Is it already time for the semi-annual conversation with each of your direct reports?
This may seem more painful than your semi-annual dental cleaning, but regardless, you are now expected to bring each of your stellar and not-so-stellar team members into your office and fill a 45-minute block on your calendar with topics of mutual interest in the realm of professional development.
An effective discussion on performance development follows a repeatable formula, much like one adopted by Steven Spielberg in his pursuit for theatrical excellence–an honorable protagonist, the struggle to overcome human fallibility, a cast of supporting characters, and the possibility of a sequel that may very well surpass expectations. Below is the formula you can follow for your next feedback cycle:
One of the first pitfalls of performance development is the supervisor or manager immediately jumping into giving feedback. Instead, start by allowing the employee an opportunity to share his or her perspectives with such questions as: “What did you learn these past few months?” “How have you grown or challenged yourself?” “What’s working?” “What’s not working?”
Admittedly, we all bask in positive recognition for a job well done. A boss’s affirmation is equivalent to your parents’ loud and disruptive cheers at the school play. Tread carefully though so as to not feign your satisfaction, as this may just be perceived as inauthentic and routine.
What benefit is there in telling a team member that he or she poorly designed a piece of analysis or botched a pivotal product release. Que sera, sera! Plus, your job is to catch these things before they become exacerbated, not bicker about them months later.
Instead, be forward looking. What might the next six months entail for this team member? What are the performance levels to be demonstrated? In consulting, feedback is centered on skills needed for promotion to the next level, whether that promotion is timed six months or a couple years away. Sharing what is on the horizon significantly aids in helping employees calibrate, a far more effective method than placing blame.
If a discussion is already taking place on the skills and capabilities needed to graduate to the next level, the topic of training is inextricably tied to this conversation. What internal or external training opportunities are there? What informal training (i.e., on-the-job) can be arranged to give the employee exposure to desired skills?
Similar to training, the topic of mentoring can very easily be worked into the conversation. Does the employee have a mentor in the organization? Has this mentor provided valuable perspectives and insights on professional growth? Is it time to retire a mentor based on new feedback? Does the employee have a mentee of his/her own within the organization?
The final item on the agenda is when you invite feedback on your own performance and working style. Are there more effective ways that you can communicate with your teams? How can your meetings be better facilitated? Demonstrating openness to receiving upward feedback is the ultimate component, and one that illustrates a commitment to the growth of the individual and organization.
Finally, by having regular checkpoints with your team members on their strengths and opportunities throughout the quarter, any feedback provided during these more formal discussions will rarely come as a surprise. Both the informal and formal conversations then become checkpoints in the journey of professional development.
—Rahim Poonja is a business strategist who actively coaches startup entrepreneurs and small business owners on all facets of their organization. He is a pragmatist who seeks to improve how we work, live, aspire, and serve.