“Plans fail when there is no counsel”
~ Proverbs 15:22a Holman Christian Standard Bible
Great managers apply four elements in helping their employees improve their performance:
- Frequent interaction
- Focus on the future
The authors of the book, First, Break All the Rules,[i] present a basic routine that you may want to consider as you (a) define the right outcomes, (b) focus on strengths, and (c) help each person find the right fit.
Perceptions of Strengths, Goals, and Needs
At the beginning of the year, or soon after a person has been hired, spend an hour with her asking these questions:
- What did you enjoy most about your previous work experience? What brought you here? (Or, for a current employee, what keeps you here?)
- What do you think your strengths are in regards to skills, knowledge, and talent?
- What about your weaknesses?
- What are your goals for your current role? (make sure these are S.M.A.R.T. goals:
Specific ~ Measurable ~ Agreed upon and Achievable ~ Realistic and Relevant ~ Time-based
- How often would you like to meet with me to discuss your progress?
- Will you tell me how you are feeling, or will I have to ask?
- Do you have any personal goals or commitments you would like to share with me?
- What is the best praise you have ever received? What made it so good?
- Have you had any really productive partnerships or mentors? Why do you think these relationships worked so well for you?
- What are your future growth goals, your career goals?
- Are there any particular skills you want to learn?
- Are there some specific challenges you want to experience? How can I help?
- Is there anything else you want to talk about that might help us work well together?
The answers to these questions will help you understand what the person perceives to be her strengths, goals, and needs are at the present point in time. It also places more responsibility on the individual to be active regarding performance improvement.
Quarterly Performance Planning
Now, let’s assume you and your direct report decide to meet quarterly for Performance Planning.
Each quarter, ask the individual to prepare for the Performance Planning Meeting by writing down the answers to the following three questions before the meeting:
- What actions have you taken? (action items from the last meeting)
- What discoveries have you made? (encourage her to keep track of her learning)
- What partnerships have you built? (new relationships or the strengthening of existing relationships)
After discussing the answers, pose three more queries:
- What is your main focus for the next three months?
- What new discoveries are you planning?
- What new partnerships are you hoping to build?
You have now developed specific expectations for this individual for the next three months. Continue to repeat this routine quarterly—each time focusing on her strengths by setting expectations that are right for her and by helping her overcome obstacles. Your frequent Performance Planning meetings will provide you with occasions to listen, advise, plan, and create a shared interest in her success. And it is all written down for both of you which is useful as a resource for ongoing encouragement and accountability.
A Commitment of Focused Time
I can hear someone saying, “This sounds like it’s going to take a lot of my time—meeting quarterly with each of my direct reports.” That’s true. In fact, when President of Zion Industries, I met one-on-one with each of my direct reports monthly to discuss their performance, career plans, etc. I did not look forward to preparing for and documenting these meetings, but they were well worth it. And, let’s face it; spending time with your people in these types of planned discussions is a very highly-leveraged activity.
As leaders, we have the opportunity to “pour ourselves” into the lives of others. The higher we go in the corporate hierarchy, the more responsibility we have for the development of people within our organization—and, thus, the more extensive our stewardship responsibility.
Show an interest in your people by spending focused time with each of them. Be a role model in this area and challenge managers throughout your organization to do the same.
That’s what Great Managers do.
[i] Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do
differently. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.