Build Employee Engagement (and boost Innovation) by asking the right Questions

Ask the right questions

Employees need to be willing and able to stay engaged and productive, so make sure they’re prepared to help move the organization forward.                         

Trae Tessmann|
February 19, 2017

Every manager wants engaged employees, but that’s only half the battle.


You can find ways to boost engagement with your employees in hundreds of blogs and articles. Here Gallup hits us with 5 ways to engage employees and while effective, you don’t want your employees to just “engage” with their job.


It’s one thing to have a motivated workforce. It’s another to have a productive one that can contribute to innovation and improving operations. You want yours to play a larger role in moving the company forward (and most employees want those opportunities just the same).


Productive and innovative cultures are stocked with employees that are not just willing, but also able to contribute on a deeper level. Ultimately, that comes down to providing them with context and opportunities to put their dedication to help to work. (That being said, is your company actually ready to innovate?)


Most new leadership and innovation opportunities arise when questions are answered, and engaging your employees to answer those questions first just makes sense. But while every executive, manager, and supervisor wants to hear from their employees, sometimes the things they hear isn’t what they were looking for.



So instead of just asking those employees “what can we do better?”, here’s how to frame a question that your employees can provide a productive answer to.


Ask open-ended questions. You’re not running a poll. Don’t leave people with the option to give a simple Yes or No, Good or Bad, High or Low. Provide them with the information they need to create an educated response, and get them to think of a unique idea or piece of feedback


Seek actionable answers. While negative feedback can be useful, there’s a difference between constructive criticism and outright complaints. Avoid questions that can lead to selfish responses and delve into an employee’s individual situation. You want ideas that move the organization forward.


Formalize a goal. “What can we do better?” I don’t know, and neither do your employees without some context. Focus on a business function like boosting revenues, cutting costs, or improving communication. Get specific by targeting certain departments, functions, products, or locations.


Set a time frame. Game-changing ideas are great, but not always feasible due to time or resources. If you want to make some changes in Q2, say that. If you’re looking to improve by the end of 2017, let it be known. The more context you can provide the more actionable ideas you’ll receive.


Asking the right questions (to the right people) is crucial to boosting engagement, involvement, and driving internal innovation company-wide. Here are just a few examples of questions that drive real conversation, innovation, and improvement for an organization.


  • How can we reduce processing time by 10% in Department A?

  • What markets should we explore for Product B in the second half of 2017?

  • Where do we need to make safety improvements on Line C?

  • How can we make cross-departmental communication more effective in 2017?


The goal of these questions is to get people thinking, collaborating, and involved in operations on a deeper level. While not every idea will be a winner, opening up the decision-making process to employees jump-starts the improvement process, brings new perspectives to management, and of course promotes deeper employee engagement. Employees know the problem you’re looking to solve. They know the ideas you’re looking for. And they know what’s possible.


Success of your engagement and innovation efforts with your employees will be highly dependent on what they already know. Knowledge-sharing is a huge part of productive engagement and employee-driven innovation. Like we said, employees need to be willing AND able to stay engaged and productive, so make sure they’re prepared to help move the organization forward.



Asking the right questions is only part of the equation. Learn more about the pursuit of improvement with our FREE 15-Step Innovation Roadmap!


About Trae Tessmann

Co-founder of Ideawake

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