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Let employees find the answer

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

You’re a technical whiz. But one of the reasons you’ve climbed into the managerial ranks is not your advanced know-how; it’s your ability to lead people.

One of the best ways to lead is to ask questions that enable employees to draw their own conclusions. That’s better than telling them what you want them to think or do.

Steve Bachand served as chief executive of Canadian Tire from 1993 to 2000. During that time, he remodeled 350 of the retailer’s 430 stores to make them brighter and easier for shoppers. (Despite its name, Canadian Tire sells a range of goods from home improvement to consumer electronics.)

His investment in upgrading the stores probably saved the company. In 1994, both Wal-Mart and Home Depot entered Canada through acquisitions—ratcheting up competition for Canadian Tire.

To motivate employees to improve service, he asked each of them to address this question: What does being No. 1 with the customer mean for me?

Instead of regaling workers with his answer, Bachand listened to their answers. Some told him that being No. 1 meant improving the speed and operation of the stores’ checkout lines. Others defined great service as offering the right assortment of items at the right price.

Through both formal and informal conversations with employees, Bachand gathered their answers to this all-important question and drilled down until they identified steps to improve service. Then he gave staffers the go-ahead to make changes that would enhance customers’ experience in the stores.

As Bachand tells Robert Staub, author of The Heart of Leadership, “I work for them [employees]. It’s a heavy responsibility. That’s the most important thing that motivates me.”

Follow Bachand’s lead and rally employees around a central question. Let them answer—and act on their responses. They will feel flattered that you care, and everyone will feel vested in achieving great results.


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