Communication Leadership Org Culture

Honest dialogue with employees

In this post, I discuss a frequent question that comes up for those trying to implement Dann’s 7 Questions as their key tool for manager/subordinate relations, particularly performance evaluations – how do you know when you are hearing the truth from your direct reports. (For more on the 7 questions, I encourage you to read our newsletter editions that focused on the questions or purchase the book, Creating High Perfomers , that covers them in much greater detail.)

honestyMoving to an honest dialogue and to a true partnership for performance is a paradigm shift for many employees. That is, for many, their experience of supervision is managers who operate under the template that their job is to “control” rather than facilitate performance and improvement. Add to that the fact that some employees have previously been terminated or severely reprimanded, and they will approach your dialogue with them with anxiety or even fear.

Using 7 Questions as a template

Therefore, when implementing the 7 Questions as a template for a performance evaluation, it is an understandable challenge to extract honest responses to your questions from employees. A “no” response to any of the questions will be held as an invalidation of management by some employees; which is something that employees are very reluctant to do.

So, how do you overcome this barrier and how do you know you have gotten the real truth in your responses? Overcoming the barrier is covered in more detail in the book, but in a nutshell, begin your use of the 7 questions with a discussion about your intentions. How will the questions be used? What is your purpose and hope as a manager? The questions are designed to find where the manager has not provided the tools for the employee to succeed, not the other way around. So honesty is needed for the employee to get the appropriate tools to move forward. Essentially, to overcome resistance, set the tone of your desire to help the employee succeed.

An example of getting to the truth

However, removing the barriers doesn’t automatically guarantee complete honesty. Knowing you have gotten to the truth is a bit more challenging. I recently spoke with a CEO who has put the 7 Questions to work with the team in his organization. Below are the questions I asked and his responses to getting to the truth:

How did you spot that you needed to go back through and ask the Question(s) again, i.e., how did you know you weren’t at the total truth yet?

CEO – Answers came too quickly from the staffer and were too short. Another tell was the feeling that all they wanted to do was get out of the room as quickly as possible, a clear sign that they were not engaged in the process.

What indicated to you that you finally had an honest answer?

CEO – When the staffer took time to think about an answer, that was a clear tell to me that they were finally being honest with themselves and with me. An answer that was more than two or three sentences in length was another indicator.

What would you say was the overall impact of employing the 7 Questions in your meetings with staff members?

CEO – More engaged employees after the sessions was one positive outcome. “Engaged” is represented by more questions coming my way about work issues, more engagement in team discussions and meetings, and noticeably more engaged in the overall mission of the organization.

Overall, the CEO’s lesson was that to get to the truth, you have to keep asking.  Usually the employee has so rarely been asked these types of questions with any sincerity, that the glib, quick answers come naturally. It is through repeating the questions, encouraging the employee to go deeper into the answer that you will finally get to the truth.

I will continue to update you on what I learn from other practitioners. I would appreciate hearing from you of any lessons you have learned or questions you would like addressed in future blogs. You can reach me via e-mail to join the conversation.

If you would like a PDF of the Seven Questions tool, drop me an e-mail.  Once you have the questions in hand, I encourage you to get Creating High Perfomers for a more detailed look at the tool and its uses.