You don't need all the answers, just the right questions
When I first became a manager, I thought I needed to know all of the answers to all of the issues in my department. You know what, I was wrong. I quickly learned that management was more about asking questions, communicating, making decisions, management process, and leadership. In this week's column, as the column name alludes, I would like to specifically discuss asking questions, and its first cousin, listening.
Let's begin with the old saying that 'God gave us one mouth and two ears, therefore, we should listen twice as much as we talk.' This advice is not only good for life in general, it's also sound management practice. In fact, listening closely to the people who report to you has the following advantages:
Shows you care about what they have to say
Provides you a better understanding of the issues within your department
Allows you to make better decisions because of your deeper understanding of your department's issues
Enhances your ability to make informative and detailed status reports
Facilitates your ability to write quality performance reviews
Next, and to the official topic at hand, the ability to know what questions to ask and how to ask them can be of great value to you as a manager. That said, the questions that manager ask their staff generally falls into the following categories:
Project/Task related questions ('How-to' and 'Do you know', etc.)
Status related ('Project Status', 'Client Status', 'Did you do', 'How did it go', etc.)
Schedule/Logistically oriented ('Can you work this weekend?', 'Can you help on this project?')
Personal growth related ('Do you understand', 'What would you like to learn?', 'What type of projects do you like to work on?', etc.)
General management ('What can I do to help make you more successful in your job?', 'What resources do you need to be successful?', etc. )
The question categories listed above can loosely be divided into two types;
What the employee can do for you and/or tell you
What you can do for the employee
As a manager, both of these question types are of extreme importance to the health of your team.
The first group (project, status, and schedule) are different types of information you need to know to properly run your department. The project/tasks related questions are important because, as a manager, you don't stop learning about your professional area of expertise. Asking your staff for a lesson on how to use a new technology or perform a task you are not familiar with or have forgotten how to do show humbleness and that you respect your staff's skill set. It also saves you from having to figure it out on your own. The second question type, the most obvious of the group, provides you with the information required to keep up to date on your department's projects and properly write informed status reports. The third question type is only partially a question and is most likely a nice way of telling them you need them to do something or that unless major family plans are in place that you want them to work the weekend.
The second group of questions (personal growth and general management) is enormously important because it helps keep you in tune with your team's needs in regard to training, professional opportunities, career aspirations, and general issues. Without asking these types of questions on an occasional basis, your staff may begin to feel neglected and taken advantage of. This in turn can cause morale issues, reduced motivation, lower team productivity, and employee attrition.
In closing, as a manager, your department's most valuable resource is its people. They are performing the tasks required to keep the function running. They are also a source of both technical skill and technical knowledge. All that said, don't underestimate the Return On Investment (ROI) related to the time spent understanding your staff and caring for their needs.
The primary advice and takeaways from today's column is to know that:
God gave us one mouth and two ears, therefore, we should listen twice as much as we talk.
The ability to know what questions to ask and how to ask them can be of great value to you as a manager.
Don't underestimate the Return On Investment (ROI) related to the time spent understanding your staff and caring for their needs.
This blog is an excerpt from my weekly nationally syndicated column with GateHouse News Service. My new columns can be found in GateHouse Media publications throughout the United States.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart, and continue to grow.