People Management: Questions you Must Ask


The study “people management” in business was initiated and developed early in the 20th Century. But it’s now 2014. Those pre World War I concepts are rather tired. And business today is very different from 100 years ago.

That’s largely because we’ve overcomplicated “the human side of enterprise” as it’s sometimes been called. I believe that we’ve been asking the wrong questions. We’ve been trying to “get to the bottom of it” by deep analysis, thorough investigation and inspection and by playing psychological “parlour games”.

Perhaps we’d be better off in the 21st Century with just nine simple questions. But don’t hold your breath. You won’t find these questions in text books and MBA curricula.

Question 1: Staff Selection

“If the vacant job was being done perfectly how would I know for sure?”

We seem to have forgotten that we cannot tell what a job applicant can do merely by talking to them.

No other area of so called “human resources” has become over-analyzed as the issue of staff selection. But it seems to me that as we wallowed in “paralysis by analysis” we forgot one essential element.

The purpose of staff selection is to get a job done. Choosing a person is merely a function of that. Surely we should first decide what we’re trying to achieve before we decide who’d be the best person to achieve it.

And when we specify “how we would know” we can then test candidates competence as part of the selection process.

Because we fail to do this well, we get bogged down in bureaucratic over analysis represented by procedures such as Key Performance Indicators. We call this “best practice”. It may be good “practice”. But what’s “best” about it is questionable. And the time for “practice” is well past. We’re after actuality.

Question 2: Staff Communication

“What did I mean by what I just said?”

The key to effective communication is the transfer of understanding. Your readers and listeners must be certain about what you mean rather than what you say. If they don’t understand what you mean, you’re using the wrong words. If they don’t understand what you mean, your communication has failed. That’s the harsh reality. And what you mean must be consistent with what you say in their terms.

Question 3: Staff Training

“What will the “trainee” be able to do at the of the training that they can’t do now?”

If you can’t answer that question before you start training, your training will fail. Training is truly successful only when trainees can demonstrate new or different skills at the end of the training. It doesn’t matter what an employee “understands”, “appreciates” or “learns”. Training is about “doing”. Effective training must result in the effective demonstration of job skills.

Question 4: Staff Motivation

“If my employees were very highly motivated what would they be doing that they’re not doing now? And what would they have stopped doing that they’re doing now that disrupts job achievement?”

It’s easy to forget, but “motivation” describes outputs. It’s a general overview term for what employees do when they’re working effectively and achieving business results.

Ask about what they’re doing when they’re doing their jobs very well. Whatever it is, it’ll reflect strong positive motivation.

Question 5: Team Development

“What does this team exist to achieve? What roles are essential within the team to create that achievement?”

The key to successful team performance is role and goal clarity. Each team member must commit to perform their role and help other members to perform theirs. And each must commit to the overall team goals.

Note too that good interpersonal relationships between team members are usually a result of effective team performance not a prerequisite for it. It really isn’t very important whether individual team members “get on well”. I know that may sound like heresy to some of you. But it’s true. What’s important is how effectively employees work together to achieve business goals. And if they work successfully together, they’ll probably “get on well”.

Question 6: Performance Measurement

“What would the team and individual employees be accomplishing so that I’d be certain that my expectations of their superior performance were being met?”

Think about this. As manager, you’re really a client of your staff. Like any client, you’ll have expectations about what constitutes superior performance from them. You need to be able to measure staff performance and compare it with your expectations to decide how well your employees are performing.

Question 7: Staff Self Assessment

“What measurable, demonstrable and specific performance should employees be notifying me about at least weekly?”

Staff should be responsible for all routine, day to day functions in your business. What weekly reports would you reasonably expect so that you’d be certain that employees accepted this responsibility?

Question 8: Systems

“What systems must be in place to guarantee that employees meet performance goals and performance standards?”

“If your systems are poor, your people will fail.” “A poor system will beat a good performer every time.” Most employee performance problems can be traced to an inadequate system rather than a “poor” employee.

Remember: the best thing a manager can do for employees is to put systems in place that make it impossible for staff to fail. As I’ve written elsewhere, there are few really poor staff. There are lots of lousy systems.

Question 9: Staff Input

“What do you do to ensure that staff expertise and experience is fully utilized for the benefit of the business?”

Many managers simply fail to use staff experience, expertise and suggestions effectively. You need failsafe methods that permit staff to offer suggestions and make changes that enhance business results. “How can we do this better” is a question that should always be “on the tip of your tongue”.


These are nine simple questions. But we rarely ask them. We often seek complicated, “in depth” analysis and avoid simplicity.

And we often convince ourselves that it’s “businesslike” to seek complex solutions when simple ones will do. It isn’t. It harms your business. Prefer the simple to the complex.

Remember these questions are intended only as “thought starters”. What counts are the answers that the questions lead you to. They’ll provide definitive material to work with.

Remember too, always ask questions that will help you achieve business goals. Avoid hackneyed questions about behaviour such as “attitude”, “punctuality” and “co-operation”. Your goal is better business results not self indulgent pseudo psychoanalysis.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.