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5 Ways to Have More Effective Performance Conversations

August 25, 2020 Learning and Development
John Knotwell General Manager of Bridge by Instructure
By John Knotwell

Conducting performance reviews during a global pandemic is likely the last thing on many managers’ minds. Yet, as the future of work continues to transform, the need to redefine learning and performance conversations is more apparent than ever.

Should remote work influence performance conversations? Are business leaders able to create connection, alignment and growth virtually? In order to effectively have learning and performance management conversations there needs to be one unified approach.

From Performance Review to Performance Conversation

First, ask what’s the purpose of the discussion with an employee. Traditionally, money drove the standard performance conversation. Managers and employees would go through a formulaic conversation annually to determine a salary increase, if any was even available.

These salary-driven conversations do not foster growth and are largely transactional instead of relational. That’s no way to grow a career and it limits the potential for a meaningful discussion between manager and employee. Gallup reported that only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance review inspires growth. 

The new era challenges managers to discuss performance gaps and successes without the looming pressure of salary and compensation. When it comes to employee development, companies get what they give. It’s time to embrace a blended approach to learning and performance management with managers playing a crucial role.

According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, 90% of professionals say they would stay longer at a company that invested in their growth. But while companies have long understood that learning and development is tied to retention, it’s often left to HR managers to figure out performance.

Add to that the challenge presented by COVID-19. Many individuals now face unforeseen challenges of working from home. For working parents, multitasking now includes teaching online school. Others might be struggling with feelings of isolation or fear of uncertainty. Managers need to summon compassion and objectivity when evaluating pre-pandemic key performance indicators.

Related Article: Riding the Employee Engagement Rollercoaster

Focus Conversation on Development

Frequent one-on-one conversations with employees can shine a valuable light on employee well-being. It is important to align and grow employees to help fill the gap between their current skills and what the organization needs. Here are five important considerations to help performance conversations—and careers—thrive.

1. Hold Weekly Scheduled Check-Ins

During times of change, employees want to know how they will be individually effected and what is expected of them. Regular check-ins between managers and employees provide opportunities to align strategy and explain essential priorities. Managers need to be empowered to provide strategic guidance while allowing each individual to perform with autonomy.

2. Have a Shared Agenda

Both employee and manager should be able to access the agenda throughout the week and shift priorities, assign learning, tasks, and goals, and make comments. This information should be saved and easily accessible throughout the week to ensure both managers and employees stay connected and on the same page.

3. Celebrate Wins

When an agenda is created and easily accessible, the actual one-on-one becomes a far more efficient experience. The manager can check in on task progress and project status ahead of time and come to the one-on-one prepared with specific questions to discuss.

Employees are able to discuss what drives them and explore plans for desired skills and career growth while managers help identify learning opportunities. Additionally, they can take time to celebrate wins, a practice which research from Bersin & Associates indicates leads to 31% lower turnover.

4. Be Human

One-on-ones shouldn’t always be formal, especially during times of stress and change. Employees need to feel comfortable and cared for and understand that their manager is invested in their overall well-being. Relationships are not transactional so lead with humanity.

5. Take Time to Connect

When leaders take time to connect, often they will go beyond status updates and learn how their employees are really doing. I had a one-on-one meeting with an employee who is usually laser-focused and dependable. When we started to work from home, I noticed a shift and checked in. The employee shared that working from home with a toddler whose daycare was closed and a spouse who continued to work outside the home was difficult as the person tried to work the typical nine-to-five job. At that moment, I realized why a weekly cadence of one-on-ones has become more necessary than ever.

People matter most. The future of work depends on incorporating a thoughtful approach to learning and performance management. Business leaders must strive to provide people with the tools necessary to connect, align and grow together while working apart.

About the Author

John Knotwell is general manager of Bridge by Instructure, where he is responsible for the people, customers and operations of the global Bridge business.


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