Managers — Are You Asking the Right Questions?

BY Kathy Crosett
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As a manager, if your team members never complain, you might assume everything’s fine. If your folks are making their numbers and completing projects on time, you might think your leadership strategy should go on auto pilot. That would be a mistake, says Bruce Court.

Consider this. Your team members might not be saying anything to you, because they’re afraid to. They might figure you don’t want to be bothered with a specific problem. One way to find out what’s going on is to ask the kinds of questions Court describes in his column for DDI World. In Court’s experience, managers should ask four different types of questions to determine how well they and their teams are functioning. Here’s a description of two of these question types.

Causal Questions

Let’s say you have an employee who was rude to a customer. The customer has demanded to speak to a supervisor. Popular wisdom says the customer is always right. While you want to keep the customer happy, you also need to understand why your team member mouthed off.

A causal question such as, “Why didn’t you offer the customer a refund?” allows the team member to explain specific motivations. Maybe this team member interpreted customer rudeness as a personal attack. Or maybe this team member believes the policy for refunds isn’t in the best interest of the company.

You’ll never know unless you ask. Keep in mind that younger team members want to express their opinions. Being engaged in meaningful work is hugely important to millennial workers. Giving them a chance to discuss specific issues can help them feel they are helping shape company culture and work practices.

Calibration Questions

A calibration question can be a natural outgrowth of a conversation stemming from a causal question. Team members may have specific opinions about or desires to change an established policy. Court notes that “calibration questions are always action- or solution-​orientated.”  Once team members explain the causes of their actions, ask them to suggest a change.

Use calibration questions to guide workers through a thought process that leads to specific actions. A good calibration question will encourage them to define what a project’s success or failure will look like. For example, your employees may decide they shouldn’t have taken a customer’s angry reaction personally. In the future, they may choose to put the customer on hold for ten seconds while they calm down. Or, they may ask for the right to refuse to give a refund to a clearly abusive customer.

Play devil’s advocate to help them think through possible unintended consequences of a proposed action. Will putting a customer on hold briefly truly help your employees cool off? Will the refusal of a refund impact the profitability of the company? Can you balance the hit to profits against the need for employees who deserved to be treated decently?

Don’t assume that all is well, because you’re not hearing any complaints. Start asking questions, and bring your team’s performance to the next level by instituting changes suggested by your employees.