‘Our employees are our most valuable asset’.  Like you, we’ve heard that many times from many organisations.  But how many employers put their most valuable asset in the co-pilot seat when it comes to performance and development discussions? Isn’t it time that employees were afforded some input and ownership into their development, and the opportunity to influence what drives them to succeed, deliver and stick around?  

Why is this even important? All too often, conversations between employer and employee focus on what the organisation needs to achieve, and what management expect.  And, of course, that’s important.  But even the best corporate strategy won’t get off the ground until you engage with the people you’re paying to deliver it.  And to do that well, you need to establish what drives and enables those individuals to become exactly what you say they are; valuable assets.  It doesn’t stop there, either.  All good assets need to be protected, and so you’ll need to ensure you’ve got insight into what your employees value in their work, what resources and support they need in order to deliver on their objectives, how well they understand those objectives, and what will make them stay.

It’s all about meaningful two-way discussion.  Yet, more often than not, when it comes to discussing performance or development, employers lack the framework to make that happen. It’s a common scenario; busy line managers rushing to squeeze multiple appraisal meetings into an already crammed diary, within an impossibly tight deadline. Proper preparation falls off the radar, in favour of the ‘just get it done’ approach.  Employees are given little or no warning, and the expectation is that they just show up and get ‘told’ how they are performing, how they should improve, and what they need to deliver.  And it’s an expectation that employees are equally guilty of accepting. The result; performance management and development becomes something that is done to employees once a year, rather than with them on an ongoing basis, risking a nose-dive in performance, poor engagement levels and, ultimately, unexploited organisational and individual potential.

So, how can employers start to balance the scales, move away from the nanny state mentality, and allow employees to drive their own development? We believe that it is about opening the lines of two-way communication, setting the right framework for meaningful discussion, and agreeing outcomes led by insight rather than guesswork.

Opening the lines of two-way communication

It may sound pernickety, but there is a distinct and important difference between ‘performance management’ and ‘performance appraisal’.  Performance management is a comprehensive, continuous and flexible approach to the management of organisations, teams and individuals, which involves the maximum amount of dialogue between those concerned. Performance appraisal is a more limited approach, which involves managers assessing and rating the performance of their subordinates at an annual performance appraisal meeting.

When the foundations for a two-way, collaborative and co-owned performance management dialogue exist throughout the year, the annual performance appraisal becomes plain sailing. It should contain no nasty surprises from either party, and should not prove to be the administrative and management headache that some line managers simply dread. Because essentially, it is the equivalent of an ‘executive summary’ – the headline points which have been discussed and mutually agreed during the course of ongoing performance management conversations throughout the year.

What’s more, you don’t want to leave it too late to address change.  Molehills can quickly become mountains, but problems with employee performance or engagement can often be very quickly resolved if caught in time.  Why wait several months until the next annual appraisal to find out that a few quick fixes along the way could have made all the difference.  And whilst lending a listening ear at the exit interview stage is, of course, important, it would have been so much better to show the same concern and support in sufficient time to avoid a resignation.  For this reason, many employers are adopting a new tactic; the ‘stay’ interview.  The stay interview is a two way conversation designed to build trust, assess employee engagement, and establish the most important drivers of retention and job satisfaction on an individual level. The resulting insight tells you what you can do here and now, as well as in the future, to motivate, retain and support your valued employees.

Setting the framework for meaningful discussion.

For even the most exceptional people managers, time is not infinite. And with limited one on one contact time with your direct reports, you’ll want to make sure that when you do sit down to discuss development and performance, it is meaningful and focused.  A framework of thought provoking questions for advance consideration can provide the ‘bare bones’ to this structure, ensuring that the conversation not only remains on track, but that responses are measured and given proper consideration, and that the meeting is viewed by both parties as productive and insightful.

Even better than that, if you use professionally developed applications such as great{with}talent’s Drivers questionnaire, both you and the employee can benefit from a detailed feedback report ahead of any discussion meetings, providing the perfect framework around which to build a more probing conversation.

Our Drivers questionnaire has been designed to help managers and HR understand engagement from the perspective of each individual employee, and to help individuals gain deeper personal insight.  The questionnaire comprises fourteen areas known to affect levels of engagement of people within organisations, and it measures the following:

What drives you?
This is how important the individual judges the fourteen areas in terms of maintaining their commitment to any organisation. This is a fundamental measure of engagement.

Your Experience 
Each of the fourteen areas are rated in terms of current satisfaction/experience. Ideas from the individual for actions/interventions that will increase engagement are prompted where low satisfaction is indicated.

Your Performance  
The extent to which the candidate has:

  • Clarity – how clear they are in relation to what is expected and how performance is measured.
  • Confidence – the extent to which they feel they will be successful.
  • Enablement – the extent to which they feel that the organisation provides the necessary support to be successful.

Engagement Level 
Whether the candidate is engaged, disillusioned or considering leaving the organisation.

Agreeing outcomes led by insight

Discussion and dialogue count for nothing without appropriate follow up action, and you should ensure that no development or performance conversation draws to a close without an understanding from both parties regarding what will happen next, and in what order of priority.   Both parties should contribute to the action plan, making clear commitments as to what they will stop, start or continue doing in order to alleviate any identified frustrations in the workplace, enhance performance levels, or create opportunities for development. As with any goal setting, consider your SMART objectives. Be clear, realistic and specific about what will happen. Set goals that can be achieved sensibly within an agreed timeframe – a good tip is to seek out the action points which are most realistic to achieve and which most positively impact on the individual’s engagement levels.  Finally, set aside the time to regularly revisit the agreed plan of action to ensure all parties remain on track.


For further information on how our Drivers questionnaire can support development discussions in your organisation, download an example report.