5 Conversations You Should Be Having with Your Employees

By Roy Maurer April 3, 2015

Employees want to be successful, but they need clear guidance and direction to develop professionally. There are essentially five key conversations managers need to have with their employees throughout the year in order to influence successful talent management practices and outcomes, according to Kim Janson, CEO of Janson Associates, an organizational and employee development firm.

Janson is the author of Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results (Maven House Press, 2015). She has over 20 years’ experience working in over 40 countries in senior roles such as chief talent management officer at the H.J. Heinz Co. and senior VP of leadership development at Bank of America.

Janson discussed with SHRM Online the types of conversations managers should be having to develop and engage their employees. The five conversations described below are identified in her book.

SHRM Online: You list setting expectations as the first key conversation to have. Is it the most important?

Janson: If you don’t have the “setting performance expectations conversation” and don’t do it well, the rest doesn’t matter. Establishing clarity and agreement is essential to delivering great performance. Somewhere along the line, it became acceptable for managers to not have defined performance expectations or goals for themselves or their direct reports.

Start with the strategic direction of your business, and have performance expectations flow from there. Cascading strategic direction and making it relevant at each level of the organization is every manager’s responsibility. Use measures to ensure that you get where you want to go. Keep it simple. If things change, modify the performance expectations. Be clear and enable your employees to be successful.

SHRM Online: How about periodically checking in on employees?

Janson: The “how is it going conversation” vies for a very close second in terms of importance. An iterative, ongoing dialogue about progress and challenges, brainstorming and troubleshooting ensures fantastic results. Managers should be disciplined about spending time with their employees to reinforce good progress and to be available to coach as needed. Coaching is at the core of a manager’s job and consists of helping employees understand their current situation, how to change their situation, helping employees practice and letting employees know how they did. Coaching, contingency planning, approaching things with transparency and providing high-quality feedback are all elements that will help an employee achieve success. It’s a good idea to take notes periodically to make annual review writing easy.

SHRM Online: Tell me about the dreaded performance review conversation.

Janson: The performance review process should be easy. That is presuming you’ve done a good job of setting goals, modified them as they changed throughout the year, provided ongoing feedback and coaching, and communicated all of this. The big questions are “Did the employee do what they said they were going to do? Did they do more? Did they do less?” Self and peer reviews as well as client or partner input provide validation of results. Conducting calibration sessions across groups of managers is a smart way to ensure equitable ratings. If an employee underperforms, create a formal performance improvement plan.

SHRM Online: Then there’s talking about money.

Janson: People expect to be paid fairly and equitably. Having the pay conversation after the performance conversation helps drive a pay-for-performance culture. Compensation appears as an issue in most employee engagement survey results, but lack of understanding and lack of communication seem to be the root causes of the problem.

Courageously use differentiation with bonuses and merit increases to promote top performance and to drive out the weak performers. The company’s compensation philosophy should be applied consistently at all levels of the organization. Consistent and reliable pay practices make a big difference in creating loyalty in employees.

SHRM Online: What about planning for the future? When is it right to have that conversation?

Janson: People who have their goals intersect with their reality have mastered the technique of creating their future every day. While having a somewhat formal planning conversation about the future is powerful at the beginning of a performance cycle and midway through, having an eye on the future and regular discussions help to map hopes with plans and results. The more this conversation becomes an event, the less likely it will get great traction, so approach that conversation with a dual focus of both “now” and “in the future.”

Development is a strategic business imperative. It is just smart business to tap into employees wanting to do more. And managers should consider themselves ineligible for another role without a clear successor.

Succession planning and career development both take into consideration strategic direction and the employee’s needs and interests, but the level of importance switches based on who you are. Decisions made during succession planning should be based on input from good career planning conversations. Outputs from career- and succession-planning conversations should be translated into employees’ individual development plans.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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