"I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions." - Lou Holtz
How often do we overlook details in our business because we're too busy barking orders rather than asking questions? My absolute favorite way to uncover little-known tidbits of new knowledge that can drive our business forward is by asking our team questions. Here are five of my favorites:
1. How can I serve you better?
Most people say that the golden rule is to treat people how you would want to be treated. Well, the best thing to do is to treat people how they want to be treated. I often ask my team, "How can I serve you better?" to show that I am here for them, not exclusively vice versa.
It elicits a response that provides feedback in a non-threatening way. The answers provide tangible ways that your team would like for you to help them out in the way that they need you to.
2. If we were to scrap everything today and start over, what would be different?
The first time I asked our employees this, the reactions were simply shock. They had never thought about our business like this, like it's not even a possibility to shift our focus. Because of this, it usually takes a minute to get a meaningful response, but be patient, it's worth the wait.
The reason I ask this is to highlight our strong points. It shows me what is working today and what should be our highest priority. If you want to be more specific, you can align this to your current goals or topic you're currently working on. For example, "If we were to scrap everything today, what would our data infrastructure look like?"
3. Why are we in business?
I randomly asked this to a small group of our employees awhile ago, and the answer surprised me quite a bit. Since I was on the team very early on, I've seen this answered many ways, but those of us who have some relative tenure here at Lesson.ly have a pretty consolidated and consistent way of answering this question. What I realized though, is the team had great answers, but they were not very homogenous. If you asked three people in separate rooms, you would've gotten three accurate answers, but the word choice and full description would be different from person to person.
It was eye-opening to me because it showed me that the early team members need to always keep in mind that new team members don't naturally know the company history as well as we do, and I need to make sure we document and communicate company messaging to all employees better. Outside of consistency, the primary thing to look for here is the Simon Sinek test: Do your employees answer the what, the how, or the why? The closer you are to why, the better the response.
4. What is a question you are too afraid to ask because you feel dumb asking it?
You can take this question either personally within your employee's role, or company-wide to understand where your global training gaps are. For the individual's role specifically, ask them what they are curious about that they don't know well enough. I recommend preparing some topics to suggest in case they are too fresh out of school and don't know what they don't know.
From a company-wide perspective, your team's answers will probably be related to company acronyms, company goals, competitors, recent decisions, comments made by the CEO or other key leaders, and even compensation. Keep in mind here that you don't have to have answers right away. If you don't, do the research and communicate the answers. By the way, if you have an easy enough elearning software, go ahead and make a lesson about the answers to share with your team.
5. How are you going to pursue your personal goals?
If you want your team to fight to work for you, you have to make it worth it for them. If you never ask what their personal and professional goals are, how can you possibly scratch that itch? I find that asking our employees about their goals are is the best way to understand how to help them on an individual level and drive engagement skyward.
The process looks like this: First, ask them what their personal goals are and record them clearly. Second, have them set achievement-oriented goals for each personal goal that also work toward your KPIs. By aligning those two goals sets, you are ensuring an engaged workforce that is working for both their dreams and the company's mission. That's the definition of a win-win in my book.
Tip: Be quick to listen
James 1:19b says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." This is perfect advice for asking your team questions. Be sure to abide by all three parts: listen well with eye contact and even take some notes, speak to facilitate deeper insights, not to defend your point of view, and do your best to accept every answer with humility and grace, not with anger or arrogance.
The next time you have a one-on-one or even a weekly departmental meeting, I challenge you to ask your team one or all of these questions--and don't say a word. Just listen. Record the responses and take some time to reflect on what they actually mean, then take action on what needs to change. By regularly making questions a predominant part of your global culture and personal leadership style, I promise you will have a more productive, engaged, and happier workforce.