Managing Tip: Three Questions You Should Ask Direct Reports

I was recently promoted at HubSpot from an inbound marketing consultant to managing our senior consultant team.  With any direct promotion like that, it is definitely a challenge when your previous equals now report to you. Lately,  I’ve been thinking a lot about managing people and many of the challenges that go with that.  Down that path one of the things that I created and asked all my reports to fill out were three simple questions.

I set up a Google text document for each individual and included the three questions in the document and shared it with them.  These three questions were intended to be both educational to me and to get them to think about what their job means to them.  These questions are also intended to be confidential unless the individual decides to share them with others. So here are the three questions:

1. What would you do to improve your existing job and make it better?

This first question basically recognizes that you are doing the job and hopefully are thinking about improvement.  I’m a firm believer that there is always a better way to do anything.  The day that you simply become content with the status quo is a very bad sign.  This is also the first step to saying I value your input.  If improvements have been identified and we aren’t making progress three months from now then something is wrong.

2. What do you want to get better at doing?  What can *Manager Name* do to help you to be better at this?

Understanding and admitting our weaknesses is one of the most important steps in progressing our careers.  Once again not only am I looking for personal feedback, but I want to know how I can help you improve this weakness.  Being not just interested but vested in someone’s development is a very important step to building credibility with someone.  If the manager chooses, this can also be an opportunity to identify weaknesses in individuals that maybe they don’t see but can start improving.

3. Where do you see yourself professionally in a year?

Very similar to the previous two questions this is a personal probe that identifies that you are thinking about a bigger picture and your future.  Now maybe you are thinking a year is not a point far enough away, but let’s be honest, a lot can happen in a year!  Also, we all have to be thinking about the future and how we can continue to develop professionally because there is less certainty than ever before in this tough economic time.  If people have certain interests, then helping them develop in these directions not only helps you build trust as a manager but also helps give you added value out of your team members.

How to use the questions

There are so many reasons even beyond the reasons I listed that these three questions provide such valuable and important feedback.  Employees are people after all.  I believe that all individuals are inherently good and mean the best.  The trick is to find out what makes them tick and how to motivate them.  Different people are interested in different things so there is no “one size fits all” approach that can be used for dealing with employees.

Besides going through the three questions in a 1-on-1 setting, I want my team to be able to make changes and update the document over time.  I also want to make it a point to revisit the document quarterly with them to make sure that we are progressing towards improvements across the board. This keeps everyone honest that we are make steps forward.  It also requires us to check in and talk about things that can get lost in the daily grind.

These three simple questions simply help to scratch the surface of understanding your direct reports, but they can also help you understand motivations and desires that you might NEVER learn otherwise.  Of course for this to work both parties have to be completely honest and understand the intent.  If the employee is gunning for the manager job and the manager doesn’t like this, then we have a problem.  Same if the manager is using these questions to find ways to stunt the growth of their team.

So what questions would you ask of your team?  What questions would you like for your manager to ask if given the opportunity?

Photo: Tres Hermanas [Three Sisters] Mountains by Ðeni

8 Responses to “Managing Tip: Three Questions You Should Ask Direct Reports”

  1. Says:

    Well deserved promotion, KJ. I’m very glad that someone with your caliber of “people skills” is on the team. I have no doubt that you’ll develop people well.

    Your peers should be thankful that you’ve been promoted. You’ve walked in their shoes and are in the best position to help them develop their career at HubSpot. At the rate at which we will be promoting people, there are plenty of opportunities.

  2. Says:

    Great idea, Kyle! And congratulations on your promotion. Sounds like you’re on the fast track with HubSpot.

    My favorite quote about management comes from the legendary baseball genius, Casey Stengel:

    “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.”

  3. Says:

    Thanks guys!

    @Pete - I love working with people and teaching so if I can spend time teaching the teachers than that is a bigger challenge that I’m happy to step up too.

    @Andrew - Being a huge baseball fan I love the quote!

  4. Says:

    Congrats! As a relatively new manager myself, I’ve found the Manager Tools podcasts to be very helpful (especially the back episodes accessible with a free subscription). I look forward to hearing more about your new adventures!

  5. Says:

    Congrats for your promotion.Now a new responsibility on your head.Keep it us and thanks for these tips.This is really an amazing article.Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  6. Says:

    The list that you did turns out to prove that you are a good manager. You have great concerns on your co-workers which is a good manager attitude. Conratulations on your promotion. I would like to say that choosing google docs is a great tool for Online project management document storage.

  7. Says:

    Congratulation on promotion, that is a very clever questions .


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