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7 Questions to Ask during Performance Catch-Ups

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performance catch-ups  

Performance management is evolving. Increasingly, organizations are abandoning their annual appraisal systems and moving toward continuous performance management — a more agile and intuitive way to engage and motivate employees.

Continuous performance management (known to some as agile performance management) requires regular catch-ups and regular performance coaching conversations with employees.

This system offers a whole host of benefits — improved communication and trust between manager and employee, increased focus on SMART objectives and improved levels of employee satisfaction.

Furthermore, companies that have incorporated this new performance management process — such as Adobe — have noticed a reduction in voluntary turnover. Clearly, more frequent feedback and discussion is the way to go. However, this is often easier said than done.

Though the frequency of meetings is important, the content of these catch-ups is every bit as important. Coaching conversations and feedback sessions are meant to be meaningful and productive.

Everyone involved should leave the session feeling motivated and as though they have achieved something. Simply introducing regular catch-ups won’t accomplish this goal. Managers need training on what to discuss and what questions to ask to get the conversation going and to offer employees much-needed support.

Below, we’ll cover seven fundamental questions every manager should discuss during their performance catch-ups.

  1. How is everything going today? How are you feeling?

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a trivial question. Asking how someone feels can be a powerful opener that can help managers build trust, engagement and authentic dialogue with their employees.

Note that the question isn’t specific to the workplace or the employee’s responsibilities. The employee might discuss personal matters that are troubling them or impeding performance, or they might share some good news that is spurring them on.

The more you know about your employees, their lives and their characters, the more trust you build and the more receptive the employee is likely to be to feedback. Equally, they will feel more comfortable discussing work-related issues and concerns with you, should the need arise.

performance catch-ups

  1. We spoke about your challenge with X the last time we spoke. How is that going?

It’s important to get employees to discuss challenges and obstacles during performance catch-ups. It all comes down to psychological safety. Companies that create a psychologically safe workplace culture enable employees to speak their mind and discuss mistakes and frustrations. This then opens the door to creative problem-solving and moderate risk-taking that could benefit your company in the long run.

Let your employees know that you understand they are human and therefore not perfect — we all make mistakes and we all have areas where we struggle. What’s important is that we persevere and we make real efforts to overcome obstacles.

This question also shows your employees you are there for them, you are willing to help and you are invested in their careers. When an employee knows they have their manager on their side, they will feel more equipped and secure in their role and abilities.

  1. Can you tell me about any proud moments or accomplishments since we last spoke?

Reward and recognition are essential to employee engagement and morale. You don’t want all feedback to be negative. When an employee achieves something or has put significant effort into a task, they should be encouraged to discuss it. You, as their manager, should also take the time to thank and encourage them.

Timeliness is vital with regards to feedback — regardless of its nature. This is why regular performance discussions are so beneficial to employee satisfaction levels.

Discussing proud employee moments is particularly important with regards to high performers, who are often extremely self-critical. Allowing them to reflect and acknowledge proud moments will help keep their impostor syndrome at bay.

  1. Do you have any questions or concerns about company changes/company direction/workplace processes?

Giving employees feedback is, of course, important. But managers should also be soliciting input from employees. Their opinions and insights matter and this question makes that clear.

During performance catch-ups, employees can find an opportunity to discuss how happy they are with existing processes and forward any suggestions they might have. Employees can also seek clarification on company objectives and its direction, which will allow them to place their role in better context.

Furthermore, if there are any organizational changes, employees can use this time to air any grievances or concerns. Remember, when organizational change occurs, the number one obstacle is a lack of communication. The more involved an employee is, the more likely they are to get on board and help the change along.

performance catch-ups

  1. Do you feel your SMART objectives are aligned with organizational goals?

Incredibly, roughly 50% of employees don’t know what they’re doing at work. How can an employee contribute in a meaningful way when they don’t have clarity on their role, their SMART objectives and how these objectives align to organizational goals?

Traditionally, employee goals have been trickled down from the top. However, modern organizations are shaking up goal setting, meaning they are aligning goals upward.

This involves a high degree of transparency — keeping employees updated and informed of organizational objectives, aims, direction and obstacles, so that they are equipped to create their own complementary goals.

This also gives employees more autonomy and provides them with valuable information that will help guide decisions in their day-to-day roles.

  1. How are you getting along with your coworkers?

Human beings are social creatures and employee working relationships are important. Employees tend to perform better when they have friendly relationships at work, but their performance drops when they experience workplace incivility and bullying.

Management should be aware of workplace dynamics if they are to keep morale at a healthy level. Encourage a culture of authenticity and transparency, where employees can come to you if they feel they are being harassed, bullied or ignored.

Many managers make the mistake of keeping out of these matters. But if poor working relationships affect performance, it is everyone’s business — especially yours, as a manager.

  1. Do you feel challenged? Can we do anything to help you advance and develop?

Employee development and advancement are crucial to ensure good employee experience. No top performer is going to remain with a company long-term if they don’t feel challenged.

Modern employees want a sense of advancement, not just in terms of promotions, but concerning their practical skills. Employees want their careers to be a learning experience. They want to improve, excel and contribute to your organization in a meaningful way — so don’t let your talent stagnate.

Make use of performance catch-ups to talk to your employees about their short- and long-term career objectives. Show a genuine interest and draw up a career development plan that you can regularly revisit. Offer support where you can and sign your employees up to training schemes where appropriate.

Show your employees that you are invested in them and you believe in them, and they are likely to remain loyal to your organization for years to come.


About the Author: Stuart Hearn is a people management expert with over 20 years’ in the field. Stuart has founded his own performance review software company, Clear Review, and regularly helps companies transition away from annual appraisals, to become more agile and productive.

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