Thursday, July 7, 2016

Asking the Right Questions?

of the right people, and listening to the answers……

In order to succeed, leaders ask a lot of questions. How do we grow sales/improve our company/expand our service or product line? How do we improve employee morale and *gasp* employee engagement? Asking is great. Listening – really listening – to the answers is better. But are we asking the right questions of the right people?

Maybe not. There are hundreds of articles, and probably hundreds of companies out there, all wanting to sell you their theory about how to improve employee engagement (whatever that really is) and many have a product they say will get you there. What perk will you add to your menu of goodies available to employees hoping to see a jump in their "happiness" quotient? Will it be branded awards, concierge services, catered lunches or foosball tables? How about a roadmap for how to create the ultimate employee involvement committee? Or maybe a themed employee picnic is more your style. The thing is, none of these will get you anywhere you really want to go.

Asking the right questions and listening to the answers has a better chance of helping you reach your goal, whether that’s a sales, growth or employee-related goal. It’s also equally important to ask yourself these questions before asking any of your employees.

Is the company structured properly? You want to determine if your structure is both effective and efficient. Are roles and responsibilities widely understood and are decision rights clear, are the right people in the right roles? Ask your leadership team these questions and listen to the answers.

Do employees fully understand our overall strategy and how they contribute to that strategy? You want to know whether employees really see and feel the connection between what they do and the strategy and mission of the company. Effective leaders regularly communicate what the company strategy is and work to ensure that individual goals and responsibilities positively contribute to the desired outcomes.

Do policies, systems, and processes reinforce the strategy, culture, and results we desire? Look at employee policies, compensation and benefit systems, performance management systems, and promotion guidelines to ensure they support what you expect of employees. Look at usage and participation in benefit plans, and ask employees which they value and which they are indifferent to. Delve into employees’ perceptions about various policies to determine if they understand the purpose of the policies. You may find that communication about the "whys" may help understanding and buy-in.

How does the community perceive our company? And the companion question can be what does our company stand for in the community? The answers to these questions can have a dramatic impact on attracting great talent and also on how current employees feel about and are connected to your organization.

Following along with the "what do we stop doing, start doing, change?" questions that we should be asking frequently, we should be digging deeper. Are we (our product/service) relevant? How can we remain that way? Are we measuring the right things to get to these answers? What do our customers say about us?

Sometimes we need to identify what exactly the issue is when we perceive a problem, since we’re likely seeing the symptoms and not necessarily the cause. Asking the right people:

  • What is it like to work here?
  • What seems to be the trouble?
  • What do you make of this situation?
  • What concerns you the most about the current issue?
  • What do you think is your main obstacle?
  • What is holding you back from completing this project/furthering your career?
Identifying the desired outcome and recognizing there may be some difference between your ideal outcome and that of any particular employee can give you information about what motivates your staff and help get you to a mutually beneficial goal.

  • How do you want this to turn out?
  • What is your desired outcome?
  • What benefits would you like to get out of this project?
  • What do you propose?
  • What’s your plan for getting there?
  • What else do you need to consider?

Regardless of what questions you ask, keep them open-ended. If a question can be answered with "yes" or "no" it’s not likely to generate discussion and rarely yields any insight. By asking open-ended questions, you can get far more interesting insights.

Don’t ask "do you like working here?" ask "what about working here causes you to stay?" 

Nearly every decision we make is based on at least one assumption. If you build on faulty assumptions, your conclusion will be faulty as well. Ask – both yourself and your staff - "What are we assuming in this situation?" You need to determine if what your employees are "assuming" about your company’s direction is correct and if your assumption about their understanding of your mission is correct. Get on the same page.

Leading people to their own insights is far more effective to building commitment than only telling them your thoughts. Asking about lessons learned can be very revealing. "What can we learn from this experience that might be useful to us in the future?" And this question works when things go well, and when things don’t go as well as planned. 

Learning to love, or at least tolerate, the sound of silence is advantageous in getting employees who may be somewhat reticent to express their thoughts. Most of us get uncomfortable when things get quiet. We feel compelled to fill the space with chatter. You can let this work to your advantage by just not giving in to that compulsion to talk. When you do that, you may find that people volunteer an amazing amount of information that you would have never gotten any other way.

The key is always the right thing at the right time, and with the right people. Asking the right questions of the right people, really listening to the answers and then implementing what you can will get you far more than that foosball table.

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