A new manager was hired to lead an underperforming team. Before the first meeting with the team, the owner of the company sat with the manager and asked how he was planning to approach this first meeting.
The manager explained he would touch on a few important topics in this first meeting: Asking the team their opinion on why they had not achieved success, explain why he, as a new manager, was brought in and explain why his new way of running the team would help improve their performance.
The owner did not interrupt, and when the manager had finished, he asked the owner for his opinion on the strategy. The owner responded that the manager would not get accomplished what he had hoped.
When the new manager asked why, the owner told him, “You are asking the wrong questions.”
Confused, the manager asked what he meant, to which the owner replied; “When you ask Why questions, it puts the recipient in a defensive posture. If I asked you why you left your previous job, you would feel compelled to convince me you were in control of the decision. Defending your decision. Even if you tell your team why something will happen, it is not the right approach. There are better questions one should always ask first.”
The manager thought about what the owner said and then asked, “What questions are the best ones to ask?”
The owner smiled and responded, “Correct.”
The manager paused and said, “What questions should I ask to improve performance?”
The owner responded, “You just asked one.”
Even more confused, the manager asked, “How can I tell which ones are best?”
Again, the owner responded, “That’s another.”
Seeing the manager was getting more frustrated, the owner explained, “You should always ask, What and How questions of your team. This opens up conversations, so opinions or ideas can be shared. Conversation is started. Why questions never lead to anything but defending actions. Now you can ask why questions once you have begun discussions, but opening conversations with Why will never be as productive.”
The new manager thought for a moment and said, “So a better set of questions would be, What is your current process for getting the results. Then possibly, How do you think we could make it more effective, or what would you change if you could…”
The manager continued as if the owner was not there, listing multiple questions and then caught himself seeing the owner smile. “You see how quickly a conversation can happen when you ask the right questions? You will win more people to your side when you ask for their feedback before offering yours.”
The manager thought for a moment, stood up and shook the owner’s hand and left for his first meeting with their team. Later that day, the owner saw the manager and asked how the meeting went.
“It was the easiest and most effective meeting I ever led. The team offered suggestions, and they feel involved with improving the results and even admitted their own shortcomings without me even pointing it out. I see what you mean when you ask the right questions. I am excited to get going.”
“What’s the first thing you will be working one?” the owner asked as he turned and walked down the hall.
The manager laughed and replied, “Great question!!”
Don’t underestimate the power of What and How questions for yourself and your team.
If I can ever be of service, let me know.
You can find Glenn’s article and more great content in the November issue of Car Biz Today Magazine, right here on CBT News.