Sometimes it can be indeed helpful to ask ourselves this question. Therefore, let us do a little thought experiment: Imagine you were a pilot. You have just completed your education and put a lot of studying, a lot of stress and much excitement behind you. And it was worth it because your training is finished, you have passed all your exams and now you are starting your new job. Today is your very first day as an actual pilot proudly wearing this stylish, blue uniform with the golden striped sleeves. You enter the cockpit and take your seat on the right-hand side as the first officer in charge. Then you start preparing yourself and the plane for departure by programming the Flight Management System and doing the last checks before take-off. After a few minutes, the captain, meaning your boss, enters the cockpit. As he takes his seat, you straight away realize: Oh dear, he is peculiar. Your boss looks at you. No, he eyes you suspiciously from top to bottom and says:” You know what? Best do not speak unless I ask you something. Like this we have a small chance you won’t continually talk rubbish.”

Alright, I know you are presumably no pilot. However, you certainly must have come across such or comparable situations in your career. Possibly, you have worked under such manager in the past, or you have found yourself in similar circumstances. Almost everyone I have spoken with has experienced something like this. If you must work under such conditions, how easy do you find it to make your voice heard? How comfortable are you to raise your concerns? Under such circumstances, can you simply ask for help if you get stuck? Or would you possibly brush concerns under the carpet and put a project on hold whenever you ponder how to progress? In other words: picture this situation again; imagine this manager who is spreading his bad mood in the corporate cockpit. How easy will you find it to develop your full potential in such an environment? How much percentage of your possible performance could you achieve and bring on the road while influenced by these circumstances? Possibly a large proportion would fizzle out or would not even reach the business.

In aviation, a concept called Crew Resource Management exists. And in the business world? If we are wasting resources on the plane, we will read it in the papers tomorrow. Likewise, carelessly spending resources in the company will create an immense cost. Here, our headline question comes back into play: “What am I actually paying you for?” We pay for 100% but use only 10%. In business this makes no sense whatsoever.

There is a chance your employees are remarkably incompetent, and consequently, you need to take charge and do everything yourself, right?
Uhm, hang on a minute: Who has hired these employees? Was it you? Well, then it’s decision time. If you are really not capable of hiring suitable employees, then you might need help. If you like, I can get you in touch with one of my colleagues who can give you sound advice and knows brilliant tools.

However, if, you “usually” hire competent employees after all, you solely must learn how to optimize and use their potential. How can we succeed to optimize our resources by increasing the output but keeping costs low? Sounds great, no?

How do we achieve this? How can we create a culture in which employees are capable of performing their best, and, as a result, gain maximum benefit to the company?

Crew Resource Management offers a variety of approaches, from how to handle mistakes to communication strategies, and leadership culture. I will attend all these points in detail in various posts in this blog, but for now, I would like to begin with the most obvious question. Why don’t you just ask your employees? But hold off! Please do not just pick the next best person and ask why they do not perform well. There is a better way to achieve this properly and more effectively.

As a supervisor or manager, it is categorically not ideal to ask these questions directly. Because of your leadership role, there is a risk the interviewee will only say what you might like to hear but not give you a proper answer. You might as well ask your dog why he tore the sofa pillow apart?

Ask questions anonymously, for example, with a questionnaire and a mailbox. Or find a member of staff, whom the employees trust, to collect the answers, anonymize and bundle them.
I am not concerned about complete anonymity, which, first of all, does not work anyway and secondly, your company should not require. Employees should be able to express controversial opinions without fearing sanctions. If this is not the case, you already have the answer to one of your questions, and you should do something about it!

But which questions can you ask?

As a pilot, I prefer to keep it simple and would exactly ask what I would like to know. Suitable questions, for example, could be:

On a scale from 0 to 10 – how well does our company enable you to engage fully and develop your potential?

How much percentage of your potential were you able to contribute so far?

What do you require to work more effectively and to contribute more of your potential?

What is hindering /preventing you from doing so?

If you had three wishes free to improve our company, what would you change?

Please treat these questions as suggestions only and carefully check if they are meeting your business needs. If necessary, formulate your own and different questions.

A final word of warning: when you ask questions, you will get answers with the possibility that you do not like them. If you want to avoid unpleasant replies, better do not ask at all. There is rarely anything more demotivating than openly answering a question, but you sweep the response under the carpet.
Even if you do not like the answers, definitely disclose the result of your survey and communicate how you will deal with the outcome.

And finally, you may ask yourself again the question: What am I actually paying this employee for? If you can reply he is worth every penny, your effort was worthwhile.

Enjoy und happy landings!
Peter Brandl