The Top 10 Conversations Every Leader Should Have with Every Employee

Top 10 Conversations Every Leader Should Have

Last week I visited sunny Ft. Lauderdale to speak at a financial services association’s conference about how to radically transform the way in which we do performance appraisals. The number one tip of the 5 best practices for a better performance management approach I shared with the audience is this: Make performance feedback an ongoing and informal practice. Ongoing, regular, and timely conversations with employees about performance, goals, career, and feedback contribute tremendously to their current and future level of performance and engagement at work. Here are my top 10 types of conversations that I think every leader should be having with every employee throughout each year:

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.

Daily conversations between leader and employee fuel better performance, guaranteed. [<-- TWEET THAT! Just click on it to go directly to Twitter and have a tweet pre-populated that you can share with others – and yes, you can edit it!]

4. Weekly check-in conversations

Make. Them. Mandatory! This practice is one that Deloitte is implementing throughout its 65,000 employee organization as it reinvents performance management. You should 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. But 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. 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.

So – what do you think? Which of these are you already doing well (kudos!) and which should you add to your repertoire or hold more regularly or often? Share in the comments!

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