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Effective and frequent conversations can promote greater productivity, engagement, and retention. For many managers, however, talking with employees about their work performance and career development can be complicated or even stressful. This has become even more so as we adapt to hybrid or remote work environments. Virtual meetings can feel more transactional than in-person meetings. In such settings, it’s also difficult to read body language, which is important when providing and discussing feedback. But good conversations are absolutely fundamental to being a supportive and effective people manager — and a skill that is worth cultivating if you want to be a true leader.
As a manager, you are critical to your employees’ experiences. Studies show that the manager-employee relationship is the most important one employees will encounter at every stage of their journey — in fact, according to Gallup, managers alone account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.
Good managers are not just supervisors — they are guides, champions, communicators, change makers, cultural ambassadors, mentors, and coaches who can motivate and inspire their teams to deliver their best performance and advance personally and professionally.
Time and again, surveys have shown that employees crave more frequent and substantive guidance, support, and encouragement from managers — and the old annual evaluation just isn’t cutting it for 92% of them. Consider this recent report from McKinsey about what frontline employees are seeking in 2022. Among their top four concerns — along with pay — are: Job Growth, Learning Opportunities, Alignment of Skills, & Supportive Manager.
It’s no surprise that all four of these needs are explicitly linked to conversations with managers around performance, goals, and career growth. Yet, despite this appetite for guidance, research shows that only 39% of employees say current check-ins are working well for them.
So what's the fix? Here are 3 tips to creating good conversations:
More Frequent Conversations
One issue for many employees is simple the frequency and availability of check-ins with their manager.
1 in 3 employees don't get 1:1 check-ins with a direct manager for feedback and coaching on work and progress toward goals more than twice a year.
1 in 10 employees rarely or never get check-ins.
53% of employees don't discuss career and growth with managers more than once a quarter and 20% rarely or never have such discussions.
Focus on the Right Things
Check-ins should include a healthy balance of performance coaching and career development discussions. A healthy mix could look like:
35% Goals, 34% Career Growth, 31% Collaborative with Managers
Help the Employees Feel Heard
Helping employees feel heard means providing space for them to express their thoughts and feelings. As a manger, the best action you can take is to actively and reflectively listen, acknowledge, and validate them — and not jump to judgment or try to fix things. Building trust and a good relationship with your direct reports is critical to having valuable and successful conversations, and simply showing up and ‘sitting’ with someone in the way that the individual needs it is foundational for this. According to The Workforce Institute at UKG, authentic conversations go a long way toward helping employees feel engaged and productive.
Highly engaged employees are 3X more likely to say they feel heard at their workplace (92%) than highly disengaged employees (30%)
74% of employees report they are more effective at their job when they feel heard.
Recap: "A foundational value of regular conversations is meant to build trust and relationship. If employees don’t trust their manager or don’t feel the relationship is sincere, every interaction and conversation remains surface-level. Conversations need to be earnest, open, and honest to be meaningful. Managers are the linchpin in every organization for how employees feel at work." — Caitlin Collins | Organizational Psychologist