Two Powerful Questions Employees Should Ask Their Boss
Questions are powerful. It takes courage to ask and answer them honestly. For example:
- Are you stuck in a job and going nowhere?
- Do you want to get ahead in your career?
- Are you doing interviews but getting no job offers?
- Have you landed a few jobs and they ended up being entirely different than what you expected?
- Are you doing all you can to succeed?
Benjamin Franklin said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So, don’t quit. This post will help you in these two situations:
- You are considering that you need a new job, and are beginning the job seeking and interview process.
- You have a job but you are not going anywhere–limited pay increases and no opportunities for a promotion.
Good news! The economy is growing worldwide. Jobs are becoming more plentiful. Companies have over $2 trillion in cash and are beginning to spend some of it. The bad news is that the economic conditions aren’t equal everywhere. Regardless of where you are, there are two key questions that you want to ask your boss or potential boss. Before reviewing these two questions, let me give you food for thought.
- Few companies today are really loyal to employees. Companies are loyal to their bottom-line. Recently, Target recently laid off 1700 employees in Minneapolis to save $2B in the next two years. These employees were all doing a fine job as far as they knew. Upper management made strategy mistakes in security, merchandising, and in the Canadian operations (17,600 more people lose their jobs); now employees are paying the price. During the 2007-10 Great Recession over 7M people lost their jobs in the US. Worldwide, the job losses amounted to a staggering 50M. Employees didn’t cause the economic downturn. Government and Wall Street policies did, but employees lost their jobs anyway.
- CEO pay, compared to employee pay, is 48:1 in Denmark, 67:1 in Japan, 147:1 in Germany and 354:1 in the US. Almost everyone agrees that it is way out of line. Peter Drucker suggested that it should be 20:1, or you risk increasing employee resentment and decreasing employee morale. CEO pay has increased 937% since 1978, while employee pay increased only 10.2%. In the US, pay for employees the last three years has grown slightly, 2-2.9%, which is barely above the inflation rate.
- Employee disengagement worldwide is 87%. In other words, most employees are unhappy. Companies have lost employee trust. This negatively affects employee productivity, sales, innovation, teamwork, customer service, and income.
The lesson learned is don’t count on your company or your boss for career development and advancement in your position or pay. It’s a do-it-yourself project most of the time. Few managers want your success as much as they want their success. Companies and managers want to control costs and increase profit. That means less for you.
These two powerful questions get to the heart of the matter for your success.
Powerful Question #1
You need to clearly know what you are accountable for, so ask your boss: What are my job priorities, expectations and goals? However, few managers are good at determining this. Most have ambiguous goals. So, manage upward. Don’t accept a fuzzy answer; ask probing questions.
In an interview, ask the question, and take notes. Clarify any statements. One colleague came to me who wanted a different job. He had six interviews but received no offers after six months of effort. I took an afternoon to coach him on answering interview questions, asking questions, and showed him how to write a game plan. In the next month he received two job offers.
Whether you are going after a new job or you want to succeed in your current job, create and write out a two-page game plan to share with the boss. Use these headings: Job Goals & Expectations/Action steps. You can use this in a multiple interview process. (Few other interviewees will have a plan.) Once you get the job, review this with your new boss again. After that, get to work on it! In any job, review your plan progress in monthly updates with your manager. (See my post: 5 Steps to ACE Your Next Performance Review).
Few employees ever do this. Former US President Teddy Roosevelt declared,“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” To make this work you have to perform well. Get all of the training that you can. Learn from top performers, by talking to someone who is successful and at your job level. Aim to improve and excel!
I can tell you that I have done this when I was inside of some organizations. I received promotions and pay increases that others didn’t get because I made this effort. Does this always work like a charm, and do you get everything you want? No. Does it help? Yes. This is about being proactive and taking ownership for your performance and career development. Otherwise, most companies and bosses will take advantage of you. Or you won’t be on their radar and others will be.
Powerful Question #2
If you want to make more money and make a bigger difference, you have to ask this question, too: what is the career path for my job, and what resources are available to help me move ahead? (Training, coaching, etc.) I have found that if the answers are vague, the manager lacks a system, and there won’t be a clear cut path or opportunity for you to move up. That’s problematic if you want to advance, isn’t it? So ask for specifics; for example, a training calendar or an organizational chart. H. Jackson Brown suggests, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” Go for jobs where you can get clarity and a line of sight for your next move. After all, it’s your future.
So, ask. You need to know what you have to do to get to the next level. One company president that I know started out as the salesperson. He worked his way up. In each job, he would ask what it took to move ahead. Then he did it, and he would tell his boss he wanted the next job in line. The next thing you know, he was the running the place! If you don’t ask, you don’t get, because you don’t know or you don’t challenge yourself, or you don’t put others on notice.
Of course, you will have to keep learning and prepare yourself to make things happen. You’ll need to add a third page to your plan, that’s just for you. This page describes what you have to learn, people you need to meet and experiences you must create to accelerate results. All of this takes work, but remember the payoff. You increase your competence, capabilities and confidence. Does this have to be in writing? Yes, because it’s a physical sign of commitment to your own success. Create the routine of reviewing this regularly.
Pulling it All Together
You deserve a better job with more pay, don’t you? Your career development is in your hands. By boldly asking these questions and creatively designing a plan, you will increase your chances to elevate your career success. It doesn’t guarantee that your company won’t do a lay off someday, but it does make you better prepared to land on your feet. George Eliot encouraged us all by saying, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
Do you want to build on these powerful questions by bench-marking your career success with the habits of highly successful people? If so, check out this complimentary inventory and guidebook: Success Practices.
Want to accelerate your career growth? Check out our Superstar Book Series for a boost.
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