Are you back from holiday? Sadly for so many people in Australia, this year has not been the refreshing break we are used to, and for thousands it has been no holiday at all but a time of tragedy and long-term hardship.
Coming back to work to do those dreaded performance reviews, which you loathe, perhaps even resent doing each year, probably feels even more irritating and pointless this year. And on top of the annual performance review, many companies are insisting that you have regular 1-1 meetings with your staff.
These regular conversations are supposed to increase engagement and performance but as most of us know, they are usually ‘catch-ups’ that are a complete waste of everyone’s time. Their one redeeming feature is that they are often accompanied by a decent coffee!
Managers dislike them, employees think their managers are hopeless at them
In an international survey of over 11,000 employees, conducted by the renowned Leadership Researchers, Drs Zenger and Folkman, they asked employees how effective their managers were at providing honest feedback on a regular basis. In other words, how effective they believed their managers were in those 1-1 catchups or meetings.
Only 7% gave their manager a high rating. So, if as a manager you think they are a waste of time, more than likely your staff think the same thing!
Most organisations realise that they must continue to raise the bar on performance in order to remain competitive. They hope that these frequent feedback conversations will help to achieve this, and yet the reality is that most of these conversations are a complete waste of time, and sometimes they actually do more harm than good.
Managers need to be able to lead conversations that are honest but that also keep their people motivated. Unfortunately, most managers either avoid the honest conversations because they don’t want to hurt their employee’s feelings, or they have them and they turn out badly because their technique for giving feedback is far from best practice. These ‘be honest and just tell it how it is’ managers often cause their employees to become defensive or even aggressive. While the manager often excuses his/her behaviour and says the employee is just too sensitive or ‘precious’, the reality is the manager lacks the skill to communicate honestly AND keep their staff members on board.
Not only is the catch-up a waste of time, it drives a wedge between the manager and their direct report and makes subsequent conversations even worse! The relationship spirals downwards and with that comes decreased productivity, less willingness to help out, less effort with clients, longer breaks etc, etc, etc.
If you have to have 1-1 meetings, there are three simple, yet powerful tips, to make them useful:
1. Stop ‘catching up’, start having structured conversations
‘Catching up’ to see how everything is going’ is often a ‘waffly talkfest’ of no real consequence. Instead, have a structured conversation with a specific purpose. You will both know what the conversation was for and that it was worthwhile, even if it felt uncomfortable at times.
The meeting will start with how your direct report is tracking against their goals (yes, those ones you set at performance review time and then often forget about ….. and sometimes even transfer to the following year’s review?!).
Our clients find it efficient to start with the traffic light system – for each goal, are you on track (green), one step behind (orange) or several steps behind (red)? And if the light is orange or red the critical question is ‘How can we get back on track?’ which leads to corrective action or a discussion about how to remove an obstacle. Too often we hear managers ask ‘Why do you think you are behind?’ which usually leads to a feast of excuses and blame, and little corrective action.
2. Issues start with a statement, not a question
When most managers have an aspect of performance they know needs to be addressed with their team member, they usually worry about how the person will react.
While they know what needs to be improved, they want to be seen as an understanding, inclusive and empathetic manager so they tend to start with a question ‘How do you think you are going with ….?’ The response to this question is either ‘Pretty well’ or ‘Not as well as I had hoped, but unfortunately it’s out of my control’. Either response makes giving your view more difficult. If you do give it, the ensuing discussion is likely to consist of each of you justifying your position, rather than discussing how the improvement could be achieved.
Avoid this defensive discussion by starting with an observation statement, instead of the question.
For example, ‘Di, in the last month I have observed three instances of ……’ Then pause to let the facts sink in, and move straight to an action question, ‘How can we/you improve …..?’ The conscientious person will apologise and go straight to thinking about options to improve their performance. Of course, your underperforming person may reply ‘Well, I don’t think I can change this’ but at least you are not up against a denial that it happened, and you can use your open questioning skills to keep the conversation moving. For example, ‘Let’s look at some actions that will get you partway there’ ‘You could either do ‘x’ or ‘y’. Which one of these would you prefer to trial this month?’
3. Finish by agreeing on specific actions (for both of you)
Ensure that the meeting finishes with agreed, specific, time-framed actions. It is an excellent management practice for both of you to have actions to take. Write these actions and time-frames down so that you both have a record of what you are going to do in the next month.
Try incorporating these three tips into your 1-1 meetings to make them more useful and action-driven. In fact, you might find that not only do these meetings become more useful but that you and your staff start to enjoy them! The temptation to postpone them, repeatedly, may disappear.