronger rate and lower cost of acquisition compared to Segment X marketing spend and rate discount, Retail room nights were 50% more profitable, even accounting for Segment X gaming spend (ancillary revenue). As demand increased for any specific date and we started yielding the hotel, traditionally the Retail segment was the first closed down to protect inventory for our rated loyal customers.

Before he could ask again, I kept going. I told him that we needed to adjust the system parameters and actually hold Retail open, instead closing Segment X (or remove their discount to even the playing field… we wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a loyal customer, but they might have to match Retail price if they still wanted a room).

He stopped what he was doing, and looked me in the eye. “Show me the data.” I sat down and showed him my report. He looked at me and smiled.

“Why didn’t you just say that to begin with? Go do it!” He was smiling.

I’ll never forget that quick conversation. Lesson learned… get straight to the point and be prepared to back it up. Don’t beat around the bush and throw data observations around, or sound like you are complaining… most bosses don’t have time for nor want to hear problems, they want (and need) to be aware but really just want to hear the solution. Data always has a story to tell, and good analysts are great interpreters… but what matters most is the answer to the question.

Great leaders ask a lot of good questions, yet without a doubt this is the most powerful question leaders should ask. The trick is posing the question sincerely, not sounding like a jerk… yet still conveying that you need and want to know if there is more here. With just two words, you are telling the person that while they might have some great information, they need to tell you what it means, what insights have been gained, and what they are going to do about it… and maybe next time they’ll get right to the point.

“So what?”

Try it today.

-Douglas

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