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For supervisors, it’s best to ask, don’t tell

Posted by admin on October 1, 2017

For supervisors, it’s best to ask, don’t tell

When we work with clients to implement problem-solving skills across a plant, we often recommend that a group of Process Coaches be trained to help facilitate use of the processes with their colleagues.  The main responsibility of the Process Coach is to help keep their co-worker on track when the co-worker is applying our problem-solving process.  And the most effective Process Coaches know how to ask questions, rather than give directions, to make this happen.

Why is this important?  Isn’t it easier and faster to just tell someone what to do?  Well, it is easier and faster, but you rarely get the best results.   First, the person being told what to do, will do exactly that.  Do what they’re told—nothing more and nothing less.  And next time they’re faced with the opportunity to show some initiative, what do you think will happen?  Right.  They’ll wait for the boss to tell them what to do.  So not only does the person check the brain at the door, but the supervisor becomes a bottleneck as everyone waits for him or her to make decisions.

So we recommend that supervisors learn effective questioning skills as the best way to improve results.  After all, who knows most about a person’s job than the person actually doing the job?   Supervisors’ questioning skills can range from the micro (When did you notice the problem started? Were any changes made to the machine before the problem started?) to the macro (What would you recommend we do to improve the uptime on your line?).

Supervisors who ask effective questions have another benefit for their companies. They are role models for how employees can use effective questioning to get to the bottom of an issue.  By gathering more information about the situation, they help employees think critically about the situation so employees focus on the important facts.   After an effective questioning session, the employee is often able to solve the problem on his or her own.

So why don’t more supervisors ask more effective questions?  One reason is that many supervisors believe they got to where they are because they have all the answers.  While the supervisor may be pretty smart, they don’t know everything.  In fact, they may know a lot about one technical topic and have a limited career.   Second, some supervisors feel it shows weakness to ask questions.  Doing so puts their employees on equal or maybe even higher footing.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  Saying you don’t know it all shows you’re human.

And our favorite reason for why supervisors should learn to become effective questioners?  They become coaches (like our Process Coaches) to help their employees improve and move on to bigger jobs with more responsibilities.  This is a key metric in many companies.  Not to mention that your employees will speak highly of you, unlike what they’ll say about their bosses who focused on telling them what to do.