Are you asking the right questions to advance your career?
Think you’re a great communicator who can get a point across to your coworkers? And potentially even clients? If the answer is yes, great! However, there is a good chance your communication skills could use a little improvement. Let’s talk about some questions you should be asking that will help you find value in the work you do and maybe even make you realize why you are doing it.
Take this example: Your manager asks you to create a report. She explains which pieces need extra attention and which audience the report should target. You have the necessary tools to do the work, and you have the guidance you need to create it. Now, before you begin, ask yourself this question, “Do I really just want to create reports for the rest of my time in this role, or do I want to be using statistics and data to tell a story?” The choice you make in that moment will lead to very different outcomes.
Every job has some mundane aspect to it — there’s no escaping it. We all do what we can to get those “daily tasks” done and out of the way. But what if instead of just going through the motions, you challenged yourself by asking these questions:
What makes these everyday tasks so mundane?
Take some time to assess which parts of a task:
- Add value and help you grow your business as a business owner
- Build strong relationships as someone who leads others
- Simply gives your work meaning and purpose
When you ask yourself about the specific steps you take to accomplish a task, it gives you an opportunity to recognize the value of each step, find out where a bottleneck may exist and determine how you can alleviate it. At the same time, these questions allow you to analyze and eliminate redundant steps and save time in the long run.
Why does this task matter? How is this relevant to our business?
These are easily two of the most important questions we can all ask. If you are lucky enough to work with, or run, an organization that communicates a vision or a mission effectively, your job is simple. You must connect the dots for the people who work with you and allow them to see how their work makes an impact.
If you don’t fall into one of the aforementioned scenarios, you’ll need to do some digging. Do your own research and find out what’s happening in your industry. Set up meetings with decision makers and share your findings with them. Ask them where they think your work fits into the larger trends and challenge them, respectfully, to provide big-picture insights. Your goal is to walk away knowing where your work adds value or what you need to do to make your tasks meaningful and impactful. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect nor is any job, so the answer isn’t always going to be one that you like. What to do in that situation is another conversation for a later time.
Am I being challenged and supported in my role? What are my professional goals and how can I achieve them?
I recently read Kim Scott’s management book, Radical Candor. The theory behind the practice of radical candor is that good bosses must “care personally” and “challenge directly.” My own boss practices this management style, but it isn’t a common practice in every workplace. This Harvard Business Review article dives into issues surrounding employee retention and the reasons that employees choose to stay at companies and organizations long-term.
Care Personally. What exactly does that mean? It means exactly what it says: you have to care about each of the people that work for you not just as employees, but also as people. As a boss, you have to make direct reports feel like you support and care about them outside of working hours. That’s how you build a meaningful relationship based off of mutual respect and trust. As an employee, you have to learn to talk with your manager about the things you’re struggling with and the things that you are celebrating. Tell them about your goals at work and in your personal life, and ask them for support in your learning and development.
To “Challenge Directly,” a boss must be able to give her/his reports honest and useful feedback, set clear and specific expectations and make tough decisions. The way to gain your team’s trust is to communicate what they’re doing wrong and model the way to improve. It’s your job as a manager to guide and support your team, and different people will need different levels of guidance.
As an employee, your job is to push your manager to be candid with you when things are not going well. You have to request regular meetings to discuss your performance and, even more importantly, you need to ask “What could I be doing better? What is holding me back from moving to the next level?”
Never be afraid to ask these questions to your boss or team members.
As you figure out how to bring up some of these questions, it is important to think about your personal and professional goals. Be prepared for your manager to ask you where you see yourself going in the future, and possibly even how you think you’ll get there so they can pave a path for you. It may be helpful to share your goals with your team or with your manager throughout your career so they are also prepared to help you where they can. At the end of the day, if you never ask, you’ll never know.
What are you waiting for?