Ignite Conversation: A Framework for Ongoing Performance Feedback
By Hawley Kane, Head of Organizational Development, Saba Software

Brandon Hall Group’s recent report, Performance Management Snapshot, August 2017, found that 29% of organizations have completely replaced annual performance appraisal discussions with more frequent, in-the-moment feedback. As more organizations move towards this management approach, HR is tasked with providing the necessary tools and support to ensure that ongoing performance conversations between managers and employees are focused and meaningful.

Proactive, efficient managers take their employee performance and development responsibilities seriously. And one of the most valuable ways managers can empower their employees to take ownership of their performance and development is through one-on-one meetings or check-ins. Organizations that encourage regular meetings between managers and their employees report significant increases in employee engagement and participation in development opportunities, according to the Brandon Hall study.

Talent management software can provide important support for ongoing performance and development conversations, but the same principles apply without it.  There are five tenets that will help managers ensure a successful, ongoing conversation.

Prepare. Both managers and employees should have ample time to prepare for the meeting. Employees should bring a short list of items to discuss, be prepared to communicate progress on goals identified during the last meeting and ready to direct the conversation. When it comes to broader development conversations, managers should share questions with employees in advance to frame the discussion. Many of the latest cloud-based and mobile performance management tools include a check-in meeting capability that not only provides an outline of key points for discussion, but that include conversation starters to help prompt managers who may not be adept at coaching questions.

Build on strengths to overcome weaknesses. Hey, we’re only human. We can always improve in at least one area. After discussing and celebrating the employee’s key strengths, the manager should shift the conversation to skills development. A positive way to frame the discussion is to identify the areas for improvement by aligning them with the employee’s aspirations. The key is to approach each meeting with a clear understanding of where the employee is now, and where he wants to be in the future.

Get SMART. Dialogue is just one piece of a holistic development plan. Once everyone has clear expectations, the key is to create an action plan. When done right, employee development plans are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Specific: What is the specific developmental goal? Is it improving competence in a key area? Is it moving to a senior role as an individual contributor?

Measurable: How is success measured? Think about how you will know when the goal has been accomplished. Perhaps it is a set of milestones aligned to an end timeline.

Actionable: What are the actionable steps needed to achieve the goal? Break the goal into small steps and list each step. For example, one step might be to do some reading on the development topic. Another step might be to find a mentor who is an expert in the area of development and meet with them monthly for 6 months.

Relevant: Aim for the stars but ensure that developmental goals are relevant to both the employee’s personal aspirations for career growth, as well as to the organization’s needs to be successful.   

Time-bound:  Set a specific deadline for goal achievement.  

When it comes to creating and discussing performance goals, it’s easy to get overexcited and try to focus on too many objectives simultaneously. Instruct managers to limit the employee’s development plan to three to five performance goals.

Online tools allow the manager and employee to not only create goals, but track status, progression and notable moments along the way as a part of the ongoing performance conversation.

Create a feedback loop. During a one-on-one meeting, the manager should celebrate incremental progress and encourage an open dialogue to flag any challenges that are hampering results.

The manager should ask the employee what’s working, what’s not, and what else can be done to support her success? Likewise, the employee should be prepared to share recognition and feedback that she received from others. The beauty of supporting development through ongoing performance conversations is that the dialogue will begin to form more naturally as time goes on.

Schedule It. To avoid falling into the annual performance review rut, it’s critical to formally schedule the next meeting.

Organizations are increasingly moving from a process-centric system to people-centric. One-on-one meetings are not only important for employee-manager relationships, they are part of the bigger picture. These meetings will help create a culture of learning throughout your organization, improve employee engagement and ensure your employees are continually developing new skills. As a result, your company will be better equipped to be competitive. Learning and development is truly a business-critical priority.





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