What did you do yesterday to be as effective as possible? or How effective were you at work yesterday?

Which question do you think will lead to change and action?

One of the many highlights from last weeks visit to ASTD ICE was the opportunity to watch Marshall Goldsmith work.

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall is regularly voted as one of the top 5 business thinkers in the US and is a prolific writer and probably the leading executive coach anywhere.

Last year when I saw him speak at the same event on his book ‘Mojo‘ I was as much caught up by his message as his generous spirit and ability to work a room and have time for the many people who wanted to meet him. In fact, given the number of people who wanted to be photographed with him, it is clear he is given rock star status by the learning community in the US.

This year, the theme was familiar, but the focus was on employee engagement and active questions. According to Goldsmith despite all the efforts in the last 10 years to improve employee engagement, in the US the level of engagement is at an all time low. (In the UK the latest CIPD  report would indicate we are in the same boat.) Why?

Well one reason Marshall identified is the type of question we ask in engagement surveys. These are passive questions such as ‘Do you know what is expected of you at work?’ or ‘At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?’ The issue is that these are passive questions and put the recipient in the “role of the victim” where the organisation has the power to control these aspects.

What’s missing is encouraging people to think about what they can do to take responsibility for a situation and asking active questions is one way to do this. So instead you might ask: ‘What did you do to make sure you did what was expected of you at work?’ and What do you do to make sure you do your best every day?

The shift in emphasis is immediate. Goldsmith wasn’t suggesting dropping passive questions altogether, but he was suggesting a more equal split in terms of questions and responsibility between the individual employee and the organisation.

As a coach, Goldsmith has also been experimenting with active questions and finding them equally powerful when used in peer coaches and executive coaching.

We’ve just launched our regular engagement survey at GoodPractice and I’ll certainly be asking a few active questions once we get the results.