A good conversation between a manager and an employee is like driving a car. You look back in your mirrors every 5 - 8 seconds, checking what's happening behind you. This amounts to about 12 - 20% of the time your driving. But so many managers have conversations looking 100% in the past, instead of focusing on the now and future.
Here are our 3 main ingredients for killer conversations (keep on reading for more detail on each one):
Scheduled in as a recurring invite (using your calendar)
80 / 20 focus (80% forward looking, 20% looking back)
Use a system / take notes and keep track of your progress / actions
Why are manager-employee conversations important?
41% of employees leave an organisation because of poor relationships with their supervisor/manager.*
That's right. The reason almost half of employees leave their job is that they don't have a good relationship with their supervisor. And this costs businesses real money in turnover every year.
Managers need to have more frequent, forward-looking interactions with their teams. Building a relationship of trust between you and your employees is one of the best ways to increase retention, improve performance and ensure your looking out for their wellbeing.
But if you've never had on-going conversations before, it can be daunting. What do I ask? How long does it need to be? How often? We breakdown our straightforward method to killer conversations with your employees that you should kick-off as early as you can this year.
So what makes a good conversation between a manager and an employee? Here's a straightforward breakdown we use internally:
20% time spent looking back.
80% time spent looking forward.
No more than 15 - 30 minutes, 1 - 2 times a fortnight.
The 80:20 rule of conversations
During the first 20%, you want to look back at past performance. Ask questions like:
What has gone well?
What needs to be improved?
These can be about anything. Workplace culture, personal development, project specific etc. The point here is to take a quick look back at what's been happening. Action anything that stands out as a major issue or blocker for your employee.
Pro Tip: After you get into the rythym of having conversations, you can start to ask these questions beforehand and come to your catchups prepared and ready to discuss.
The next 80% of your time should be focused on the now and the future. An effective question to ask is:
What should we start, stop or speed up?
Spend most of your conversation time in this area. Just like looking back, the response can be about anything. Just make sure you action or plan to action any major issues or useful ideas that come from your conversation.
Here are some more simple, yet powerful questions you can ask during your conversation to get the most out of your session, and to start building a real relationship with your employees:
Are you working on the most important things right now?
Give your employee a chance reflect on what they are working on, and give feedback if they don't feel it's important, or their skills aren't being used to their full potential.
Do you know what is expected of you?
Make sure your employees know what is expected, and that you're here to help. It's surprising how un-aligned some employees can be to the company vision or current projects, but most of the time it's not their fault. It's your job to keep them on track while looking out for their wellbeing.
What are the actions between now and our next catchup?
Let your employee know that this isn't just a pointless discussion, that you will work together to fix/action issues that are most important.
How can I best support you?
Show your employee that you care about their wellbeing and progress. Listening and following through on their responses really builds trust!
Pro Tip: Take notes / Use a system like Everperform to track these conversations - only if you remember everything should you not take notes, and revisit these.
Tools like Everperform help managers and team members stay in-sync, track performance overtime and have better conversations. You can book a demo here if you need help keeping track of your employees and people metrics.
How long, how often?
Between 15 - 30 minutes, once a week or fortnight is the sweet spot we found. Any more than that, and we find that the focus of the conversation goes out the window.
The key to start with isn't so much the time spent, but the frequency. Keep it consistent! Use your calendar to your advantage here. Block out a recurring 15 - 30 minutes, once or twice a fortnight with each team member, so there's always time to have your conversations. Setting up a recurring calendar invite at a time that you discuss works best for both of you is the best way to ensure you stick to your weekly / fortnightly cadence.
You can miss a few here and there, that's fine. But nothing kills trust more than constantly changing or rescheduling your catchups. It might seem like a minor thing, but it's important to keep to your schedule as much as you can.
I need more help?
If you're starting out with on-going conversations, want to skill up, or need any help about conversations with employees in general, here are a few resources for you.
We wrote an entire eBook on this subject late in 2019. It goes into more details about the types of questions you should be asking, the frequency, and also the mindset and attitude you should show during the conversations. You can download a copy of it here.