Being a leader and a people manager is demanding work. Many leaders make the mistake of not building a habit of having regular intentional conversations with the people they lead. Some because they don't have time. Others because they don't know how. Or what about. In this video blog ("vlog"), I break down ten types of conversations every leader should be having on a regular basis with every employee, throughout the year. It will demystify this practice and make it much easier to incorporate into your busy schedule, so please watch, take notes, and most importantly, take action!
As I mention in this vlog (video blog), one of my most popular articles was about the 10 conversations. I recorded this video to describe them, and have excerpted from the article below.
Daily conversations between leader and employee fuel better performance, guaranteed.
Here are the ten conversations I believe every leader should have with every employee, intentionally, regularly, proactively:
1. Strengths conversations
Every person has a set of core strengths (defined as “Talent + Knowledge + Skills”). We should be encouraged to use our strengths at work every day to be at our best. When we work from our strengths, we contribute our full potential and are at our most satisfied and engaged. Engage your employees in conversations about their strengths – what are they, do they get to use them daily, and how to leverage them more. [Check out my book, Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life, to learn more.)
2. Goal planning conversations
Every employee should have some key performance and development goals for both the long-term and the short-term. While it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to plan because the rate of change is so high, it’s still really important to begin with some goals in mind. You can always tweak and modify them as things change. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless; Planning is everything.” I agree and believe planning and goal-setting is a super important conversation to have a few times each year.
3. Day-to-day performance conversations
One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders making is failing to talk to their employees frequently and regularly enough. They see things they want to change. Or they notice points of feedback they’d like to give. But they withhold these comments for some later time. Maybe for when they have more time. There will never be more time! The time is now. Talk to your people every day, and especially when you see something and have something to say. It doesn’t have to take long. It doesn’t need to be scheduled. But talk to them, all the time.
4. Weekly check-in conversations
Just like Jeremy Epstein does (he described it here on episode 34 of my podcast), implement a 5-15 minute check-in 1:1 conversation with your employees every week. It’s not extra work. It *is* your work. In these conversations you can chat about goals, performance, feedback, career, or simply continue to build trust by getting to know them better as a person.
5. Positive feedback conversations
Another big mistake many leaders make is not giving enough positive feedback. Unfortunately, science tells us that we are on the lookout for the negative stuff five times more than we seek out positive inputs. We leaders need to offset this tendency by infusing our workplace interactions with more of the positive stuff. [Check out my STS Formula for positive feedback to learn how to do it right.]
6. Developmental feedback conversations
Although I do suggest separating and outnumbering the positive feedback conversations vs. the developmental (aka constructive) feedback conversations, you should definitely provide your employees with specific insights on what they can improve and why. Just be sure to do it in a way that doesn’t trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response in them.
7. Career conversations
Do you know what your employees’ career aspirations and plans are? Do they even know what they are? Hold short career-focused conversations at least once or twice per year with each employee. Help them sort out where they’d like to go down the road and map a plan to get there. Let’s face it – they won’t stay with you forever. Just like my podcast guest, Chip Joyce, described in our conversation, you must reinterpret the employer-employee relationship. You will get their best while they’re with you when you support their growth rather than ignoring it or worse, trying to squash it.
8. “Stay Interview” conversations
I love this idea from career development expert Dr. Beverly Kaye. She described it in her recent conversation with me on Episode 2 of my podcast, The TalentGrow Show. It’s a twist on the exit interview we all know so well. Why wait until they leave you to ask them how you might have kept them? Ask them NOW how you can keep them engaged, growing, and top-performing. It will pay dividends.
9. Impact conversations
When employees know how their daily work impacts the mission of the organization, they perform better. When they feel like a mere cog in the wheel and are unsure of how any of what they’re doing makes a difference and is not just ‘busy-work’, they struggle. Kind of like Lucille Ball did in this hilarious scene from I Love Lucy. Talk to your employees about their important connection to the ultimate goals of the team, department, unit, and organization as a whole. Give them updates on the organization’s performance and continue to help them see the connection back to their job.
