Deeper Questions Leaders Need to Ask Employees – Part One

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Excerpted from 78 Important Questions Every Leader Should Ask and Answer by Chris Clarke-Epstein with the permission of the publisher

Note from Bob – if you only have 60 seconds to read this post – then don’t miss these 5 Questions you will want to begin asking your employees:

  1. What gets in the way of your doing your job?
  2. What does our leadership team do that gets in the way of your doing your job?
  3. What’s a recent management decision you didn’t understand?
  4. How could we communicate management decisions more effectively?
  5. If you could change one thing about our organization’s collective behavior, what would it be?

1. What gets in the way of your doing your job?

For years we have all joked and/or raged about the “it’s not my job” attitudes we’ve encountered in organizations, big and small. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if there is a customer somewhere who thought that way about your organization? Or have you honestly wondered if you’ve got employees that are looking for jobs elsewhere because they believe that no one in your organization cares enough to fix internal systems? Dr. W. Edward Deming, the man whose name is forever linked with quality, believed that 85 percent cent of quality problems in the workplace are caused by systems, not by an individual’s inefficiencies. Our organizations are filled with policies and procedures that prohibit people from doing their best to satisfy our customers, and you need to know where it’s happening in yours.

A word of caution: One of the ground rules of good questioning is that when a question is asked and an answer is given, the questioner does not (and often should not) respond. Given an answer, you should simply acknowledge the information, clarify any ambiguities, and assure the answerer that their opinion is valuable and will be considered.

2. What does our leadership team do that gets in the way of your doing your job?

One of the most often identified roles of a leader is that of barrier buster. Leaders get into trouble when they fall into a pattern of doing the jobs of the people who report to them rather than creating an environment that allows the right people to do the right things.

But what happens when the leadership team is the barrier? Asking “What does our leadership team do that gets in the way of you doing your-job?” requires persistence and courage.

Persistence because the first time you ask this question, you are most likely to be answered with a quick “nothing” or “they’re doing okay” response. Don’t miss the internal dialogue that will undoubtedly be running through the answerers mind. “What kind of a fool does this person take me for? Like I’m going to answer this question!” And honestly, can you blame then for thinking that? So, ask the question, but don’t expect quality answers the first time around.

Courage because the responses you get might be painful to hear. It has been my experience while working with leaders that the farther up you are in the hierarchy, the less likely you are to receive an accurate picture of the organization’s day-to-day workings. Unless, of course, you’ve been asking questions long enough to be trusted. You may hear things about your team’s behavior and maybe even about your own behavior that will require some soul-searching and change on your part. Don’t ask this question if you’re not ready to hear and act on the answers. By the way, if you’re not ready to act-get ready fast!

3. What’s a recent management decision you didn’t understand?

Your goal in asking this question is to determine if you need to work on the quality of the decisions you make or the way you communicate your decisions. These are two different things. You need to determine if people don’t understand why a decision was made or find out if the way you delivered your decision was flawed. A review of the emotional reactions that decisions often evoke is seldom made before the decision is delivered.

Let’s deal with the emotions first. Employee survey after employee survey reports that one of the greatest motivators in the workplace is the connected feeling employees get when they understand what’s going on in their organization. If you need convincing, walk through a workplace after a news item that reveals a change in their organization appears in the media.

How about the content of the decision? When leaders take the time to do a good job explaining their decisions, they have accepted the critical leader role of educator.  A leader who helps people understand the process behind a decision is educating them for the time when they will have to make decisions on their own.

4. How could we communicate management decisions more effectively?

Asking  “How could we communicate management  decisions more effectively?” can save you from expending effort based on ignorance. Wanting to provide helpful context for a management decision isn’t enough. You have to discover what communication format will send your message most effectively. Communication based on a one-size-fits-all philosophy is wrong more often than it is right. Communication delivered one time, in one way, will never satisfy people’s needs to understand. Asking this question will help you determine an effective communication strategy. Asking it over time and monitoring the changing answers will help you (and others in your organization) formulate communication strategies that really add value.

5.  If you could change one thing about our organization’s collective behavior, what would it be?

Many organizations develop a list of values-conduct they uphold as their guide for the behavior of all employees. These values are often published and distributed. Too often, these values are thought to be real just because they’ve been put on paper, but they become fiction in practice. Values are too important to exist only on paper-they they need to live in an organization’s daily activities.

The challenge successful leaders should give themselves is to use their values as a measurement and evaluation tool. Leaders need to praise and encourage the good behaviors, monitor the difference between actual and desired behaviors, and correct had behaviors before they become institutionalized. The challenge for most leaders is to maintain an accurate picture of the real state of their workplace. place. This question can help you do just that. When leaders understand that organizations, like people, have both good and bad habits, there is potential for positive change. Finding the gaps between what gets said and what gets done gives you a place to start.

Chris Clark-Epstein 2Chris Clarke-Epstein, Certified Speaking Professional is a change expert who has spent the last 28 years challenging diverse groups including senior leadership teams, middle management supervisors, and health care professionals to apply new knowledge.  Author of and contributor to more than 15 books, Chris teaches and writes in critical areas such as understanding the dynamics of change, delivering effective feedback, dealing with conflict, and building high performance teams.  You can connect with Chris @ Change101.com