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So, are you the burger flipper or the boss?
This is a question I ask my kids often.
- If you are a burger flipper, you do not have to think much. You just wait and do what you are told. You can be totally unengaged in your work.
- If you are the boss, you have 10,000 decisions to make. Everything hinges on you. You have to be self-driven and engaged else nothing happens.
It is all about ownership and engagement.
I hear a lot about engagement. Employers want to do everything they can to engage their employees. At the university, we want to engage our students. Why?
Engagement means money and productivity. Engaged customers and audiences are great for marketing. Engaged employees are great for morale and productivity.
Engagement is directly related to profit.
How to Create Engagement in Others and Me
The problem, according to Marshall Goldsmith in his book Triggers (Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be), is that engagement is not something we do to people. Engagement is something they do themselves.
Anyone who has ever done any coaching (of any kind) will tell you that the coach’s job is easy and rewarding if the person being coached wants to learn. You cannot make a person work harder or perform better if they do not want to do so. You have little control. This is why coaches only want to work with motivated people. (And I will say faculty only want motivated students.)
So how can we get people more engaged?
According to Marshall, we should stop asking passive questions and instead start asking active questions.
To understand active questions, you need to understand passive questions and the human response they get.
We have all been asked to rate ourselves or our team. We often get questions like “Do you have clear goals.”
That simplistic question is charged with meaning based on how we interpret the question.
First, if you read the question as “does my boss or company provide me clarity in what I should be doing from day to day”, then your answer is likely to be negative. Most of us do not feel like we have clarity from above. So, when this question is put into employee surveys, the leadership of the company or team is often frustrated by the response. You will hear them (or you) saying all kinds of things like
- How much clearer do I need to be?
- We have discussed it over and over – what are they missing?
and similar ideas.
But Marshall pitches a second way to interpret the question that yields much better results and engagement. He suggests using active questions such as “Have you done your best to set clear goals.”
This question turns active by using the “Have you done your best…” at the beginning. It is a powerful mindset shift that forces the reader to take responsibility for the goals as opposed to being passive and waiting on when to be told what to do.
This is why I ask my kids about being a burger flipper or a boss. One is passive, the other – the boss – is active and engaged. In other words – the boss is taking ownership.
Every employer (including you) wants self-driven people. We want people who are taking responsibility. Heck, even the manager of a fast-food restaurant would prefer self-driven burger flippers!
Using the active question with the “Have you done your best…” lead-in helps to drive the individual to think “Oh, this is my responsibility.”.
Why Active Questions Work
Questions asked properly are powerful. The reverse interview process I use often uses questions that get others to talk about themselves – a trick I learned from Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends & Influence People. Proper questions are also powerful in marketing messages when they cause you to internalize desire or pain.
So active questions turn the attention to you and your own responsibility.
To take responsibility, we have to have skin in the game. I have noticed this with high-cost executive graduate programs and coaching. The person who is paying feels committed to show up and get when he paid for. The paying client often expects more from themselves than they do form the coach.
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