How to use open questions effectively with your staff

What last week’s announcement means for business owners and their employees.

The three bears

With the prospect of teams returning to the office after working from home for the last two months, there’s a lot of people who think pre-Coronavirus habits and routines will just fall back into place like before. 

As a business leader, there are common problems we’ve found, questions that you should be asking yourself as the transition from survival back to growth begins. 

You’re going to have little questions that need a big focus from employees. Questions that might seem little to you, but could be keeping one of your team up at night with worry.

You’re going to have bigger challenges that require time and a slower, more in-depth focus.

And you’re going to have questions in between. Those nagging questions that keep niggling in the back of your mind, that if you don’t give time to now, you’ll potentially miss the boat to take full advantage of the opportunities that have arisen from this crisis.

We’ve likened these questions to the three bears and compiled three, escalating areas for you to consider. You’ve got the large bear, the middle bear and the baby bear. 

Baby bear: The small, one word answer questions

Starting with the baby bear, one question we’ve been hearing a lot from clients is what if people don’t want to come back? What if they’re too cushy at home and what does this mean for their businesses? For example, what date are we returning to work, and, what if we don’t want to come back to the office?

Whilst it’s not a big issue in our mind, as an owner, it might be a large one in their minds. There’s these little questions that are going to be impacting your employees’ mental state. 

The first thing is to be mindful of the fears or perspectives of employees coming back. If they say that they are scared to come back, saying ‘I don’t want to come back,’ your initial reaction might be to dismiss it. However, you’re better off pausing and listening to them, seeking to understand where their fear is coming from. It makes sense to find out why they’re uncertain or worried, and influence their decision rather than to have a heavy hand and tell them directly. 

For the sake of your employees’ peace of mind, you’re better off actually treating that smaller bear like it’s a big bear because that’s how they view themselves and making time to answer their questions, however minute they may seem to you.

Middle sized bear: Making the most of the changes

You might be transitioning back to coming into the office after many weeks working from home. So, how do you optimise the changes for the long haul? How do you extract the efficiency that many people have said they’ve gained with less interruptions and more thinking time when working from home.

At the same time, there is increased isolation and the brain drain from video conferencing. How do you maximise the best of both situations so that people are still getting the social interaction from work whilst also getting time at home, where they’re more efficient?

There’s no doubt that the rules around working from home have changed. There were many that used to be unsupportive of it. But the restrictions from the pandemic have normalised working from your kitchen table or home office.

Set aside some time in your calendar to think about how you’re going to balance the two. Are you going to let it evolve on its own? Or are you going to deliberately implement a particular approach which utilises the best of both environments for your team?

Big, grizzly bear

The last question can often be grizzly, but once you’ve confronted it and formed a plan… Well it’s probably still grizzly but a lot less likely to kill you or someone else.

From the last three months, where is the opportunity for your business model, your industry and how you serve your customers?

You may have had to fundamentally change to keep operations afloat or the environment has changed and you haven’t realised. It’s time to reflect on what opportunity is out there for a business model adjustment, or a pivot, as they call it in the entrepreneurial world. Now, it’s more challenging for a larger business to pivot so we’re calling it an adjustment instead.

But how does a business model change and what does that mean for your employees or your organisational design? 

Do you have the right roles and capability to actually fulfil that business model?

Maybe you have the right people, but they’re not equipped. Maybe you don’t have the right people. 

There’s questions here that are big ones to tackle and can be scary to start thinking about. But if you don’t think about them now, your competitors are going to be thinking about them and they’re going to be taking advantage. Enough with the bear analogy, but you might find yourself in some trouble.

What are you going to tackle first?

We’re considering three matters: small, medium and large issues to think about post COVID19. 

The small matter is how to get people to come back into the office. Which sounds simple, but could be the biggest issue in your employees’ minds.

The mid-sized matter is around how you find the balance between working from home productively and building the social connection that comes from being present in the office.

Finally, our big, grizzly matter is to not ignore your organisational design. Do you have the right capability in your business to serve your customers in future?

If you enjoyed reading this piece, you might also like our blog on Building a High Performing Team on Purpose.

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