Tag Archives: questions

Why? You Ask.

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.

Yet, some people would rather complain about a problem they can’t solve, than execute a solution they don’t like. Or, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

You will never learn from questions you don’t ask. So, why do we hesitate?

  • It’s uncomfortable to admit we don’t know.
  • The answer is obvious to everyone. Or it should be obvious to everyone, even if it’s not.
  • Our assumption may be wrong, but to ask a question requires us to re-examine what we believe to be true.
  • We might be wrong, but no one will notice, unless we ask the right question.

Asking questions takes us out of knowing mode and places us in learning mode.

Homage to Lee Thayer and Wayne Gretzky.

But, My Team Gives Me the Wrong Answer

Our Working Leadership Series kicks off Sep 9, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale. For more information follow this link – Working Leadership.
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Question:
I use questions to coach my team members, and they provide answers but not always the right answer. As a result, the conversation can appear like an inquisition. It’s challenging, at that time, not to revert to “telling” rather than “asking“.

Response:
If you are asking a question and you don’t get the response you want, it’s not because the response is wrong, it’s because you are asking the wrong question. -Tom

Why Do We Do That?

“Why do you assemble the pieces of the installation on-site?” I asked.

“Because that’s what we are paid to do,” Roger replied. “The customer purchased this assembly and needs it installed in this location. That’s what we do.”

“But, I am watching this installation and it seems very awkward. That technician is standing on a ladder, in a dark corner of the room, securing two pieces that he cannot see, reaching around another piece that is in the way.”

“I know,” Roger agreed. “But that’s what we do.”

“Roger, you are part of a trade profession. How long has your profession been doing this awkward work in this way?”

Roger chuckled and nodded. “I guess forever. That’s the way it has been done for centuries.”

“Then let me ask again. Why do you assemble the pieces on-site?”

“I will answer you the same way. That’s what we do,” Roger pushed back.

“And that’s what you have always done. Why don’t you assemble the pieces before you get on-site, in a room that is well lit. Instead of climbing on a ladder, you could assemble the pieces on a table where the technician could see the material, and work directly on a connection instead of around something that was in the way?”

Roger looked at me like I was from Mars.

“All I am suggesting,” I continued, “is that you ask a question. Sometimes we do things out of habit. We do something because we know the way to do it. Is it better to know something and describe the way it’s done or ask a question? Why?”

How Many Questions to Ask in an Interview

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

Yesterday, you talked about how we could evaluate the capability of a team member related to the work.  Your focus was all about the work, calibrating the level of work in the role.  But your evaluation appears to depend on observation of actual work output.  I get it.  But how do we evaluate capability in non-employees, candidates we are interviewing for roles.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of observation.  We get to ask them questions.  That’s it.  How do we evaluate capability?

Response:

Interviewing candidates and gathering clues on their capability is certainly more difficult than observing team members in actual work output (applied capability).  But the platform is the same, we just have to capture our clues in a different way.

It’s all about the work.  It’s still all about the work.  With internal team members, calibrating capability requires an accurate definition of the work, an accurate definition of the stratum level of work.  In a candidate interview, the cornerstone document is still the role description.

The role description should be organized into Key Result Areas, those tasks and activities that go together, grouped together.  And those tasks and activities that don’t go together, separated from each other.  Most roles have between 5-8 Key Result Areas (KRAs).  This is where the work, the level of work gets clearly defined.

In each KRA, my discipline is to create ten written questions about the work, decisions to be made and problems to be solved in the role.  If you have five KRAs, you will have 50 written questions.  If the role contains eight KRAs, you will have 80 written questions.

And the questions are all about the work.

For every written question that you ask, I expect you to ask two drill down questions.  So, if you have 50 written questions, at the end of the interview, you will have asked 150 questions, all about the work.

In the course of your previous interviews, it is unlikely you have ever asked 150 specific questions about the work contained in the defined role.  If you had, you would have a very clear idea about the candidates capability related to the work, the candidate’s capability related to the level of work.

It’s all about the work.

The Purist Management Tool

“You seem confident in your ability to draw the team member into the conversation?” I asked.

“I feel like it is an important management skill,” said Julia. We had been talking about bringing value to the other members of her team. As a new manager, we anticipated resistance to her leadership.

“Some people call it the art of conversation, but it’s a skill, an essential management skill,” continued Julia. “I think about all the things I can do to make a difference, to influence my team to higher performance, to boost morale. I can’t do it with email, though I have tried. I can’t do it with pep talks, they don’t last very long. I can’t do it by putting teamwork posters on the wall. The strongest tool I have, as a manager, is the skill of conversation.

“It’s the purest of management tools, one person simply talking to another person. If you can’t do that, you can’t be a manager. If you can do that, you can be a great manager.”

“Julia, you talk about it as a skill, as something that can be learned?”

“Yes. Oh, yes,” Julia responded. “I was terrible at it. I mean, I’m not a wallflower, but having purposeful management conversations is something I had to learn. I have discovered some basic elements and patterns. These patterns help me consistently to have conversations about purpose, actions and accountabilities.” I could see through the glass window in the door that two people were standing outside. Team members with questions.

“Let’s pick this up tomorrow. I would like to talk to you more about this conversational structure.”

