life on mars, questions to ask employees, greg bustin, executive leadership blog

Life on Mars

August 18th, 2015  | 

Published in Event

Last week, Britain’s Daily Express reported that searchers for extraterrestrial life discovered what they believe is evidence of life on Mars based on images taken by NASA’s Curiosity Rover.

Most scientists dismiss the findings, believing the images are the latest example of a psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia. It occurs when our brain tricks our eyes into imagining familiar objects and shapes in textures and patterns. Think: “man in the moon.”

The timing of these findings coincides with the 40th anniversary of NASA launching its Viking 1 space probe, which became the first spacecraft to land on Mars and complete its research mission. Findings over the past 40 years have indicated that Mars held large bodies of water, a key to life.

Questions to Ask Employees: What Will You Discover?

What would you discover if you launched an information-gathering expedition in your workplace?

You might be surprised.

Your search for information needn’t be expensive, complicated or time-consuming. In fact, it’s pretty easy, and the learning can be significant.

Before, I conduct a strategic planning session with a company’s leadership team, I call the participants in advance and ask four questions:

  1. What’s working well in your organization? I hear the usual comments about “good products,” “dependable services,” “good people,” and “solid financials.” No surprise.
  2. What’s not working? Employees begin to unload when asked this question, even though, to most, I’m a complete stranger. By the time I’ve talked with half the people to be called, I can anticipate with accuracy what I will hear on subsequent calls. What have I learned? First, there’s a pent-up demand among your employees to be asked and to share. Second, it’s an indication of issues that are either unknown or underestimated. Third, it could be the indication not of a problem, but of a lack of communication around a particular program, policy, or person. Communication, a desire for clarity, and the need for accountability regularly top the list of what’s not working in most companies.
  3. If you were in charge, what decision would you be making? This question moves the person from complainer to problem solver. Look for patterns of problems or opportunities and then address them. Frequent feedback is a need for more communication from the CEO about where the company is going, how we’ll get there, and how we’re doing. Another frequent issue is the need to terminate underperformers.
  4. What’s one thing the organization can do to make you more effective? You might be surprised by the suggestions for simple fixes this question prompts. “By having me report to two different people, I’m often working on competing projects with competing deadlines.” If you want to improve performance, start by asking those doing the work for their ideas.

Remember, just because you don’t ask your employees these questions, doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about them.

Illuminate Blind Spots

We all have blind spots, and this simple bit of exploration can shine a light on yours.

Just as scientists have dismissed the latest images of so-called extraterrestrials on Mars, you would be wise to get the facts – or even the perception of the facts – about what’s going on in your business before you dismiss internal rumors, questions and concerns.

If you want to improve, ask your people for their feedback. Ignorance may be bliss, but its price can be costly.

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises leaders of some of the world’s most admired companies, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, and he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. His fifth leadership book—How Leaders Decide: A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices—examines 52 of history’s greatest triumphs and tragedies and debuted in April as the #1 new historical reference book on Amazon.

Sign up for my free bimonthly email button