The POWER of asking the right questions… that will unlock employee’s potential. 

The POWER of asking the right questions… that will unlock employee’s potential. .

by Howard Greenwood, 6th May 2022

Asking the right questions will lead to the answers that will unlock an employee’s potential in reviews.


  1. What most managers do now!
  2. Managing V Coaching.
  3. Questions you should be asking.
  4. Things to avoid.


Most managers, by default, tend to tell and instruct rather than coach, but why?

It is easier for the manager to give instruction and tell their employees what to do rather than engage by investing time in coaching.

Sometimes it is easier for a manager to take the task away from the employee, complete it themselves and present it back to the employee. Managers, especially new managers, tend to think that this form of management is helpful when, in fact, it creates the following:

  • A lack of understanding of the employees’ capabilities leads to frustration and a lack of autonomy that most employees crave.
  • It doesn’t address the employee’s gaps (weakness), and therefore little learning or no takes place.
  • It creates a bottleneck in the work process, as the manager has increased their workload by completing the tasks they have taken on from their team. Managers tend to think their actions are time-saving when slowing the process down.
  • It creates an environment that lacks trust and support, where employees feel it is acceptable to submit substandard work, knowing their manager will correct it. Again leads to frustration, the manager thinking the employee is incompetent, and the employee feels unloved and nurtured.

By merely telling and not asking questions, let alone the right questions, managers unwittingly are stunting their employees’ growth and creativity. Managers need to inspire and motivate their employees to grow. They can get to the heart of the matter by asking the right questions and become the catalyst that releases the employees’ potential rather than the blocker.

Knowing the right answers is not enough for a manager to succeed and create a high-performing team! Knowing the right questions to ask an employee is a must!

Asking the right questions is critical. It enables the manager to create an environment of learning where employees are challenged to come up with the answers, right or wrong, allowing the manager to identify the gaps and nurture a learning environment for their employees to blossom.

By managing by instruction and not asking the right questions, managers fail to identify the gaps in their teams, blocking progress.

Managers who tell fail to create environments where free-thinking and learning take place.

To create great managers, they need to challenge the norm rather than work in the traditional “telling” style of management; they need to throw off the shackles and become coaches to their employees.


We have all seen the infographics on this topic;

Managers who evaluate skills, ask how and when identifying weaknesses, monitor performance, tell etc. Verses the Coach who develops skills, ask what and why develops skills and elevates performance, so why don’t more companies expand their managers’ capabilities by teaching them how to coach?

Managers are in a position of power/influence and focus on their agenda. The relationship between the two parties is usually one of convenience, tipped in favour of the manager.

Managers focus on performance and tend to prescribe compulsory processes with little or no knowledge of their employees’ real motivators both in and outside of work.

Coaches support and tend to see the bigger picture facing the employee both inside and outside of work. The coach listens, at the employees’ convenience to their needs. Coaches get to know and understand the employees’ motivators both inside and outside of work.

The coach looks to create an environment where the employee feels their needs are at the heart of their development.

There are many skills that both the manager and the coach require to succeed, such as active listening, questioning skills, training skills etc. however, both parties have a polar opposite implementation strategy of these skills where the employee is concerned.

Hence, employees leave managers, but you never hear that said of coaches!

Coaching should be a primary tool in all managers’ skillset to counterbalance the more directive part of the role against the nurturing and personal development side of coaching.

Poor managers are high on the directive end of management, whereas coaches are at the other end of the management spectrum.

Coaches motivate rather than command. They inspire people to be the best they can be. In general, they support and create a motivational environment which is safe and inspiring to employees.

Managers control and seldom delegate. They drive employees to perform. They create a pressured environment, which often leads to disengaged employees and a culture of distrust.

Every manager needs to be a great coach to succeed at the highest level, whereas a great coach doesn’t need to be a great manager to achieve great results.

Great coaches are found helping employees at deskside, in reviews, over lunch, inside and, more importantly, outside of work.

Great coaches know what motivates their employees professionally and personally and how to use this knowledge to get the best out of each individual. Great coaches teach, develop and delegate success to the employee.

