When asked about the best jobs they've ever had, most people will say that their best jobs were the ones for which they had the best managers. “Most people” isn’t merely anecdotal, though: that claim is backed up by plenty of data. For example, Gallup research finds that “managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units,” and half of the workers surveyed “have left their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”
Managers have this influence because they are responsible for creating the environments in which their employees operate. A great manager motivates and inspires everyone on the team to do exceptional work. On the other hand, a manager who struggles to create an optimal environment can actually inhibit a team. For managers to improve, they need feedback—not only from senior leadership, but from employees as well.
In a way, this feedback process is a reverse performance review. It starts when managers ask employees the right questions. For example, a question such as “Is there anything I can do to be a better manager?" won’t elicit the feedback someone needs to improve because it's too vague and open-ended.
Based on motivation theory, the following six questions will yield far more useful data. They are designed to address the features of a team culture that, when optimized effectively, will create the best environment in which employees can achieve—and for managers can thrive.
“Do I ask you to do things that seem to lack value or purpose?”
The employees in the movie Office Space are irritated by their manager’s repeated demands for TPS reports because they don't understand why they have to do those reports. Managers should strive to decrease the amount of work that their teams perceive as useless. One way to accomplish this is to understand which asks feel that way to them.
“Do you feel that you own the work you're doing—or that you're just doing what you're told?”
To create an environment in which employees will succeed, managers must make sure that those employees have ownership of the work they're doing. When a manager delegates a task, the employee must understand how the task has meaning and adds value.
“Are the goals we're setting together meaningful and manageable?”
A manager’s expectations should be high—but also reasonable. Use the old fable “Goldilocks and the Three Bears" as a guideline: when expectations are too low, employees won't feel challenged; when expectations are too high, employees will feel discouraged. Managers should aim for expectations that are “just right" and leave employees feeling stretched but not overwhelmed.
“Do you get a balance of positive and negative feedback?”
Just as often as they point out which behaviors are preventing employees from achieving results, managers should also point out which behaviors are helping employees reach their goals. This question is designed to measure recognition, which is just as important as criticism.
“Do you understand how to get your job done in a meaningful, efficient way? If not, how can I help you learn this?”
People perform better when they understand their roles, how their teams fit into the larger organization, and what tools and resources they can use to do their jobs.
“Do you feel you can go to your colleagues to brainstorm, solve problems, and collaborate to get work done?”
Every employee should feel that the team has his or her back. Every employee should be able to communicate and collaborate with his or her colleagues. A strong sense of team connection is a high indicator of motivation and success.
Managers should ask employees to include in their responses a scale (1 to 10 or even 1 to 100) to indicate importance as well as specific examples. Simple “yes” or “no” answers not only omit a lot of valuable information but also fail to promote a growth mindset—and there's always room for improvement. Delving into the details gives managers opportunities to learn how to make employees’ experiences even better and, by extension, improve the team’s overall performance.
Jeff Miller is the associate vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness at Cornerstone OnDemand. This article originally appeared on ReWork, an online magazine sponsored by Cornerstone OnDemand featuring news and ideas on the future of work. Visit ReWork at www.cornerstoneondemand.com/rework.