As someone who’s been on both sides of the desk for a workplace 121 on many, many occasions, I can say with some confidence that the word “dreaded” here can apply to both the manager and the managed, the reviewer and the reviewee.
The problem here is often one of time. If a 121 is to have meaning, it needs to be properly prepared for – ideally by both parties. It should also consider the whole scope of recent performance, effort and behaviour.
As the one on the receiving end, nothing makes you feel undervalued quite like a rushed, unplanned, inaccurate or -worse still- cancelled 121. I’ve been there and bought the t-shirt. In fact, I have about three drawers full of those worn-out, misshapen garments – each one of them sporting a faded logo of the grim reaper hacking at my motivation with his jagged scythe.
As a manager, you want adequate time to prepare, and ease of access to all of the data, feedback and relevant targets or KPIs (past, present and future) that you need to properly reflect on your employees’ recent performance. But anyone who’s been in a position of authority knows that, even with the best intentions, stuff happens! Things crop up. And your planning time is suddenly spent on an unforeseeable and time-critical drama!
However, if you can stick to the following simple six steps, you should be able to deliver this most fundamental and critical of meetings with confidence and impact.
1. Schedule your meetings and stick to that schedule. Don’t back-to-back them without a sufficient gap in between, and diarise that prep’ time far enough in advance to allow yourself some wiggle-room (but not so far in advance that your data and feedback is stale.)
2. Have an agenda. This should usually be shared with your employee in advance and they should also come prepared to contribute. It’s normally a good idea to let your employee start with their information and feedback before you present yours.
3. Celebrate recent wins and hard work. This is where a live employee recognition scheme can really help. You may well have cold, hard (but not stale!) data that reflects your employee’s recent success. But feedback from others can really help to flesh this out with how they’re doing as a team-player, how they’re supporting others, or where they’re going the extra mile that doesn’t show on that boring Excel spreadsheet you need to refer to.
And if it’s been a tough month according to the numbers, that other feedback may give you the valid positives you really need to balance out tough targets, keeping your hard-working employee buoyed and motivated.
4. Look forward. Balance the recent-past performance bits with near-term future plans, activities and goals. Your employee should leave feeling energised, forward-focused and clear about their direction and targets. If appropriate, you may want to focus more on the expected outcomes than how you think they should be achieved. Let them talk about their planned approach – it’s a better learning opportunity for them. It may even be one for you!
5. Focus on strengths. Your employee may need some constructive, or even difficult-to-hear, feedback, but this is usually more effective if you can start with some positives before moving on to where you believe they need support. So we’re back to that recognition scheme in point 3 - you may have already had the opportunity to deliver some well-deserved praise between the last 121 and this meeting, and now would be a great time to refer back to that as a powerful motivator. Or you can reflect on the thanks or praise that others have shared for the same effect.
6. Share information. Employees like to feel involved and in-the-know. They will appreciate you sharing the company news and “bigger picture” stuff that is appropriate for them to hear. And ask how you can help them. Your employee needs to feel supported as well as appreciated.
A 121 should be something that both manager and employee look forward to, as well as something they benefit from.
If you’re dreading them, you might just be doing them wrong.