By Kevin D. Wilde
During a recent conference, I caught the opening speaker sharing a trade secret that keeps him on the top of his game.
Best-selling author, speaker, and professor Adam Grant presented a 20-minute greatest hits version of his “Give and Take” book to an audience of over 9,000. He then sat down for an informal Q&A with the conference moderator when the fun began.
The moderator mentioned Grant was known for his post-speaking follow-up. He would email the conference organizers a few days after each event and ask for feedback. This was surprising given his smarts, achievements, and polished presentation style. Yet he routinely requested.
His inquiry had two parts:
“On a scale of 1 -10, how would you rate my presentation, and what can I do to move towards a 10?”
Even with all his success, he was still open to coaching and striving for improvement. And his follow-up question served him well. He had worked out what I call his coachability pocket question. He was thoughtful in what to ask and had a set question that provided meaningful advice. He didn’t have to think after each event; he could routinely pull the question out of his pocket to seek feedback.
Participants in my coachability workshop will often ask how to increase their coachability habits. I now recommend crafting their pocket question.
CONSTRUCTING YOUR POCKET QUESTION
After the conference, I found a two-year-old Grant post on LinkedIn where he first shared his post speaking pocket question. The response from readers was impressive: 29,715 likes, 1203 comments, and 1020 reposts. Many responses affirmed the thinking underlying Grant’s approach and pointed out the key elements of his feedback question. These three elements can help construct your pocket question.
- A Scale – Often giving feedback is hard, and the giver is messy in the message. Grant’s 1-10 scale allowed a conference organizer to coach him easily. It also signaled an interest in improving and honored the organizer by asking. One LinkedIn poster cautioned that numbers alone can be misleading (i.e., your “7” rating is my “4”). So it’s not about a statistical exercise, but the beginning of a discussion about expectations.
Also, Grant’s post-speaking pocket question was most likely the bookend of an earlier pre-conference exploration of expectations. Pocket questions can be useful to set the stage with someone such as “I’d like next week’s presentation to go well, so what’s most important for me to do?” Often, we charge ahead without clarifying priorities and make assumptions of success. An executive coach once asked me at the beginning of an engagement, “What are your conditions of satisfaction?” This helped me clarify my own thinking and provided clear guidance for the coach. Consider using pocket questions at the beginning of a work project, new responsibilities, or collaboration.
- An Underlying Cause – I don’t think you’ll find Dr. Grant wandering the Wharton campus randomly asking people to rate him. He picks the right people and efforts where he seeks coaching. In this case, asking conference organizers shows his interest in improving his keynotes and his customers satisfied.
Another way to view pocket questions is that it highlights something important to you: a key responsibility, a value to honor, or a project to achieve. Knowing what you’re striving to attain allows you to tailor your questions more effectively. For instance, if you’re working on a specific project, ask for feedback related to that project’s objectives. Having a clear focus ensures that the feedback you receive is directly relevant to your goals. The resulting question could then be applied, such as “Here’s what I am working on … what observation or advice might you give me on how I’m doing and what could be better?”
- The Specifics – In Grant’s LinkedIn post, he says, “No one says a ’10’ then I ask how I can get closer to a ’10’. It motivates them to coach me – and motivates me to be coachable. I want to learn how to close the gap.” Now I found his conference presentation to be as close to a ’10’ as I’ve ever seen. But his humility and drive to improve are impressive, as well as his admission that asking helps him stay coachable. Grant uses the rating routine to keep him in his learning and improving zone.
This second part of his post-conference pocket question also shows the value of digging deeper in a feedback encounter. Rather than just gathering a poll number, “How can I close the gap” helps the other person provide their thinking and what better looks like. With the mindset of a journalist, strive to dig deeper. Get the details, press for examples, and ask what better could look like.
While most of us aren’t regularly keynoting big conferences, we are all on stage leading and working with others. But having your pocket question will enhance your performance and learning. Start with a scale or other frame to help the other person link to their expectations. Craft your question to reflect your own goal or aspiration. Explore specifics to unlock the value of what’s been offered. Routinely using a prepared pocket question will help keep you coachable and moving forward to that elusive ’10’.