5 Conversations Every Manager Needs to Have

As companies shift toward a mindset of more frequent dialogue with -- and feedback from -- employees, here are five conversation models for managing ongoing performance development.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
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In the midst of the performance management revolution, it's the frequent conversations between managers and employees that are agents for change. In my last HRE piece, we identified five trendsetters in performance management: GE, Ryan, Malaysia Airlines, IBM and Deloitte. These organizations have found a way to create dialogue that inspires change and progress between managers and their employees.

In the midst of the shift toward more regular dialogue and feedback around performance, some companies feel rootless. Largely inspired by these trend-setters, as well as our 200+ enterprise customers, we've developed five conversation types to serve as a structure for managing ongoing performance development. If you believe -- as the leaders in performance management do -- that the future of work lies in the development of individual employees, then these types of conversations will bring structure to the manager-led coaching process.

Goal Planning and Reflection

This conversation revolves around the employee and manager establishing the employee's annual plan, quarterly goals and priorities, and connecting these objectives to bigger company goals. Managers should also reflect on past goals achieved (or not achieved) with employees, but with the intention of learning from it and strengthening the goal muscle -- or the employee's ability to set ambitious goals for the coming quarter or year. These conversations should take place quarterly, and the manager should provide the employee with feedback and input.

Progress Updates

These conversations are typically one-on-one and quick, with the focus remaining on the current state of the employee's work in relationship to his or her progress on goals. This is a great time for the manager to help employees overcome obstacles, create necessary action plans to provide help or even adjust the goals as necessary.

Upward Feedback

Unlike most manager-employee interactions, in this type of conversations, it's entirely appropriate for the employee to give feedback to his or her manager. It's especially important for the manager to be open to uncovering issues that might be preventing the employee from being successful. This conversation should happen in real-time or quarterly, and help the employee navigate the waters as they seek a manager to best support their future success as they work towards fulfilling their potential.

Manager-Led Coaching

This type of conversation looks at more than just immediate goal achievement and performance. Managers should give employees coaching to help them reach their full potential, including feedback on how the employee works with others and how he or she demonstrates skills, companies and teamwork.

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Career Growth.

This type of conversation should be focused on how the manager can -- in the near and long term -- help the employee develop skills and grow his/her career, whether or not they stay with the company. This is the opportunity for managers to reinforce the company's commitment to and investment in the individual employee, and will also help the employee become a more effective worker. These conversations might only take place once or twice a year, but should always be focused on the future and long-term.

As the role of the manager-employee conversation becomes increasingly transparent in today's modern workplace, it's vital for organizations to have the proper technology for facilitating and capturing these conversations in place. Making regular conversations a part of your performance management process begins with the internal leaders across your organization -- providing more regular feedback as we move away from stagnant annual reviews, or rankings and ratings systems, is an all-hands-on-deck process.

Once you converse with employees on a more regular cadence, it becomes possible to excel in both the management and performance sides of the equation.

Kris Duggan is CEO of BetterWorks, an enterprise software company based in Redwood City, Calif.


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