For employees, ongoing dialogue with their managers is crucial for success in the workplace. According to research from Leadership IQ, the optimal amount of time employees should spend interacting with their leaders is six hours per week. While this number may seem surprising and even science-fiction for many employees, organizations are increasingly seeing higher productivity rates from their employees after they spend quality time with their managers. In fact, the study found that employees who spend six hours per week with their manager are 29 percent more inspired, 30 percent more engaged, 16 percent more innovative and 15 percent more intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week.
The Performance Gap
Unfortunately, employees and managers don’t get together as much as they should. From the moment goals are set at the beginning of the year to the time a performance review happens, there is a gap where little formal guidance is given by managers on how to improve performance. This leaves employees on their own, without any external confirmation that they are working on the right things and without any help on how to increase their impact.
Increased attention from management is important for employees because business objectives shift over time, so employees need to be given continuous guidance on what is expected from them. The frequency and quality of such meetings is crucial for goal alignment and personal development. If employees don’t get enough chances throughout the year to connect with their managers, how will they ever be sure they are on the right track and use the guidance to further improve?
Why the Current Problem Exists
Often, the meetings between a manager and employee are unstructured because they lack an agenda. Without a list of items to discuss, meetings can become unfocused.
Managers have other responsibilities apart from supervising their employees, so they don’t make performance check-ins a priority. Common issues include:
- Lack of time: Managers are busy, travel often, or have too many direct reports.
- Forget to have them: Managers don’t schedule performance check-ins, and sometimes they don’t even think they are important. Also, managers with many direct reports might prioritize certain employees over others.
- Don’t understand value. Managers will often multitask during these meetings, sending the message that the employee is not important and time should be spent on other matters.
- Lack of training. Managers don’t know how to conduct performance check-ins. They have been promoted to the manager level because of their technical skills rather than their people skills, so they haven’t been trained properly.
Employees play a role in this as well, and they often fail at having effective conversations with managers about their performance for the following reasons:
- Absence of performance record. Employees don’t keep track of their activities and achievements on an ongoing basis, so when they have a meeting with their manager they are unprepared.
- They avoid bragging. A modest employee might not tout their accomplishments, so their achievements are not recognized by their manager.
- Lack of ownership of their careers. Employees are reactive about figuring out ways to improve their performance and fulfill their potential. They expect their managers to always take the lead and provide strong guidance on what needs to be done to hit their goals. This approach works when managers take the lead and engage employees. But when that’s not the case, employee performance suffers.
What Employees Can Gain Ongoing conversations around performance between an employee and manager are the best way to increase engagement, improve performance, and develop skills for the future. A lack of feedback causes them to disengage and feel unvalued within the company.
Here are a few ways that employees can gain the most out of having regular performance conversations with their managers:
- Make their work visible. In order for managers to understand what their employees are working on, employees need to make their activities and achievements visible. Ideally, these items would build up from previous meetings so there is continuity in the conversation and so steady progress can happen week after week.
- Align expectations. Frequent check-ins with their managers enable employees to understand expectations more clearly and confirm that they are focusing on the right tasks. Have business priorities changed? Is there a need to realign and focus on different objectives?
- Raise issues proactively. Employees need to share the dependencies they are facing. What resources do they need? What are the challenges they are facing that might get in the way of hitting their goals? Employees need to be very clear about how the environment is affecting their goals or the accomplishment of activities.
- Invite feedback. Employees need to reflect on recent actions and receive input from their managers. Are they accomplishing tasks in a time-efficient manner? Are they prioritizing their work adequately?
- Get coaching. Employees can struggle to see the big picture like their managers can. They often need an outside in perspective to the work they are doing. What can they be doing differently? What should they start doing or stop doing? Proposing priority actions and focusing on future goals is important for employees to progress their skills. How can they change their behavior so that performance increases? What do they need to do in order to maximize productivity?
Continuous Performance Management
While managers are the ones who coordinate performance reviews, employees are responsible for demanding the ongoing feedback and guidance they need throughout the year. Performance management should include recurring one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers so performance is always aligned to the right business objectives.
These meetings are not a one-way street; managers and employees need to collaborate together. It is not the managers’ job to do the work the employees should be doing, but rather to create the right environment that will make employees successful. And it is the employees’ responsibility to proactively share their work and seek valuable feedback.
Developing talent is ultimately a combination of a manager’s ability to provide guidance and an employee’s willingness to learn. By rethinking the performance management process to be more employee-driven, forward-looking, and continuous, company leaders can improve performance and develop talent in a way that appeals to all.