10 Wake-up Call Questions for Employees in Denial

Employees just tune it out. They stop hearing the company’s messages about sagging profits, increased competition, and high operating costs.   

Even as supervisors, we start to believe it’s probably just a scare tactic to get employees to work harder.  So we tune out the implications when our employees need us to lead. 

Look reality in the eye 

No one wants to be caught at work with their proverbial pants down. That means, as supervisors, we need to pay attention to what management is saying. 

As the supervisor, you’re the one expected to communicate what’s going on to your employees. You’re the messenger and sometimes the message isn’t very palatable, even to you. 

Even if your employees act skeptical, push back, or become dismissive, communicating what you can (some things may be proprietary) is a must.  

As a supervisor, your job is to get and keep the attention of your employees. You need to make sure they understand the realities of the marketplace and how they might be affected. 

You are their teacher and guide to their future success. So when they are at risk, you need to focus them on ways they can influence their future. 

Some work groups become particularly vulnerable when a business is feeling the financial squeeze—human resources, marketing, IT, customer service, finance—because some of their services can be subcontracted. 

These employees often feel the need to justify their cost-benefit to the company. Their tendency is to become defensive rather than to take the offense. 

Smart supervisors refocus their employees what their collective value to the company can/will be going forward. They help them self-assess and then reinvent themselves with their eyes wide open. 

Promote inquiry and vigilance. 

Here are ten questions every supervisor should work through routinely with his/her employees to wake up awareness and excite new ideas as part of planning and goal setting, no matter what conditions the company faces. 

In a working session or as part of routinely scheduled meetings, resolve each question through open discussion: 

1. What business are we in? For example, is it… 

  • Delivering training programs or promoting more effective performance?
  • Trouble-shooting software or building a tech savvy workforce?
  • Answering customer questions or building a loyal customer following? 

2. If our work group no longer existed, who would notice or care?  

       Employees in other work groups, customers, regulators, suppliers, no one

3. How are we perceived within and outside the company? What’s our brand? Are we… 

  • Sought-after specialists or just an after-thought
  • Customer-oriented or internally focused
  • Innovative leaders or status quo protectors 

4. Whose support do we need?

       Executive leadership, other department managers, internal clients, key customers,   regulators, media, each other 

5. How do we expand our influence?  

     Increased visibility, relationship building, collaborative activities, high quality work 

6. What do we need to do better?  

     Improve skills, output, processes, communication, trustworthiness, service  

7.  What’s at stake if we don’t retool/reposition ourselves?  

     Dissolution, downsizing, absorption into another department, loss of funding and/or   influence 

8. How much time do we have to get it together?  

     A year, six months, a quarter, asap! 

9. What do we need to do now?  

     Answer our unanswered questions, gather more data, generate more ideas, build a plan, distribute assignments, engage others, implement actions, debrief results, continue to improve

10. Who’s accountable for what? Make assignments.

     You as supervisor, individual employee team members—everyone has a part to play 

Work together—as a team! 

It’s been documented frequently, through workplace studies, that most employees trust what their immediate supervisors say over anyone else in the company. So what and how you tell them make a big difference. 

The more successful you are showing your employees how conditions in the company are likely to impact them, the more engaged and willing they’ll be to follow your lead. Do this and you’ll see resistance decline and teamwork increase.   

Try asking your employees these ten questions. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

Photo from Minarae via Flickr

13 thoughts on “10 Wake-up Call Questions for Employees in Denial

  1. This is really great info, Dawn. How a supervisor handles these types of situations can have a huge impact. I’ve been in companies that were going through seemingly endless transitions (a.k.a. layoffs) where nothing was communicated. It really has a negative impact on morale, motivation, quality of work (at one point my department didn’t report to ANYONE for TWO Months!!). That company lost a lot of really great, dedicated employees as a result.

    • Thanks, Katie. Your experience in the “no communication zone” is pretty typical. Employees either get nothing, little, or poor information. Supervisors often don’t realize how important and valued their insights are with their employees, often feeling left out themselves. I think it’s amazing that you worked in an unled department for 2 months. Bet that was some experience! You’re so right about the negative fall out from lack of communication. I hope this post might help change things for the better.

  2. Good questions for the team. Equally important, individuals need to ask themselves questions about their financial situation, the strength of their network, the prospect of cutbacks – and when it’s time to start the quiet job search.

    • Thanks for your terrific comment, Vickie. You take the post to the next level, knowing when to face the potential of not being able to turn things around and needing to prepare the exit strategy. You hit nail on the head when you write, “…individuals need to ask themselves questions about their financial situation, the strength of their network, the prospect of cutbacks….” Facing reality is one thing; taking hold of it is another. Your suggestions here remind us that we need to take charge of our circumstances and be prepared to move on when it’s time. I wish more people took that approach. It was great hearing from you! ~ Dawn

  3. Great questions, Dawn, and really interesting post! It’s not easy to face reality and people tend to avoid it when, in reality, facing the truth would open up so many options and possibilities — not to mention doors and financial rewards! Thanks for the work you do to inform!

    • You’re so right. As scarey as reality can seem sometimes, it is the pathway to growth, adventure, and self-confidence. Too often, employees and supervisors alike put their heads in the sand rather than taking a big picture view of circumstances before they are overtaken. I appreciate you kinds words and your time in commenting. Thanks. ~Dawn

  4. I think in today’s economic climate it’s imperative to commnicate, model, and demand workplace vigilance and care. Although some will feel threatened (justly, or not) by proposed layoffs, and choose to slack, the bottom line must be protected by supervisors. I guess there are two bottom lines: $, and employee moral.

    Everyone has a choice re: their job. I agree with Vickie–if you’re going to be leaving, the ‘quiet’ job search is a must.

    I’ve seen too many employees grouse about work conditions, and broadcast their not-so-subtle exit.

    Wonderful info, Dawn!

    • You always add an interesting insight. What I’ve discovered is that instead of resigning ourselves to what might be coming, we should take the initiative to adapt and adjust, especially together as a work group. No one says that we can’t be creative in the wake of a downturn, actually, that’s when we need to take a fresh look at what we’re doing and reinvent. I’m always an advocate for taking the initiative rather than becoming the victim. Thanks for your enthusiatic comment. It’s always great hearing from you. ~Dawn

  5. Dawn,
    I think all 10 questions are very good and think the answers are more important. For example, I’m hoping the supervisor also knows the answer is delivering higher performance vs. training programs. I know the right answer, yet can forget to say it and speak in terms of programs vs. impact. Thanks for a great reminder and good advice. Cherry

    • Thanks, Cherry. Glad you liked the questions. You clearly knew what I thought were the right answers for them. Focusing on the big picture value of what we bring to our jobs is what sustains us and the functions we perform. We always need to be changing and adapting to new conditions just as product producers change to meet the changing demands of the consumer. Life in the workplace today is in perpetual motion. We need to keep an eye on that! Thanks for your kind words.

  6. Strong questions. I would like to add a few more questions:
    1) What are you really good at?
    2) How do you stand out from others that provide the same?
    3) How would you like to be appreciated for good work?
    4) What is currently challenging for you?
    5) What kind of support do you prefer?

  7. Pingback: Keep Your Employees Engaged and Accountable | Act As If It Were Impossible to Fail

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