Asking employees the four questions below will get you insight into your team members and their work, help you understand where you can be the most useful, in many cases improve your team’s work product, and even increase people’s morale.
1. What’s worrying you right now?
You might assume that you’ll hear about it when an employee is worried about a project or a deadline or a difficult client, but in reality, many employees assume that they’re supposed to handle this kind of thing without involving you. Asking this question can open the door to all kinds of information and concerns that you might never hear about otherwise. You might end up learning about a client who’s about to be very upset by something, or that another department isn’t getting your employee what she needs quickly enough, or that your employee has real concerns about the strategy she’s overseeing. Hearing this kind of thing gives you a chance to give input and guidance, intervene where you need to, and help your staff member think through solutions and course-correct when necessary.
2. What’s going really well right now?
This question can elicit things that your employee is really excited about (which may be things you don’t realize they’re highly motivated by), and talking about it can give them a sense of accomplishment and progress. Plus, you might learn details that you didn’t know about – things your team is doing that make you proud.
And if you follow up by asking about why they think it’s going so well, you and the employee both might be able to draw out valuable lessons that can be used in the future.
3. What should we be doing differently?
Your employees have a different perspective on some things than you, because they’re more deeply involved in some areas, less involved in others, and simply have a different vantage point than you do. They likely have thoughts on what could be done differently or better, but people don’t always speak up about this kind of thing – because they have their hands full with their core jobs, or they’re not sure that a suggestion of change would be welcome, or it just hasn’t occurred to them that you’d want their thoughts.
Explicitly asking people to talk with you about what could be done differently reinforces that you welcome their input and that you’re open to change – and can result in you making improvements in areas where you didn’t even know improvement was needed.
4. What do we need to do to get you to sign on for another year?
Sometimes the reason managers lose their best people is because they never actually asked them to stay. It sounds obvious, but when’s the last time you talked to your highest performers about how to retain them? Even if you don’t get an immediate commitment, having an explicit discussion and showing that you care enough to talk about it can have a significant impact on how valued people feel and whether they stick around.
Of course, you also need other retention strategies in the mix, including salary, professional growth, new challenges, and so forth – but don’t underestimate the power of a direct conversation about someone’s future.