Q: We have mid-year performance and coaching conversations coming up and this will be my first time delivering reviews. How can I ensure the dialogue is as impactful as possible?

Want your question answered? Subscribe to the newsletter to submit a question. 

Q: We have mid-year performance and coaching conversations coming up and this will be my first time delivering reviews. How can I ensure the dialogue is as impactful as possible?

A: Performance reviews and coaching conversations are one of the most valuable tools a leader has when it comes to fostering talent and establishing a culture of feedback within their organization. Many companies are moving away from the once-or-twice a year formalized performance review in favor of a more relaxed and continual approach to coaching and developing their teams year-round. Regardless of your organization’s approach, there are a few tried-and-true tactics you can use to ensure these conversations aren’t overly daunting, or—perhaps worse—fail to impact your team.

Implement a check-in cadence

Some people claim to like surprises—others hate them. Whichever camp a given team member falls into, its reasonable to assume they don’t like bad surprises. Yet, when you wait until a formal performance review conversation to tell them their performance is less than stellar—or worse—you’re delivering a giant package of negativity to them. To avoid this, get into the habit of having regular check-ins with your employees—not chatting briefly with them on the sales floor, but scheduling it in advance to deliberately sit down and discuss their performance, as well as receive their feedback on the business and on your level of managerial support. If this seems overwhelming, regular check-ins don’t necessarily mean weekly. If you have a part-time workforce that only comes in a few days per week, you can alter the cadence to align with everyone’s schedules. The important thing is to be consistent and intentional.

Document for memory and clarity

It feels great to have a productive conversation with your employee where you give and receive feedback and discuss next steps, but it feels less great at your next meeting if you’ve forgotten the content of that conversation. To avoid this, put measures in place to document coaching and check-ins. Some companies have created internal journal tools for this purpose. If yours uses a sharing tool like Google Drive or Dropbox, you can create a very simple journal folder or document for each employee with dates, notes on what was discussed and next steps. Even simpler, you can have your employee recap the conversation to you in a brief email and file it away to be reviewed prior to your next meeting. Getting into the habit of recording your conversations has the added benefit of confirming that there is clarity on both sides. Say you delegate a task to an employee with clear instructions to report progress at certain points along the way. If the conversation is documented, there will be no questions about what was agreed upon, which will help assess performance for both parties, in terms of employee execution and leadership.

Set a direction

One upside to more formalized once-or-twice a year performance reviews is that they force you to stop for reflection. If your organization has adopted more of a rolling performance management cycle, you can still build this in by earmarking certain check-ins for reflection purposes. During these moments, you can look at how far the employee has come, and hopefully how they’ve been able to grow in their role and skill set. Sometimes it’s advantageous to enact a formal plan, such as a SMART Goal with a specific time frame. As with all goal-setting conversations, you’ll want to set this in collaboration with your employee, preferably during a check-in or during the review. This will give even more structure to future check-in conversations, helping to deliberately focus an employee on a specific task or skill you’d like them to learn or improve.

There are also times when, even if you’ve done due diligence in your check-ins, specific or overall performance improvement is needed on the part of the employee. This usually requires a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Many employees view PIPs as the first step toward getting fired, but this should not be the desired outcome. Instead, your goal as a manager should be to give the employee a path to correct their behavior or improve their skill set so that employment can continue. Both tools are valuable in your employee’s development cycle—as well as for the company at large—and will help set a clear direction for their future performance at the end of the conversation.

Rinse and repeat

Performance management is never one and done, but constantly evolving as you and your employees learn and grow. The above should help get you started on a consistent cycle of feedback and reviews. The results you see within yourself and your team will keep you going.