what should a new manager ask to get to know employees better?

by Ask a Manager on January 15, 2012

A reader writes:

I recently was promoted to a supervisor position within my company. I plan on having one-on-one meetings to get to know my direct reports better. Any suggestions of questions I should ask them?

Yes!  First, before you meet, I’d review their job descriptions, any written goals that exist for their positions, their professional backgrounds (hopefully you can get a copy of their resumes from HR or whoever), and their past performance evaluations.

When meeting with them, I’d ask the following:

What do you see as the main goals of your role?

What are the most important things for you to achieve this year?

Are you on track to doing that? Are there milestones to meet on the way? What things are you worried might get in the way?

What’s your most pressing project this week / this month?  (Follow-up questions should stem naturally from this — about context, timeline, steps, etc.)

What do you like the most about your job? The least?

What would help you do your job better?

Is there anything I should know about how you like to work?

I’d also talk a bit about your management style and what the person can expect from you.

You should also take this time to set up a system for checking in, answering questions, etc. going forward. (For example, you might decide that you’ll have a regular weekly meeting, plus ad hoc conversations throughout the rest of the week as the need arises. But plan to err on the side of investing a good amount of time talking in the beginning as you’re getting to know how the other works.)

There’s a ton more you could cover, but I’d focus here for a first meeting.

Oh, and if the person doesn’t have clear goals for the year, plan on establishing them fairly soon. It’s way easier to manage people if they have clear goals that you’re managing them to.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for this post! I am likely to be on the receiving end of such a meeting in the future, and it’s good to have some pointers for topics to discuss.

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fposte January 15, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Oh, these are great–I wish I’d had them a couple of years ago.

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Erik January 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm

A manager at a company years ago did this. He had a 1-on-1 meeting with everyone in the group, and discussed our current work, what we would like to do and to get a better idea of who was on the team.

He wanted to match up people with their interests, in addition to making sure that people were learning new skills and making themselves more valuable to the company.

It was a great experience, and I plan on doing the same when the time comes up.

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Scott M January 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm

I’d give anything to have this conversation with my manager! One thing I would add would be to ask for a list of all tasks th e employe has to perform. People do a lot more than just their job descriptions. There are lots of extra little tasks that employees accumulate that their managers know nothing about.

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TrixMix January 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Scoot, Why not open the dialog, make your manager’s job a little easier, and take some time to produce a list which you hand over? Initiative is a great trait to have all-around and is very much appreciated.

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Just Me January 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I think it is great that the OP has reached out to find out what is needed to be a great and involved supervisor.

There are way too many out there that have no clue how to engage with their employees and even worse don’t care. The fact that you are asking for help shows to me, that you will be a great supervisor.

I just had my first ” review” at the place I am now. To be honest I can’t even tell you what it was about other then some point system on how they grade you and told us what was factored in. Although I know I could have asked questions and all that but the review was not set up that way simply because the managers probably don’t know better. Here is the score, here are some comments, here is your raise and thank you very much. ( raise was decent plus a salary adjustment). And then just see ya……

No goals, no real comments although they did comment on a procedure I devised and they like and are using for the company. But even that was very deadpan.

They were not mean, condscending, or rude, just clueless. I was like…Oohhh OK… that I didn’t even to think of anything else but signing it.

So I am just saying.. please don’t do that with your employees. Engage, be excited when they come up with a good idea, give them props as much as you can.

Happy employees make happy people that makes happy customers, etc…

Good luck !!

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TrixMix January 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm

I second that a great place to start is asking for their resume. Only I would add the caveat that I prefer to obtain this directly from the employee. Resumes from HR will presumably have been re-tailored for the application to the position they applied for when they joined the organization and could be terribly outdated, while copies maintained by proposals will be chopped and condensed into suitable boilerplate.

A copy directly from the employee shows you how they envision themselves, the true breadth of their experience, and gives some clue as to their (hopefully unbiased) aspirations.

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Jamie January 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

Even though it’s an excellent idea to frequently update your resume, even when you’re not looking, most people don’t do this.

The vast majority of people will update when they have a reason – so the employees resume will likely be identical to the one on file with HR as it was the last one that worked.

It is a good exercise in evaluating yourself and more people should do it, but in reality they just don’t.

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Ask a Manager January 16, 2012 at 11:13 am

Agree with Jamie. You also need to factor in that a new manager asking employees for their resumes can make people very nervous, even if the manager explains why.

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Dan Ruiz January 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I see your point, but I agree with Jamie and Alison.

A better approach might be to get the resume from HR, then bring it in to the employee meeting and ask for them to explaing, clarify, and expand on topics of interest.

Dan

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Dan Ruiz January 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Doh! Sorry about the typos. >_<

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TrixMix January 16, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Other perfectly valid points of view.

I still think it has to be up to the original poster to winnow through the ideas presented, utilize the ones that appeal, leave the others, and find their own management style (as a new supervisor, I’d argue that they really don’t have one yet).

I’d just like to make one last point to the original poster- Consider time. Most new managers wildly overestimate the amount of time they will be allowed for staff management. Start small, before you make big promises you can’t keep, which will only serve to undermine your authority. Only you can gauge your company’s culture.

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Sandrine January 16, 2012 at 4:27 am

I work in a call center, but even our team leaders do this!