Great coaches do this by asking the right questions, not telling and instructing.


It is not as simple as just asking questions; it is about finding the right questions to ask. Once you know the right questions to ask, you will get more fore-filling answers, enabling the coach to develop and motivate each employee individually.

All employees crave autonomy; they want to feel in charge of their future, their destiny.

Asking the right questions creates self-development, a greater sense of achievement, and increases confidence, trust and belonging by understanding the employees’ “why”, their purpose. Coaches can motivate an employee at a deeper level and for longer.

Everyone has problems, either manifesting in personal failure or limiting beliefs! A coach will help turn failure into a learning experience and address the most limiting beliefs.

Fear can often cloud an employee’s potential. By asking the right questions, a coach can bring clarity to a problem releasing the employee from their fear or limiting belief to perform at a higher level.

The questions that great coaches ask are not just your simple Open and Closed questions.

They understand the power of the question lies in the subject matter, which sometimes, like an onion, needs peeling away by many preliminary questions to get the heart of the matter.

What should great questions do?

They challenge conventional thinking, create a better understanding, release the knowledge already known, create learning, and develop a deeper understanding of potential and capabilities. They highlight strengths and gaps in learning.

Great coaches listen to learn and then ask questions. Some questions will be pre-planned to gain the desired answer, but the random questions, usually subject-related unearthed during reviews or meetings, are the ones that create the best solutions, delivering the most significant learning opportunities.

These questions should not be in the form of an interrogation! They can be fun, humourous, and serious at the same time. They should be challenging and help create energy between both parties.

The types of questions coaches ask, take on many different disguises.

  • Open Questions – Who, What, Why, Where, When & How
  • Closed Questions – Only yes and no answers
  • Probing Questions
  • Hypothetical Questions
  • Past Tense Questions
  • Mirroring Questions

The following questions will help you during reviews and meetings with individuals and teams; however, the most important question you can ask is the simplest.

After each Open, Probing, Hypothetical, Past Tense question etc., to gain more information, you have to ask, “tell me more“.

“Tell me more” will take you below the surface answers. It demonstrates that you are interested in finding out more and want to have a deep understanding. All managers need to have intellectual honesty, seek the truth, be honest, and be truthful when responding to an employee’s issues.

Managers tend to ask surface questions and take the answers at face value, whereas a coach will always look for more information to ensure they have the correct information on which to act.

Their humility and self-awareness of their knowledge are on display. If the coach doesn’t know the answers, they will say so and either go away and find the answer or work diligently with the employee collaboratively to find the right solution.

Review Questions:

In all reviews and one to one meetings, coaches understand that engagement is about the development of the employee, where the manager reviews the facts; therefore, the first questions a great coaches asking are:

How are you today? – shows genuine interest.

What’s on your mind? – Shows empathy.

TELL ME MORE? Should be asked after almost every question.

Once the ice is broken, and sometimes coaches don’t get beyond the opening questions because the situation doesn’t dictate, the employee has more significant issues to be dealt with immediately. Coaches care about their people.

What are you looking to get out of this review/meeting? Sets the tone of the discussion and shows genuine interest.

What would be the most successful outcome of this meeting for you? Gives the coach goals to ensure the employees feel they have their best interests at heart.

Why is it important to you that you achieve these outcomes/changes? This question should help link the employees’ motivator and allows the coach to connect them with the business’s values and mission. It is the start of creating a learning experience.

TELL ME MORE? Should be asked after almost every question.

Once the coach has established the employees’ needs, they will review their successes and challenges since their last discussion.

Managers dictate the flow of the review, where they review the employee, coaches ensure the employees feel like it is their review, and they are in charge of the direction. Coaches will cover the same ground as a manager but allow the employee to dictate the flow.

What is the most significant success you have achieved? Start positive.

How did this make you feel? What did this mean to the employee? A great coach will link this to the employees’ goals and motivators.

How can you improve this process? Look to build on a strength.

What has been your biggest challenge? Look for the gaps in the employees’ skill base.

