Category Archives: performance management

A question of questions ~ Question technique for managers

question technique

Mastering the art of question technique

Last week in the Managing Performance Workshop one of the skills we discussed that cropped up time and again was question technique.

As any self-respecting salesperson will tell you, question technique is a key skill in the sales process.

But it’s also a critical skill for managers too.

Why?

Because by asking good questions you can:

  • Check understanding
  • Create buy-in
  • Get people’s involvement
  • Discover the root cause of a problem
  • Understand someone else’s perspective
  • Find out what’s going on
  • Find out how your team are feeling
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Help others learn from their own mistakes
  • Help put people at ease
  • Find out what’s important to others
  • Identify people’s expectations
  • Seek ideas for resolving problems
  • Check on people’s progress
  • Help people identify their own strengths
  • Help people identify their development needs
  • Encourage people to think things through for themselves
  • Encourage people to take responsibly
  • Help people open up to where they need help or support
  • Keep difficult conversations on track
  • Help people plan and prioritise
  • Get to know your team better
  • Build rapport

I could go on, but you get the idea…

Last week the emphasis was on asking questions in relation to managing performance, but the ability to ask good questions is also important in recruitment, in meeting customers’ expectations, in dealing with complaints, in coaching, so it’s a skill well worth developing.

Of course, the way you ask questions is also important; we don’t want team members (or customers) to feel like they are being interrogated.

Questions to open up the conversation

To get people talking use ‘open’ questions, starting with the words:

What, how, when, who, where, why, give me an example, or tell me about…..

This will encourage the team member to go into details and not answer yes/no.

However, “why?” is a question to use with caution; it can easily come across as judgemental if we’re not careful. Also asking someone why something happened can be too broad a question which they may not know the answer to. So, as an example, instead of asking “why did you do that?” ask questions along the lines of “what triggered your response?” or “what was your reasoning for approaching it in that way?”, “what had you hoped to achieve?”, “How did you decide?

In the context of managing performance, e.g. in a one to one review, here are some questions to ask:

  • General: What did you do, how did you do that, what results did you get, how has that helped you, what’s was the impact on the customer/team/department.
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  • If something worked out well: what did you do differently this time, what was the end result, how did that help others (business, colleagues, customer, etc), how will you build on this for next time.
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  • If it didn’t go well: how did you overcame the problem, how did that work, what have you learnt from this, what can you do/can we do to avoid it happening again, what will you do in future, what help do you need from me?
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  • If they’ve had a challenge: what do you think led to that, what have you done about it, what have you learnt, what support do you need from me?
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  • When planning forward: what will you focus on, how will that help you or others, what will you do first, when will you start, how will you know when it’s working, what milestones will there be, what obstacles could get in the way, how will you overcome these, when shall we review progress?

Listening to answers

Whilst mastering your question technique you’ll also need to listen well.

  • Build rapport by looking and showing you are listening, by maintaining eye contact, nodding and using open gestures.
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  • Avoid taking notes while they are talking.  If you need to keep a record of the conversation, you don’t need to document everything, just key points, so wait until they have finished, then make a note of the relevant key points or anything you want to come back to later.
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  • Watch for any hesitancy in their answers. If you’ve asked a tough question they may need time to think about it, so avoid jumping in before they’ve had a chance to do so.
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  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions – if they don’t give you all the evidence you are looking for, or their answers don’t give you enough detail, follow up with more questions.
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  • Listen to what’s not been said too.
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  • Stem the flow of irrelevancies or hobby horses by interruptions like “I understand your point.” or “I can imagine”…. “So what can you do…?”
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  • Summarise their points (using their words) to show your understanding.
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  • Don’t be tempted to stick to pre-formulated questions; build the next question round the answer to the last.

Because we all filter or delete information, it can mean the information we receive or questions we ask very general or vague, making it difficult for others to fully understand the question, issue or action required. Often it is necessary to drill down to get specifics.

This can be the case when reviewing performance with team members. We might ask a question about a situation and they may be vague or ambiguous with their answers. We interpret their response in one way (and often make assumptions about the detail) when they mean something else. Or maybe they are being vague deliberately, as they don’t have any details to give!

For example: you ask someone how they are getting on with a task you have asked them to complete by the end of the week. When you ask them on Wednesday how they are getting on they answer “Fine”. What does that mean? Does it mean they’ve nearly finished; that they are just half way though; that they have started it but waiting for some information from someone else; that they are stuck, but too shy to ask for help; or they haven’t even started yet?

This is when we may need to do some “Fluff Busting” and I’ve written about that here.

Take action and practise your question technique

If you only do one thing:

Next time you ask one of your team for an update ask specific questions so you come away knowing exactly where they are up to.

video: Understand your customers and team by asking quality questions..



Managing Performance

managing performance

It’s that time of year again when the acorns are falling, and the squirrels are stocking up for winter.

But, what’s the connection between acorns and managing performance?

Having several large oak trees in my garden I know only too well what can happen to acorns if you leave them on the ground. Either the squirrels bury them, or they get covered over by leaves, and before you know it you have a small forest of oak saplings.

And not too easy to pull up once they’ve got their roots down.

So, the connection with managing performance?

Dealing with performance is a bit like picking up acorns.

If you pick up on problems early enough they can’t “germinate”. But left to fester they become much harder to deal with.

I often find junior or inexperienced managers in particular tend to avoid dealing with poor performance.

Below are 10 principles you can share with them to give them support, but if your team would benefit from some more in depth guidance, this is what I’ll be covering on my Managing Performance Workshop next week.

