How to Customize Your Management Approach with 6 Key Questions

The more you can tune in to the individual wants, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of each individual, the better you are able to guide and support them as a manager.

In many ways, customization is the holy grail of effective management today. The more you can tune in to the individual wants, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of each individual, the better you are able to guide and support them as a manager.

The only way to learn what really works with each employee? Get in there and start managing. Those regular, ongoing one-on-one conversations are the path inside. When you start having individual meetings with each person, the differences between your employees will jump right out at you. As you talk with each person face-to-face, try to tune in to that person and adjust your approach this way and that, just as you adjust the tuner on a radio.

The best way to keep fine-tuning your approach to each person is to continually ask yourself six key questions about each employee:

1. Who is this person at work?

Don’t worry: You don’t need to ask yourself who this person is deep inside. In fact, you shouldn’t try. You are not qualified to do so, unless you happen to be a trained counselor. Focus on figuring out the “self” this employee brings to work. That will be plenty.

Assess this person’s basic strengths and weaknesses as an employee. Consider their tasks and responsibilities. What is the nature of the work they handle? Assess their performance record. Think about their work background and likely career future.

2. Why do I need to manage this person?

The key to answering this question is to have a clear understanding of your goals for managing each person and what you need from them. Do you need this person to do more work? Better work? Faster work? To change some behavior? With some people, if you don’t talk to them every day about their to-do list, they might not do very much work. With others, if you don’t talk through with them exactly how to do a particular task, they might do it wrong. With one employee, if you don’t point out shortcuts, they will take too long to complete a task.

Whatever your reasons for managing employees, don’t make the mistake of thinking some are so talented, skilled, and motivated that you don’t need to manage them at all. Even superstars must be managed.

3. What do I need to talk about with this person?

Of course, you need to talk about the work with every employee. But what details should you focus on with each person? Should you talk to them about big picture strategy, or go over their to-do list for the day? Should you review standard procedures for each task or talk about ways to be creative with those tasks? What you talk about with any employee, ultimately, should be determined by what you want that employee to do in the immediate future.

4. How should I talk with this person?

Some employees respond best if you ask questions. Others prefer that you just take the lead and do most of the talking. Some employees respond best if you take an even-measured tone and stick to the facts alone—the auditor style. Some respond best if you walk with a bit more feeling—somewhat like an older sibling.

Keep in mind that what motivates each person is different, too. Some employees are enthusiasts and you need to tap into that enthusiasm. Others crave inspiration. Some employees seek approval. Some throw their whole identity into work and work into their identity.

How you manage is partly a matter of tone and style. Of course, you don’t want to try too hard at a style that doesn’t fit you. Nor are you looking for a tone and style that makes the employee comfortable or makes you comfortable. Comfort is not the issue here. You are looking for the right tone and style to motivate each employee best and get your point across.

5. Where should I talk with this person?

Whether it’s your office or some other obvious place to meet, it’s best to choose a place that works and then make a habit of meeting there. That space will become the physical scene in which your management relationship with that person develops. Choose it well.

If your employees work remotely, you should rely primarily on a rigorous protocol of telephone calls and e-mails. But if you work in the same location with your employee, the best place to meet might be on neutral ground. My own favorite venue for meetings is taking a walk; just make sure you and your employee bring along a pad and pen so you can write stuff down.

6. When should I talk with this person?

Sometimes the time you meet is dictated completely by logistics. For example, if an employee works a different shift than you do, they may need to come in a little early or you might need to stay late to meet with them. Sometimes the best time to meet is a matter of moods. Maybe you have an employee who gets a slow start (or maybe you get a slow start,) and so you decide it’s best to meet with that person just before lunch instead of first thing in the morning.

Sometimes the best time might be indicated by a performance issue. Let’s say you have an employee who is chronically late to work. Some managers try to deal with that problem by scheduling early morning meetings. I happen to think that if you want to help an employee arrive on time to work, the best time to meet with that employee is at the end of the day, just before that person leaves. The next item on that person’s to-do list will be coming to work, which is exactly what you want to focus on at the end of your meeting.

Together, answering these six questions will make customizing your approach unavoidable. Just start asking and answering these questions in your next scheduled one-on-one meeting with each person. You’ll soon understand the power of this simple tool.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,

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