Good leaders have conversations – lots of conversations. What are the most important types to have for better performance management?
If leadership is a relationship, as James Kouzes and Barry Posner state in their book Credibility, how are these working relationships formed and developed? The answer: through conversation. The foundation for any working relationship is communication at all levels of an organisation. Being able to hold meaningful and constructive performance management conversations is one of the essential skills leaders at all levels must develop, which is why I find it surprising that people often shy away from them.
In a world that’s increasingly mediated through technology, conversing one-on-one can seem a bit old fashioned. After all, it’s much quicker and easier to press a few buttons or click a mouse to send a message (especially when the conversation might be a tough one!).
The leaders should ask themselves this: How often am I using – or even hiding behind – technology when an in-person chat is possible? Simple, supportive conversations are the building blocks of effective relationships; they establish the context for more difficult, challenging performance management conversations by building acceptance, understanding and trust between the parties involved.
This doesn’t just apply to project-specific or task-specific conversations. I am talking about developmental conversations; conversations that encourage, challenge, inspire, confront and build strengths and seek out opportunities for growth, innovation and continuous improvement conversations. These are the conversations that build and sustain productive working relationships.
So what are the 10 conversations all leaders must have?
1. Climate review conversation
This conversation is about job satisfaction, morale and communication. It provides a leader with a reasonable understanding of the fundamentals of how team members are tracking in their day-to-day work.
2. Strengths and talents conversation
Instead of zeroing in on weaknesses, leaders ought to start with discussing the innate talents of team members and how they can be better utilised in their current and future roles.
3. Opportunities for growth conversation
There is always a need to discuss performance management in the context of opportunities for growth rather than weaknesses.
4. Learning and development conversation
Leaders need to talk to their team members about their learning and development needs. This isn’t just about sending people off to training courses – it is also about coaching and mentoring.
5. Innovation and continuous improvement conversation
If leaders don’t have genuine and regular conversations with team members about how to make the workplace more efficient and effective, then new ideas will never surface. These conversations emphasise the value and importance of innovation and continuous improvement.
6. Coaching conversation
Leaders should see themselves as coaches, and coaching needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue. There are numerous coaching opportunities throughout the work week that can lend themselves to a conversation.
7. Delegation conversation
Like coaching, delegation should be a conversation rather than a set of instructions to a team member. Surveys show time and again that leaders aren’t delegating enough or doing it as well as they should.
8. Mentoring conversation
The best leaders understand the value of mentoring. Many of them had – or currently have – a good mentor. These conversations can be powerful opportunities for change.
9. Visioning conversation
Leaders don’t spend enough time explaining what Dave and Wendy Ulrich refer to as the “why of work.” Conversing with team members about the overarching purpose of tasks and processes provides a context for performance.
10. Encouraging conversation
Make it your resolution to have more of these conversations as a leader. You will be pleasantly surprised at the results it reaps.