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The Most Important Questions a Manager Can Ask

Great employees don't leave companies, they leave managers.

TUNE IN TO any cable business show, and you'll almost certainly see a feature about the latest perks companies are using to try to retain employees. While in the past, management tended to rely on pedestrian benefits like tuition reimbursement and health insurance, now they've gotten creative. Onsite daycare, a company concierge to pick up employees' dry cleaning or send that last-minute gift, and even dogwalkers are only a few of the innovative goodies businesses offer employees to keep them from leaving. But do these benefits work?

Keeping good employees

By interviewing more than 80,000 managers in more than 400 companies, the Gallup organization intended to find out if employee benefits retain good staff members. It documents the results in the book First, Break All the Rules: What the world's greatest managers do differently. Gallup's goal was to find a way to measure employee satisfaction, demonstrate the connection between employee attitudes and productivity, and compare the strength of one workplace versus another.

Through some complex statistics, Gallup devised a series of 12 questions called Power Questions, which measure the core elements needed to attract, motivate and retain the most talented employees. In this research, employees were asked to respond using a 1 to 5 scale, where 1 = "strongly disagree" and 5 = "strongly agree." As an example of this poll's results from the retail industry, Gallup was asked by a national retailer to measure the strength of the work environment of its 300 stores. Gallup asked each of the 37,000 employees the Power Questions. Seventy-five percent responded. Even though headquarters dictated consistency across the company, the results were anything but consistent. There were some dramatic differences, such as the following:
* Stores where employees responded in the top 25 percent ended the year almost 14 percent over their profit budget. Stores in the bottom group missed their profit goal by 30 percent.

* Stores in the top group retained 12 more employees per year than stores in the bottom group. This means that stores in the top 25 percent retained 1,000 more employees per year than the bottom group. In dollars and cents, assuming an average salary of $18,000, and the cost of finding, hiring and training a new employee at 1.5 times their salary, that translates to $27,000,000 -- which was the cost to the company in turnover in stores in the bottom group.

The Power Questions

The following Power Questions are grouped in the order that they need to be addressed. As you read them, ask yourself how your staff would answer these questions. Note that they all involve interaction with front-line managers. Great employees don't leave companies, they leave managers.

"What do I get?" These are the basic questions any employee will ask:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

"What do I give?" Once employees are in a job for a while, they want to know how they're doing, and whether they are valued at work.

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

"Do I belong here?" At this stage, employees are reasonably comfortable in their roles and, it is hoped, have received some positive feedback for their performance. Once those issues are resolved, they wonder whether they fit in.

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

"How can we all grow?" Once employees are confident in their performance and value to the organization, and feel that they fit in, their attention turns to learning more and making things better, not only for themselves, but for everyone else.

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
Buckingham, M., and C. Coffman. First, Break All the Rules: What the world's greatest managers do differently. Simon & Schuster: New York, N.Y., 1999.
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