Asking the right questions

How often have you seen a project fail, only because it wasn’t executed properly? Think about the last time you felt your employees could have performed better? Wasn’t so long ago, was it?

Companies go the extra mile to provide ample incentives – humongous salary figures, travel perks, the coffee machine and ping pong tables to employees to make sure their heart is in the workplace. Yet, a report by Gallup consulting shows that as many as 85% of corporate employees are either not actively engaged, or engaged at all in their work.

Disengagement is a chronic epidemic in the workplace that plagues the efficiency and productivity of companies. Disengaged employees lose focus and interest in their work. They fail to perform and deliver on their deadlines.

How do YOU figure out where your employees’ heart is? Is your company losing out on the extra revenue it could have made had your employees been more engaged? If you haven’t yet thought about employee engagement, fear not.

Here are 10 questions you need to ask your employees to understand how engaged they are!

1. How would you describe your motivation to work?

“You must capture and keep the heart of the original and supremely able man before his brain can do its best.”  – Andrew Carnegie

Everybody lives a purpose. Your employees too have set professional goals for themselves. Understanding how this goal syncs with their job in the organisation helps keep them self motivated.

A self motivated employee is an antibody to disengagement. When working for the company adds value to their personal and professional life, they are far less likely to lose interest and more likely to actively take initiative in the workplace.

2. How would you describe the level of clarity you have about your role, responsibilities, and deliverables?

First things first, an employee needs to understand what is expected of them on a day to day basis. Understanding their daily tasks, expected work methods and having an organised list of priorities is a basic necessity for every employee. Employees that fail to clearly understand their roles waste their time and energy in other unproductive or even worse, counterproductive acts. The situation worsens in a team where it could lead to arguments about protecting turf.

This helps understand where the grey zone of job description lies and how the employee fits in the flow of command and responsibilities.

3. What do you think the company can do to help you be more interested, motivated, focused, and productive at work?

Honest feedback is the bridge between communication gaps. Everyone has their point of view, your employees too! Too often this crucial perspective is left untapped as a resource. Their feedback is the primary source of information to understand the crux of a problem and often nip it in the bud.

As HR managers, this helps us look at the issue from an employee’s perspective and starts a debate on previously latent nuances.  Who knows that broken photocopy machine could be eating up all the time of your interns?

4. How often do you participate in and contribute to general affairs at this company, in ways other than your core responsibilities?

Smart employees are potentially the best assets of a workplace. Unfortunately, keeping a smart brain engaged is more difficult than usual. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

As HR managers, we need to make sure our smartest employees are constantly committed to their assigned work.

This helps you understand how your smartest employees can benefit your organisation beyond their departments. A mesh of these additional responsibilities will serve as a buffer load to ensure they are always being productive and adding value to the company.

5. What would be an appropriate way for you to be recognized for your work?

While most employees of a company aren’t the smartest, they sure are hardworking. Quantitatively speaking, this is the largest untapped resource that drains down the gutter for a company. While these employees work overtime and beyond their personal limits to push that report on our table, we constantly fail to acknowledge their efforts and sacrifices. Companies need to differentiate themselves from sweatshops. Paying your employees a fat paycheck isn’t the only recognition. In fact, money isn’t the only or even the top form of recognition employees prefer.

Instead of sitting in closed rooms and devising tactics to boost workplace morale, such an honest and open ended question provides crystal clear set of requirements from the employees about what they feel they actually deserve. Catering to these needs shows compounded advantages by creating strong faith in the company’s governance and increasing job satisfaction among the employees.

6. How would you describe the job related stress you experience on a routine basis?

You can only milk a cow so much before it kicks your head!

Similarly, too many responsibilities, presentations, meetings and similar simulation could cause unbearable levels of stress for the employees.

Too much of anything leads to saturation. This stress level could very well be the reason your employees fade out, commit mistakes or simply shut down mentally.

7. What do you think about the company’s leadership?

Efforts are vectors, they need both magnitude and direction.

Managers and team leaders are the direction and employee performance is the magnitude. To keep your company’s vector constantly pointed towards success, you need to make sure that both direction and magnitude are present. Managers reportedly account for 70% of variance in employee engagement.

Employees need to follow instructions and work hard, on the projects assigned to them. When they get stuck, managers and leaders need to pitch in and provide guidance and support. Mentorship also involves honest criticism of performance from time to time and constantly checking that the employee efforts don’t go astray.

Often answers pinpoint names and weak links in the chain of senior management. Such feedback helps you take up these issues with confidence and take stringent decisions if needed.

8. What is your understanding of your role in the company?

Employees only interact with a limited number of people on a daily basis, and their efforts are are only a small part of the immense momentum a company moves with. It is thus very easy for employees to feel lost in a herd and fail to see the overall picture of where the company is headed. A single piece in a jigsaw puzzle is as important as any other piece to finish the puzzle. But it is only when we look at the puzzle as a whole when we make some sense of it.

This would help you understand how well the company is able to communicate it’s overall vision, goals and future plans to the employees. In very subtle ways, companies with higher engagement tend to imbibe the company values into the employees. Over time these values rub off on the employee and this invisible uniform is what separates an employee from company X and  Y.

9. What aspect of the company makes you least proud of it?

“Our philosophy is simple, we want to create products that our employees can proudly recommend to their friends and families.” – Steve Jobs

How proud do you think your employees are of the product they help in making? Even the best sales guy making back to back successful pitches goes sleepless at nights when the product itself was faulty. It is very important for the employees to realise the value the product creates. The feeling of shipping a faulty product creates a moral block in the conscience of employees.

This broadens the scope of discussion beyond the product you ship to the entire company structure, policies and people. Employees even care about the footprint the companies leave on the society and this is also related to attrition.

10. How helpful and needed is feedback like this?

This last question captures the spirit of this entire exercise. Who could better tell the impact of these questions than the employees themselves.

This gives you instant feedback and confirmation if the last few minutes of the time you spent  were of any use at all.

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Aakrit Patel

Writer, digital marketer, entrepreneurship enthusiast and a mechanical engineer with a minor in finance.
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