This article was originally published on Forbes.com, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.
When I talk to my colleagues and friends about the best jobs they've ever had, they all agree on one thing: Their most memorable job was the one with the best manager.
The data shows this isn't just anecdotal: Gallup reported that managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement. What's more, 50% of employees have actually left their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.
Managers have this influence because they are responsible for creating the environment that their employees operate within. A great manager motivates and inspires everyone on their team to do exceptional work. On the other hand, a manager struggling to create an optimal environment can actually inhibit a team. For managers to improve requires feedback — and not just from senior leadership, but also from employees.
Every year I coach our managers at Cornerstone through this process — think of it like a reverse performance review — and it starts by asking employees the right questions. A question like, "Is there anything I can do to be a better manager?" is not going to elicit the feedback a manager needs to improve because it's too vague and open-ended. Instead, I've developed a list of questions based on motivation theory.
These six questions are designed to address the features of a team culture that, when optimized effectively, will create the best environment for employees to achieve — and for managers to thrive:
1. Do you feel I ask you to do things that you either don't see value in or don't clearly understand the purpose of?
Think of the movie Office Space and the pesky TPS report the manager demands. The employees are frustrated about the task because they don't understand why they have to do it. As a manager, you want to lower the feeling of work that is perceived as useless across your team. To do this, it's important to understand the asks that feel that way to your employees.
2. Do you feel like you own the work you're doing, or do you feel like you're just doing what you're told?
To create an environment where employees will succeed, make sure employees feel like they have ownership over the work they're doing. This means that, when you delegate a task, they understand it's meaningful and value additive.
3. Are the goals we're setting together meaningful and manageable?
Your expectations as a manager should be high but reasonable. You want to think about the old fable "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" here: if expectations are too low, employees won't feel challenged. If they're too high, they will feel discouraged. Work to get them closer to "just right" — a place where employees feel stretched, but not overwhelmed.
4. Do you get a balance of positive and negative feedback?
As a manager, you want to be pointing out the behaviors that are leading employees to their goals as much as those that are standing in their way and preventing them from achieving results. This question is designed to measure recognition, which should also be high.
5. Do you understand how to get your job done in a meaningful, efficient way? If not, how can I clarify the ambiguity?
People will perform better if they have clarity — that is, if they understand their role, how their team fits into the larger function/organization and what tools and resources they can use to do their job. Truly, do they know how to do their job?
6. Do you feel as though you can go to your colleagues to brainstorm, solve problems and collaborate to get work done?
You want your employees to feel like their team has their back and can collaborate and communicate. A high sense of team is a high indicator of motivation and success.
Remember that these questions should be scale-based: 1 to 10, or even 1 to 100. Think of it like a personal Net Promoter score. You also want to encourage employees to give specific examples to elaborate on their responses. By soliciting simple yes or no answers, you miss out on a lot of valuable information. Moreover, it doesn't lend itself to a growth mindset: There's always room for improvement. If employees answer yes to any of the above questions, you miss the opportunity to hear what might make their experience even better — and by extension, improve your team's overall performance.
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