10. Development and training planning conversations
It’s amazing how many leaders don’t realize this, but today’s workforce wants to grow and develop MORE than they want money. In order to help your employees continue to learn and grow, you need to have regular conversations with them about their learning goals and planning conversations to help them craft a solid development plan. By the way: employee development doesn’t have to be expensive. [Don’t forget to check out my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, for 11 different methods of developing your employees (and yourself) outside the classroom and on a budget.]
In this vlog, I’ve shared with you the 10 kinds of conversations that I think every leader should have with every employee. If you make time for these throughout the year, you will get to know your employees and build trust and camaraderie, and develop them and improve their ability to perform at their peak. It will help you with your job by helping them with their job, and support the organization to achieve its mission.
Which of these are kinds of conversations are you already having regularly? Which should you add to your repertoire next? Which should you hold more regularly or often? Share in the comments!
Halelly Azulay: Hey there. If you are listening and watching this video, you’re probably interested in becoming an even better leader that you already are right now. Or maybe you’re thinking about becoming a leader in the future and you’re working on proactively improving your ability to do a great job, so kudos to you for doing that. One of the things that in my work as a leadership development strategist I encounter a lot is people are really not sure how often and about what to speak with their employees. Because in today’s world of work, let’s face it – most people don’t have just the job of being a manager, a people manager, full-time. Most of us, when we are a people manager, we are also some kind of a project manager, we have some kind of responsibilities to continue performing our technical duties, whatever it is that we’ve excelled in, that earned us that promotion in the first place. So you end up having to juggle a lot of different things at the same time in addition to this responsibility of managing people and their performance.
Now I believe that a leader’s job is to facilitate peak performance in others. And that means that you have to give them the resources, the skills, the ability to do what they need to do to excel in their job, to remove obstacles from their way, and to support them from the side whenever possible, to help to redirect them, to give them feedback, to give them direction. So when you are struggling to do your people management aspect of your job, one of the things that I find a lot of people fall back into is either old habits or modeling what they’ve seen from people who have led them. And unfortunately, I think, you and I both know that there’s a lot of bad examples out there, So I’m trying to do my part to stop the madness and stop getting people to continue repeating the mistakes of the past.
One of the mistakes of the past that I see repeated in organizations and in some cases it’s because it’s culturally ordained, is this idea that we talk to employees in a formal way once or twice or maybe four times a year throughout the official “performance review” process, and that all of the other conversations are maybe just about questions they have or things you need to delegate to them, but there really isn’t some kind of a proactive, manager-driven, regular, habitual discussion with employees that happens, or conversation with employees, that happens outside of the performance management process.
This is a huge mistake. Lots of companies are now seeing the light and in fact, many, many organizations are doing away with that official performance review process of yore, because it was not producing the results we need to see in the 21st Century workplace. And we need to replace that not with a vacuum, but with consistent ongoing communication. Weekly communication, even daily communication. And conversations with employees is the way to do that.
I recently wrote an article that’s become pretty popular which is the “Top 10 conversations every leader should have with every employee,” and I wanted to go over some of those with you here to help you get a sense of what you should be doing with your employees on a regular basis. It’s going to require habituation from you. That means you’re going to have to intentionally plan to make this happen, and create some key habits to make this a regularly occurring thing. But I hope that I will give you some ideas about the content of these conversations, or the types of conversations, to help make that job easier. Here are my top 10 conversations that every leader should have with every employee.
And the first one is that every employee needs to be working to their strengths. I hope that you are thinking about this and that you are aware of what strengths are, but in general, the more that you can match people’s work to their strength, the better that they will perform, the better quality results that they will produce for you, and the more engaged that they will be, the more excited they will be about their work and the better the culture of your organization and team will be. So you need to have conversations with people in order to learn more about their strengths and to make sure that they are getting a chance to use their strengths everyday at work. Find out what is it that makes them feel a sense of passion, a sense of flow at work? What really helps them utilize their skills and also their passions, and what comes easily to them that other people find not that easy? Those are some of the clues about what their strengths might be.
