Two Questions Rusty Rueff Asked Every Employee as CEO


While Rusty Rueff joined Relode's advisory board in early 2015, he only had the chance to meet our whole team last week. He flew into Nashville to spend a day with us.

We were about to bring our product to market, so Rueff's visit was timely, to say the least. He offered great insights and encouragement to our team and to our investors. Here's a picture from his trip:
 

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During his visit, Rusty shared general wisdom with the team, answered questions we had, and told stories from his life.

One story, though, stood out to me above the rest: When Rueff became CEO of SNOCAP in 2005, he decided asked every employee two important questions.

My thought was, Why doesn’t every CEO (or CHRO) ask all their employees those same questions? 

So my goal in writing this piece is to convince business leaders around the world to strengthen their company culture by asking two questions:

  1. What are your dreams for the company?
  2. What are your personal and professional dreams?

What are Your Dreams for the Company?

Rueff met with all the employees of SNOCAP one-on-one that first week.

As CEO.

First, when he met with each employee, he asked, “What are your dreams for the company?”

Every employee proves their working value by achieving goals for the company. That’s why their dreams for the company matter. You’ll be surprised, though, if you ask every one of your current employees their dreams for your company. They might differ from your dreams for the company. Need to align your team? Ask this question to start.

Even more, you can use this question during the hiring process to discern potential philosophical alignment (or misalignment) between the candidate and your team. This should almost never be a deal breaker when interviewing, but it can serve as another light to make up a candidate’s hiring "hologram," as Todd Wilson calls it.

Ask the question. Like this week.

Start with one employee in your department and ask, “What are your dreams for the company?” Then, try it with a new candidate. See what you learn and let me know what you learn.

What are your personal and professional dreams?

In the same meeting where he asked the first question, Rueff asked every one of his employees the second question: “What are your personal and professional dreams?”

Only Rueff could tell you the results at SNOCAP from asking this question.

In general, though, here’s what happens when you, CEO, ask your employees their personal and professional dreams:

  • You place the value on them,
  • You learn about their personality,

and...

Listening to someone face-to-face places value on your employees. They are validated and known. It’s all about relationships in business, and listening is a key component to cultivating healthy relationships.

Also, learning the personal and professional goals of your employees will help employee retention. Costs associated with losing an employee and hiring a replacement can reach upwards of 1.5-2x their annual salary, according to Deloitte’s Josh Bersin.

My suspicion is that employees are more likely to stay with the company if they believe they can realize their personal and professional dreams within the company. At least one recruiter I know says this is true from his eleven years recruiting nurses in Nashville.

If you know an employee’s personal and professional dreams (and they know that you know them), they are much more likely to envision a long-term future at your company. The small time you spend asking these two questions will pay dividends for years to come, and the ROI on your time may astound you over the course of your career.

Keep on Dreamin'

An old proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” While the phrase was originally written for a Semitic audience, it applies to business leadership today, as well.

As a leader, you have a vision. (If you don’t have vision, you're not really leading anyone.)

Your employees, too, have a vision. If the two visions—your vision and your employee’s vision—don’t align, you’re in a bad place as a team leader.

By sitting down and listening to their dreams, you can align employees with the direction of your company’s vision, whether you're getting current employees on board with your vision or on-boarding new hires within the company's vision. Truth is that you can't move anyone forward unless you know where they currently stand.

Talk about mission, vision, and values all you want (which is good), but until you listen to where your employees currently stand with regard to the future, until you listen to their dreams, you’ll never be able to lead them into the company dream. Also, you'll never see people flourish under your watch.

But sometimes, when a leader listens well, the vision of company and the dreams of the employee are realized at once.

The adage is true, “where there is no vision, the people perish." And I’d say the opposite is also true: Where there is vision, the people flourish.

That’s a vision worth asking about, so make sure to ask Rueff's two questions and watch people flourish. 


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Chad Harrington is Creative Content Director @relodetools. He's a student of all things hiring. Listen to his exclusive interviews on Relode's podcast and contact him at chad@relode.com.