6 Insanely Brilliant Questions That Boost Performance


By Sardek Love

Like many managers in his organization, Jim was experiencing herculean levels of pressure. Having worked with him before, I sensed that he was actually in tears as he described his request.

“Nineteen thousand membership cards were processed and mailed incorrectly. Our call centers were instantly overwhelmed, and it happened at the worst time. It’s our busy season, and our customer satisfaction has hit rock bottom—an all-time low. My team trained the employees who made the data entry errors leading to this large-scale catastrophe, and I’ve been given a mandate to fix my training program. So, I’ve gotta get my trainers some training as soon as possible. We have one day to do the training, and due to budget constraints, the training has to be delivered virtually.”

We can all empathize with Jim’s experience, can’t we? Imagine how his team must have been feeling.

Here I had his request—and an all-too-common response to requests for training is to simply comply and deliver training without conducting any form of a needs assessment of the performance gap.

When training professionals do that, the hissing sound you hear is the air slowly leaking out of the training team’s balloon of credibility.

“So, what’s the solution?” you ask.

I’ll frame it up this way. Like most training professionals, for years my prescribed solution to all performance gaps was to offer training. Early in my career, I simply didn’t know any better, and frankly neither did the training managers I worked for.

We were clueless. That’s not a criticism of them or of myself. It was just a harsh reality.

Frustrated by my inability to truly solve performance issues back then, I turned to mentors I had acquired from my membership in ATD, people like Joe Willmore and Dennis Mankin. I asked them for guidance in helping me figure this out. And the solution was revealed to me: I needed to enhance my skills and knowledge in performance consulting.

As Dana Robinson says, “Performance improvement is a solution-neutral approach.” It is a systematic approach that leads to a recommendation of an unbiased solution set.

Remember our distressed manager Jim?

One component of the performance consulting process focuses on identifying the potential influences (barriers and facilitators) of performance.

Despite his intense pressure to have me deliver a six-hour virtual training course (his prescribed solution), I asked these six insanely brilliant questions from the performance consulting process:

  1. How do workplace environment factors impede or enable performance?
  2. How does the training impede or enable performance?
  3. How does the recruiting process impede or enable performance?
  4. How do managers impede or enable performance?
  5. How does the job/role impede or enable strong personal motivation?
  6. How does technology enable or impede performance?

By asking Jim these six initial questions, I uncovered a great deal of information that ultimately enabled me to help him see that training, whether for his team or for the seasonal operations employees, was not the root cause of their performance gap.