And of course I wrote a book about this, and there are lots of tools out there to help you get an actual assessment of what people’s strengths are, and this is a great thing that you should be able to do, because it gives you more food for discussion with them and more specific information that you can use. So have strength conversations with your employees on a pretty regular basis. Now, this doesn’t mean that you talk to them about this every week because there’s lots of things you need to still talk to them about. This is something that maybe you want to talk once or twice a year about to make sure that you’re both in sync and that they’re still feeling like their job allows them to use their strengths daily and that they’re doing things that are supported by their strengths rather than always going against the grain of their strengths. Because in the end, you won’t be utilizing their value, their ultimate potential value, and optimizing their ability to contribute to the organization if you don’t allow them to work from their strengths.
The second kind of conversation that every leader should have with every employee is goal-planning conversations. Now, that probably doesn’t happen daily either, but you need to make sure that at some point you’re having a conversation with the employee about what their main goals are for the year, and then you are having a regular check-in with employees about what is their progress toward their goals and what changes might have happened in what their goals are, what their goals should be, what way that they should be working about those goals or maybe the prioritization. Because the world is very dynamic. Things change. Organizations change. People change. Workflows change. So whatever goals you set at the beginning, they’re not set in stone. Now, you shouldn’t throw them out the window every other day and change them willy-nilly, but they should be dynamic and therefore there should be some tweaks, changes – maybe minor, maybe major – to the goals. So this should be something that is included in regular conversations that you’re having with your employees so that they are always feeling like they understand what they’re working toward, so that they have the capacity to make good decisions when there is a conflict of interest or when they have competing priorities. Because a lot of time is wasted when people aren’t clear, aren’t sure, what they should be working on, and having goals conversations can eliminate a lot of that uncertainty and time waste. And improve your productivity for sure.
The third kind of conversation that you should be having regularly with your employees is day-to-day performance conversations. As I mentioned before, if you’re keeping performance conversations to once or twice a year, you’re doing it wrong. People need to have regular information about how they are performing against their goals and against the measures of their success. They need to know your assessment of their progress and they need to have the opportunity to make course corrections along the way, rather than finding out about something that’s a problem maybe further down the road after they’ve been basically just allowed to continue making the mistake over and over or maybe doing something in a way that is less productive or less effective than they could be. Everybody has the opportunity to make improvements and would appreciate having the chance to do so by you talking with them about their performance in a day-to-day way. You need not withhold information about their performance. You need to seek opportunities to have conversations about performance on a very, very regular basis.
A weekly check-in is one of the ways that you could do that, and that’s the fourth type of conversation I recommend every leader have with every employee. A weekly check-in. Not a quarterly check-in. Not a bi-annual check-in. A weekly check-in. That means one-on-one time that’s dedicated to talking about whatever it is that you need to talk about, like updates about their project, updates about their goals, talking about how they feel, what things are going on, what’s exciting to them, what is happening maybe in side projects. Anything that you can ask them about and tell them from your perspective can take place during these conversations, and they don’t have to be very long conversations. You don’t have a schedule an hour with every employee every week. They can be five minutes, 10 minutes, 15-minute conversations. One of my friends and colleagues, Jeremy Epstein whom I interviewed in episode 34 of my podcast of the TalentGrow Show was telling me how every Sunday night, he sits down and he schedules all the one-on-ones with all of his employees and even some of his skip level, the less than direct reports, who report to his direct reports, so that he is able to make sure that he saves time for those important conversations. Because otherwise, the work will expand to the time available – that’s Parkinson’s Law – and it’s true. It happens. So if you don’t make time for those, if you don’t build them into your schedule, the time will not be there. But if you do build them into your schedule because it is your job, it is your job to do that, then you will be able to make sure that you’re checking in with people on a regular basis. Everything about your job will improve if you do nothing but this. Change. So make sure that you schedule one-on-one conversations with all of your employees. You will thank me for it.
