7 min read/Published On: March 9, 2020/1341 words/

The Really Powerful Question…

Thanks, as always, to everyone who shared their feedback on the last post about CQC and measuring leadership behaviours. As I indicated last week, there’s a really powerful question which would save managers’ time AND empower staff at the same time. If you are a manager, senior or a team leader, then this week’s post is for you.

Firstly, just a quick bit of background: have you ever been right in the middle of something, possibly quite important, something possibly needing a bit of concentration and a member staff arrives at your office door (which is open, more about this in a second) and asks you a question or wants to share an issue or challenge?

Well, I have asked this question during Module two of Lead to Succeed, Developing Positive Culture many times and the answer is pretty much always a resounding YES, sometimes followed by “all the time”. Now, because module two is about culture, we talk about managers being approachable, leading by example and things like “Open Door Policy”, but sometimes that door needs to be closed and here’s why…

What is the impact when you get interrupted?

Whilst a good question, this isn’t the powerful one. According to a study carried out by the University of California in Irvine, one of the impacts is that it takes 23 minutes just to get back to where you were, in that state of concentration, in the flow of the task and that is assuming you actually get 23 minutes uninterrupted! One of the other things the interruption causes is stress and this is something we are going to look at in future posts. This is a link to the original research by Gloria Mark: https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf

So 23 minutes of wasted time, which is the one thing in my experience managers have very little of, plus a little extra stress thrown in for good measure, something none of us need any extra of!

So, this is why the question is a really powerful one, because it can have such a dramatic impact and I know because managers have shared their experience of using it. Next time you are deep into that piece of work, the rota, a safeguarding or working on the PIR and you get interrupted, give the really powerful question a try. Now, depending on your team and the personalities within it, you might want to let them know that you are going to do this in a team meeting first, so they aren’t too shocked when you do it, and they know why. However, you know your team best and how to implement any new strategies.

There are a couple of follow-up questions to really empower staff and we will come to those shortly, but the question itself goes like this:

“Do I need to know this now?”

Seven short words, so nice and easy to remember. There will be occasions where you really DO need to know and you need to know now and we still want staff to come and tell you in those situations – you know what they might be in your setting.

However, in almost all of the examples shared with me during module two, the member of staff either already knew what to do or should have known what to do and just wanted to, either:

“Check with the manager” OR get the manager to make the decision so they didn’t have to. Sound familiar?

So, the really powerful question once again is “Do I need to know this now?” and if you do that’s great, you now know and can deal with whatever the situation is. But, as I said just now, in almost all of the examples shared with me, the member of staff usually either knew what to do OR should have known what to do. Which is where the question becomes a way of empowering staff, because this is where it gets interesting….

There is a caveat here… In a domiciliary care setting where you don’t see staff from one day to the next, when they are in the office, you of course want to make sure they are supported and have the knowledge and skills they need to do their job safely and competently, so you might want to fast forward to the follow-up questions section.

If you don’t need to know it NOW!

The next step is to set the member of staff a time frame for when they can have the discussion with you. Something along the lines of:

“I am in the middle of the rota and expect to be finished in 30 minutes, can we discuss it in 30 minutes time?”


“Can we have this conversation in 40 minutes, when I have finished the medication round?” (We won’t talk about the impact of interruptions during medication in this post)

In a domiciliary care setting, if they telephoned in and you know they could deal with the situation, maybe it goes like this:

“Perhaps we can discuss this when you come into the office to collect your rota / drop off your timesheet?”

Essentially, set them a time frame for when they can have the conversation with you, you still have an open door policy, you are still there to support your staff, just on slightly different terms…

Measure how many members of staff actually come back in 30 minutes. See how many staff find the answer for themselves. See if you can identify how many staff find another way of dealing with the situation?

Hopefully, you can already see how this might positively impact on your time; however, in the long term, you will also see that staff start to realise that they DO know and can resolve situations themselves, which also impacts on the lives of the people they support.

Follow-up questions…

One manager shared with me that the first time he test drove the really powerful question; the member of staff was shocked, but immediately started sharing the issue anyway (the assumption being, of course, you need to know this now).

So the follow-up question he used, was “What have you already done about it?” and this was when the proverbial penny dropped that the manager did not need interrupting and they DID know what to do already. In some respects, they just needed “permission” to get stuck in.

Another follow-up question works like this: “What do you think we should do?” – a similar version being “What do you think the solution is?”

Using the follow-up questions does something very specific; it gets the member of staff thinking about the solution, rather than you. This means that any potential solution they think of has a greater chance of success, because they thought of it and therefore they will take ownership of it and see it through to fruition.

Secondly, if they come up with the solution, it has not distracted you from your task(s) nor has it required any of your time or resource and will give you something interesting to review in supervision as well.

Now if we circle back to the research at the beginning, we know that interruptions waste at least 23 minutes of your time and cause extra stress, so if you could reduce those interruptions and save some of those 23 minutes, who do you think it will impact? Clearly, it is you, but the implications are that it will impact everyone in the setting, including the people you support and the people providing that support.

But, let’s finish by thinking about our staff too. What is the impact for them? Will they take more responsibility, will they be more accountable for their actions? Will they be empowered as a result? Thinking back to Developing Positive Culture and module two of Lead to Succeed, would the really powerful question contribute to a positive, empowering culture? My experience tells me that it does.

Give it a whirl and let me know how you get on…

Related Posts