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Ken Keller: Thought-provoking questions for managers

Brain Food for Business Professionals

Posted: June 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: June 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Most business owners hold meetings with the management team on a regular basis. Many of those meetings are ineffective and a waste of time. Nothing much gets accomplished or decided or changed. That is because the purpose of the meeting is rarely established, an agenda is usually nonexistent and follow-through is weak.

Managers who attend do their best to lay low, keep quiet and look interested but don't offer up much.

Every meeting conducted by an owner should be a dialog, not a one-way lecture on policy, mistakes and lack of results. To build a strong management team, it is all about communication and education. It is the responsibility of an owner to educate those who work for him or her, and one of the best ways to perform this function is to through thought-provoking questions.

Questioning is an easy way to determine what managers are thinking as well as what they know. It is also a means to gain understanding of what managers need further education about.

Below are questions that belong on the agenda of the next 12 management meetings the owner will conduct. Questions should be distributed a few days in advance so managers can have the opportunity to think about their contribution and not be blindsided.

Meeting one: What are the seven best things about this company? What does everyone in the company complain about more than anything else? What needs to take place to make this a better company one month from today?

Meeting two: What would you do first if you were made CEO of this organization? What is our proudest accomplishment so far this year? What's the one mistake we've made since January that we should erase?

Meeting three:
What is making this organization money? Not revenue, but bottom-line profit. What costs us money? What functions directly affect our financial performance?

Meeting four: Do we have a business climate that promotes open and honest communication? Do we truly value every employee's ideas? What do we do with an idea once we have it?

Meeting five:
What will our business look like in five years? What will our industry look like in 10 years? What are five things we can do in the next six months about the future?

Meeting six:
If we were to start a new business within the company, what would it be? If we were to buy another company, what would it be? If were to close down a product line, what would it be?

Meeting seven:
Whose business philosophy should we admire? What is the largest opportunity facing us today? What is the biggest obstacle facing us?

Meeting eight:
What are the most important qualities we should look for when we hire a new employee? If a new award were created by the company to be given in the name of each employee, what qualities would be honored? What are the redeeming qualities of our top five competitors?

Meeting nine:
If we could have a conversation with all the people who no longer work at this company, what would we ask them? If we could speak with all the former and current clients of the company, what should we be asking them? If we were to contact all the former and current suppliers to the company, what would we ask them to tell us?

Meeting 10:
Are each of us leading by example every day? What if everyone in this company just settled for average? What if nobody raised the bar?

Meeting 11:
What business experience has strengthened us the most? What are five lessons we have learned so far this year? What do we want to learn in the next six months?

Meeting 12:
What remains undone that we set as a goal at the start of the year? If we were to clear everyone's calendar for a week, what could we spend the time on that would make a difference for the organization? What should we being saying "no" to?

The first few meetings will be awkward. Chances are managers won't eagerly contribute unless asked directly. The key to success will be for the owner not to push back but to accept what is being said.

If the answers to the each meeting's questions can be accepted in the spirit they were given, the organization will be better for it.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, helping top executives make better decisions through informed peer perspective, resulting in better top and bottom line results. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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