trust but verify - leader as coach

When discussing managing staff, processes, and workflow, we often use the term “Trust but Verify,” made famous by President Ronald Reagan. Recently, within the Buffalo Niagara Partnership Executive Exchange, we had a lively discussion about doing this!

Trust but Verify – requires you to follow-up

As a manager, you follow up for two reasons:

  1. People are doing what they are supposed to be doing; the purpose of follow-up is to maintain performance by:
    • Providing feedback
    • Reinforcing good performance (talk to them and let them know that their good work is noticed)
  1. People are not doing what they are supposed to be doing; the purpose of follow-up is to improve performance by asking, “How can I help?”
    • Giving feedback and providing clarity on what the goal is.
    • Find out why it’s happening.
    • Removing obstacles
    • Letting them know priorities
    • Removing negative consequences for good performance
    • Removing positive consequences for poor performance
    • Working around personal problems
    • Teaching them what you thought they knew but didn’t
    • Delivering negative consequences for poor performance.

– The above is from Ferdinand Fournies ‘Coaching for Improved Work Performance’

Trust but Verify – requires you to ask questions

The Five Questions below serve as a framework, like a skeleton key within your management toolbox.

This question-based management works with almost every employee in most situations.

The questions support the Trust but Verify the idea and support the learning and development of the employee and you through coaching and feedback.

Five Questions Skeleton-Key

In a meeting or when you see the person, you can ask these questions, ask them in order, let the person respond, and avoid the temptation to give directives. The questions are the key to verification and trust.

  1. What is the improvement or target condition? 
  2. What is the actual condition right now?
  3. What are the obstacles you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which one are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step? What do you expect to learn from that step?
  5. When can we meet again and go and see what you learned from taking that step?
  • Questions are from Toyota Kata by Mike Rother

Using follow-up and coaching questions will develop your skills as a manager, the employee skills as a problem solver and support communication plus learning within the organization. As you use the questions more and more, you will learn more about operations and areas for improvement.