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ATD Blog

5 Feedback Questions to Help Employees Grow and Improve Engagement

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It’s no secret that companies worldwide are looking to boost employee engagement. A Gallup report found that just 15 percent of employees globally are engaged at work. While there are a myriad of factors that contribute to that number, the lack of effective development is a major issue.

A survey found that professional growth and development was the top factor for retaining Millennials. And because the group now comprises the majority of the workforce, that’s an issue worthy of attention. But it’s not just Millennials who are suffering from lack of employee engagement. Nearly 70 percent of non-Millennial workers rate development opportunities as an important factor in job satisfaction.

Many companies are meeting those needs, with managers taking ownership of employee development and performance management, where they become coaches instead of traditional bosses. This type of development is built on regular employee feedback and conversations that help managers elicit the best performance from their employees.

At the core of any conversation are questions. Before I was in my current role, I spent years as a facilitator and executive coach. I learned that questions are key tools to not only obtain information but also induce deep inquiry about yourself personally and professionally.

Questions spark curiosity, and curiosity can lead to creativity, innovation, and problem solving. In the context of employee engagement and development, the questions you ask can unlock the type of development an individual needs to reach their potential and obtain their personal goals for work.

In my organization, I’ve earned the moniker Question Master for my penchant for poignant inquiries. Here are some questions we like to ask our team to help support their growth and spark work motivation.

What New Thing Did You Learn This Week?

They say that effective CEOs read 60 books per year. That’s more than a book a week! You don’t have to expect your employees to burn out their Kindles reading, but exposing yourself to new ideas in this way can greatly enhance innovation and employee performance. By asking this feedback question, you let employees know that you value learning and development, and it may entice them to increase their knowledge.


Have You Taken Any Risks Lately? What Did You Learn?

There’s a saying in Silicon Valley that could apply to the entire business world: “Move fast and break things.” Risk taking often leads to innovation and personal growth. But encouraging calculated risk taking only works if you don’t come down hard on people when they fail.

Employees will be less likely to step out on a limb if they’re ostracized when a project goes south. Get curious about the innovation and iteration process, and bring it full circle by cataloging what you and your employees have learned. It is during this time, too, that you can offer examples of constructive feedback to help improve employee performance.

Are We Providing Enough Growth Opportunities for Your Role? If Not, What’s Missing?

There’s a common saying in the business world: “People don’t leave their jobs; they leave their managers.” While it’s true that your direct manager is responsible for creating a positive employee experience and work culture, research suggests that many people leave companies not over relationships, but because they think they’ve stopped growing.

A Deloitte study found that 71 percent of Millennials expect to leave their jobs within two years because they’re dissatisfied with how their leadership skills are being developed. Want to stop your talent from looking at the exit door? Ask them this feedback question to determine what’s missing.


What New Skill Do You Want to Have by This Time Next Year?

Sometimes employees have a desire to grow their skill sets (whether personally or professionally), but they don’t know how to get there. They also may not have the resources.

The first step of an effective employee satisfaction survey is to ask them how they want to grow. You, as a leader, may be able to allocate resources, make a connection, or otherwise support their continued growth and boost employee performance.

What’s One Project You’d Love to Focus on for an Entire Week but Don’t Have Time to Accomplish?

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World , says deep work is when you focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. But in today’s world, it seems nearly impossible to carve out time amid distractions like email, Slack, and meetings.

Research shows that staying focused and getting into flow states greatly increases productivity. Three hours in flow is far more productive than six half-hour work sessions. Every time you come out of flow for something and ramp back up afterward, you lose, well, your flow. Finding out what an employee wants to focus on and helping them get there aids their growth and work motivation.

While this is just a sample of general, open-ended feedback questions, there are an infinite number of queries you can use to probe your employees. The idea is to get your employees’ wheels turning to uncover their deep needs and desires. Asking questions about employee performance and mindset not only gives you a better understanding of them, but also helps you become a better leader by gathering information and strengthening relationships.

About the Author

Shane Metcalf is cofounder and vice president of customer success at 15Five, employee performance software that combines continuous feedback, objectives (OKRs), peer recognition, quarterly reviews, and one-on-one1 meeting agendas, all in one lightweight weekly check-in. For more great feedback questions to promote productivity, creativity, and team collaboration, download The Great eBook of Employee Questions II: Return of the Question Master.

1 Comment
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I applaud getting input from employees. But I would suggest more business specific questions, as we do with all of our clients, as we help companies empower employees to think and act like owners. Questions like: How can we grow revenue by improve customer relationships? What is the biggest opportunity to improve profits? This Forbes article provides more background:
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