Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nancy Morgan
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Roger Mursick - Twisted Ironies
D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive

May 14, 2007

Sorry, Harley Dude: Ask Your Employees These Four Questions


Richard Teerlink, erstwhile CEO of Harley Davidson, believes you only need to ask four questions to engage the minds of your employees and get them thinking about how to make the company succeed.


Interesting idea. But what boring questions! Check these out:


  1. How should we behave? (Dude, you run the world’s biggest motorcycle gang. What do you think you’re supposed to do? Imitate the Little Sisters of the Poor?)
  2. What’s important? (Steak, sports, D.F. Krause, charcoal grills . . . )
  3. Who do we serve? (The IRS, silly.)
  4. How do we measure success? (See the numbers in your bank account? Are they big? Good. Are they red? Uh oh . . . )


With questions like these, it’s no wonder Harley Davidson still has competitors. I can accept the idea that you need four questions to engage your employees, but Teerlink does not have the right questions. I do.


My questions are more relevant to the real business world. They might actually be asked in any given office on any given day. They next time your employees need to become engaged and energized to achieve your vision, ask them these:


1. What the hell is that? Granted, this question is uberrelevant in the sense that it could apply to almost anything anyone ever does or says in business. That’s why you can’t abuse it. Theoretically, you could get to the point where “What the hell is that?” is all you ever need to say at all. But control yourself. This question is best applied to everyday occurrences, like inane employee statements.


Let’s say an employee responds to a challenge by saying, “By taking a proactive approach and by complementing each other’s strengths, we can turn this into a win-win.” What the hell is that? If you are an experienced CEO, you recognize it to mean, “I have no idea what you want me to do, and I wish you were asking someone else, but since you’re asking me, I’m going to say some positive-sounding B.S. until I can find someone who can actually do this.”


Question 1 might also apply when people are late, when people say something “fell through the cracks” or when someone makes a very odd lunch choice. It is such a powerful question, you really need to keep it in your holster the majority of the time.


2. Whose idea was this? Remember when you decided to “realign”? Remember when you were going to do guerilla marketing? Remember the strategic planning session where you decided to create “bottom-up, empowered, team-driven, innovation-focused virtual workgroups”?


Nice going. The only thing that might make this question unnecessary is the fact that, three weeks after some hare-brained scheme was launched, it will simply stop of its own volition and no one will remember you were ever doing it in the first place. But what sometimes happens is that one person – probably the person who talked you into the daylong off-site as an excuse for wearing jeans to work that day – feels the need to keep the new strategic initiative going as a justification for the quasi-day off.


This person is still trying to get everyone to do empowered, virtual, bottom-up stuff when everyone else has long since returned to doing their normal jobs. That’s when you need to step in. Now, keep in mind, asking “Whose idea was this?” is not designed to elicit a constructive answer. Nor will it. No one is going to put a hand up and say, “It was mine!” What they might do is point to the person who had the idea, and if that happens, all you have to do is say, “Well, I don’t really remember, and it doesn’t really matter, but I think we all have work to do.”


3. Would your family object if you had to work late tonight? The time to ask this one is about 11:15 a.m. Its actually meaning is: “Get it in gear if you want to go home at five o’clock.” The reason 11:15 is so crucial is that it gets the message delivered before the person heads off for lunch. It better! If they’ve already gone to lunch at 11:15, they are definitely staying late.


Use this one when you either really need something done that day, or you just think someone is being a slacker and you’re tired of it. Follow up around 2 p.m. and ask what the family would be having for dinner that night in the event you’d be able to be there. The employee’s project will be done by 4:15, guaranteed.


4. Do you think I should just do this myself? This scares the bejeezus out of employees because a) they know darn well you can’t do whatever it is; and b) if you think you can, they’re toast. It’s almost as good as offering to help them with something, except that’s risky because they might take you up on it, and then you’re stuck helping them all day.


Harley Guy’s questions are good for CEO books and Economic Club speeches. My questions work for the real business world, and are a lot more entertaining for the CEO asking them.


Why the hell are you still reading this?


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # DFK080.  Request permission to publish here.