The Value of a Question

“Bring value to the decision making and problem solving of my team. Easy to say, but how do you do that?” Jeanine protested.

“Look, I don’t even work here. You call me in as a consultant, because you are having difficulty with something. Do I come in here and tell you what to do, how to do your job?” I asked.

“No, you’re right, you don’t work here. You may be familiar with our systems, but you don’t know any of the real technical stuff. You couldn’t begin to tell me how to do my job,” Jeanine smiled.

“I agree. But you call me in, nevertheless. Would you say I bring value to your problem solving and decision making?”

“Yes, or I wouldn’t have called you,” she flatly stated.

“But, I don’t tell you what to do?” I repeated.

“No.” Jeanine’s eyes darted to the ceiling.

“So, how do I do that? I don’t tell you what to do, yet, somehow, I bring value to your decision making.”

“Well, you ask a lot of questions,” Jeanine blurted.

“So, to clarify, I don’t bring value by telling you what to do, but I bring value by asking questions?”

“You’re telling me,” Jeanine started slowly, “that I don’t bring value to my team by telling them what to do, but that, as a manager, I bring value by asking questions.”

Losing Control in the Interview

This is the fourth in our series, Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

  • Missing important (and obvious) clues during the interview
  • Head trash, the distraction of the stereotype in the back of your head
  • The fatal decision in the first three minutes of the interview
  • Losing control, losing your head, losing your wallet
  • Asking the wrong (stupid) interview questions
  • Getting beat in the paint

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

Losing Control in the Interview
I realize I haven’t heard a word the candidate has said for the past four minutes. Then I realized the candidate has been talking non-stop for the past four minutes.

“Can you tell me more about the company?” the candidate asks.

“Great company,” I reply and recite a brief thumbnail about the enterprise.

“Are there benefits?”
“Who would be my manager?”
“Would I have my own cubicle?”
“What kind of computer do I get?”
“Do we have paid holidays?”
“How long before I can take vacation?”
“What’s the work like?”
“Is there a dress code?”

I suddenly realize 45 minutes has passed, I know nothing about this candidate and I have two more waiting in the lobby. I lost control of the interview.

Happens all the time, often with a full complimentary tour of the building. Why do we lose control of the interview?

Who controls the conversation?

  • the person answering the questions?
  • the person asking the questions?

On the surface, it appears the person doing most of the talking must be in control, when, in fact, it is the person asking the questions. Why does the interviewer lose control? Most interviewers walk in the room with a written list of 4-5 questions. The more time the candidate fills, the fewer questions required.

“I had five prepared questions, but I only had to ask the first two, the candidate was really responsive, a good communicator. I kind of liked him.” Who was in control of the interview?

Here is the good news. If you suddenly realize you have lost control, you can immediately regain it by asking your next question. You do have a next question, don’t you. From your list of 60 prepared questions. The person asking the questions controls the interview.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins next Monday, June 18, 2012. It’s online, and you will have several chances to make that first impression.

It’s a Cakewalk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

I just read your latest newsletter regarding team interviewing. I am a lousy interviewer but trying to get better. I am intrigued by the 50-60 interview questions that need to be prepared as I have a tendency to just wing it.

Do you have a source or listing of that many questions? I’m having a hard time envisioning what a comprehensive list might look like.

Response:
When I first introduce this concept of 50-60 written prepared questions, most interviewers freak out. Looks like a lot of work. No idea where to start? Can I short-cut the work and find the questions online?

The answer is, there is no short-cut. I do NOT have a list you can copy. But, here is the source of the questions.

The template I use to create a Role Description is organized around Key Result Areas (KRAs). When you look at any role, there are tasks that go together, typically related to a single goal or objective. In any role, there are typically 5-8 major goals or objectives, with related tasks in each goal area.

Looks like this –

Role Description
KRA #1
Tasks/Activities
_____________________
_____________________
_____________________
Accountability
_____________________
KRA #2
Tasks/Activities
_____________________
_____________________
_____________________
Accountability
_____________________
KRA #3
Tasks/Activities
_____________________
_____________________
_____________________
Accountability
_____________________
and so on…

Use the Role Description to craft ten questions in each KRA. If you have six KRAs, you will have 60 written prepared questions. It’s a cakewalk.

If you have more questions, register for our Hiring Talent program, next Orientation is Apr 23, 2012. For more information, follow this link.

The Value in a Manager’s Role

“What do you mean, bring value?” Joan asked. “Sounds easy to say, but I don’t know what you mean. How does a manager bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the team?”

“Do you bring value by telling people what to do?” I asked.

Joan sat back, looking for the odd angle in the question. “No,” she replied.

“You and I are sitting here talking,” I nodded. “And in our conversation, am I directing you, telling you how to be a manager?”

Again, the answer was “No.”

“And would you say that our conversations are valuable, valuable to you, in your role, as a manager?”

Joan followed the nod. “Yes,” she said slowly.

“I am not telling you what to do, yet, am I bringing value to the conversation?” I could see Joan making a leap in her mind to follow. “How am I doing that? If I am not telling you what to do, what kinds of sentences am I using?”

“Questions,” she responded. “You are not telling me what to do. You are asking questions and listening. And your questions are bringing value to the decisions I have to make and the problems I have to solve.”