It was a typical employee town hall meeting: three presentations followed by 15 minutes of Q&A. And that’s when it happened. The CEO asked if there were any questions. There was a moment of silence. And then a man in the center of the auditorium raised his hand.
I could tell right away the question he asked was planted, and I’ll bet at least some employees in the session could, too. How did I know? Three signs:
- It was a softball question, something obvious and easy like “Why is it so important we deliver great customer service?”
- The person asking the question was a high-performing corporate team player, someone who would be chosen for the role of planter. (Employees who are most likely to ask questions are usually further from the center, are more independent and subversive.)
- The question was too articulate and well-structured. (Listen to a real question and it meanders all over the place before getting to the point.)
I understand why the town hall organizers felt they needed to plant questions. At these town halls, employees usually don’t ask questions. Leaders worry about dead air. Everyone would like the appearance of interaction even if it doesn’t actually exist.
But my view is that planted questions are worse than no questions at all. They seem packaged. They don’t create energy; they sap it. And because they’re so safe, they don’t encourage employees to ask real questions, just sit there politely.
But, please, start by eliminating planted questions.