Answering Employee Questions
In some ways, it may be natural, or even good, when your team comes to you with questions, or to solve problems. You have more experience, and probably knowledge than they do. You know your business inside and out. You may even enjoy being the expert.
The problem is that it takes time to answer all the questions that come at you. And it can be frustrating, especially when it’s a question or a problem that your team should know how to resolve, or one that you’ve answered many times. It’s easy to place the blame on them. It’s easy to just ignore that this is a recurring issue by answering the question or solving the problem and moving on to the next task.
Ignoring that it is a problem and giving the answer is often the go-to for most business leaders. We hear excuses such as: it’s hard to find good employees, it’s just how it is in our industry, it’s too difficult for them to know. And so, the pattern typically continues, and the business suffers because you, as a business leader, spend too much time answering questions and even solving problems that your team should be able to handle.
The real issue isn’t your team. They are doing exactly what you’ve trained them to do. The real issue is your response to the questions and problems that come at you. If it’s easy to get an answer or to have the problem solved by coming to you, then your team will always come to you. It’s the fastest and easiest path. In addition, if you have the habit of taking over the task once they’ve asked a question or brought you a problem, it’s an easy way for them to pass their work to you. They may not even be doing it consciously. But as humans we tend to pick the path of least resistance.
If you want a different result, then you must change your own response. Stop being the easiest and fastest way to get an answer or solve a problem. This doesn’t mean that you can’t, and shouldn’t, ever help. Instead, it means that you help when actually needed and not for every problem or question. To change your response, try the following tips:
- Ask questions instead. Don’t just give the answer, but ask your team simple questions such as: “What would you do if I were not here?” “How do you think we should handle this?” And even, “if you had to guess, what do you think the answer is?” The more you do this the more your team is going to realize that you are not the fastest and easiest route. They will quickly catch on that you’re going to ask this and stop bringing you issues they can handle on their own. And it allows you to understand and redirect their thought process, if needed. It turns these moments into coaching moments.
- Refer to tools and processes. Many times, your door should not be the first stop for issues. Your business may have already spent time developing tools and processes that are not being used. If you want them to be used you have to be an advocate for their use. When someone comes to you with a question or problem that should be taken care of by using a certain tool or process, then you need to redirect them. Ask them to use that first and come back with the tool or process in hand if it doesn’t give them what they need. If they come back, focus on why the tool/process didn’t work and make sure that innovation happens. By redirecting them you teach them to use what they have available to them first. If they know you advocate the use of tools and processes, they will quickly learn to start there, saving you time.
- Build what you don’t have. If your business doesn’t have the tools and processes to refer your team to use, then now is the time to build them! When your team comes to you and you invest time in training them one question or one issue at a time, you are making the wrong investment. It makes good business sense to train your team. However, when you train people without leveraging a process all the knowledge and information leaves when they leave. Your focus should be investing in the business by having your team participate in building the tools and processes that will not only train them, but then belong to the business. It’s a shift in the way you think, but an important one to make if you want to protect your time, allowing you to focus on the growth of your business and not tactical work you’re already paying others to get done.