In preparing for a new teaching assignment I developed a lecture re: the contribution of marketing to management or put another way a marketing approach to management. The actual catalyst came from my notes re: team building we did years ago. The team builders gave us an exercise to teach someone using only questions. So for example if you were to teach someone to swim you would only be able to ask questions and not use a demonstration or a step by step description. It’s a fantastic discipline and a great asset in becoming a better manager. You learn what is important to the recipient and what they need to learn how to swim.

Sir Francis Bacon wrote: “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom”. This is great advice for both marketers and managers. I’ve often felt a great marketer needed to learn to ask questions such as “Why?” By sticking to this question discipline a great deal can be learned in terms of a potential consumer’s selection of a product. A good marketer then simply needs to provide a solution or response to the “why” and the odds for purchase escalate dramatically. In advertising terms it means provide a benefit and the same can be said for management.

If as a manager you really want to assist someone to improve their performance including being a mentor ask the person questions as opposed to giving them directions or orders. The questions will enable you to determine if they need assistance, and if they do need assistance exactly what type of assistance they need.

Unsolicited advice is frequently rejected. However, advice that is requested has value to the recipient. Advice that is requested becomes a benefit to the recipient. In addition the process helps build the relationship between you as the manager and the employee. You will be perceived as someone who is there to help. The prudently asked question is the best means to allow your wisdom to be useful to someone you are managing and trying to grow.

The challenge is to walk away when no help or assistance is requested. As a comic would say “timing is everything”. The time to ask is when you perceive the employee could use some assistance from you.

The other key is where you ask the employee the question. I have found it far more effective to go to them and ask them at their office, desk or cubicle. Everyone is most comfortable in their habitat. Your office sends a different signal; your office indicates “I’m ordering you to ask for help”. By going to their office it becomes their choice, and the odds of your input being accepted and acted upon rise significantly.

Finally, questions are best asked in private. No one wants to be put on the spot or risk being seen as a poor performer if they feel they are being singled out. By keeping it private it reduces pressure on the employee.

If you want to improve as a manager use your marketing skills to improve your management skills. You benefit, but more importantly those reporting to you benefit. As Napoleon said:” “Why” and” How” are words so important they cannot be too often used”.