Managing Employees

You Can Immediately Spot Great People in Your Company by Asking This One Question

Are your employees tackling their assignments effectively? Find out by asking "The Hawaii Question."
You Can Immediately Spot Great People in Your Company by Asking This One Question
Image credit: Image Source | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder of The Home Service Expert
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One day, my general manager, Adam, walked in looking incredibly frazzled. I paused for a second, then I asked him "The Hawaii Question":

"Come with me to Hawaii in five hours?"

"What?" He scratched his head. "Tommy ... That's not possible. You know how much work I have these days."

I smiled, and challenged him: "No, I mean hypothetically. Just think about it for a second ... Would you be able to wrap up all that you need to do within five hours?" He shook his head so vigorous that I thought he might just sprain his neck.

Related: 9 Things Managers Do That Make Good Employees Quit

I continued: "Adam, if you can't do that, doesn't it say something about how effective you're being at work?"

The confusion lifted from his eyes. "I think I see your point."

The beauty of The Hawaii Question is that you're not criticizing or lecturing your employees. Instead, you let them see for themselves how to be more effective on the job.

In the next few weeks, I worked closely with Adam to help him identify the areas he could create the biggest impact in. He learned how to prioritize higher impact projects, rather than working on everything that comes his way. And today, he's one of the most productive people in my company.

The Hawaii Question is just the first step to get your employees thinking. Here's how you can truly grow your employees into top talents, by coaching them in the following ways:

1. Guide them through the "activity journal experiment."

Calling out your employees might just make them defensive. No one likes being told that they suck. Instead, let them discover their own weaknesses.

With my team, I get them to fill in an activity journal, where they write down everything they do from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on pen and paper. This includes: their goals of the day, how long each task took (and if/when they experienced interruptions), and what they actually got done at the end of the day. After they've done this for two weeks, I either sit down to evaluate the list with them, or get a senior manager to do it. By then, my team knows exactly what they need to improve.

Related: Managers Who Create Growth Opportunities See Greater Employee Engagement

You can try the same thing with your employees (or even do it yourself!). Start with two days, then once everyone sees the value of doing this experiment, you can expand to two weeks.

2. Get them to create a how-to manual for their role.

Now that your employees know the key areas to do better on, they should start scaling themselves. That is, they need to create how-to-instruction manuals as well as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) guidelines for their roles.

This does three things: First, you make sure that everyone is clear on what they are doing and what standards they need to meet. Second, it gets them thinking how they can do things faster and better. Third, it makes sure that work gets done at the same standard, regardless if that one employee is sick, on vacation or got promoted.

Start small by asking your employees to outline the steps for a certain work task. Once you have this initial outline in place, get them to expand upon it, and do the same for their other responsibilities.

Related: What This Company Learned When It 'Fired' All Its Managers

3. Set up a "process helpline" to incentivize feedback.

With employees who are thinking more effectively, how do you further bake top performance into your culture? Easy: Incentivize it across the company.

The thing is, employees often have amazing suggestions that take your business processes to the next level. But, they just might not have the right channels to share their insights. Once you make it clear that you welcome and even reward feedback, you'll have tons of great ideas thrown your way. This helps cultivate a company-wide mindset of doing great work, but also doing work that gets better each time.

At my company, we have a process helpline, which is basically just a box in which people can throw any process improvement suggestions. At the end of each week, we pick the three best suggestions, and reward their contributors with $50 per suggestion.

Related: It's Science, Baby! Proving the Power of Positive Reinforcement at Work

Consider one last thing ... 

Now, I've talked a lot about how you can help your employees grow and become more effective at their jobs. But, here's one thing you need to consider: Some employees might just be better off doing what they are doing right now. And that's okay.

Once, I promoted a salesperson to be a manager, and I wanted to groom him further. A few months later, he turned out to be the wrong fit for that role. We downgraded his job position, but now he's happier than ever as a salesperson and makes a lot of money, because he's doing what he's best at.

Ultimately, the Hawaii Question along with the coaching exercises will help you make sure each employee you hire is in the best role possible. That's the number one key of any business's success, and it certainly has worked out for me.

Related Video: How Do You Get New Employees Invested in Your Mission as You Scale?

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