The ‘innerview’: A tool for employee engagement

It's been documented in study after study that the single greatest factor leading to engaged, motivated people in today’s workplace is the relationship a worker has with his/her supervisor. That’s what the research shows. So if you are one of those supervisors, how do you get your people engaged?

There are many, many answers to this question. Rather than go through that litany, you might find it helpful to look at a tool that we present as part of one of our training programs. That tool is doing an “innerview” with your people to get to know them at a deeper, more personal level. Many leaders find that having a deeper connection with their team enhances their ability to create an environment of engagement and commitment instead of mere compliance. Conducting an innerview is a proven method of deepening a leader’s connection with his/her people through a casual conversation. The basic structure presented below is not intended for an employee interview. It is intended to address stronger relationships between leaders and their people. There are three types of questions that can serve as a guide:

Factual questions

These are questions that are typically conversational in nature and revolve around factual information. The answers to these questions are occasionally found in personnel files. Examples of factual questions are:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • What kind of activities were you involved in as a kid?
  • Tell me about your first job.
  • What were your interests in school?
  • Tell me about your family.
  • What do you do for fun?

Causative questions

These are questions to determine the motives or causative factors behind some of the answers to the causative questions. They are typically “why” and “what” questions. Examples of causative questions are:

  • Why did you pick that particular school?
  • What caused you to study                      ?
  • What brought you to your current job?
  • What direction did you go in right after high school?
  • How did you get involved in that hobby?

Values-based questions

These are questions to help connect with a person’s values system. They are designed to help a leader hear the worth his/her people place on things. They are also questions that people rarely ask, but give a greater view of the inner person. Examples of values-based questions are:

  • Tell me about a person who had a major impact on your life.
  • If you had to do it all over again what, if anything, would you do differently?
  • If there were a major turning point in your life what might that be?
  • There are many highs and lows as you go through life. Are there any of either that had a significant influence on you?
  • What words of wisdom would you give a young person if he/she sought your advice?
  • How would you sum up your personal philosophy in a sentence or two?



We have found that this conversational process leads to stronger common ground and a much better sense of common values. It can also be a critical tool when dealing with tough issues. Here is a story from a training program that took place shortly after a manager was exposed to the innerview process.

She was a customer service manager in a fairly large organization. One of her (formerly) best customer service representatives was on a slow slide to losing her job. Several customer complaints had come in and a couple of major customer relationships were in jeopardy, as well. The rep had written warnings in her file and a set of goals that were not being met. This former star was one step away from unemployment.

The manager decided that the innerview would be a good tool to dig deeper. She ultimately discovered that the rep was in an abusive relationship and that her personal life was in tatters. Armed with this knowledge, the manager set up a plan to get the rep into the company’s employee assistance program. The final result is that a 20-year, seasoned veteran customer service representative is still with the company and doing better than ever.

I realize that this is an extreme example. At the same time, it does demonstrate the power of leaders knowing their people as individuals, not just cogs in the machine.

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