How did this make you feel? What did this mean to the employee? A great coach will look for blockers stopping the employee from performing. This could be the process, the market, mindset, or the manager, but not exclusive to these.

When did you identify you were not succeeding? Look for understanding.

How did you try to change this to succeed? Great coaches look for cries for help, signs of self-development, and signposts that this is happening. To grow and develop this question will help the coach identify patterns in the future so that they, and the employee, can address it earlier to prevent them from happening again.

How can you improve this process? Look at the existing knowledge to build upon; a great coach will engage the employee in a learning experience, setting a training and personal development date. The review is time to pass comments to help the employee see the bridge to their knowledge gap, not to train. Coaches ignite the passion for development, demonstrating how this change will help link it back to the employee’s goals and motivators. Coaches look for potential issues in the process, do other employees fail here, can the process be improved, making the employees, clients, and candidates’ engagement with the business better, faster, and more profitable. Managers tend never to question the process, only the employees’ skills!

TELL ME MORE? Should be asked after almost every question.

Managers and Coaches review performance based on the quantifiable data. Managers look at the past and dig deep into why.

Coaches understand there is a lot to be learned from the past but understand they cannot change it; therefore, they focus on developing the future and learning from the past lesson.

Once they know the lessons from the past and how in the future they and the employee can change these, they look for commitment, which both agree will improve the future.

What are the three steps you are going to do immediately after this review? Look for a commitment to change.

What are you going to stop doing? Be specific, and discuss the features, advantages and benefits of stopping.

What are you going to start doing? Be specific, and discuss the features, advantages and benefits of starting.

What are the top 3 things you are committing to achieve? Be specific, and discuss the features, advantages and benefits of achieving these goals.

TELL ME MORE? Should be asked after almost every question.

Once a coach and the employee have agreed on the development plan for the next period, a coach will lay out how they can help, ensure what each party is doing, creating mutual accountability. By linking the actions to the employees’ personal and business goals, the coach inspires the employee to drive towards their goals, whereas a manager focuses purely on the target ahead.

How can I help you achieve these? A great coach will set goals for themselves to perform to help develop the employee.

To achieve your goals, what do we need to do? Personal and business goals are linked to the employee’s own purpose, their why. Personal goals are important motivators to an employee. The coach helps the employee achieve their business goals, which will enable the employee to focus on their personal goals, creating a work-life balance. A great manager will always have in mind that things outside of work can significantly impact what goes on inside work and visa-versa. The coach strives to understand the happiness advantage, if the employee is happy both inside and outside of work, they are more likely to be more productive, take ten times fewer sick days, and stay longer with their employer.

What can we do together to help you progress towards your biggest goal? Be specific; this goal could be personal or business; however, it should be the employee’s primary goal, what is most important to them, unique!

Once you have achieved this goal, what next? Link this to the employees’ long-term goals and plans

TELL ME MORE? Should be asked after almost every question.

What has been the most significant benefit of our discussion? Managers look for excuses. Coaches listen to the answer to motivate the employee to succeed beyond their expectations.

How have I performed in managing you? Listen hard, learn, do not make excuses, and look for solutions to develop with the employee. Asking how you have performed and listening to understand is all about creating trust and delivering on your promises as a manager. This is the biggest learning curve any manager can go on. Your employees’ perception is the reality to them. The managers/coaches’ perception of themselves is not a barometer of their skills and success. It is the employees’ perception that is.

In my recap of our meeting, is there anything I have missed that is important to you, no matter how large or small? Coaches will look for agreement, record everything, and make sure it is measurable and timebound while also making personal and in the present tense and not close the meeting until an agreement is reached.

TELL ME MORE? Should be asked after almost every question. 


Getting an employee to solve their problems is an art. Great coaches frame their questions to start a voyage of discovery, igniting the employees’ ambitions by asking questions that ask the employees questions of themselves, exploring what they already know and what they need to know.

Great managers frame a question so that employees feel they have come up with the answers and the great manager then helps them expand their solution.

