Questions to ask senior executives

During your first couple of meetings with a senior executive—someone who is a leader in their organization—you need to think carefully about the questions you ask. Don’t ask boring, general questions like “How’s business?” or “Can you tell me about your strategy?” With top executives in particular you need to add value for time. Prepare carefully so that your questions can be specific, not general. Politely challenge them. Ask questions that will help get at the root causes and help redefine the problem . Get underneath their thinking. What options are they considering? How are they going to make an important, upcoming decision?

Here are examples of the types of questions you should be using with organizational leaders:

  1. Challenge a goal: “How did you arrive at 10% as a target? Do you feel that’s sufficiently ambitious?”
  2. Ask about implementation: “How would you assess your progress in creating a more client-centric culture? What have you accomplished, and where are you lagging?”
  3. Bring in internal insight: “In working with your people over the last six months, we observed a tendency towards risk avoidance, leading to slow decision making. Does that square with your own view? What do you think is behind that behavior?”
  4. Ask about the external environment: “Why do you think (competitor x) has grown so rapidly in that market?” or “Some of your competitors have created virtual customer communities…do you have any initiatives in this area?”
  5. Help redefine the problem: “In my experience, changing the organization structure won’t have the impact you want unless you also address things like your measurement and reward system and your decision making process. What do you think is really at the heart of the lack of teamwork?”
  6. Ask about organizational effectiveness: “How do you feel about the dynamics within your senior team?” or “As you think about your senior team, what skills or capabilities do you wish you had more off?”
  7. Learn more about their thinking: “What do you think your options are to… (grow your European business…reduce your customer acquisition costs…improve your share of wallet…etc.)
Back to top