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Ask enough, but not too much

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Ted Blackwater |
Ask enough, but not too muchAsking questions in the office is a welcomed practice because it clearly shows the engagement of employees and at the end of the day without successful communication there is no successful company. In the other hand, too much questions means it's time for panic.

A clear communication on all organizational levels is one of the keys - and some would argue the most important - toward creation of the successful company. To be able to fulfill their duties your employees must communicate on both horizontal (between themselves) and vertical (with their superiors) level. No matter how simple or complex tasks at hand are, communication ensures that the job is done in a timely manner and that production is following company's plans.

However, if employees, no matter at which level, are constantly asking their superiors, that can be a signal of serious problems. Your people a) may be lacking crucial working skills, knowledge or training; b) don't know precisely what to do due to the lack of clear guidance; or c) you installed "Ask first, think later" company philosophy.

The lack of skills and education may happen on every level, from the floor to the middle management, all the way to the top.

Every successful organization has a well-established process of internal education designed to make new people productive as fast as possible and, if good, such a system is invisible: It is effective but doesn't interfere with daily tasks.

If the system is not working, or there's no system at all, employees will start to arrive with endless questions and the production will stall. This problem can be solved easily: You, the CEO, delegate the job to the most experienced person which must develop your internal academy.

The next problem is a bit more complex. If you notice that experienced and well-skilled employees are coming too frequently and that you must interrupt your work and solve organizational issues, this is the sign your people lack clear guidance.

They may be experts in their fields but due to the complexity of the company or their departments, combined with poor leadership, they can lose the vision what is their role in company life. Do remember that a) people tend to do their best when they know they contribute to the final goal, and b) "You will get as much information as you need and nothing more" is a policy good for the army but not for the company.

From the first plans, through the product life span, to the overall position of your company on the market; do share information with your employees. You will make their life easier and you may be surprised when good ideas start to flow from the least expected positions. Do not fall into a trap that you, the boss, know more about the production process than your engineer: this simply is not true unless you were an engineer with the exactly same skills.

"Ask first, think later" is the most dangerous situation you can be trapped in. It is easy to see do you have that problem: Just watch your middle managers. If they are coming often with many questions, if they are unable to make a decision, if they are coming just to inform you about small and - for you - unimportant details, it's time for panic.

And this is not exaggeration. That means they lost the ability to think for themselves and by the nature of things they can't bring anything new to the table. They will not come with innovations - they will follow the competition; they will not take responsibility - they will come to you do decide; and the worst: they will not ask their people to think. With time, "Go and ask the boss" will be become a widespread disease and will focus all problems on one person to solve them: you.

How to deal with this situation? First, have a zero tolerance for lack of engagement. Zero. If your middle manager is entitled to make decisions in her domain, she must do that. Communicate clearly what is expected and what is not.

Then, pay attention to the people with "...but it is not my fault" in every sentence. The chance is, it is their fault. Third, clearly state that every question must be followed with a proposed solution or there will be no conversation at all. It may sound rude but it is not: it's not on CEO to hear each and every detail and to solve each and every problem; everybody must earn their salary.

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