It’s 3 bite size session of 90 minutes each, over 3 consecutive days (Monday 21st – Wednesday 23rd), and designed with junior managers and supervisors in mind (although any managers who shy away from dealing with performance would benefit).

And if you register before 16th September  you’ll benefit from the early bird rates.

So, what are the 10 principles?

  1. Set expectations, so everyone in the team knows what’s expected of them and why
  2. Be consistent so there are no mixed messages
  3. Address any issues straight away
  4. Conduct regular 1:1’s with team members where you can review performance and any support that’s needed
  5. When feeding back on performance stick to facts, not your interpretation of the facts.
  6. Recognise not all performance shortfalls are down to the individual – there may be other factors at play beyond their control
  7. Use the ‘3E’ structure (i’ll be covering this in detail next week)
  8. Focus on the end result. Your goal is to resolve the issue and improve performance in future
  9. Be mindful of your tone and language
  10. Recognise that failing to take any action about poor performance sends the message to everyone else that it’s OK

Of course, every business should have its own disciplinary process, and I am not suggesting by-passing that. But if you nip issues in the bud hopefully you won’t need to get as far as the disciplinary process.

Take Action on performance

If you only do one thing. Share this list with your junior managers and supervisors and give them the support they need to nip poor performance problems in the bud.

p.s. Book before Wednesday 16th and get the Early Bird Offer of £27 per
person or £97 for a group booking (up to 5 attendees).
After this date registration will be £47 per person or £197 for up to 5
attendees from the same business. (All prices subject to VAT)

Book here now to get the benefit of the early bird:
https://www.naturallyloyal.com/resources/managing-performance-workshop/

Related Video



Dealing with Poor Performance

dealing with poor performance

Dealing with poor performance is a bit like picking up acorns

What have acorns and dealing with poor performance have in common?

Most people who know me, know I love my garden.  I can happily while away hours pottering in the garden, and my idea of a good workout is a good bit of digging or lopping vegetation (beats the gym any day!).

Our garden is surrounded by mature oak trees, which means at this time of year we get lots of acorns, and I mean LOTS!

And, as we know, from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow…

Following my accident last summer my gardening activities were somewhat curtailed. Which meant none of the acorns got picked up last year. So, lo and behold, a mini oak forest is popping up all over the garden! And having spent most of Saturday pulling them up, I can report oak saplings put down strong roots very quickly! Of course, had I managed to deal with these last year they would have been a darn sight easier to pull up!

It’s the same in business; if we don’t deal with problems early on, they can escalate into something much more challenging; like pulling up oak saplings rather than picking up the acorns.

Two particular types of problems come to mind, both of which can have an impact on the team and your customers: team members’ poor performance and unhappy customers. I’ve written many times before on dealing with unhappy customers, so my focus today is on picking up on dealing with poor performance.

I often find junior or inexperienced managers in particular tend to avoid dealing with poor performance. One reason is for fear of repercussions.

So here are 10 principles you can share with them to give them the support and guidelines to nip any performance problems in the bud (or eliminate them altogether!)

  1. Set expectations, so everyone in the team knows what’s expected of them. The clearer these are (ideally expressed in behavioural terms) and the less they are open to misinterpretation, the easier it is for everyone involved to monitor poor performance.
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  2. Ensure people understand why things are done the way they are; if people fail to appreciate the importance of what they’re expected to do it’s very easy to lose any buy-in or commitment.
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  3. Addressing an issue straight away might be relevant for everyone in the team. However, beware; giving everyone a lecture in a group meeting makes the ‘non offenders’ irritated that they are all being ‘accused’, whilst those to whom you are aiming your comments either just laugh it off, or it goes by without them realising you are referring to them.
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  4. Conduct regular 1:1’s with team members where you review good performance, discuss shortfalls, and set targets for the coming period. This is an opportunity to pick up on any shortfalls before they become an issue, and identify the cause.
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  5. When feeding back on performance (whether good performance or where improvements are needed), use the AID model. Stick to facts, not your interpretation of the facts.
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  6. Recognise not all shortfalls are down to the individual; maybe it’s a training need, it could be through lack of resources, perhaps the system doesn’t allow it to happen, or maybe simply that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Find out the cause; if you don’t know this, how can you correct it?
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  7. Use the ‘3E’ structure – Establish the gap – Examine the reasons for the gap – Eliminate the gap
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  8. Be prepared for the excuses – “well Nancy does it all the time and gets away with it”, or “I don’t see why that’s a problem”, or “No one’s ever told me that I had to do that”. These last two responses suggest that some more explanation or training is needed, and you may need to draw a line in the sand and set out your expectations for the future.
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  9. Focus on the end result. Irrespective of the issue – whether it’s someone being late, not greeting a customer in the way you’d expect, breaking health and safety rules, failure to carry out part of their job, arguing with another member of staff, or doing something in a haphazard way with a poor result – Your goal is to resolve the issue and improve performance in future.
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  10. Recognise that failing to take any action about poor performance sends the message to everyone else that it’s OK to break the ‘rules’. We sometimes misguidedly believe that it’s a one off or the problem will go away; but before you know it the problem has escalated – either the person in question continues to disregard the standard, or it becomes custom and practice for everyone to follow suit.

Of course, every business should have its own disciplinary process, and I am not suggesting by-passing that. But if you nip the issue in the bud hopefully you’ll never need to get as far as the disciplinary process.

Take Action

If you only do one thing – Share this list with your junior managers and supervisors and give them the support they need to nip poor performance problems in the bud.

p.s  If you need some more help with developing your junior managers let’s have a chat to see how I can help. 

Related articles

How to give constructive feedback

Dealing with poor performance ~ Part 2