Questions All Managers Should Ask Their Employees

bob's Blog Dr. Bob Nelson

Asking questions is a great management tool.  Questions are seldom threatening if asked in an even tone, and they force the person listening to think instead of to react.  Here are a few questions I believe every manager should routinely ask his or her employees:

“What one thing can I do better for you?”  A manager at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, asks her staff this question once a month.  After listening and acknowledging her employees’ concerns and ideas, she tells them one thing they can do better for her that month.  This simple question helps to build communication and rapport between her and her staff.  Other variations on this question:  “How can I better support you?” “Is there any additional information you need to do your job?” or “Do you have any questions I can help you with?”

“What would a good job look like?” Even under the best of circumstances, communication is fickle.  Assumptions are made, information is misunderstood, and things change.  This is one great question I’ve found for clarifying expectations and to more clearly focus on the desired goal and not the activities of one’s job.  By getting people to visualize what success would look like (in their job, in the team, for the organization) the gaps between the current state of affairs and the desired state become clearer and thus easier to act upon.

“How do you like being recognized when you do good work?”  Dr. Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90% recommends trying to list five things that each of your employees value and then confirming that list with each employee.  Great add-on questions include: “What skills would you like to learn in your current position?” “What opportunities would you like to be exposed to while in this organization?” and “Where do you want to be five years from now in your career?”

“How could we improve things around here?”  Workers always know the best way to get the job done because they’re the ones doing it – sometimes for years!  Ask them their opinion.  Donald Petersen, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Company once reported that when he started visiting Ford plants and meeting with employees, “one man said he’d been with Ford for twenty-five years and hated every minute of it — until he was asked for his opinion.  He said that question transformed his job.”  Other variations of this question include:  “How do you think we should handle this problem?” “Would you like to be a part of this decision when it’s made?”

“Are you excited about your job right now?”  Employees that work for Michael Levine, president of Levine Communications, a leading public relations firm based in Los Angeles, CA, tell me he routinely asks them this question.  And if any of them reply “no” he immediately changes his plans to meet with that person about his or her job.  Michael knows that when employees are no longer excited about their jobs, if they are not learning or growing in their positions, it’s only a matter of time before they will leave the company.

The power of a good question can be immense.  Use these questions to engage your employees, to improve the way they think about their work, and to get at some of the most important issues in their jobs!

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