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  • Ask High-Value Questions to Accelerate Performance Improvement

Ultimately, teachers, trainers, coaches and mentors all share one common goal: performance improvement. Sometimes, the specific aim is to teach a straightforward new skill, like how to take an order over the phone. Other times, trainers and coaches are cultivating and refining a more complex set of behaviors that culminate in a desired outcome, like initiating a relationship with a prospect and working through the entire process of making a sale. Either way, questions are a trainer’s greatest fuel for the learning process. As people transition from a learning mode into a performance mode, asking the right questions becomes even more important, and high-value questions have the greatest impact on performance improvement and optimization.

High-value questions create the opportunity for meta-cognitive learning. They invite people to think about their own thinking, behavior and learning in an evaluative way, with an eye on improving future performance. These questions help people make the shift between the training room and the real world by encouraging them to take ownership of their learning rather than relying on someone else to tell them what they need to know and do. Performance review and performance preparation create optimal opportunities for trainers, coaches and mentors to ask high-value questions that spur learning and growth.

Performance Review

“How did I do?” is a typical question for learners to ask their trainers and coaches. The temptation to provide evaluative feedback is strong, but here is where asking high-value questions can be powerful. These questions can create a path for self-evaluation that will serve the learner well, not only in the moment but for the long term.

  • How do you think you did?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • What went well, and why? (People typically want to focus more on what went wrong. Thinking about what went well and how to repeat it or transfer its underlying principles next time can help ensure strong future performance.)
  • What did not go so well, and why?
  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • What will you do differently in the future to improve your performance? Why?

By the time a person progresses through these questions, there may be little a teacher or trainer has to add, and that’s the point! The questions allow the individual to assess his or her own performance more independently, which is exactly what will need to happen when training ends.

The best thing the trainer can do at this point is to focus the learner on the one or two most important pieces. The learner might identify six or seven things to do differently, and the trainer might notice a couple more. When the trainer helps the learner focus on the one or two most important opportunities for improvement, the learner will make greater progress, and his or her performance will improve more quickly.

Performance Preparation

It’s easy to overlook this opportunity to improve performance, but especially in the early stages of acquiring a new skill, preparation is an important step in performance optimization. Again, there is a strong temptation to tell people what to remember and do. Asking these high-value questions will result in greater learning for the individual:

  • What are your desired outcomes? Why?
  • How will you know if you achieve your goal?
  • What’s your plan of action?
  • How likely is it that your plan of action will achieve your desired outcomes? Why?
  • What concerns you? Why?
  • What excites you? Why?

Progressing through these questions gives people a roadmap for beginning with the end in mind. This can optimize their performance not only for the specific skill they are learning at the time but also for a wide array of tasks that can help them be successful in the future.

Asking Isn’t Enough

Asking these kinds of high-value questions at critical times will certainly enhance people’s performance, but asking them isn’t enough. The best trainers, coaches and mentors listen actively for how they can tailor their approaches to the strengths, needs and styles of individual learners. They also have these two high-value questions in their back pockets, ready to apply at any time:

  • Tell me more about that.
  • How can I help?

When high-value questions become fully incorporated into training protocols, trainers and coaches tap into the wisdom and motivation of each person to optimize his or her own performance and growth.

Kim Turnage is a senior leadership consultant at Talent Plus, Inc. and co-author of “Managing to Make a Difference.” Larry Sternberg is the former president of Talent Plus Inc., expert in The Science of Talent® and co-author of “Managing to Make a Difference.” Sternberg and Turnage co-host “Managing to Make a Difference,” a weekly podcast based on the book offering practical tools and exercises to become a manager focused on making a positive difference in employees’ lives.

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