Performance discussions aren’t always easy. But there are two things you can do that will make them easier.
- Have discussions regularly. Make it a habit.
- Have a clear agenda that you follow each time you meet.
It’s no secret that managers often avoid these conversations. But the practical effect of avoiding performance discussions is that managers and employees won’t know how to talk about performance, whether it’s good or poor. The conversations will be awkward and uncomfortable and that will only reinforce a desire to avoid further discussions.
Having regular performance discussions helps managers and their employees to build skill in this area. Regular discussions also means that the manager and employee can address problems before they become big.
Beyond those reasons, managers should have regular discussions about performance because it’s their job to know what’s going on and to help move things forward.
Here is the agenda I suggest:
- What’s working well and what can be learned from that
- What potential problems are on the horizon and what can be done to minimize or eliminate them
- What’s not working well and what can be done to improve the situation
Adapt these topics to your specific situation. I think it’s important to learn from the success as well as current and potential problems.
Once you settle on a set of questions, use them for each meeting. This provides focus for the employee and the manager and a useful framework for analyzing and discussing the employee’s work. By the way, if the term performance discussion makes you uncomfortable, call it a status meeting.
The discussion between the manager and employee should go the way a status meeting goes. The employee reports first on the agenda items. The manager listens, asks questions, helps problem-solve, challenges as needed, provides feedback and advice, etc.
Together they discuss the agenda items; revise plans if needed; and confirm next steps.
A side benefit of regular meetings is that the manager gets to communicate and demonstrate his/her expectations through the questions, comments, and the support he/she offers.
Making this work requires preparation. How much depends on the employee’s job. There also could be other factors such as the employee’s future goals. Obviously, preparation takes time – more time in the beginning; less as meetings continue.
Don’t Fake It
Time, of course, is almost always the issue or the excuse. It’s easy to fake these discussions so you can check the box. Here’s an example.
The manager asks how things are going. The employee says ok. The manager might comment about a possible problem with X. The employee might say there was a little snag, but everything’s ok now. They might talk about how to approach an upcoming task or how to get resources. Then they’ll move on to other topics. Or maybe each will just return to work.
They might think they talked about performance, but they barely touched it. They didn’t talk about what’s going well or how to sustain it or make it even better. The manager knows almost nothing about the snag with X and that seems to be fine with him/her. If things really are fixed, that’s great. But if they aren’t there’s a little problem that could be getting bigger.
On the other hand, the manager and employee each can say they had the discussion. Did they accomplish much beyond having the discussion? No. But that wasn’t the point. Checking the box was the point.
Unfortunately, it’s also a lost opportunity: to learn from success, to learn from various challenges most people face, and to actually improve performance.
Many managers aren’t very skilled at conducting performance discussions with their employees. That’s primarily because they avoid those conversations – and remain unskilled. This is unnecessary and a wasted opportunity.
Have regular performance discussions and use the same agenda for each meeting.Meeting regularly has a number of benefits. It helps
- the manager and employee build their performance discussion skills
- the manager communicate his or her expectations
- the manager to help the employee continue to do well or to help the employee get back on track.
Ultimately, the employee’s performance is his or her own responsibility. Sometimes things don’t work out. But often they do – especially when the employee has the support he or she needs. In either case, having regular performance discussions means that while there might be some difficult conversations, there will be few surprises. And while the difficult conversations won’t necessarily be easy, they will be easier.