One of the most common management practices is to enter the office of your report and after a few little icebreakers, begin to fire off the questions:
Is the project on schedule?
Have you handled the budget overrun?
Were you able to engage a vendor yet?
Did you fix the issue with the client?
And on and on it goes….
After the twenty questions and reassuring answers from your report you leave the office feeling good about the project as well as your special abilities as a great manager. You can now check the “I managed” box. I took care of my management duties!
But did your really manage here? Did your twenty questions change anything? Have you really made an impact?
Maybe or maybe not!
The fact is that the answers to your twenty questions are probably half truth. Most employees that know the twenty questions management style will tell you what you want to hear. They may not be actually lying to you, but they may spin the facts or tell you only part of the story. You may be only making yourself feel good regardless of your ability to craft great questions. So what can you do other than twenty questions? Do you need to be an interrogator or have the skills of prosecuting attorney in order to manage a person or a process? Here are a few ideas beyond the questioning:
Look at the numbers: The truth will likely be in the numbers. Always. Develop systems to track things statistically. It’s tough to spin facts and figures. Find ways to track performance with numbers.
Look downstream: Instead of quizzing your report, ask others downstream, your clients or other stakeholders for feedback. This will be results driven feedback- not a measure of action or effort by the report.
Be observant: Most problems will leave clues long before they blow up into a full fledged forest fire. Watch for hints that things are not progressing properly. Build some early warning systems to head off problems. Don’t simply rely on talk.
Build trust: The best way to manage is to have the report come to you for help or to get advice on a situation. If they don’t feel that your office is a safe place, they will never walk through the doorway. It is far better to learn about a situation or problem in this manner than trying to pry it out of them.
Face the music: Most of us tend to be inherently optimistic and believe that things will work out in the end. If things are going poorly, they are likely to continue going poorly and changing things from bad to good can be very difficult. Face your problems head on. Don’t fool yourself that things are going to get better because you received answers to your questions that make you feel good.
Twenty questions can be a dangerous way to manage people. Asking good questions is valuable in management, but you can’t rely solely on the answers that you get. Don’t be fooled. Put systems in place to measure progress. Keep your eyes open to what is really going on and make yourself open to be a resource instead of an adversary. If you really enjoy the questioning- then go ahead and change careers and go to law school!