Many managers struggle to get their staff to understand and align their work priorities to what is needed. Marshall Goldsmith, a US expert executive coach, recommends you ask six strategic questions to get direct reports on the right track. These questions effectively form the basis for a periodic performance review meeting with each staff member. So, ask these six questions to ensure staff are on track with their work priorities
Goldsmith proposes quarterly one-on-one meetings with each staff member. These key questions should be asked each time. These should create a healthy two-way discussion that helps to clarify priorities, ensures alignment, and promotes mutual understanding. These questions are additional to the uninspired questions that are the feature of most performance reviews.
1. Where is the organization going?
Share your views on key priorities for the larger organization. Then ask for your direct report’s views. This discussion will help ensure alignment between your views and their views on what really matters. Document this for that person. Like a visit to the doctor, people find it difficult to remember all the relevant information discussed in an appointment.
2. Where are you going?
Discuss where this direct report (and their part of the business) should be headed. Then ask for their views on the desired direction. This dialogue will help ensure alignment between management of the organization and management of your team member’s part of your organization.
3. What are you doing well?
Discuss your views on your direct report’s key achievements. Then ask them to share their views on what they are doing well. Sometimes our lack of recognition is not a function of not caring – it is a function of not understanding achievements from the other person’s perspective. By asking, “What do you think you are doing well?” we can get their perspectives.
4. What changes can lead to improvement?
Share your ideas on how more progress can be made by that employee and by the organization in the future – then ask for his or her ideas. Accept that some of their ideas may be more useful than yours.
5. How can I help?
Ask for ideas on how you can better help them achieve agreed goals. You might need to be more available to give ongoing feedback or guidance. He or she might need you to listen better – many managers are not good listeners to their staff.
6. What suggestions do you have for me?
Ask for their ideas on changes you can make to become a more effective manager. If you want him or her to focus on continuous improvement, you can’t lead by example. Research shows that the best managers ask their subordinates for their opinions on how the manager can improve.
(Another effective question to help identify a staff member’s strengths is to ask them what was the best day they have had at work in the past three months. Then follow this with a question about the worst day they have had at work in the past three months. This should help to point to areas of their performance that can be improved.)
In between each quarterly “six questions” dialogue, establish your mutual responsibility for continued alignment. Let them be responsible for immediately contacting you if they are ever uncertain about priorities or needs feedback. You be responsible for contacting them if the business situation changes and you need to re-set priorities.
Try asking the questions in your direct report performance management discussions
Goldsmith says the six simple questions produce powerful results. Try them in your performance management discussions. When you ask these questions to keep staff on track, you will find they are very effective.
I remember my last performance review meeting with my boss in my former job (I am the boss in my current job, thankfully). He never got around to half the questions in Goldsmith’s half dozen. If he had, we would have created a more productive discussion. In future meetings of this kind I will know some questions to ask.
If you aren’t in a supervisory position, you can ask your manager or supervisor the answers to the above questions. In other words, you can take the initiative and lead the discussion between you and your boss. It will be worthwhile to do this as it will lead to more effective performance on your part and probably on your boss’s part!
Even if you are a manager, you can ask your own boss some of the six questions. This will make you more effective in your own work, and also will help you become better when you ask.questions to keep staff on track.
This is adapted from a 2007 Marshall Goldsmith article in the Harvard Business Review.
You may find further useful insights when you read my article, “Strengthen your management skills.”
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