Why is the idea of helping employees so intimidating? The phrase “performance review” conjures up memories and horror stories of the dreaded annual event, either given or received, and these stories seem to paralyze even the best into inaction.

We talk with benefit brokers regularly about how they manage their internal teams. The majority tells us very honestly that they’re terrible at managing employee performance, instilling any type of accountability, and have no career path or personal development plans in place. They know it’s wrong. But the effort needed to create and manage those processes seems to overwhelm them.

The problem with this lack of attention is that helping employees develop, improve and move through the ranks of your company is hugely beneficial to your business.

And not doing it is actually hurting your business. You’re missing out on valuable ideas and skills that could come from any team member, anywhere in the company. When you’re not taking the time to have one-on-one conversations in a coaching setting, you never get to hear their struggles or observations and help them find improvements, which could be the next breakthrough idea for your company.

We make performance management way too hard

Instead of making it a big deal with an annual review, which everyone hates, start by just having regular, short conversations. Check in and see how people are doing.

Ask two simple questions:

1)      What’s going well in your world right now?

2)      What’s not going well and is preventing you from performing at your best?

Your job is to listen and give them a safe place to talk. The answers that arise from these sessions may be something for either them, or you, to address. Either way, you’re moving people toward improved performance by taking action based on the conversation.

I love this quote from author and consultant Chris Brogan and think it sums up quite well what we need to do to help employees perform better, and ultimately enjoy their jobs more:

“My mind is a frenzy at the best of times. Rob listens patiently, sorts through my garbage, and helps me align my best ideas with what I've stated to be my goals. This is what the best coaches do: improve your own mastery.”

Performance management, or I prefer the term “performance coaching,” shouldn’t be intimidating or challenging for anyone. It should be something to look forward to. It should be about listening to your team and talking through ideas and challenges. When you make it about genuinely being there to talk and help — not to judge — it suddenly becomes not intimidating for anyone. And that’s where the real magic starts to happen.

Don’t take on a whole program of employee performance, career path and personal development all at once. Start with some simple conversations. If you’re doing them right, the rest of the team development efforts will naturally begin to grow from here.

Keneipp is a partner and coach at Q4intelligence in the Seattle area. Reach her at wendy@q4intel.com.

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