HR leaders are familiar with the annual performance review which often carries a feeling of anxiety and futility. In recent years, organisations such as Accenture and Deloitt[i]e have radically revamped their performance management process in favour of ongoing regular performance conversations, reliable performance measurement, and strong investment in development for employees. Early indicators are demonstrating the increase in employee engagement and productivity as a result not to mention the massive amount of time that is no longer wasted by leaders gaining consensus on employee performance behind closed doors.
So, now that it makes sense to empower HR managers to have a rolling performance conversation rather than a mandated, once a year performance chat, the problem has been solved…right?
In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The assumption that goes with the above solution is that managers have the capability to expertly navigate conversations with each of their team members to maintain engagement, challenge them to develop their skills, empathise with them and provide them with crucial feedback to enhance their awareness. Unless managers were born with the gift of people leadership (only about 1 in 10 have this gift according to Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup), it’s asking a lot of managers.
If you’re reading this and you agree that most managers are lacking the capability to have highly sophisticated, relationship-driven discussions that are tailored to each of their team members, then keep reading as I’ll share the two master skills that will help set them up for success.
Regardless of the tool that you use, be it the GAPS model, the GROW model, SMART goal setting, the SCARF model or any other model with a fancy acronym, they will all fail unless you devote most of your time practising the following two skills and you master them.
These two master skills are:
1) Presence – Being present with somebody is the single best way to build trust, empathise, understand and show your respect. Of course, you need to engage your body and mind in the conversation to ensure you remain present. When someone is being present with you, it can feel intense, and it should. Your intention by being present with them is to let them know that they are the most important person in the room right now and you are fully attentive to their needs. This does take practice, especially if you are in a busy environment where it is acceptable to have phones in meetings, constant interruptions and laptops chiming every 15mins. A final thought on presence, even if you get the message a little wrong or you find yourself getting tongue-tied, being fiercely present with somebody will usually save the conversation and enable you to have a positive impact.
2)Reflective Practice (Active Listening) – We all know how important it is to listen but also acknowledge how hard it is to listen very well. Reflective practice is a skill you can use in conversations that enables you to build trust, show empathy and reinforce that you understand them. I call it reflective practice as it takes constant practice to get good at it, despite it seeming very simple. Reflective practice requires you to listen intently to what the other person is saying and when you hear the natural pause in their speaking pattern you ‘reflect’ back to them what they have said. This doesn’t have to be word for word but a summary of what you have heard. As humans, we aren’t always great at articulating ourselves clearly in open conversation, especially when it is emotionally charged, so it can often be refreshing to hear a summary of what you have said to help bring about clarity. Once you have reflected what you have heard, you can expect to hear “that’s right” or similar. If in fact what you’ve reflected isn’t what they shared, they will let you know and usually clarify. Don’t take this personally, it could merely be that once they’ve heard back what they’ve said, it doesn’t sound right. It’s a simple process but the power of engaging in it will enhance your relationships significantly.
One final tip, the best way to improve your ability to engage in effective and powerful conversations is to practice. If you know an important or difficult conversation is coming up, aim to do a role play with a trusted colleague, coach or mentor. It’s far better to stumble through a role-play than a real scenario. Also, you can also apply these skills to your everyday conversations. Don’t wait until you have an annual performance review discussion to hone your skills as a leader, do it in every conversation both professional and personal. The world with thank you for it.