Home > Practice Development > Two Blunt Questions You Should Ask Staff Members Regularly
Managing Team

How do you get the most out of your staff? You depend on client service associates, junior planners and other team members to reach your goals. You need them to be competent, efficient—and highly motivated.

But sometimes despite your best efforts, staff members lose motivation—and/or effectiveness. You need to know why.

As a leader who bears the biggest responsibilities—sometimes you’re not plugged in to subtle happenings around the office—and events in your employees’ lives. You may not know, for instance, if certain team members are not working well together. You may not know if a software change you implemented is causing staffers quiet angst. People may not be comfortable sharing grievances with their boss—they’re more likely to gripe to colleagues.

That’s why you need to proactively talk to your staff members—get honest, one-to-one feedback. Take them out for a casual lunch every once and awhile and ask the following blunt questions:

  1. “What’s causing you the most stress right now in your job?”

An advisor in Florida told me she regularly asks her staff members some version of this question, sometimes probing if there are any barriers she can help remove to make their lives easier. She has received feedback about client difficulties, challenges with office routines—and other helpful input over the years.

What you really want to know of course is how your staff members perceive their jobs—how much stress they are experiencing, and how you can make your workplace operate more smoothly. Because if you don’t know what’s stressing out your staff, you probably won’t be prepared when one of them walks out on you. And a stressed-out staff likely isn’t providing polite, courteous customer service to your clients. Staff dissatisfaction might trickle down to client dissatisfaction.

Once you’ve asked this question, just listen—and try to get as much information as possible. And, when you make changes to address the stress, be sure to follow up with the staff member to ensure issues have been resolved to their satisfaction.

  1. “What salary would make you the happiest employee in the world?”

I like this question because it gives you a concrete dollar number to work with, instead of just asking them to “rate” their satisfaction with their salary—which doesn’t tell you much. Most bosses are afraid to ask this blunt question for fear employees will be unreasonable. But as I learned from a business coach awhile back, when asked this question employees often only required a modest boost in pay to feel completely different about their job and their value—a few thousand dollars more per year, perhaps. Most people are not going to go completely crazy with salary demands when their boss shows them the courtesy of asking them what they need to be happy.

At the very least, asking the question provides feedback into your key employees’ mindsets about their compensation. If they do throw out an unrealistic figure, it gives you a chance to talk about incentives, bonus pay, and team goals that could possibly allow them to achieve their desired salary range.

Perhaps it gives you a chance to talk about their career track—and moving up from a service position into a rainmaking role. Moreover, whatever their role, it gives them a chance to articulate how they see their value to the team—and for you to talk about how their role contributes to team finances. You can possibly brainstorm ways for them to add value and increase their compensation.

Bottom line: Being open with employees about their stress—and their salary satisfaction—helps you manage your team to its fullest potential.