Any operator worth their salt knows that delivering consistently high operational standards requires a relentless focus on getting the basics right. It may not be super exciting or sexy to talk about this habitual focus on the daily need to ensure the operation is up to standard but I very much imagine that training to be a world-class athlete requires a similar disciplined focus on the day-to-day essentials.
Of course the operational or brand standard needs to be clearly defined and recorded to prevent people from interpreting their own version of “what good looks like”. In reality though, even with standards written down in black & white, there’s still room for people to misunderstand what needs to be done or, at the very least, appreciate why it needs to be done the way it does.
The only sustainable way to cut through this and ensure clarity of understanding and expectations, is to be able to clearly and concisely communicate with others; never forgetting that this is a two-way street. I find too many managers have a definition of listening what fits along the line of “waiting to speak” rather than “waiting to hear”!
Many of the conversations managers have with their team are necessitated by “set-piece” events such as monthly business reviews, site visits, team meetings and annual appraisals. However, the overwhelming majority of true “performance conversations” take place at ad-hoc moments (whether in person or on the telephone) and in unformal, un-scripted ways.
I would argue that to be effective, managers must master the ability to have both types of conversation and be confident to do so in a proactive way. Too often emphasis is placed only on the more formal conversations, such as a monthly one-to-one, to the detriment of the more frequent, yet less structured conversations.
I would summarise two of the common pitfalls that afflict far too many managers as follows:
- Lack of structure & clarity regarding action points. In formal meetings its almost criminal that managers and team members leave a meeting together without clear actions (for both parties) formally recorded. What needs to be done, by whom, by when, with agreement on how success will be determined is crucial for follow-up, especially during those unscheduled meetings and conversations. I shiver at the thought of the dreaded words, SMART objectives, yet this simple acronym describes all the elements needed to making a better goal and one that can be reviewed with ease.
- I would suggest that sometimes people find it difficult to identify all the action steps that will be needed to ensure the goal is completed, right at the start of the goal planning process. In these circumstances, effective managers don’t try to force out all the steps, and instead focus on what needs to be done in the next week, fortnight or month – whatever time gap is appropriate – from now until the next follow-up conversation.
- The second pitfall I often observe is managers assuming that their team member understands what needs to be done and/or why? This can be highlighted by the manager simply asking their team member at the end of the conversation to summarise what actions each person is going to take, by when etc and to explain why things need to be done in a specific way? Such questions can reveal immediately where the team member has missed understood what needs to be done or if they’ve simply forgotten to note down an action they need to take. It takes a few minutes at most to do this check-in with the team member, yet so many managers either summarise it themselves or don’t bother at all. Isn’t it better to find out now that they’ve forgotten or misunderstood something, rather than waiting until the next meeting?!
Simple questions like this leads us into an exploration of the behaviours required of the effective manager to ensure their performance conversations really add value. We’ll be exploring this at our upcoming event where we’re partnering with Global Edge, the performance conversations experts. If you’d like to learn more about this free event, click here for more information and to see if spaces are still available.
Look out for further blog posts on this topic in the coming weeks too as I strive to unpick what a manager needs to do to be confident and competent to have performance conversations that matter.