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Kenneth Keller: Seven business questions you should be able to answer

Inside Business

Posted: March 24, 2009 8:08 p.m.
Updated: March 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.
As the owner of a business, are you ready to be asked and truthfully answer these questions when asked by an employee?
  • “How are we doing?”When this question is asked, it raises some serious red flags.

    The first is that there is not enough communication from the top of the company to the bottom. The second is that people do not understand how the company scores points in the game of business and worse, what it takes for the company to win the game. They are asking you, “What is the score?” Third, the person might be asking a different question which they don’t have the courage to ask out loud, which is, “How am I doing?”
  • “Where are we going?”
Someone who asks this question is seeking some assurance that the company is going to survive whatever it is currently facing, real or imagined. They are also asking if there is room for advancement, which could mean a promotion, a transfer to a new department to learn new skills or if there is money available for a raise.
  • “What business are we in?”
This is usually asked by an employee confused about what they are doing and how what they do contributes to the company. It could also be asked by someone who is wondering what the core business of the organization is because they see the company straying from that foundation. The person asking the question could also be seeking reassurance that the company is not changing.
  •  “Who do we serve?”
A person asking this question is seeking clarification as to who the company’s customer really is. It’s an interesting question and depending on the perspective of the person asking for the answer can be an internal customer or an external one.
  • “How do we make money?”
The initial response from an owner is likely to be “None of your business.” But being asked this question raises a terrific issue: if your employees do not know how your company makes money, how can you expect them to help you make it?
  • “What are my priorities?”
This is coming from a confused person. They have likely been given conflicting projects or assignments from two or more managers, from you, or maybe received some input from a peer who works shoulder to shoulder with them. They seek clarity.

What the person really wants to know is “who is my boss?” suggesting that the org. chart is MIA (missing in action).
  • “How do I get a raise?”
Laugh if you like, be angry is you want to, but in a period of rising inflation, this is a question from someone who wants to know what it takes to earn more money. This shows initiative, courage and drive and while you may not like to be asked this question, every business owner should look forward to hearing it. Have an answer ready and it shouldn’t be, “You’re lucky to have a job in this economy.”

Being asked this question means that the company is lacking some very basic human resources policies and procedures and even if   those policies and procedures exist, they have not been well communicated.

When asked these seven questions, the first response from the owner is going to tell the employee how the owner feels about being asked questions like these. Most owners won’t welcome the intrusion into an already busy day and even more won’t like the rather intimate nature of the questions.

These are building block questions that intelligent people seek answers to for the simple reasons of security, understanding and advancement. They want assurance the company where they put in at least forty hours a week is strong, secure and able to meet payroll. They want a place where they will receive raises and have the opportunity for a promotion and change in title.

People who ask these questions are not seeking to pry trade secrets out of the owner or use confidential information to set up a competitive business.

These questions should cause concern in a positive way. These questions reflect a lack of needed education and communication within the organization. And, if managers have questions of this nature, you can bet lower-level employees have the very same issues but are afraid to talk about them.

Kenneth Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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