The fifth kind of conversation you should be having regularly with your employees is positive feedback conversations. You need to be on the lookout for things to tell them about their performance that are going well. You need to be on the lookout for ways to tell them about what you appreciate about their approach, their style, their skill. Specific things they said, specific things they did. Feedback from customers, feedback from peers, feedback from other departments. All of the information that you can gather about what they’re doing right, and you need to communicate that regularly. Now, ideally what you want to do is communicate that as close to its occurrence as possible. You don’t want to save it up for any kind of scheduled conversation, if by any chance you are able to give them that feedback right away. You can use my STS formula, which I’ve discussed elsewhere – I’ll link to it – to know how to give that kind of feedback that is really valuable to people and helps them know what is working so that they can keep doing that. The more specific, the better.
But of course, you also should be having developmental feedback conversations. Because everybody wants to learn and grow. Everybody wants to get even better at what they’re doing. So if you’re only telling them about what’s working and you’re not telling them about anything that they could do to even ratchet up their performance, you’re withholding information from them that they need in order to reach mastery, which is one of those drivers of motivation in the 21st Century. As I’ve discussed before and as described by Daniel Pink in his wonderful book, Drive. So how are you helping people reach mastery if you’re not telling them ways in which they could improve? Look for opportunities to give them very timely, very specific and well-defined feedback about ways in which they could ratchet up the effectiveness of what they’re doing. Now, of course this would be the category under which you would give them information about things you need them to stop doing, mistakes they’re making or something that they’re just doing incorrectly, because they need to know that so that they don’t keep making that mistake.
The seventh kind of conversation every leader should have with employees is career conversations. Do you know what their career aspirations are? Do you know what their development needs are? Do you know what their next steps are in their career, where they’ve been, where they want to go? And are you facilitating that for them? Because as the developer of talent, as a manager, it is your responsibility to help people achieve their goals in their careers to the extent that you can. So what do they want to accomplish their career, and are there ways in which you can help them achieve those goals? You’re not going to keep them forever. A friend of mine, Chip Joyce, who I also interviewed on the podcast, is the CEO of a company called Allied Talent that works to implement what has been written in a book by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh called The Alliance that says that in the modern workplace, we are lying to ourselves when we pretend that it’s like a marriage, forever, forever, until death do us part. We used to pretend – maybe it used to be true before, I don’t know, but it’s definitely not true now – nobody takes on a job with the intention of staying in it forever, and no employer hires someone with the intention of keeping them around forever. So let’s stop the charade and let’s have conversations that are open and honest and real about the fact that when somebody joins your team, it’s for a finite period of time and it’s to accomplish certain goals. So how can they add the most value when they’re with you, and how can you add value to their career so that they feel developed, that they feel supported and that it actually makes them want to stay longer, not less? So talk about it.
The eighth kind of conversation that every leader should have with every employee is what my friend and mentor Dr. Beverly Kaye calls stay interviews. She was featured on the second episode ever of the TalentGrow Show and she’s written a book, co-authored a book, called Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go. And Beverly Kaye is a very wise woman, because it’s true. So what is a stay interview? Well, I bet you’ve heard of exit interviews, right? Here’s what’s really absurd about exit interviews. Organizations often don’t talk to people – managers don’t talk to people – until they are about to leave, when they’ve decided they’re done, they’ve had it, they want to go somewhere else. Now we suddenly want to know what’s going on, could we keep you, what could we have done differently to keep you? Why are we waiting until they leave or until they’ve emotionally disconnected to have that conversation? We should be having conversations all the time about what do we need to do to keep you here, to keep you happy, to prevent you from exiting? Those are stay interviews to oppose the exit interviews. So if you’re having conversations with people all the time about what they need, about what they want, about what could help them feel even happier in their job, about what things are maybe getting on their nerves or not working for them, the better you can do to keep them happy, to keep them engaged, to keep them motivated and to keep them performing at their top performance. Which is what you want! So stay interviews are fantastic kind of conversation. So I will link to that, to the book, and to the interview with Dr. Kaye so that you can listen to that to learn a little bit more about that.
