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Over the past two years, leaders have been put to the test. They’ve had to keep their organizations afloat amid challenges no one saw coming. Executives everywhere have been forced to rethink, restrategize, restructure, and relaunch. The majority have risen to the challenge with determination.

Yet despite these efforts, businesses are struggling to retain employees and keep them engaged. Some companies are unable to fill countless open roles. Is it possible that we’re thinking and plotting too much? Is it possible that leaders are overcomplicating things?

I believe the answer is yes. I believe that simple actions can make a massive difference during times of duress. It’s time for leaders to go back to basics.

When clients are struggling to engage their people, I often ask their employees, “What percentage of what you have to offer do you feel like you’re able to contribute?” The most common answer is 60%. When asked, “Would you like to contribute more?” employees almost always respond with a resounding “hell yes!”

This tells me that people could be bringing much more to work each day. But I don’t hear other leaders asking these questions. As a result, they don’t know that their people have so much more to offer and then wonder why they’re stuck in the land of mediocre effort with an even less-than-mediocre sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

So, what’s holding these employees back? What kind of difference could their “uncontributed” efforts mean to their organizations?

I’d speculate that if these people were contributing 75% or more of what they have to offer, the organization would quickly find greater success, without hiring more people or even requiring people to work longer hours, simply because the current employees are making more powerful contributions.

Eight Impactful Questions Leaders Must Ask Their People

I believe that simple acts make the biggest impact during challenging times, and there’s no arguing that we’re all smack in the middle of a challenging time right now. The good news is that all leaders possess the skills to help their people and their business move through this period – no coaching degree or PhD required. It begins with asking eight questions that focus on two critical areas: value and contribution.

To ensure people feel valued, leaders must ask:

  1. What are the consequences of not feeling valued? For you? For your team?
  2. What happens when you do feel valued?
  3. What impact does feeling valued have on your approach? On your results?
  4. What would be the simplest thing we could do to help you feel more valued?

To ensure people can contribute to the best of their abilities, leaders must ask:

  1. What percent of your total capabilities do you contribute every day?
  2. What barriers are keeping you from contributing more of what you have to offer?
  3. What would need to happen for you to contribute more of what you have to offer?
  4. How could we help you get started?

Leaders can start asking these questions right now – no need to hold any C-suite strategy sessions or plan for any rollouts. Simply having these discussions and then translating the information into action will ensure that people feel valued and that they can contribute to the best of their abilities. Once this happens, challenges such as “The Great Resignation” will be less daunting.

The Most Curious Leaders Win

In tough work environments, leaders must remain diligently curious about what reenergizes people versus what depletes them. So, what’s depleting your people’s energy? The list is long but includes stress and fear about what changes might come next, difficulty in maintaining strong working relationships in hybrid and virtual settings, challenging family dynamics, and more.

Leaders need to work harder to create environments that reenergize people and give them the support to contribute at maximum capacity. If leaders don’t understand why they should be focusing on this, then they’re wrestling with much bigger, much more challenging issues.

Keep asking your people what they need. Keep looking for ways to bring out their best. Keep trying to create the environments that help people flourish.

This is a conscious choice all leaders can make. Ask people what being valued looks like to them and then take action to make the scenarios they describe a reality. It’s about mining, extracting, and unleashing people’s capabilities so they can contribute more as individuals – powering the organization further and faster to success without new hires, without longer hours, but instead with a group of more energized and excited employees.

January 6, 2022

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