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Lead Your Team Managing

4 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Employees

4 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Employees
Credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock

Do you talk to your employees regularly? Of course you do — you email and instant message them daily, hold meetings and conference calls with them, and if they're in the office, you stop by their desks to check in. But are you having the types of conversations that really matter?

If you find that you're only discussing day-to-day projects and job duties with your staff, there's a good chance they're not feeling very engaged and connected with their work. Discussions that make employees feel valued, such as their long-term goals and personal strengths, typically happen during formal performance evaluations, but in reality, these issues should be brought up much more frequently than many managers realize.

"It's really important to discuss people's strengths, values and goals, and relate these things to the organization and team priorities," said Casey Mulqueen, director of research and product development at The Tracom Group social intelligence company. "People are naturally motivated to work toward things that have personal value for them, and this can usually be found through recognizing their [talents]."

"As managers, our mission is to help our people maintain a clear and positive focus," added Kevin Ames, director of speaking and training at HR consulting and services firm O.C. Tanner Co. "To make this possible, you must set defined goals and purpose with a clear path to success. If you fully embrace your role as a manager, you can inspire your team to give their best effort and grow in their abilities."

A recent study by positive psychology expert Michelle McQuaid and the VIA Institute on Character confirms that it's best for managers to hone in on their employees' strong suits: Nearly 80 percent of workers feel more appreciated when their bosses focus on their strengths, and 64 percent believe they will be more successful at work if they can build on those strengths.

While "HR best practices" and managerial training shouldn't be thrown out the window, Kim Janson, author of "Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People's Potential to Deliver Superior Results" (Maven House Press, 2015), said that bosses need to think about talent management more simply and logically, in terms of how to work best with someone. To help managers accomplish this, she outlined four important discussions to regularly have with their teams. [5 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged]

What do you need to do?

  • Set clear, specific goals, and provide direction for achieving them. This includes clarifying what "good" looks like by giving target metrics to reach.
  • Put any agreements and expectations into writing via email, to avoid confusion.

How are you doing?

  • Help your team members understand how they are doing in relation to the desired results by offering feedback and coaching.
  • Focus discussions on an employee's specific behavior and the impact it's having on the larger goal.

How did you do?

  • Have a straightforward conversation based on the previously agreed-upon expectations: Did the person do what he or she was supposed to do? Did he or she do more or less than expected?
  • Offer data and examples to help answer these questions.

What do you need in order to grow?

  • Talk to your employees about how they want to evolve in their roles in the future, and what you as a boss can do to help them.
  • Agree upon what the person should work on developing in the short term and over the longer term to achieve his or her career goals.

For this last discussion in particular, Mulqueen recommended starting off by telling the person what you've noticed he or she is good at. If the employee has shown a lot of creativity, for example, say so, and then ask if he or she would like more opportunities to use that strength. The natural follow-up to this is to ask the person what their goals and values are. Ask him or her, "What accomplishment would bring you the most satisfaction and help you move toward your career and personal goals?" This type of open-ended question will usually give managers a lot of insight and make their jobs easier by helping them understand their people better, Mulqueen said.

During each of these conversations, it's crucial to tie your employees' performance and career objectives to those of the organization as a whole, so they feel like an integral part of your company's success.

"Employees need to know the corporation's mission," Ames told Business News Daily. "Workers need a clear line of sight to business strategy in order to perform their jobs well. Managers should make connecting the employee's role and current projects to the mission, vision and values of the organization a daily priority."

Depending on your relationships with your staff, it might feel awkward to initiate these conversations outside of a performance review setting. But once you take that first step, you can make it an ongoing practice to ensure that your employees are not only doing their jobs well, but also that they have all the tools and support they need to do it. 

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.