Weird Manager Questions

Thanks for joining me in another installment of Weird Manager Questions! If this is the first you’ve heard of these, you can catch up why checking out 1:1 101 and The Energy/Skills Matrix Weird Manager Question. The TL;DR is these are questions for the end of your 1:1s if neither of you wants to take the time back, and because they are not required, they can be more on the “getting to know you” side of things.

Origin Story the BICEPS Battery Pack Weird Manager Question

I attended a series of workshops from Paloma Medina that talked about the neuroscience of inclusion. One of the things she went over were Core Needs and how if those aren’t being met, our amygdalas (a.k.a. “lizard brain”) will kick in and we won’t be able to use our brains at their peak efficiency. But Core Needs are less about food and shelter (we definitely need those), but about what we need to feel like we belong. We evolved to be social creatures, so when we don’t feel like part of the group, our amygdala counts that as a threat to survival.

You can learn more about the BICEPS model from Medina herself. If you’re not clicking that link, here’s the summary I use to explain it to my team:

  • BELONGING is how much you feel like a valued member of a healthy team. Do you think people would look out for you if you needed it?
  • IMPROVEMENT is how much you feel like you are growing in ways that you care about (I could get a law degree and learn a lot, but if I don’t actually care about what I’m learning, I may feel no improvement at all).
  • CHOICE is all about autonomy. Do you have the ability to make decisions about what things get done, how they get done, and other factors that are meaningful to you?
  • EQUALITY is if you feel like you and everyone else has access to the time, resources, and help they need to get things done.
  • PREDICTABILITY points to how secure you feel about the future - what you’ll be working on, that you’ll have access to what you need, etc.
  • SIGNIFICANCE reflects if you feel like you’re getting the respect you deserve, whether that’s a title, pay, or your reputation.

All of these Core Needs are relative to the person thinking about them. I require a lot less predictability to keep chugging along than some folks, but anything that threatens Belonging or Equality are going to bring out a very different side of me.

How to Use the BICEPS Battery Pack as a Weird Manager Question

This question is especially good if you get the sense that something’s eating at your team member, but it’s not coming out with your usual prompts. A lot of people have internalized that work doesn’t care about their wellbeing, only their productivity. We can’t really deny that, but I don’t believe it has to be true, and I do my darndest to make my team one where we can be open, honest, and care about each other. Much like a mechanic will want to know about a tiny rattling noise in your engine, I want to know about the small ways work is wearing you down so I can try and fix or mitigate it before it wears through your fan belt.

Here’s how I present the BICEPS question:

1: First, I explain how this works. We start with 6 rectangles, one for each core need. When we worked in an office, I would use a whiteboard or piece of paper for the rectangles; working remotely, I pivoted to Google Drawings. Each rectangle should be thought of like a battery- if you are feeling really happy with how this core need is being satisfied, we can fill the rectangle all the way up. If your needs aren’t being met, you figure out how far off or “empty” it’s feeling and fill it in that much. Since there’s no “right” answer, this really is all about how it feels for you, not how it “objectively” is (culturally, we have a lot of work to undo about feelings “needing to be justified,” but that’s a different blog).

Belonging, Improvement, Choice, Equality, Predictability, and Significance next to rectangles to be filled in like battery draining icons.

If you would like to use my Google Drawing to use with your team, you can copy it from here.

2: Once we’re aligned on the “battery” part, we step through each of the core needs, explaining what they are and examples of scenarios that would impact them. For example, Equality asks you if you feel like you and the people around you are treated fairly. If you are getting the short end of the stick on a new policy, your sense of Equality may be very low. Similarly, even if you are on the “winning” side of an unfair policy, the unfairness itself can feel risky - how long until you’re not on the winning side? Your battery should reflect how comfortable you feel with workplace Equality1. As they fill out their battery, ask about specific things that are influencing their levels (take notes!).

3: After filling out all of the batteries, ask them to review the whole chart with you. What part of the battery is just “fine” (i.e., it’s not 100% full, but also it’s not a big deal that it’s where it’s at). How many of the Core Needs are below that? If it’s just one or two, you can start discussing which things would make the biggest improvement to that sense of well being. Select the most approachable change that will have a meaningful impact and start working on that. If most or all of the Core Needs are low, start working on the one that feels most painful for them. Also, look into all available support resources you can get for them - extra time to recuperate, access to inclusive health resources, diverse mental health practitioners, etc.

4: Work on the things that you said you would work on and give regular reports back to your employee about how those are progressing, the same way you ask them to report back on how they are progressing on tasks. As things get addressed, revisit the BICEPS battery pack to make sure you’re addressing the bottlenecks.

Wrap up

This weird manager question is one of my favorite management techniques. I cannot encourage strongly enough becoming familiar with the concepts of Core Needs to get both a better understanding of what’s impacting your employees, but also what’s impacting you (I may have done a BICEPS Battery Pack on myself while writing this).

Learn more about Core Needs from these resources:

Read up on the rest of our Mechanics of Leadership series:


  1. We’re scoping these questions to work-specific contexts, but we are humans, not machines, and as much as you think people can “turn off” their emotions when they come to work, what’s actually happening is masking. Threats to our Core Needs don’t just evaporate when we clock in. You can’t single handedly address societal injustice, but your employees are still impacted by it. What you can do is aggressively push for policies that create a healthy environment for your marginalized employees. ↩︎