Begin the Chat - End the Chatter

Julie Caspar
October 30, 2020

For those companies on a calendar fiscal year, the annual review season is almost here. Many managers, especially those with large teams, look disparagingly on the process; wondering from where the time is going to materialize to complete everything on time – and complete they must.

Reviewing employee performance is not just a task but a critical function of all managers’ jobs. I contend any manager who does not believe this to be true should probably not be a manager. A manager’s first and foremost responsibility is their team and to meet the established goals through their teams. The better the manager leads by keeping people energized, engaged, and on track with a defined plan, the more that manager can count on the likelihood of success.

When it comes to the employees, they may or may not be looking forward to the review depending on how they feel about their manager and how well they thought they did. Regardless, I am not here to talk as much about the annual review process or its pros and cons but focus more on the last phrase of the latter sentence - how well they thought they did.

The fact of the matter is, employees should already know, not guess, how well they did by the end of the performance year. With that said, let me pause and dial it back a little.

Gallup did a study a few years ago on the shift in what employees fervently seek in their jobs. One of the top-rated responses: frequent feedback and coaching conversations from their managers. It turns out manager feedback is one of the key factors inextricably linked to employee engagement. We know when employee engagement is high, organizations do not just do better, they do much better, than those organizations where employee engagement is low.

Ongoing feedback and coaching conversations do not always have to be formal, nor should they. Informal situations create an environment where people are more apt to feel comfortable and at ease; often allowing individuals to more openly give, receive and accept information. For the manager, formal often equates to documentation. The more cumbersome and time-consuming managers view a task, the more they tend to put it off; especially when the manager does not deem the task as essential. As a result, the team member does not receive those important communications as they need them. Opportunities for employees to enhance their ability to hit the right targets throughout the year become negated. Informal performance chats on the other hand are easier, creating an environment for those chats to be more frequent, giving employees the necessary information in helping them do and be better in their jobs. Taking advantage of open moments by stopping by an employee’s office or cubicle to have a chat can be compelling. Some pointers for informal, yet meaningful, performance chats include:

  • Manage by walking around. Select one or two people either a day, a couple of times a week or once a week, depending on the size of the department. Drop in to see how a team member is doing, particularly in relationship to that person’s goals and/or job responsibilities. Find out from them what is going well in their jobs along with obstacles the person may be facing. Take the time to provide coaching on removing those obstacles and together discuss solutions.
  • Use the same chat time to give feedback that is expedient and is as close to an occurrence demonstrated by the employee as possible. Timely feedback makes it easier for the manager to position the information in the proper context from which the employee can better understand and learn.
  • Start the chat with the idea it will be short, maybe 15 minutes; however, go with the flow if you feel more time is needed.
  • Select, learn, and employ a good feedback and coaching model so discussions are most effective and meaningful for the employee.

Remember that performance happens every day. When employees do not hear from their managers, they fill in that blank space with their own chatter and chatter of others on what to do; potentially leading them down erroneous paths. Frequent feedback and coaching keep employees on a successful trajectory. Regular employee chats help managers to develop continuing conversations about expected goals, employee progress, solutions for problems, approaches towards achievement, and realized outcomes; all taking place before the annual review.  Having frequent and ongoing performance chats also allows the manager to forge rewarding work relationships with their employees, enabling the manager to better identify optimal opportunities for each and every employee so they may further develop and succeed.

We now have a little more information on the necessity of frequent performance chats between the manager and employee. The question presently becomes, how do we get managers to talk more frequently with employees while ensuring the discussions are meaningful for employees? Some of that has already been answered but stay tuned for our next blog entry where we will dig a little deeper and uncover more of those answers.

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