Seven Questions Every Leader Must Ask
Engaging and mobilizing employees can feel like a daunting challenge. Given recent research on employee engagement, it’s more important than ever. According to a 2012 survey by Jobvite, sixty-nine percent of employed respondents are open to or actively seeking new work using social media. [i]
What if you could engage and mobilize your employees to create value in your business? As a leader, you can have tremendous influence in building an engaged workforce by ensuring that you have current answers to several critical questions. First, let’s look at the problem.
Mind reading opens door for mistrust
Many employees are frustrated because they feel like they have to read their manager’s mind. They don’t know how they are performing, how they can improve, or what opportunities are available to them. The annual performance review is often their only chance to find out, and that event is so stressful and formal that the environment is not conducive for improvements. To top it off, uncertainty and lack of clarity and feedback can quickly lead to a climate of mistrust that erodes engagement.[ii]
Leaders today are often faced with complex challenges and large teams. Focusing time on development may seem like a luxury. Perhaps you feel like you don’t have time to develop others. In early 2013 an HBR blog uncovered the most common areas of weakness of senior managers in a study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman.[iii] The top area of weakness among senior leaders was “Developing Others.” The good news was that the study also found that leaders who were struggling were capable of making dramatic improvement. So if developing others can improve engagement, can you afford not to spend the time?
The simplest, most effective strategy involves establishing regular, informal ways to connect regularly with each employee to provide feedback, development opportunities, and support. Regular, informal conversations about performance go a long way to build relationship and engagement – especially when they include teachable moments about different business situations. This practice costs almost nothing to implement, can be put into place immediately, and have huge impact.
Employees are more engaged when everyone in an organization knows what is expected of them and how they can improve. The leader can also get first-hand information about potential roadblocks that they can work to remove to support progress. This is even more critical for millennial employees in the workforce—those born between 1980 and 2000. Receiving regular feedback and opportunities are two key principles to keep them engaged. [iv]
Start with seven questions
There are seven simple questions every leader must answer and communicate to employees. As with advertising, frequency counts. The opportunity for regular feedback—positive and constructive—is a chance for you to demonstrate that you care about the employee and their contribution to the business. The questions include:
1. Do you know what is expected of you?
2. What are you doing well?
3. What, if anything, can you be doing better?
4. What, if anything, do I want you to develop and improve in?
5. (If appropriate) What opportunities might be available to you if you develop in these areas?
(e.g., more responsibility, more time with leadership, more desirable assignments)?
6. (If appropriate): What will happen if you don’t improve?
7. How can I support you?
While all of these questions are important, the last question is the most critical. It shows the employee that you are invested in his or her success. Your follow through on that support clearly demonstrates that investment.
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[iv] Zemke, R., Raines, C., Filipczak, B. (2013) Generations at Work (2nd edition) New York, NY, AMACOM.
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