IF YOU want results, stop telling employees what to do and, instead, ask them thought-provoking questions.

It gets people thinking for themselves about possibilities and, when they come up with their own answers, they are energised and excited about implementing them.

A tremendous amount of brainpower is wasted every day because managers still think their job is to tell people what to do. But, in reality, workers know much more about the work they are doing than the boss does. Being told what to do can actually sap their motivation for the job.

The problem is that even if you do have a winning idea, your staff may still be resistant to it because the suggestion came from you. People often question and react negatively to ideas they didn't think of themselves.

On the other hand, when your team members come up with an idea themselves, it creates positive feelings that make them want to take action.

How to make that happen? People should be encouraged to focus their thinking by answering questions from their own experience. That will invariably make them come to a solution on their own.

Planning and organising the questions has a series of steps:

* Get permission. People may be too preoccupied to listen. Schedule a time when they are willing to pay attention.

* Describe the process. Tell people that you are going to ask them questions about what they are doing and make it clear they are expected to do the thinking and come up with their own conclusion.

* Start with the present. For instance: What are you stuck on? How long have you been thinking about this? That will identify the issue and get people focused on how much energy is being wasted spinning their wheels on the problem.

* Clarify their understanding. For instance: What have you done so far? What alternatives have you identified? Which do you think is the best alternative?

* Listen carefully. Restate what they have said in simple terms to clarify the insight. For instance: "I hear you saying that you would like to . . . Is that correct?"

* Stimulate action. An example question might be: "What is the most logical next step?" If more than one option is identified, ask further questions to help your staff decide which one to pursue.

The goal is for your team members to conclude: "I just decided what I need to do." At that point, because it is their idea, they will be committed to take action on it.

In asking, the focus should always be on finding a solution rather than identifying a problem. If you want to work with people who have no hope, you have to look like the solution and not the problem. Once thinking patterns are established, they are difficult to break, so little can be changed by asking: "Why isn't this working?"

Suggests a question like: "What do you need to do to make this work?" Or, "What do you want to do next?"

Because the brain is always making new connections, this will encourage the development of new habits and goals.

Once people get used to the approach, conversations will take only a few minutes before they have the insight they are looking for.

However, it is important to make employees comfortable with a question-based technique. Being questioned can scare people because they fear they are being evaluated on their answers. So it is vital that managers explain the goals to their team members and stress that they are not being judged.

How can you help employees gain problem-solving insights? Here are the kinds of questions to ask.

How clear is your thinking on this?

This might lead team members to analyse if enough time has been spent thinking about an issue.

What would your most desired outcome look like?

This helps to create a mental picture of the goal.

How will you know when you have been successful?

This helps people to visualise what completion would look like, and how satisfying it would be to do well.

How are you going to be accountable for this?

People often make promises they don't really intend to keep. Making a commitment to be accountable strengthens resolve.

What would need to happen for this to be an outrageous success?

This question gets people thinking in new ways, opening up possibilities for grander outcomes.

As a manager, your role should be to help your people think better. Don't tell them what to do.