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The Socratic Approach to Adversity

Socratic Approach

October 24, 2022

As our world continues to evolve into new ways of approaching business, a reflection that a former teacher of mine helped crystalize how I have seen businesses through facilitated changes in attitude and culture embrace change and enhance tolerance to the unpredictable nature of what the future may bring.

There is a bias in problem-solving, particularly in a crisis toward trying to control the circumstances. In a business setting, this manifests as the organization reacting to specific isolated variables. Attrition in the workforce in the service industry could illustrate an example of this. I have seen organizations react directly and quickly with compensation adjustments, only to find that their employees continue to migrate to other jobs with marginal increases in pay, frustrating and blocking the efforts to retain skilled labor in their own companies.

This direct-to-compensation-as-the-solution model neglects something that a modern workforce is most responsive to and fails to consider the significant generational differences in the workforce at present. It also does not fully consider the various traumas induced by the pandemic and changes in attitudes about acceptable workplace settings as they relate to productivity, accountability and engagement.

There is a shift in this model that can be best understood by analogy. Teaching. The sit-and-get model that many in my generation(X) are accustomed to is about the control and flow of information. The teacher has the knowledge, and you sit and “receive” the information and are tested on your ability to retain it. This is not unlike the compensation model delineated above. It’s one-directional.

Creating an Ecosystem of Exchange

A different model is the Socratic Model. This model creates an ecosystem of exchange in which the answers are not directly given, but “discovered” as a series of exchanges between teacher and student, as the underlying motivations, views, perspectives and insights are unearthed, discussed, vetted and evolved.

Applied to the business case above, I have found that retention of skilled staff best responds to this model. Cooperative dialogue — stimulating critical thinking — allows employer and employee to move past ineffective or transactional solutions (like simply asking if they would like to earn more) to an active dialogue about mutual engagement, expectations, fulfillment and ultimately create a set of criteria that illustrates the value, quality of workplace life and professional development opportunities available vs. making a change purely using compensation as a deciding factor.

I have heard from countless organizations that “we can’t compete with ‘X’ fast food place because they pay $2 more an hour.” The response is that you can — and I have seen organizations successfully do just that — using a different approach from the one that seems most obvious.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership created the Workforce Trends and Occupancy Study (WTOS) Playbook in response to Greater Des Moines (DSM) workforce trends research that was conducted in partnership with Baton Global. The WTOS Playbook features insights related to the future of work in DSM, workforce suggestions for businesses in the region and local case study examples.

Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.