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CEOs: Ask these 4 questions rather than buy a ping-pong table for your office

Ultimately, there are two things that employees care about: their own future, and the company’s future.

CEOs: Ask these 4 questions rather than buy a ping-pong table for your office
[Photo: TomasSereda/iStock]

A lot of my fellow tech CEOs attempt to inspire employee engagement by creating a fun work environment. You know what I’m talking about: endless snacks, ping-pong tables, on-site gyms, and bike repair shops. Don’t get me wrong–all of these amenities are super neat–but I can’t say that I’ve had an employee quit because no one filled the jar of Peanut Butter M&Ms for a couple of days.

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Ultimately, I’ve found that there are two things that employees really care about: their future and the company’s future–in that order. The perks I describe above are just a bonus.

The thing is, creating a great work environment takes time and effort. So if you’re a CEO who wants to make your workplace better, don’t just buy your employees a ping-pong table. Ask these questions:

1. Does every single employee understand where the company is heading?

C-suite leaders talk about the future of the company all the time. In fact, sometimes, we talk about it so much that we forget the rest of our workforce isn’t privy to these discussions. According to Gallup, only 41% of employees understand their company’s overall direction.

That’s not high enough. Every single employee in your organization should have a clear view of where the company is heading and what objectives matter most to the business. To help your your employees understand the future and vision of the company, do the following:

  • Schedule a regular cadence of all-hands meetings to talk about the future, important objectives, significant changes, and (most importantly) why the company made the decisions they did or implemented those changes.
  • Show employees how the company is structured and why. For this exercise, visual is best.
  • Encourage collaboration and honesty by allowing employees to ask anonymous questions during all-hands meetings. You can have employees submit questions beforehand or use a forum-like tool where they can post comments and questions in real time.
  • Repeat yourself. Marketing expert Dr. Jeffrey Lant formulated the “Rule of Seven,” which states that messages don’t resonate until they’re repeated seven times over an 18-month period.
  • Following the meeting, distribute a summary or slide deck to all employees.

2. Do employees understand how their work contributes to larger objectives?

It’s not enough for employees to understand where the company is headed; they must also know where their work fits in the bigger picture. Most people aren’t satisfied with clocking in, completing tasks, and clocking out. And according to a survey by Harris Interactive and Franklin Covey Co., 80% of workers have no clear line of sight between their tasks and organizational goals.

Make sure your employees know that their work matters by ensuring that each person on your team clearly understands the company vision and objectives. Set goals with your team that align with them, and make sure to share your progress along the way.

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Give everyone access to a real-time org chart, and use this as a tool to communicate who is responsible for what and how they fit into the bigger picture of the organization. It’s important to talk about this often, especially when things change.

3. Do my employees feel valued?

Even after employees have a clear vision of the future and understand how their work contributes to overall objectives, you still need to manifest an environment where they feel engaged and motivated. A Harvard Business Review study revealed that 72% of respondents said that recognizing high performers has a significant impact on employee engagement.

To help your employees feel valued, train the managers in your company to give feedback on one-on-one meetings with direct reports. Don’t wait for quarterly performance reviews to deliver praise or constructive criticism. If your feedback is not so positive, make sure that it’s specific and actionable. As much as you can, give them the tools and support to improve. Encourage your executives to stop and comment on an employee’s work from time to time. A small comment from a member of the executive team can go a long way.

4. Are you setting your employees up for a thriving future?

A company can implement all of the tips above, yet an employee might still become disengaged. That’s because, frequently, what matters most to the employee is their own development and growth. This is why it’s critical to understand what your employees care about. If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, start asking your employees about their goals and how you can help them succeed–not only in their current position, but in future jobs as well. Here are the questions I ask my employees:

  • “What do you want to do after this job?” I ask this as early as the job interview because it helps me understand the person’s goals and if/how our company can help him or her achieve them
  • “What can I do right now to make progress towards the next step in your career?”
  • “What training, workshops, or programs are you interested in?”

It might be uncomfortable to discuss life after your company with your employees. This is a conversation best handled one-on-one between manager and employee, but make sure that this conversation starts between you and your executive team. Encourage your executives to have these types of talks with their direct reports, who should in turn discuss with their subordinates, and so on.

You will be surprised by what comes out of these conversations. Not only will you and your employees be more on the same page, but they will be more engaged at work because they know you have their back when it comes to their long term career goals.

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When leaders are communicative and transparent about the direction of the company, how the contributions of individual teams fit into the bigger picture, and how they can prepare employees for their next step, employees feel valued, connected, engaged, and are much more likely to bring their best self to work.


Bill Boebel is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of Pingboard–org chart software rebuilt for today’s modern workforce. He previously was CTO of Rackspace Email and cofounded Webmail, the largest business-grade email hosting company at the time.

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