A manager would ask:

Have you thought that having a more defined salary and benefits package would better your job specification? 

A coach would ask:

What three things could you improve on when taking a job specification to give the candidate a clear understanding of the role they are applying to?  This question might lead to areas the employee is struggling with; it will definitely lead to a discussion on more than one area where a coach can advise and, if required, guide the employee to the area that coach wants the employee to improve.

Managers tend to want to fill every minute of the review with questions and answers. The manager listens for silence to ask their next questions rather than listening for a gap to think about the right question to ask and how it should be framed.

Sticking to the topic and not confusing the employee is vital. Managers tend to jump from one topic to another, not listening to or expanding on the answers given. They are in a rush to get to the end of the review, back to their activities, which please them best.

Manager: Why did you put that CV across without confirming the rate?

Employee: I thought the candidate would expect the rate?

Manager: You need to confirm the rate. What happened to the 10 interviews you promised me?

Employee: I managed 8 interviews this week. I struggled with the KPI as I was on client meeting for two days.

Manager: No one else hit it either. You must hit them next week!

Coaches will frame their questions, pause after the employees answer to think about what has been said and respond by advising and coaching.

Coach: You sent several CVs across this week to clients that led to an issue. Can you tell me how you could improve the CVs you sent?

Employee: I had an issue with the candidates not accepting the rate offered, which I thought I had covered.

Coach: Great, so you see then potential issue. Now how can you improve this process so it never happens again?

Employee: I need to confirm the rate that the candidate will definitely accept before submitting the CV. If not, I should not submit the candidate.

Coach: That’s a great answer, and by doing so, you will improve your CV:Intv:offer ratio, reducing the client’s time to recruit by speeding up the process and not having candidates in the mix that will never do the role. 

Based on the initial answer, the second question allows the coach to develop the employees’ skills and not merely dismiss a simple issue and move on.

Managers like to interrupt and use assumptions rather than listen to the issues at hand and frame questions that will help the employee discover the answers and become open to coaching and development.

Employee: I am struggling to get all my work done during the working day?

Manager: Have you considered starting earlier or working later!

Employee: I work as many hours as I can but cannot balance work and home!

Manager: You are going to have to learn. This is recruitment.

Employee: I am struggling to get all my work done during the working day?

Coach: What are you struggling with?

Employee: I am struggling to send out the number of CVs required and do the number of client visits needed to generate the work to hit my target!

Coach: You are not far off your target. What could you change that will help?

Employee: I am not sure I am struggling

Coach: Tell me more. I am confident together. We can get a working solution for you. 

All in all, coaches “feel” the pain their employees are going through. They use their coaching skills to help explore the issue rather than judge the outcome.

Manager: Why did you miss your CV target this week?

Coach: What happened this week to your CV target?

Manager: Why were late this morning?

Coach: Did anything happen this morning on the way to work?

Manager: Why have not put that information on the CRM yet?

Coach: When will that information be on the CRM?

As a coach/manager/coach you have to understand the ripple effect of every question you ask. Does it create a negative or a positive ripple? How does it make the employee feel about themselves, the role and you, the manager?

Your employees are your most valuable asset, yet we treat them as a suspect rather than a prospect in reviews.

If managers identified their employees as prospects and employees viewed their managers as a prospect, both parties would benefit from the relationship.

However, once either party sees the other as a suspect, no one benefits and learning and development become impossible.

By learning to coach your employees, you will become a better manager. Learning to coach should be every manager’s priority. Every business needs to teach its managers to coach and create an environment of learning and developing where all parties feel happy to engage.

So are you a Manager or a Coach? Here at Jump Advisory, we teach people how to coach to make them better managers and stronger leaders. Drop me a line to find out how.

More Insights.

Clients are buying services, just not yours; why?

Clients are buying services, just not yours; why?

17th April 2024


12th April 2024
How to Grow Revenue and Profitability Even if You Can’t Find Recruitment Consultant Talent.

How to Grow Revenue and Profitability Even if You Can’t Find Recruitment Consultant Talent.

10th April 2024