3 Dangerous Questions Leaders Should Ask Employees to Improve Engagement
Joe Baker is one of our new friends. He’s part of the team over at People Results: great people doing important work. Joe drives an important message for positional leaders – check in with your people. Don’t let the busyness of work distract you from connecting with your employees as people. This is engagement without the theory. It’s in the trenches! Joe, thanks for keeping this on our radars. Enjoy!
The most powerful lever an organization has for improving employee engagement is their leaders.
From supervisors to CEO, leaders are the organization’s primary ambassadors and energizers to its people. They set goals, clarify expectations, communicate direction, assign tasks, provide recognition, offer guidance, give feedback and clear roadblocks. All of these are important factors in helping people be emotionally committed to the organization and its goalsas they get results.
But leaders too frequently approach these activities in a one-way manner (vs. a dialogue.) And while these activities are essential, they are not enough. Leaders who want maximum engagement from their people (and the higher financial returns that generally go along with higher engagement) need to be good at asking dangerous questions.
Here are 3 questions leaders should ask regularly to help team members’ engagement:
“What do you like most about your job?”
I was in a project team meeting where the leader opened the meeting with this question. Not only did we learn some things about what was most engaging to team members. (By the way, everyone’s answer was different.) It was also incredible how this question helped each team member refocus on the positive aspects of their jobs. This question helped set a tone for the meeting and the entire team that helped engagement.
“If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?”
On the flip side of the last question, this one is difficult for many bosses to ask. After all, “what if they raise an issue that can’t do anything to change?” While this is a possibility, the words of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky ring true: “You miss 100% of the shots [at improving engagement] you never take.”
And even if an empathetic leader can’t fix the situation, he will still get credit for caring enough to ask – if he genuinely listens and shows a willingness to help.
Incredible how this question helped each team member refocus on the positive aspects of their jobs
“What do you want your career to look like 5-10 years from now?”
This question doesn’t have to be reserved for a job interview. When a trustworthy leader asks this in a way that gives permission for a team member to answer openly – even if the answer may describe a job in another department or another company – that communicates genuine care and commitment to the person. And that builds engagement.
When given the challenge and the permission to answer this question honestly, people recommit to roles, switch roles, and leave companies. Leaders need to be ok with all three of those possibilities, realizing that what is best for the person is best long-term for the organization, too.
One company I know incorporated questions like these into their annual performance review process, and this was a key part of efforts that ultimately increased engagement by 10%.
One final dangerous question for you: is there an opportunity for you to help leaders in your organization (and yourself!) ask questions like these to more effectively engage the people they lead?
Connect further with Joe
Joe Baker is a partnerwith PeopleResults, a consultancy that guides organizations and individuals to “start the wave” of change. They have advised major clients including PepsiCo, McKesson, Microsoft, and many others on how to realize results through people. Previously an executive at Accenture, Joe is an executive coach and consultant specializing in leadership and team effectiveness, career development, and employee engagement, and he writes frequently on these topics. Contact him at or on Twitter at @JoeBakerJr.