Research tells us that engagement is a byproduct of four sequential factors, built on a solid foundation of clear expectations. Team members must know what is expected of them at work and have the resources to perform their jobs before they can even think about engagement.
That concept seems simple. Yet, even in the most people-focused companies, it is easily overlooked.
What happens when the leader of the team is not setting clear expectations? Team members feel lost and frustrated. Is anything more harrowing than wondering where we stand?
But there is something you can do if you find yourself wandering in a fog of uncertainty about your career: ask questions to your manager (or performance advisor, as we call them at HORNE). Questions empower us to own our careers, they help us adapt to changing roles and circumstances while unleashing creativity and facilitating collaboration.
Of course, it’s not just the act of asking a question that has the power. The questions you ask — they matter. A lot. These are five power questions that I teach team members as they’re learning to own their careers:
- What do I need to know/learn about…? (or some variation of this)
Powerful questions set boundaries for the conversation. We are talking about this, not that. Questions must be specific to be powerful. “How am I doing?” doesn’t give your manager enough context to give you meaningful career feedback. Try instead, “What do I need to learn about setting project scope before I can start leading my own team?”
- Will you help me understand your perspective on my performance regarding ...?
Powerful questions probe to understand the perspective of the person who has influence over your career. One of the gaps I see most often is the gap of perspectives — you believe you’re a great client server, and your manager thinks you are slow to respond and sloppy. Don’t assume you know how you’re viewed. Ask the question.
- What is most important for me now?
I can’t stress this enough. For careers to progress, priorities of the individual must match the strategic priorities of the organization and team. I have seen so many team members work so hard on something of low value to the firm, only to feel unappreciated — because the task wasn’t high value. We cannot set priorities for our careers alone — we must ask those with broader views of the organization what is most important for us now in our career.
- How might we do that?
Don’t let your supervisor, manager or partner get away with a vague directive about career growth: “I want you to work on your leadership skills.” “You need to improve in your client service.” “You need to prioritize business development.” Sound familiar? Your response to anything that seems vague and lacks clear action on your part should be, “How might we do that?” Now, I particularly love this question because it automatically implies collaboration and will unleash creative solutions. Use this question to problem solve together.
- What do you mean by…?
Sadly, the most common mistake I see team members make is leaving a career conversation without clarity. Most likely, the manager believes they have given crystal clear instruction, but that is very often not the team member’s experience. We’ve got to get better at this clarifier: “What do you mean by ‘executive presence’?” “What do you mean by 'too emotional'?” “What do you mean by ‘keep doing what you’re doing’?”
These power questions really will propel your career. So, just one more question — what are you waiting for?