We want employees to complete projects and tasks, and perhaps more importantly, we want them to learn the skills that make them more competent and more self-sufficient. Conversely, very few managers coach their employees on a regular basis. Of those who coach, few have the necessary skills to do it right. Most people think of coaching as an advice session. However, as Socrates figured out more than 2,000 years ago, a better strategy is to coach by asking intelligent questions that encourage people to talk about their work, their thoughts, and their concerns comfortably and openly. To accomplish this task with little effort, managers can have a prepared list of essential questions and use a questioning process to help their employees enhance their skills, reach solutions on their own, master their jobs, and understand and own their actions. This technique will improve your relationship with your employees. Also, it will reduce their dependency on you, giving you more time for your projects. In his recent book “The Coaching Habit - Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever,” Michael Bungay Stanier, the first person honored as Coach of the Year in Canada, presents the vital seven coaching questions to teach managers how to coach effectively. This concept will help you become a successful coach with little strain.
Below is a quick-reference of the seven essential questions, which I will discuss in the following paragraphs. In addition to applying these queries to transform meetings with your employees, you can utilize them with your family, friends, customers, suppliers, colleagues, and bosses. You will be able to coach someone in 10 minutes or less, so you can make coaching a daily routine.
- The “Kick-Start” Question
The first question to your employee should be “What’s on your mind, John?” This question jumps the conversation to the most important matter from the perspective of the employee. You make it clear that you care about the employee and that this conversation is about her, not about you.
After the opening question, you can focus on the 3P model:
- Find out what the employee is working on, recent accomplishments, next steps, as well as potential issues and need for help.
- Discuss the employee’s relationships with team members, colleagues, other departments, other managers, customers, suppliers, and people he or she supervises.
- Explore patterns in behavior and determine how you can help them accomplish their job more productively.
- The “AWE” Question
The second question is, “And what else?” This question may be the most important in coaching because it allows for greater, more profound understanding of the employee’s projects and concerns. It allows the employee to continue to control the topics in the conversation in a productive way. Instead of you pushing advice single-sided, it allows your employees to express their ideas and concerns with sincerity and tranquility. This question helps you remember to listen more and get a better understanding before giving suggestions.
- The “Focus” Question
Refrain from jumping to conclusions too soon, and ask, “What’s the real challenge here for you, John?” Here you will discover the fundamental issue, rather than the symptoms of the problem. With this question, you tell the employee that you are aware that he or she has many challenges, but one of them is paramount. By holding your impulse to advice, you help your employees rapidly figure out their paths.
- The “Foundation Question
Similar to the focus question, the foundation question takes you directly to the primary challenge. Ask, “What do you want, John?” Or you can ask, “But what do you really want, John?” Instead of guessing or assuming things, ask to get enough details and deep understanding. For instance, if an employee wants to use an app that is not supported by the company, try to determine why that app is so important for the employee. Knowing the fundamental need will better position you to meet his or her want more creatively.
- The “Lazy” Question
Ask, “How can I help you, John? With this question, you save an enormous amount of time. Here again, we are looking for what matters most to the employees. You empower the employees to decide and ask what you should do to help them enhance their skills, reach solutions on their own, master their jobs, and understand and own their actions. Once more, we hold our need to advise before we fully understand the problem or need.
An alternative question could be “What do you want from me, John?” Since this is a more direct question, you ought to preface it with an appropriate clause. For example:
- The “Strategic” Question
Here we ask, “If you’re saying YES to this, then what are you saying NO to?” This question is important because typically a new commitment impacts one or more of the previous commitments. Therefore, we want to ensure that the employee is aware of it and is, nevertheless, taking this new challenge. This question removes excuses and encourages the employees to own their choices and the corresponding consequences.
Here again, we can use the 3P model to understand and agree on the impact to projects, people, and patterns.
- What projects should the employee delay or stop working on?
- What relationships would suffer or end?
- Which habits do they need to break?
- The “Learning” Question
To end the coaching session on a good note and to do even better at the next meeting, ask the question “What was most useful for you?” This query helps you understand what worked well and was meaningful for the employee. Also, it allows the employee to reflect and recall a couple of good points, which will make this session more memorable and useful.
Use the above seven questions to give structure to your coaching session. They will help you stay on track and discuss the most relevant topics. With no doubt, the coaching experience will be effortlessly and be rewarding for both, you and the employee. This way you can make a habit and use these questioning process regularly. It only takes 10 minutes.
As you use this process, feel free to modify these questions or add questions that would work best for you. Develop a sense of curiosity, and listen attentively. This process makes teams less dependent on managers, frees up managers’ time and connects managers with their most important work. Remember that you also can use these coaching techniques to improve your relationships with your bosses, customers, suppliers, colleagues, family, and friends.
What other coaching questions do you find crucial? Please write a comment below.
About the Author: Art Torres is an IT Quality Champion and Change Agent in the Finance and Insurance industries. Builds high-performance, customer-centric teams that enable swift completion of strategic projects with zero critical defects; resulting in higher profits and enhanced customer and employee satisfaction. Improves processes by developing and implementing policies and procedures, best practices, standards, and methodologies.