So performance management is a huge topic, and I want to discuss a very small but important slice of that pie – conversations. When we think about conversations through performance management, we often think about the annual performance review.
So the annual performance review reigned supreme for decades. You meet with your direct reports once a year, kind of review how the year went with their performance, maybe give them a rating, maybe some suggestions for improvement, and that’s about it. Then you wait another year to have that kind of conversation. So there are a lot of drawbacks to having only one performance management conversation a year. And there are a lot of resources out there to discuss those drawbacks, and that could be an entire episode or two unto itself.
But lately there’s been a growing shift from annual to more frequent performance reviews, performance conversations. And so I like to call these more continuous conversations, they’re more agile, they’re more proactive, and in some ways they’re a bit more transformational. They help empower employees, especially your direct reports, a lot more than simply the annual review.
So here at Quantum Workplace, we conducted a survey to explore employees’ thoughts about these conversations, among other topics. And I’ll briefly reviewing those results throughout this episode.
So I’ll be discussing three topics: why it’s good to have continuous conversations, how often these conversations should be happening, and finally how to have GOOD continuous conversations.
So you might ask, “Why should I have continuous conversations?” As a manager, you probably don’t think too much about employee engagement on a regular basis. But, what you do care about is their experience. So continuous conversations impact employees’ experiences on a day-to-day basis through their engagement. And so I’m defining engagement as kind of the strength of the mental and emotional connection they have toward their places of work, whether it be to their specific job, their team, the organization as a whole.
So in our survey, we found that respondents who have monthly conversations have the highest levels of engagement compared to other cadences, such as quarterly, twice a year, once a year. And those who have annual conversations have meaningfully lower levels of engagement than those with monthly conversations. And what’s even worse is that individuals who indicated that they never have conversations with their managers or supervisors, they have super low levels of engagement.
So it’s important to have continuous conversations, not only from an engagement perspective. So even going beyond the numbers, those more frequent conversations allow for more fluid and agile decision making. Allows you to be more proactive in an individual’s growth, shows that they’re supported or cared for or that the organization or even you as a manager or supervisor is investing in their future, or just even showing in interest in that individual. And it also raises issues to managers before those issues perhaps become too big.
So the next topic is how often should these conversations be taking place? Most of these kinds of conversations – through performance reviews – are annual. But again as I’ve said, more organizations are slowly yet surely moving toward more frequent conversations. This isn’t to say that the annual review is completely gone or will ever be completely gone, but rather some organizations are replacing it with quarterly or even monthly conversations. Or they’re supplementing the annual performance review with those quarterly or monthly conversations.
In our own survey, one-fifth of respondents, about 19%, indicated having an annual career conversation, which is understandable given how long it’s reigned as kind of the performance conversation in organizations. But a huge mishap, and frankly what’s kind of scary to me, is that 21% of respondents indicated that they don’t have those kinds of conversations at all. This is concerning because this indicates that an individual may never talk with their managers or supervisors about their future, whether it be professionally within the organization, their particular career path, what they’re interested in learning or doing more at the organization.
And another interesting statistic is that about one-quarter, 26% of respondents, indicated that they currently have a monthly or quarterly career conversation, yet almost double that – about 50% - would prefer to have a monthly or quarterly career conversation. So between the two topics I’ve covered so far in terms of why you should have continuous conversations and how often they should be occurring, we can kind of see that the numbers kind of speak for themselves in that not only it is beneficial from an engagement perspective to have them more frequently, whether it be monthly or quarterly, but also even respondents themselves would like more frequent conversations with their managers and supervisors.
So after reviewing all that, you might be wondering, “Well, how can I have a GOOD continuous conversation if I do want to potentially start this?” Well that’s the mystery. But from our research, we asked respondents to indicate, in their own words, to finish a few sentences. Now in the survey, we used the word “career conversation.” Now ‘career’ is a pretty loaded word, but the principles from the results still apply to this kind of continuous conversation mentality.