The ninth kind of conversation every leader should have with every employee is impact conversation. And that’s to just help embed and contextualize for every employee how what they do supports the bottom line. How what they do contributes to the ultimate mission of the organization. How what they’re doing helps the organization do what it’s promised its constituents that it wants, that it will do for them, so that they never feel like some kind of cog in the wheel. So that they never feel like that episode in I Love Lucy where Lucille Ball is trying to learn a job where her whole job is to just wrap chocolate bon-bons. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this video – you can Google and watch it on You Tube – it’s hilarious! All she knows is that there’s a little hole in the wall and little chocolate bon-bons come out of it, that hole, on a conveyor belt. Her job is to wrap them up and these little packages and send them on their way down the conveyor belt, through another hole in another wall. She has no sense of the impact of her work on the end consumer. She doesn’t see people enjoying the chocolates. She doesn’t see their hands not getting dirty or not getting into the chocolates as a result of the fact that she’s wrapped them so well and so on. Her job becomes so isolated and it’s like she has tunnel vision about what she’s trying to do to the extent that she doesn’t care that much about what she’s doing. Of course there’s a lot of comedy involved and it’s on purpose that she really, really is very clueless about what she’s doing, but I think it delivers a very good point which is does every one of your employees see the connection between what they’re doing on a daily basis to the ultimate mission of the organization, to the results, to the satisfaction of the clients, to the value, to the shareholders or whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve in your mission? Make sure that you talk to them about that on a regular basis, not just once a year.
And then finally, the tenth conversation that every leader should have with every employee – by the way, these are not in any particular order, I should have said that earlier. They’re just generally 10 types of conversations that you should be having. So the tenth one, are you ready, is development and training conversations. Now, I come from the world of talent development and training and employee development, so this is near and dear to my heart. I wrote a book about this called Employee Development on a Shoestring that helps busy managers get more ideas about how they can help develop their employees without always having to just send them to some training class. Let’s face it, there aren’t training classes for every kind of development needed. Second, we don’t have time to send people to so many training classes. Third, we don’t have the money, the budget, to send people to so many training classes. And fourth, some things are not best learned in a training class. They’re best learned in some other way. You need to think about what does each employee want to learn? What skills do they need to develop? What are their goals and in terms of their mastery trajectory and developing the kinds of skills that will help them not only in their current job, but in their future jobs, and how can you support their learning needs?
So there are lots and lots of ways that you can do that. Volunteering is one way. Mentoring is another way. On the job learning through shadowing or job rotations. There are lots of ways that people can develop skills that don't require sending them to training. So check out my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, it’s on Amazon and everywhere books are sold, and of course here on my website, but there are lots of ideas that I can share with you and you need to make sure that this is part of your regular conversation with employees.
So in this video blog, or vlog, I’ve shared with you the 10 kinds of conversations that I think every leader should have with every employee. And I think that if you make time for these, they’re not all 10 every day, all the time. But all throughout the year, you need to be regularly having conversations with employees and these are all the types of things that you should be talking about with them, in addition to just asking them about their weekend and asking them about their summer and asking them what makes them tick or what makes them happy or what really gets on their nerves. Just so that you get to know them and build trust and build a camaraderie. All of those things are going to go so far in helping you with your job, in helping them with their job, and in helping the organization get things done in the best possible way.
I’d love to hear what you thought about these ideas and what other conversations you would add to this list, right here below, in the comments, and I hope that you will stay in touch with me through my weekly newsletter, check out my podcasts and my blog so that we can continue learning from each other. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist, here on the TalentGrow blog, and I appreciate your time and interest in these ideas and others, and I hope that in the meantime, until the next time we meet, you make today great.
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