Continual Improvement1

There are many critical moments in the life of a business leader.

One often-missed opportunity is that one-on-one conversation with an employee regarding their happiness, performance, fit in the organization, or career track.

Great leaders bring out greatness in others. 

This is your opportunity to learn many things… by asking the right questions of your employees. The answers will serve you well over the months and years ahead as you can lead and care for your team more effectively.

Here is a list of questions for you to use in your employee conversations:

  1. “What is your dream? Where do you see yourself in 2-4 years?”

Their answers will tell you where they are headed in their career.  Is it with you or do they dream of starting their own company?  Do they have their eye on a promotion?  Perhaps they long for your job!  The most important follow-up question you can use during this discussion is “Why?”.  I’ve heard many employees explain what they want but when I keep asking “Why?”, they add more to their statement.  Often, after a few “why’s”, we get to where they really want to be… “happy”.  Your job is to help them define happy so you can prepare to help them arrive at their destination.

  1. “Everyone tells their friend or spouse about the thing that makes them frustrated at work.

What frustrates you?”

It’s sad but true.  Most employees have something that bugs them about their job or their boss.  Unfortunately, they tell almost anyone except the person who can fix the problem – you.  It’s your job to help them understand they are encouraged to tell you anything that bothers them.  How could you possibly make things better if they don’t?  Great bosses want to know the truth.  So ask!  Make sure you teach every person in your business the results from honesty are going to be positive improvement.

  1. “Explain to me how your responsibilities and performance affect our bottom line?”

Really?  My performance matters?  I push paperwork through the system.  Again, sad but true.  Most employees do not understand how their specific actions lead to greater profits unless it is explained.  “Faster, more accurate processing of our cases means a better average close rate which keeps our best agents on our team.  If we’re slow, we’ll lose our best producers!”  Wow.  There is a huge difference between saying “Please work rapidly” and “Here is why your performance makes our company more successful”.  We cannot miss an opportunity to explain why everyone’s work matters.

  1. “Tell me how you would change our business workflow.”

Many employees are aware of needed changes in your business process but they’re afraid that pointing out these opportunities will upset the person who created them.  When they are sure you want these ideas, many will pour in and some will be invaluable.  It is fun sharing a one-time bonus with a proud employee who made the company more profitable (see item 3 above and consider precedent first).

  1. “Who are your good friends here at work?”

People who have friends at work enjoy going to work more and are less likely to ‘clock watch’.  Of course, this doesn’t happen magically.  A culture that includes happiness and fun is a prerequisite to your employees developing friendships.  Seeing a small group of people heading out for dinner together after work should be a gratifying experience!

  1. “Tell me about the last time you had a good idea to improve the company? What happened?”

We all want to be heard.  If we go to the trouble to share a new idea and others do not listen, there will be no more ideas.  Employees know every suggestion may not be utilized but they do count on the respect of being heard with follow up.  If this is or is not happening, you need to know.  It is also an opportunity to reinforce your craving for their creativity.

  1. “Why should our customers do business with us rather than our competitors?”

Is every employee in your company clearly aware of your competitive advantages?  If not, they could never utilize them to please your customers and gently reinforce those points.  If everyone in your company knows exactly why you are the best solution available and why, they can professionally make this knowledge part of their conversations.  If your store is open longer than others and customers really appreciate it, your employee can tag their call with “You can stop by until 6 pm because we are open later for your convenience”.

  1. “How does your work environment contribute to your success?”

Years ago, a call center employee answered this question “The ambient noise around me makes the concentration required for consistent success challenging”.  We talked briefly and then we walked around and listened.  She was right!  After some brainstorming, we ordered her a noise cancelling telephone headset and her performance immediately climbed.  Soon, everyone had one, and this equipment had quickly paid off and raised morale.

It simply pays to ask your employees these and many other questions.  The answers will tell you many things and improve your company daily.

The cost is a few minutes of conversation.  The rewards are exponential.

I must share two warnings with you:

(1) Refer back to my first podcast where we discussed my PRICCKS decision making system.  The “I” stood for implications.  There is one potential implication to having these conversations, your managers wondering why you are discussing these things with their direct reports without asking them first.  There are two easy solutions to eliminate this concern:

  • Tell your managers you’re going to be conversing with their employees ahead of time so it is not a surprise.
  • When you ask these questions, go directly to the employee’s supervisor (I call them ‘direct supports’) and recount the conversation so there are no secrets.

(2) Never, ever ask the employee what they think of their boss.  If you do, you will never have the trust of their supervisor again.  360-degree feedback is another topic for another blog but please do not use these conversations in this manner.

If you wish to make your business famous for continual improvement and reap the many rewards, you must make time for private conversations with employees to ask these questions. 

Done properly, your rewards will be immeasurable and this will quickly become one of your favorite habits.

I hope this discussion on asking your employees the right questions has you thinking.  Best…


“When you’re green, you’re growing’ when you’re ripe, you’re rotten”