What Do You Think?

Kelsey CreehanFeatured News

By David Hess
From the Spring/Summer 2020 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

“The greatest compliment was paid to me today,” Henry David Thoreau once wrote. “Someone asked me what I thought and actually attended to my answer.” He said this surprised and delighted him as it is so rare. Why did this delight Thoreau? Why is the question, “What do you think?” so powerful?

Here are three reasons why you should make the question, “What do you think?” a vital part of your business.

You Matter to Me
“People crave attention and appreciation more than they do bread,” claimed Mother Teresa. Yet employees continue to be treated as objects, sometimes even like mere cogs in a machine. The percent of engaged employees in the U.S. stands at 35%, according to a report released by the Gallup Organization on Feb. 6, 2020; 52% are “not engaged,” and the other 13% are “actively disengaged.” While 35% engagement is the highest it has ever been since Gallup began tracking this metric in 2000, it’s still dismal. Only one in five, Gallup reports, say their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

A key component of employee engagement, Gallup has determined, is “do employee opinions seem to count at work?” Only 30% of employees strongly agree with this statement. In other words, the question, “What do you think?” is not being asked and attended to by most employers. Asking this simple question and then carefully listening to the answer pays big dividends toward increasing employee engagement. According to the Gallup organization, “team members with higher levels of engagement:

  • produce substantially better outcomes
  • treat customers better and attract new ones
  • are more likely to remain with their organization than those who are less engaged.”

Try it. Try asking your employees, one-on-one, “What do you think about _______?” and find out for yourself what a potent, powerful question this can be. But only if you are also willing to carefully and attentively, attend to the answers.

There Are Important Things I Need to Learn from You
I recently read a book entitled, “One Giant Leap” by Charles Fishman. It is about the amazing feat of landing men on the moon on July 20, 1969. That day is etched in my memory as I sat in front of the TV and heard those amazing words, “The Eagle has landed.” I watched in awe as a few hours later the astronauts emerged from their spacecraft and walked on the moon.

What I didn’t know that I learned from the book, was the immense, collaborative effort this feat required. At its peak, some 410,000 engineers were working on the project, all charged with the task of asking and answering the right questions that would ensure success of the mission. For example, how were they going to actually land on the moon? The initial plans were “to just build a big rocket and stack it up and send it all to the moon,” said Roger Launius, a former NASA chief historian. However, one of the 410,000 engineers questioned as to whether that approach would actually work and thus the design of the lunar module was born. The successful achievement of getting a man to the moon and back safely by the end of the 1960s was a monument to the power of employee engagement and collaboration.

What does this mean for your business? Your employees are the best consultants you could ever have. They are often much smarter than employers realize and they frequently see and hear things that employers never see or hear. As a result, employees have important things to share with you that could be vital to your business operations. Businesses that regularly ask employees “What do you think?” gain a significant competitive advantage over businesses that fail, for whatever reason, to raise the question. Asking this question of your employees will not only help increase employee engagement, it will also provide the owners much insight into operating and growing the business. Try it and then carefully attend to the flood of answers.

It Is Vital to Help Employees Discover Answers on Their Own
Finally, when an employee comes to you with a problem or an issue, rarely should you provide an answer. Resist mightily the urge to always be right—because you are not. The better solution is to turn it back to the employee with the question, “What do you think?”  The growth you will see as your employees struggle to find answers to questions will be amazing. If you, as the owner, answer those questions for your employees, you deprive them of a great opportunity to learn things for themselves. Your job as the owner is not to have all the answers. Your job is to help your employees grow and develop. Asking “What do you think?” questions and allowing them to discover their own answers is an integral part of that process.

Do you want to surprise and delight your employees and propel your business forward?  Try asking your employees, one-on-one, “What do you think?” questions and see what happens.  


David Hess has spent the last 25 years of his career as the owner of an accounting practice focusing on dental practices located in Colorado. Contact him at dhess2@gmail.com.