As performance review season approaches, top-performing people leaders are looking for the best way to evaluate and engage their teams for success in the year ahead.
If you are wondering how to prompt a meaningful conversation in your 1:1s with team members, especially when reflecting on this past year and preparing for the next, here is a proven approach I have learned and refined over the course of my 30 years of experience building and leading high-performance teams.
This approach focuses on one crucial question that I highly recommend you leverage in your end-of-year conversations with your team members. Well-crafted questions can spark and guide crucial conversations that lead to better engagement. This is one of the best.
This question cuts to the heart of why the employee is here, and whether they are going to be happy and successful in this role. It will also help you learn the insights you need to drive higher engagement and performance.
Here's the question:
"Are we giving you the achievement experience you need in your career?"
Now, there's a silly old hack that takes a sentence and breaks it down into its parts. Normally I'd avoid it, but in this case, it's a good way to examine the carefully chosen words in this question. Looking at the phrases in this question individually will help illustrate what a great employee engagement conversation can look like.
"Are we giving you..." - This phrase is an acknowledgment of something vital, but easily forgotten. You as an employer, have something very important to offer your employees beyond just a paycheck. It is helpful to assume that you owe them this. If this seems controversial, consider the following and its inescapable consequences: In every employee's mind there is some version of the belief that employers don't have the right to waste their employee's lives. If employees sense that their time and their lives are being wasted, they will find ways to compensate themselves for this loss, usually without telling you. This does not ever work out in the employer's favor.
"...the achievement experience..." - achievement experiences are stories that shine whether they are written as a single short line on a resume, or a longer piece in an industry publication interview, or book. It answers the questions:
- What did you do while you were at (company name?)
- What did you do this year?
- What have you done in your career?
If you want the ultimate in employee engagement, make it your mission to enable your employees to be able to have amazing answers to these questions. This involves setting them up for success, but also helping them recognize their own success and progress, and ensuring that they are recognized in their company and industry.
"...you need..." - achievement experiences, with their cycles of struggle, learning, teamwork and relationship development and eventual triumphs are a fundamental human need. When people sense that your company or your team gives them a platform for fulfilling this need, they will let nothing stop them from delivering.
"...in your career?" - this phrase recognizes the unique nature of each person's life work. Each person has a mix of strengths and tendencies which means they are tailor-made for some of the key challenges your company will face. To tap into this, ask them questions about where they're headed. How their career is emerging (if they are earlier in their career) or how it is evolving (if they are further along). You can help them think this through, in ways that few others can. If we only ask people about their careers during the interview process, and then rarely ever talk about it again until they retire, we're missing out on crucial conversations and insights for multiplying personal and team-level impact.
Putting this question to work
Now that you understand the meaning and intent of these carefully chosen words, you can use this question to have a high-value conversation with your team members.
Treat each of these phrases as a springboard for getting to a deeper and more mutual understanding of your expectations for the team member, but also their expectations of you and the company.
People crave achievement experiences. Specific periods of time that involved intense learning, and led to outstanding achievements. If you don't intentionally set these up for people, they will either lapse into non-engagement, or they will find ways to set up their own achievement experiences. Neither of these usually works out in favor of the employer.
Asking this key question gets an important conversation started. To follow through you and your organization will need to redesign the employee experience, and intentionally set your employees up for success.
- HBR: Companies spend so much on engagement and get so little in return when they fail to redesign the employee experience.
- Apollo Technical: 17 Employee Engagement Stats that Matter Most
- Gallup 2023 Global Workforce Report: Low Engagement Costs the World's Economy $8.8 Trillion. Why it will take more than engagement surveys to turn engagement into a strategic advantage.