What is one of the greatest tools that management can wield? Just that: a question.

Here are a few questions I believe every manager should routinely ask employees:

What's the one thing I could do better for you?

Once a month, a manager at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas asks her staff this question. Then she listens to their concerns and ideas. She also lets them know the one thing they can do better for her. Other variations on this question: “What do you need to do your job better?” or “If there was one thing you could change about your job, what would that be?”

What would a good job look like?

This question is wonderful for clarifying expectations. It helps the employee to focus on the desired goal and not on the everyday activities of his or her job. By getting people to visualize what success would look like, the gaps between the current state and the desired state of affairs become clearer and easier to fix.

How do you like to be recognized when you do good work?

Robert Cooper, PhD, author of The Other 90%, recommends that managers list five things that each employee values and then confirm that list with the employee. Add-on questions for workers include: “What opportunities would you like to be exposed to in your job?” and “Where do you want to be five years from now?”

How could we improve things around here?

Workers always know the best way to get the job done — because they're the ones doing it. Donald Petersen, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., says that when he started visiting the plants and meeting with employees, “one man said he'd been with Ford for 25 years and hated every minute of it — until he was asked for his opinion. He said that question transformed his job.” Other variations of this question include: “How do you think we should handle this problem?” and “Would you like to be a part of this decision?”

Are you excited about your job right now?

Employees who work for Michael Levine, president of Levine Communications, a public relations firm based in Los Angeles, tell me that he routinely asks this question. Levine knows that when employees are no longer excited about their jobs, if they are not learning or growing in their positions, then it's only a matter of time before they leave.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego. His best-selling books include Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You! Do What Needs to Be Done, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, and Managing For Dummies. Sign up for his free Tip-of-the-Week at www.nelson-motivation.com. Contact him at (800) 575-5521, or by e-mail at BobRewards@aol.com.

Take Out

Use these questions to engage your employees, to improve the way they think about their work, and to get at some of the most important issues they face:

  • “What's the one thing I could do better for you?”
  • “What would a good job look like?”
  • “How do you like to be recognized when you do good work?”
  • “How can we improve things around here?”
  • “Are you excited about your job right now?”