Three Questions to Ask Every Employee

In your management career, there will come a time (perhaps several times) when you’re a little unsure of what’s going on below you. You’re focused on higher level work, crafting strategy, meeting with key customers, etc – but you start to notice that things aren’t running as smoothly as they could on your team or in your department or division. It’s times like these when you need to roll up your sleeves and get into the details to see if you can help solve problems, break down barriers, or make suggestions for workflow, priorities, etc. In doing so, here are 3 questions that you’ll want to ask your employees:

  1. What do you think your role is? Sometimes the friction of execution is due to people being unclear about (or inappropriately tweaking) their role. In doing so, they’ve thrown the bigger picture all out of whack. I’ve found a simple way to check on this is to ask people what they think their role is… you might learn that it’s a far cry from what you expected or want it to be. If you ask this question of enough people, you can start to stitch together possible solutions to the sub-optimal performance or role conflict issues.
  2. How do you spend your time? This is obviously related to the first question; it can be eye-opening to learn how people really spend their 50-60 hours a week if you just ask. Are they focused on the right big things? Is this how you want them spending their time? What suggestions or direction can you provide that might get them back on track?
  3. How do you do your work? This is the hardest question, the one that requires the most time and patience. I once had a direct report who was taking way too long to create PowerPoint decks (back when PP first came out). It was only until I asked this very specific question did I learn that she was creating them from scratch every time as opposed to reusing and editing existing slides. By taking the time to ask “how do you do what you do”? I found a way to help her become more efficient and productive. The solution was simple, but only by having the detailed conversations did it become apparent.

Sometimes, you have to dig deep to figure out solutions to speed, quality and productivity issues. Don’t be afraid to walk the halls and get into specific conversations with people about their role, how they spend their time, and how they (literally) do their work. Consider it a worthy fact-finding mission, one that is well within your area of accountability as the leader.