There’s the meeting you have when you meet a new team leader. It’s either a presentation with the whole team (we are about 14 people under one team leader at the moment) or a one-on-one interview thingie if we don’t have too many calls. My current team leader got in the company after me but has ten years of experience in the field, and he’s a fantastic team leader.

The good thing about this, and that makes me like my call center job after all, is that even in “performance reviews” (sometimes they record calls and use that to grade us and later it helps for monthly bonuses :P ) , you can defend yourself and speak about whatever comes to mind.

Maybe I’m lucky and maybe it’s just my team leader, but for once I can honestly say I love my job.

(and I’m saying this while I’m probably going to have to be put on medical leave for a few days because I’m sick and can’t handle the phone right now :( )

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TrixMix January 16, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Sandrine, that’s so nice to hear. I’m very glad for you. Keep up the good work!

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Anonynmous_J January 19, 2012 at 11:59 am

You are, indeed, very lucky!

Sorry about your illness, though. :(

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Long Time Admin January 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

I’ve worked at this place for more than 6 years, and no one has ever had a performance review meeting (and lived to tell about it). The whole performance review is clouded in secrecy. When it’s all over, we each get a letter from our Director saying a) if you got a raise, b) why you got the raise, c) what the COLA was, and d) how much you’re getting. I did get a couple of really good raises, but our company is in trouble now, and the last standard raise was less than the cost of living increase. I’m just grateful that we didn’t get pay cuts.

I want to work for the OP. I think this person is going to be a fantastic manager, and will have a fantastic team. People will do extraordinary things when they have really good leadership.

AaM’s last sentence reminded me of this little quote that made the round about 25 years ago:

“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

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Anonymous January 16, 2012 at 10:28 am

I once worked for a manager who asked all of the questions AaM listed, and more! He was fantastic. I would’ve stayed and worked for him for years, but there was no room for growth where I was. When it came time for me to move on, he offered to help me with my resume and do some interview prep with me. Not many managers would do this for their departing employees, but he was the type who believed that a good manager doesn’t hold their employees back from reaching their goals.

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Jamie January 16, 2012 at 11:51 am

And I would be willing to bet that later in your career if you were in the position to recommend him for a job, or hire him yourself, you would.

Even if that never happens, I would also make book that you are/will be this kind of manager who will go the extra mile to engage your staff…both for their benefit and the benefit of the business.

Being a good manager to people who are at or near the top of their careers is certainly important. It makes good business sense and it’s a decent thing to do. But being a good manager to people who are still moving upward in their careers, especially entry level (not implying that anon was in an entry level positions – just used it as a launching pad for this ramble) is the best way to really fundamentally change things in industry.

People who can learn how to manage early by these kind of examples pay it forward for decades to come.

My first boss was such a good mentor there should be some kind of golden statue on his desk. He’s extremely successful and I may never be in the position to help him with anything career wise, but the people I have managed have all benefited from him. They don’t know his name and have never seen his face, but when I fight and win to get other people opportunities or rewards…or when I make sure that efforts are brought to the attention of the powers that me – that’s because I learned from the best.

Also when I argue that sup-par performers should improve or find a better fit…and that everyone should be held accountable for their own responsibilities…although I’m not sure those people would be quite to grateful for the lessons he taught me.

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Anonymous January 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Unfortunately he’s close to retirement age now so I won’t have any chances to help him out, but our working relationship was at the point that I could honestly (and often, bluntly) give him feedback about how he was doing as a manager. He had a tendency to be a Grumpypants, getting a bit wrapped up in his work, so some days I would tell him, “you are REALLY grumpy today,” and he’d respond with, “oh… thank you, I didn’t realize.” I like to think that kind of helped him, although it doesn’t compare to everything I learned from him. I will absolutely strive to emulate his management style if my career path takes me into a managerial/supervisory position.

You sound like a great manager. Too bad there’s not enough of you in the working world.

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Jamie January 16, 2012 at 11:53 am

That should read “powers that be” not “powers that me.”

Not a Freudian slip – sometimes a typo is just a typo.

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Dan Ruiz January 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm

LOL, I thought you were trying to tell us something :-)

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Anonynmous_J January 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Nice turn of phrase! LOL! ;)

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Alex January 17, 2012 at 10:18 am

What a great list of questions! It’s also helpful for managers to have an effective talent management system where they can assess each individual employee, give them specific goals to reach and then customize your questions asked based on the performance of the individual. This way, you’re not asking the same questions, rather asking unique customized questions to the individual employee.

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Mana January 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I have the companion question to this one: what can an employee who is transitioning to a new supervisor do to ensure a good working relationship? Questions to ask? Information to prepare before the first meeting?

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Ask a Manager January 27, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Let’s see, off the cuff I’d say to talk about how they like to work, what type of communication works best, how you’ll both check in going forward, pet peeves, what your biggest priorities are, and challenges you’re facing and how you’re handling them.

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Anonymous February 13, 2012 at 8:23 am

It would be good to start your meeting with subjects that have nothing to do with work to break the ice. You said you wanted to get to know your team…. this is surely one of the best ways in terms of building raport and trust. Don’t jump in with questions about goals etc at the outset. Take a real and genuine interest in the person, make them feel like you are interested in getting to know them, as well as what they do etc. This would be an engaging way to start.

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Frustrated Job Seeker July 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm

These are great suggestions-thanks!

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