7 Questions Revisited for 2021

Our PGS founder and author Bill Dann has just finished the 2nd edition of his book Creating High Performers, 7 Questions to Ask Your Direct Reports.  We asked Bill for the scoop on the new book as well as for a few takeaways that our blog readers can apply now while they await final publication. Below is the first of four short posts on the book and applications you can use in your work managing today. 

The first and most obvious question we wanted him to answer: did any of the original 7 Questions change? The short answer is “No, not the basic 7”. But Bill went on to say that in working with several organizations implementing the 7 Questions, there was often a need to ask some additional questions or to tailor the questions to match the circumstances unique to those organizations. Bill put many of the additional questions of clients as well as their question revisions into the new book so that others can see if similar additions would benefit their conversations with staff. The additional questions are designed to get more clarity about what is needed when an employee answers “No” to one of the original 7 Questions.

Takeaway: As you use the first edition of the 7 Questions, look at which questions might benefit from follow-up questions that get at the heart of a “No” response for your organization and that position. For example, question #4, Do you have sufficient authority to carry out your responsibilities? If your staff member answers no, a follow-up asking about the lack of authority that slowed down their progress or prevented them from completing work is appropriate. Try the following, tailoring it to the specifics of your organization and the position: “What authority is missing and how would getting it streamline your work?” 

Our second question for Bill was a follow-up to the first.  Were any of the 7 Questions more challenging than the others when you rolled them out with clients?  Bill responded that none were more challenging in particular, but what people found was that if they couldn’t get an honest answer to the first question, then the rest were all “No’s” without any real insights to help the manager make positive changes. The first question is “Do you know what is expected of you?” If you can get clarity of expectations, then the rest of the questions become much more targeted and the responses much richer. But if the employee doesn’t have clarity on expectations, then of course they cannot know what good performance looks like or what resources are needed, etc. 

Takeaway: Whether or not you have the 1st edition, make sure that your employees are clear on what is expected of them in specific terms, not general “what someone in this position does in a typical organization”. What do you as the manager expect and what does a completed task look like? 

Our third and final question for this post follows the previous: What was the biggest stumbling block to getting a “Yes” answer to that first question, to getting clarity? Bill responded that in most cases, it was simply that managers don’t want to take the time to establish clarity.  Rather, they rely on the job description or the fact that their employee has done the same job at a different organization. That was a mistake Bill had made in his early years in leadership and one that became a case study in the 1st edition. Managers tend to assume that just because someone has done this job somewhere else they already know what is needed and how to do the job here. They don’t. Or they assume that the expectations he or she has as a manager are the same expectations the employee’s previous manager held. They aren’t.  When this is the attitude of the manager, a truthful answer to “Do you know what is expected of you?” is “Yes, I know what’s expected, but only because I am an engineer, and all engineers do this task in this way”;  as opposed to what the question is looking for, which is “Yes, you as my manager have been extremely clear at what I am to produce here, in this role, in this organization.”  

Takeaway: Every organization and situation has nuances, and the more certainty you can give employees on what is expected of them in this position in this organization, the better their performance is going to be.

That’s enough for this post and introduction to the 2nd edition of Creating High Performers.  In our remaining posts, we cover peak performers, the role of the supervisor, and employee engagement. In the meantime, let us know if you need a PDF of the 7 Questions themselves or information on how to order your own copy of Bill’s 2nd edition.