Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.
The ideal manager is someone who solves problems before they reach the CEO. Sometimes, though, communicating honestly about business problems is important, especially if a lower manager isn’t sure how to handle a specific situation.
If you’re a leaders who suspects you aren’t hearing everything you should, perhaps tweaking your approach to communication with colleagues is the way to go. I asked nine entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share the No. 1 question that founders and CEOs can use to get honest feedback. Their best answers are below.
What’s The One Thing You’d Change About Your Job?
Asking your team leads the number-one thing they could change about their job will typically make them unveil valuable insight into what’s really happening. This can peel back the covers to problems in the business and allow you to address the underlying issues to their answer.
If You Were Me, What Would You Change Tomorrow?
Honest feedback can be hard for employees to share when they feel insecure or weary. An easy solve is to reframe the question so an employee is answered by using “I” phrases instead of “you” phrases.
Instead of giving a backseat driver observation, “You don’t care about the customers” or “Jane doesn’t come into work on time,” the employee is able to put themselves in the driver’s seat to be the agent of change. By asking them what they would change, they are empowered to answer with “I would…” statements such as, “I would gift the customers with a discount after each large purchase” or “I would set up a clock-in system.”
This also gives an actionable opportunity for management to agree with the idea and have that employee lead the charge on it, thus fostering both honest feedback and change!
What’s The Most Tedious Thing About Your Job?
This question allows you to walk a day in their shoes, and find out whether they’re really paying attention to the job or simply just going through the motions. The answer that they give will give you insight into their character, and the environment that is most conducive to their productivity. Working together, you will be able to minimize the “tedious” tasks, and maximize of the most profitable ones.
If the most tedious part of the job is also the most profitable, speaking to your leaders about this fact will allow them to see the bigger picture, and not just feel like another cog in the system.
Where Do You See This Company Next Year?
To be more specific, ask them where they seem themselves in this company next year. The answer you get will show you, as a leader, the ‘path’ you have laid out to your team leads. If that path or vision isn’t where you see the company going, then you need to communicate more.
Show them where you want to take this company and how their honest feedback will get them there. If the team lead has a clear path to success, they will give you honest feedback because you’re all headed to the same place.
Keep this type of communication going and it will build a rapport with your team leads. They’ll know and see how that their honesty leads to improvement. You will become a better owner and leader, with a more cohesive team.
What Is Your Biggest Challenge?
The key here is to lead by example. Be very candid about your own problems and shortcomings. Let employees see that you are human and also struggle. When you face challenges, recruit help, develop creative solutions, and quickly bounce back with a resolution. Employees are more likely to seek assistance if leaders do the same.
This lead by example approach, coupled with open communication, will create an environment in which it’s encouraged to ask for assistance, and acceptable to not have all the answers. Ask employees what is and isn’t working, and what their biggest challenge is. These questions are crucial when trying to make every team run as efficiently as possible. When employees detail their challenges, show them you value that feedback by making it a priority to fix them.
Why Are You Facing These Challenges?
Many leaders ask their team members “what” they are struggling with. By doing this, you’re putting your team member in a tough spot. “Do I complain or do I keep quiet?” Instead, always ask, “Why?” For example, instead of asking, “What issues are you facing in your project?,” ask, “Why are you facing challenges in your project?”
This subtly redirects perceived blame away from the person and lets them separate themselves from the issue at hand. It frees their mind to think objectively about the issue without fear of being the person who complains about issues. By asking “why,” you’ve become a partner in finding a solution, and the team member will speak more openly with you.
How Can I Help You Be More Successful?
A lot of people don’t want to give you bad news, but they love to offer new ideas. Don’t make your question about asking about negative things, because most people won’t tell you the hard facts.
Instead, focus on the positive and update your angle accordingly. Instead of asking about the problems they’re having, ask them for advice on how to improve. Whatever you do, don’t implicate them for the failure (unless they are actually the failure, but that’s up for you to judge). The best route is to empower them first and foremost, and to give them a chance to say what they really think. That might actually take you in the right direction.
How Is Your Team’s Morale?
Team leads may be more willing to be honest with their feedback if they are sharing their own outlook and opinion on the moral of their team. Asking “How is your team’s moral lately?” takes the focus off of their own feelings and possible problems and instead allows them to reflect on the team that they work with and what they have been seeing lately.
Team leaders can then give feedback on how each team member has been working and feeling in the work environment, which will give more insight into possible problems or concerns within your business.
What Keeps You Awake At Night?
I find that this question always elicits a team member’s deepest concerns about the business. It also is disarming because it is not necessarily asking directly about what they are having a problem with, rather asks them to reflect on the business as a whole. Oftentimes, the concerns that they raise are not even directly about their area of the business but overall big-picture areas that they think we need to address as a company.
Lead photo by Lake Crimson