So the two sentences we asked participants to finish were “Effective career conversations should…” and “Effective career conversations should NOT…” So for that first sentence, two key results came out. First, respondents indicated that effective conversations should, at a bare minimum, at least center around goals. And this can be around setting goals, be goal-oriented, include short-term and long-term goals, and include plans to achieve goals. So this indicates that when you have a conversation with your direct report, typically one-on-one, could be a half hour, could be an hour, could be monthly, could be quarterly, focusing on goals is important to individuals. Something to aspire to, to aim toward, to know what they are working toward. Whether it be a professional or personal goal, and so forth.
The second result that came out was that individuals indicated that effective conversations should uplift employees. So this includes motivating employees, being motivating, and being encouraging to employees. It’s very easy to focus on the negatives of employees’ performance, especially if, for example, you only have an annual performance review. Oftentimes it’s more of a kind of a retrospective, you just look throughout the past twelve months, you focus on what went maybe well, but especially where individuals could improve. So it’s a very often critical event, that’s why so many people are typically quite anxious about those kinds of reviews. Not only because they’re critical, but because they happen so infrequently that people just don’t get used to having those kinds of conversations with their managers or supervisors.
And that leads directly into what individuals indicated effective conversations should not do. And the first is that effective conversations shouldn’t be negative or only negative. So this is pretty much exactly what I indicated earlier, is that those conversations should be uplifting, motivating, encouraging, but not only being negative. And the second also closely related is that effective conversations shouldn’t make employees feel discouraged. So those two kind of go hand-in-hand in that these kinds of conversations, whether they be during lunch, after hours, in the morning, for breakfast, whatever the case may be; employees shouldn’t feel discouraged during those kinds of conversations, during those kinds of meetings, or immediately afterward. They shouldn’t walk away feeling as though it was just kind of 30 minutes or 60 minutes of negativity being thrown their way. They should feel empowered, they should feel encouraged and motivated to want to act toward and achieve the goals that you discussed with your direct report.
So one thing that we do at Quantum Workplace is that we have GOOD lunches. We don’t have annual performance reviews. Instead, we have these monthly meetings with managers and their direct reports on a one-to-one basis. Typically over lunch, sometimes it’s during happy hour, sometimes it’s during breakfast. But overall they all follow a general principle of what we call the GOOD. And the GOOD actually stands for something: it stands for goals, obstacles, opportunities, and decisions.
So then these GOOD conversations first focus on goals. And that also aligns with what we saw earlier in terms of what respondents indicated effective conversations having. So like what kind of long-term goals should I work toward? How have things gone since the previous conversation, if we had one? What are some plans until next time? So having goals is very important. It’s not enough to just talk with your direct report. You also have to have something that the direct report should aim toward for the next conversation, kind of a goalpost in a way.
The second part of the GOOD template is obstacles. You can ask your direct report: What’s standing in your way? What’s potentially been getting in your way that I can help with? What can you do to potentially get over those obstacles as well? So this is where it gets a little bit more empowering in a way, of what can I as a manager do to help you in your situation? But also what can you do yourself or what could I do to help you empower yourself to get over certain obstacles that you may be encountering?
The third component is opportunities. So this is where it gets more into less kind of brass tacks of goals and obstacles and more about what are you potentially proud of that people don’t know about? How do you think you’re growing toward a particular goal or even growing as an individual, professionally, and so forth? What could we do to potentially make this your dream job? So this is a lot more aspirational than goals and obstacles, but still just as important as those other two.
And finally, we have decisions. For these, you might ask: What actions will you take before next time? What actions will I take as a manager before next time? Or what other big decisions do we need to make, either in this meeting, this conversation, or afterward or after potentially some goal has been achieved or some general marker has been set?
Overall, I believe adopting a continuous conversation approach is more effective than only having annual performance reviews. Our research suggests that monthly conversations are optimal, but quarterly conversations are good as well. Just something that’s more common, more frequent than those annual conversations. And even from the specific words from respondents themselves, the open-ended data, they indicated that effective conversations should be goal-oriented and uplifting, and that they shouldn’t be negative or discouraging.
So I hope you are inspired at least to give continuous conversations a chance if you don’t already have them, or to potentially hold them more frequently if you only do them annually or potentially even not at all. On our website, we do have a template for GOOD meetings, you might want to check that out.
And that’s it for this episode! Join me next time on Manager Mysteries & Mishaps, where I’ll discuss learning and development opportunities.