Are you having trouble motivating your employees? Struggling to figure out what resources your team is lacking? Not sure what you can do to make your management style more effective?
Well, here’s the solution: Ask your employees.
No, really—it’s that simple. As a manager, it’s easy to develop one specific management style and simply hope that your team is receptive to it. While that can work to some extent, here’s the thing: Being a manager inherently involves interacting with a wide range of personalities and preferences—and what works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone. But by asking each of your employees pointed questions about how they’d like to be managed, you can figure out what will work best for your team, and mold your management style accordingly.
In my experience, both as an employee whose manager asked me these straightforward questions, and then as a manager who asked them of my employees, this simple method makes all the difference. To get started in the right direction, try asking these four eye-opening questions.
1. “How Do You Want to be Rewarded?”
For the first few months at a previous job, my boss would reward me with food (e.g., catered lunches, midday coffee, and a never-ending supply of candy) and other oddball gifts, like stationery and high-end self-tanner. And while receiving gifts was exciting at first (Christmas every day!), the specific rewards she chose didn’t motivate me to work any harder than usual, because they weren’t things I really wanted. After a while, the gifts actually started frustrating me—I was working for a not-so-impressive startup salary and would have preferred to put the money she spent on those gifts toward a more enduring reward, like a 401(k).
As a manager, you don’t always have an accurate picture of what your employees truly want. But if you give them a chance to spell it out for you, you’ll have a crystal clear vision of how you can motivate them. Whether you change up your reward system to incorporate additional days off, midweek dress-down days, weekly team recognition meetings, or a structured bonus program, when you include the things they actually want, they’ll likely be a lot more willing to put in that extra effort.
2. “How Do You Work Best?"
My previous office boasted an impressive speaker system, which was constantly hooked up to a steady stream of hip-hop and rap. And while my co-worker loved jamming out to this upbeat music while she worked, I couldn’t concentrate when my desk was vibrating from the pounding bass. I finally brought that up to my boss, and she immediately bought my co-worker a pair of heavy-duty headphones—a solution that satisfied both our preferences.
Depending on your specific company and its environment, you may not be able to accommodate every request. But, once you ask this question and find out what really helps your employees put forth their best effort, you can try to make small changes. Maybe you let them work from home one day a week, stash some snacks in a central area, allow them to take a short break every hour, or let them lounge on the floor with their laptops instead of sitting at a desk. As long as the request is reasonable and within your authority, you can help create a comfortable work environment that will help them produce their best work.
3. “What Don’t You Like About My Management Style?”
I know—this one can be intimidating, as it could easily serve as a jumping-off point for an employee to completely rip apart the tried and true methods you’ve always thought were on point. But, it can also be a very effective tool to see what makes your employees tick—and what you can do to make their lives a little easier.
When my previous manager asked me this question, I hesitantly admitted that she tended to be a micromanager. She’d email me detailed to-do lists every morning, specifying exactly what I needed to do and how I needed to do it—and that conveyed that she didn’t trust me to do my work myself.
So, speaking from experience, your employees may also be holding back their pet peeves. They may hate that you only hold one-on-one meetings with them when it’s time for annual reviews, or that you constantly come by their desks to chat, completely interrupting their workflows. But unless they’re given the go-ahead to admit these concerns, it’s not likely that they’ll volunteer the information. So give them the opportunity. The longer they resent some facet of your management style, the less productive they’ll be over time, and the closer they’ll come to resigning for good.
4. “What Can I Do to Make Your Job Easier?”
If no other question evokes helpful feedback from your employees, this one is a bit of a free-for-all, so your team can voice any last needs.
For example, I once had a boss who would shout requests at me from her office across the hall. I’d be working on a project, and all of a sudden, I’d hear, “Hey, did Ali Johnson pay last week?” With each request, I’d have to abandon my current project, look up the information from the records in my filing cabinet, and shout back the response—all before I could return to my original task.
Surprisingly, as soon as I specifically mentioned that her constant requests were seriously hindering my workflow, the shouting stopped. She made a concerted effort to approach my desk (or at least my door) before she asked a question—and these requests came a lot less frequently, too.
This question can also point out gaps in knowledge and what you can do to fix them. For example, when I posed this question to my employees, one of them asked if I could follow up each weekly meeting with an emailed summary of what we talked about, so he could have a point of reference for new processes and updates. On a broader level, you could find out that your team wants additional training on the company CRM software or a workflow that clearly documents a new process.
If you want to make your job easier, stop trying to guess what will make your employees more successful—and just ask. Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll know exactly what to do to make each of your employees happy, productive, and motivated. And that will make for one big, happy, productive, and motivated team.