I loved a recent Daily Retail Quote that came from Robert Half. In case you missed it, here it is again: "Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers." True when you're working with customers and true when you're developing your staff.
When I first start managing people I thought I had to have all the answers. Over time I learned not only that it's impossible to have all the answers but also that it's not right way to lead people, anyway. I've come to see that strong leaders balance the questions they ask with the answers they provide.
These are some of my favorite questions:
1. "What do you think?" and "What should you do?" When I was promoted to store manager at The Sharper Image I took over a store whose previous manager made every single decision. I'm surprised he didn't tell his staff what to have for lunch. As a result, the staff couldn't be proactive in taking care of customers, and the manager couldn't get anything done because he was so busy answering questions.
The only way to change that culture was to answer a question with a question. It drove the staff nuts for a while but eventually they started bringing me solutions instead of questions. Once they became more comfortable making decisions I was able to empower them so they didn't have to come to me with a solution. They knew how to take care of an issue or an opportunity immediately.
2. "What would you do?" This looks like the same question as the ones above but I use it differently. With this question we're asking for people's opinion and insight but they don't and won't own the decision themselves.
I like to ask people what would they do if it were their name on the front the building. By doing this you will not only will get some great ideas from your staff but it's also a terrific way to develop people's understanding of how business work. Is someone tells you that if it was his company he would run more sales you have a perfect opportunity to teach how sales impact margins and the bottom line.
3. "What did you do well and what could you have done better." The best way to develop people is to teach them how to assess their own performance. Try asking this question to an employee on the sales floor after he/she has worked with a customer. When I did first begin doing this as a store manager, my staff knew that they had to be prepared to answer, so they learned to assess themselves after each customer interaction.
I then found it to be vital tool for managing people remotely. I discovered that one of the toughest parts of being a multi-unit manager was not seeing my staff in person for weeks and months at a time. By asking them to give me their assessment of their week or a particular event I was able to coach them.
I also find this to be a great tool to use with my children. I learned early that it doesn't work with my wife. She just gave me The Look and said, "What do you think?" and that shows how these questions go full circle!
So let me ask, "How well do you ask questions, and what can you do to improve how you use them?