For a number of my executive coaching clients, this is the time of year when they conclude annual performance review conversations. As is usually the case, some of them are easy and fun, and some are challenging and stressful. Whether part of an annual cycle or, far more useful, a timely reminder of recent performance, performance management conversations are part of the life of the company.
Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three important questions leaders need to ask and answer before engaging in a performance conversation. It doesn’t matter if the conversation is in the easy and fun category or the difficult and stressful category, the questions are worth thinking about before starting the discussion.
Here they are:
What do I want them to think? – This question aims to identify important facts about the team member’s performance and organize the facts to provide insight into what they did or did not do and how they did what they did. he did or did not. Help your team members understand the impact of their actions, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between.
How do I want them to feel? – This question is at least as important as what you want them to think because the actions people take stem much more directly from how they feel than what they think. How do you want them to feel at the end of the conversation? Enjoyed? Disputed? Engaged? Concerned? These are just a few of the many answers you might find. The goal is to identify and then facilitate an emotional state for your team member that leads to productive action. Once you’ve identified that, think about what you need to say and how you need to say it to help them get there.
What do I want them to do? – In its simplest form, this question is about what you want your team member to continue, start or stop doing. Ideally, the emotional state you helped facilitate prompts them to take productive action. From there, it’s all about support and expectations. For top performers, you’ll want to talk about what’s ahead of them, how to leverage what’s on their agenda for the good of the organization and themselves, and what they need from you for continued success. For underperformers, the line of sight to the next set of goals is likely shorter and more focused, and support from you is likely more directed.
Asking and answering these questions for yourself is worth an investment of your time and brain space before having your performance conversation. This type of preparation is very similar to the visualization process that great athletes go through before competition. What is true for them is also true for you: solid preparation leads to better performance.
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