If you’ve parented a toddler, you’re quite familiar with the question, “why?”. Studies tell us that curious children ask an average of 73 questions a day. Whew! That’s 25,696 questions in one year! God bless all you parents who survived this.
Skimming a few studies that share these stats, it seems that in their early years kids are desperately making connections in order to make sense of their world. All the questions are critical for their understanding.
I wonder if as adults we still have as many “why” questions circling in our brains. We’ve just grown accustomed to tempering these curiosities so as not to annoy others. It’s socially acceptable to act like we know rather than ask.
Your staff are asking clarifying questions every day. The more you anticipate these questions and provide direction the more equipped your team members will be to fully engage in your work and your mission.
In our research with clients over the last seven years, the biggest derailment to culture we see over and over again is lack of organizational clarity. There are questions your team has that, if left unanswered, will inhibit their ability to fully commit to your organization.
Here are the 5 key questions your staff are asking:
1) Why does this matter?
What’s the bigger picture? Why does this work matter? How does this align with my calling?
Purpose is increasingly important to employees today. Doing work that is more than a means to an end is an expectation, not a bonus. Team members want to understand why the work you do matters.
As the leader the purpose may feel crystal clear, but to your team it may feel vague. To help with this:
1. Be the champion of the purpose.
2. Keep it in front of your team frequently.
3. Connect the dots every day to how their tactical actions connect to the bigger vision.
2) Where do I fit?
What is my role? Is it clear where I sit in the organizational structure? Do I understand the part I play in the big picture?
These are the follow up questions to the purpose question. It takes the mission a step further and clarifies where I as the employee specifically fit.
Mission-focused or values-based businesses in particular wrestle with the concept of the org chart. We fear that it will feel hierarchical or bureaucratic and since we want to be relational, we avoid the clarity an org structure can bring. The reality is when we don’t communicate how we function as a team, we leave tremendous room for misinterpretation and ultimately unmet expectations.
Be clear about the structure so that every team member understands the part they play.
3) What is expected of me?
What exactly are my roles and responsibilities? What are the specific goals I’m working towards? What skills do I need to sharpen or acquire?
Clarity. Clarity. Clarity. The more you can equip your team with specific, measurable goals, the more clear they will be about how they can best contribute. Do you have clear organization-wide goals with cascading goals for departments and individuals? Do you have a system for performance plans coupled with scheduled reviews marked by healthy, robust discussion?
We can’t expect team members to hit a target we haven’t defined. Give them the specificity they need to succeed.
4) How am I doing?
Am I succeeding? Am I meeting expectations? Where do I need to improve?
Don’t assume your team members know how they are doing. Tell them. If you’ve been clear with what’s expected of them, you must follow that up with thoughtful, intentional feedback. Are you coaching your team members to success? Are you giving them regular feedback on how they are doing? Do they know what they need to keep doing or stop doing to meet expectations?
Your employees can’t read your mind. In fact, they are likely to fill the gap with extremes - either they think they are amazing and the organizational wunderkind or they are assuming they are failing spectacularly.
If you are not communicating how they are doing, you are not empowering them to fully engage.
5) Do I belong?
Am I valued? Do I feel connected to the work AND the people? Can I confidently and securely commit myself here?
If we’re going to give the best hours of our day to our work, we want to know that we’re seen and valued for that contribution. When employees feel like they fully belong, they are able to fully engage. Fully engaged employees are carriers of culture and archives of institutional knowledge. Retaining them is an organizational superpower.
How are you creating a culture that honors and values your employees? How can you foster meaningful connection and communicate value to your best team members?
Even your most curious employees will not ask all their questions out loud. My encouragement to you is to assume they are asking these questions and to proactively answer them. Anticipating and answering these five simple questions will be foundational to building a thriving team and an extraordinary culture!