The simple act of asking good questions can motivate your team. Most managers try to motivate by “telling” people what the goals are and why they should be excited about them.
However, if you spin this around, and ask people questions instead of telling them what to think, you may find that three things happen: (1) instead of tuning you out, they have to think deeply in order to come up with an answer, (2) once they start thinking they make connections that help them remember what’s important, and (3) they take more ownership of the process, essentially motivating themselves.
Here are eight questions that I like to have managers ask team members on a monthly or quarterly basis, and then discuss in a regularly scheduled one-on-one.
I’ve also shared my thinking process and the purpose behind each question.
- What do you see as the main purpose of your role / job in this organization?
Most people see their job as completing a massive list of “to dos” each day as fast as possible, forgetting the main point of having the tasks in the first place. This question forces them to step back and ask themselves “why” they are doing what they are doing. The “why” is what makes the work worth the effort, so making the connection, even just remembering it for a moment, increases motivation.
- What do you see as the main goal or purpose of the organization as a whole?
There’s something special about being part of something larger than yourself. As an individual we can only make a small impact on the world; as part of a larger group committed to the same purpose, we can really feel like we’re making a significant contribution. If your team identifies with what your organization is working to achieve, you have inspiration built into your culture. And if they have no clue that there is a higher purpose, this discussion can bring it to the surface.
- How does what you do in your role each day impact the main goal of the organization?
Most people are so absorbed in getting tasks done that they don’t pay attention to how each task they do connects to the higher purpose of the organization. When they make this connection, suddenly the most mundane aspects of their job represent opportunities to make a positive impact and become worth the effort to think about and improve.
- What are the 2-3 things you do in your job that you enjoy the most and why do you think that is?
We enjoy what we enjoy for a reason – usually partly because we do it well (a natural strength), and partly because it’s a natural reflection of who we are (a core value). When you stop to consider why your top choices are your top choices, you uncover your strengths and values, and remember that you get to honor and develop them while at work, which is naturally energizing.
- What challenges are you currently facing, and how are you handling them?
The most important part of this question is “how are you handling them?” The wording implies that you are responsible for handling your challenges and helps prevent people from slipping into victim mode where they blame management for their challenges. At the same time, it helps you, as manager, see what saps the energy and motivation of your team, so you can start working to solve any appropriate challenges.
- What support do you need to resolve these challenges?
The wording of this question is also empowering because it offers support while also placing the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the employee. What we want is the manager doing everything he or she can to eliminate obstacles to success, while the employee does everything in his or her power to use these challenges as opportunities to build new skills around solving problems and resolving issues effectively – great leadership training!
- What skills or knowledge do you want to develop that will help you be more effective in your role?
This question builds on the previous two, by having the employee think about on-going self-improvement.
- What do you think would make your job more enjoyable and fulfilling on a daily basis?
I like this question at the end, because it pulls joy and purpose back into the discussion after negative issues have been discussed and moves both manager and employee to a place where they can commit to positive action.
These questions aren’t set in stone, but you are welcome to use the ones that resonate with you or change them to fit your style. The most important thing to keep in mind is that people are more likely to remember things they thought of themselves than things others said to them.
If you are asking questions that require people to think about the things you want them to remember and focus on – like the goals and purpose of the organization – you are likely to get more alignment than if you simply communicate by telling.
Good luck with this, I would love to hear your experiences as you try it! And if you would like to discuss how to more specifically and effectively motivate your own team, feel free to contact me to schedule a consultation.