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Leading Questions

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I’ve interviewed over 3,000 candidates in my career and also have had my share of times where I’ve been interviewed. One of the things I have been asking myself lately is why asking questions seem to stop after the person has been hired. Does the value of a candidate’s input diminish exponentially, much like a President once elected?

As a Human Resources Executive who has worked both internally and in a consulting/coaching capacity, my experience has been that often after a candidate is hired, the questions stop. What happens to having input and influence into the ongoing progress of an organization after being hired? The candidates who we’ve invested a considerable amount of time vetting out for their communication, leadership, interpersonal, technical and industry related skills seem to no longer be seen as a valuable resource and source of information and feedback. Once a candidate is “in,” what happens?

Your employees are waiting to be asked. They’re moving through their day observing, thinking, taking in what works and what doesn’t in regards to your processes, strategies, communication and more, all the while forming opinions about these observations that often get dissipated in the lunch room, or with peers or significant others over a beer that night. “Ok,” could be the response, “If they have something to say, why don’t they just tell me?” The fact is, the people who report to you pick up your body language, assume you’re too busy, are non-confrontational, fearful of making waves, or in some cases (and for various reasons) don’t believe you care. However, they want to, wait for and yearn to be asked!

My experience managing surveys, facilitating leadership development programs and providing coaching to employees in organizations is that the act of asking and listening, treating the feedback as received as important, improves engagement and retention. In organizations where the culture doesn’t support engagement, it creates a healthy gap in cynicism, i.e., if employees have sat on the sidelines as problems became issues and issues became revenue impacting derailers, minimally, the act of asking with genuine receptivity creates a question in their mind. “Maybe my organization really cares about my opinions and that of my fellow employees,” or, “Perhaps there is hope for positive change here.” This isn’t a nice to have (or do), this is a must for organizational success.

Over the years, it’s been my responsibility to speak up when employee and cultural issues arose that impacted the business and were brought to me by concerned, angry, or exiting employees. I can’t count the times I’ve asked employees during exit interviews “Have you spoken about this to anyone?” and heard a myriad of assumptions, reasons and rationales as to why this person did not feel safe or engaged enough to do so. I’ve often been in the position to pass on feedback, particularly if it impacts the business. In best scenario, supervisors take the information to heart, using the feedback to form future communication and address issues. In some instances, unfortunately, the substance in the feedback has been overshadowed by the fact that the supervisor didn’t hear this directly from the employee.

In reality, those of us in leadership positions are responsible for creating engaged employees and teams. One of the most impactful, economical ways of doing this is to take the time and make it a priority to have communication where as a supervisor you ask and listen.

This is the challenge: for one week, invest more time being interested than trying to be interesting. Harness the “knower” and any conditioned tendencies to fix and control that any of us default to when stressed and/or time pressured and see what happens. Take time and discipline yourself to practice inquiry and listening with your employee on a regular basis, and see what happens. Organizations wring their hands looking for solutions to make their employees feel recognized and rewarded, how to do it effectively and cost consciously, as well as wondering if the impact can really be measured. I guarantee you this is one practice that will reap dividends for you as a leader and your organization.

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