November 5, 2015

5 Eye-Opening Questions to Ask Your Employees

Eye“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.” – Lou Holtz

How often do we leaders overlook details in our businesses because we’re too busy barking orders and not asking enough questions? My absolute favorite way to uncover new knowledge that can drive our business forward is by asking our team some important questions. Here are five of my favorites:

1. How Can I Serve You Better?

Most people say that the “golden rule” is to treat people how you would want to be treated. I’d argue that the best thing to do is to treat people how they want to be treated. I often ask my team members, “How can I serve you better?” to show that I am here for them.

The question elicits valuable feedback, as it gives employees a chance to tell you what they need from you to make the business run more efficiently and productively.

2. If We Were to Scrap Everything Today and Start Over, What Would Be Different?

The first time I asked our employees this, they were shocked. They had never thought about our business like this — like it’s not even possible to shift our focus. It usually takes a minute to get a meaningful response when you drop this one, but be patient. It’s worth the wait.

I ask this as a way to highlight our strong points. It shows me what is working today and what should be our highest priority. If you want to be more specific, you can align this with your current goals or some task you’re currently working on. For example, “If we were to scrap everything today, what would our data infrastructure look like?”

3. Why Are We in Business?

I randomly asked this to a small group of our employees a while ago, and the answer surprised me quite a bit. Since I was on the team very early on, I’ve seen this answered many ways, but those of us who have some relative tenure here at have a pretty consistent way of answering this question. What I realized, though, is that while the team members had great answers, they were not very homogenous. If you asked three people in three separate rooms, you would gotten three accurate answers, but the finer details would vary from person to person.

It was eye-opening to me, because it showed me that the early team members need to always keep in mind that new team members don’t naturally know the company history as well as we do. It made me realize that I need to make sure we document and communicate company messaging to all employees better.

RoadOutside of consistency, the primary thing to look for here is the Simon Sinek test: Do your employees answer the what, the how, or the why? The closer your employees are to “why,” the better the response.

4. What Is a Question You Are Too Afraid to Ask Because You Feel Dumb Asking It?

You can ask employees to answer regarding their own roles, or you can ask them to think about the whole company, which will help you understand where your global training gaps are.

For the individual’s role specifically, ask them what they are curious about that they don’t know well enough. I recommend preparing some topics to suggest in case they are too fresh out of school and don’t know what they don’t know.

From a company-wide perspective, your team’s answers will probably be related to company acronyms, company goals, competitors, recent decisions, comments made by the CEO or other key leaders, and even compensation. Keep in mind here that you don’t have to have answers right away. If you don’t, do the research and communicate the answers.

By the way — if you have an easy-to-use elearning software on hand, you can go ahead and make a lesson about the answers to share with your team.

5. How Are You Going to Pursue Your Personal Goals?

If you want your team to fight to work for you, you have to make it worth it for them. If you never ask what their personal and professional goals are, how can you possibly scratch that itch? I find that asking our employees about their goals is the best way to understand how to help them on an individual level and drive engagement.

The process looks like this: First, ask them what their personal goals are and record them clearly. Second, have them set achievement-oriented goals for each personal goal that also work toward your KPIs. By aligning those two goals sets, you are ensuring an engaged workforce that is working for both their dreams and the company’s mission. That’s the definition of a win-win in my book.

Tip: Be quick to listen

The Bible verse James 1:19b reads, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” This is perfect advice for asking your team questions. Be sure to abide by all three aspects: listen well, speak to facilitate deeper insights — not to defend your point of view — and do your best to accept every answer with humility and grace, not with anger or arrogance.

VistaThe next time you meet with your team members, I challenge you to ask them one or all of these questions — and don’t say a word. Just listen. Record their responses and take some time to reflect on what they actually mean. Then, take action on what needs to change. By regularly making questions a prominent part of your global culture and personal leadership style, I promise you will build a more productive, engaged, and happier workforce.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post

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Mitch Causey is the director of marketing at, the easy learning software. helps companies like Birchbox, Angie’s List, and ModCloth improve their employee learning programs by allowing them to build, share, and track their materials all in one place.