Employee Engagement

The Big Five

A talent leader shares the top conversations managers should be having with employees.

By Kim Janson

Have you ever wondered how to develop employees to their fullest? From my experience, I have found that it can be achieved through five simple conversations.

High-performing employees have attributes that differentiate them from the rest -and managers can draw them out so employees excel and the overall organization performs at the highest possible level.

The majority of the work in the talent management space can be accounted for in five conversations between a manager and employee that focus on employee performance and development. They include:

  1. The What You Need to Do Conversation
  2. The How You Are Doing Conversation
  3. The How You Did Conversation
  4. The Money Conversation
  5. The How You Can Grow Conversation

Senior executives can reap more success in delivering on organizational commitments if they make managers accountable for excelling at these five conversations. Essentially, managers need to help employees understand what is needed of them (1); discuss how they are doing along the way to help them be successful (2); explain how the employee did (3); discuss what the person will get if they achieve the results (4); and help employees continue to develop (5).

HR can play a powerful role in each of these conversations.

The What You Need to Do Conversation

This first conversation establishes clarity of purpose and connectivity to the organization for an employee. Employees repeatedly ask on surveys for a better understanding of how they contribute to the overall picture. HR can help by cascading strategic priorities through the organization. Minimally, an employee should have clarity about his or her manager’s accountabilities. When they understand the bigger picture, they can contribute in a more informed way and increase the likelihood of the organization being successful.

Another big opportunity for HR is facilitating stakeholder input at the start of a performance cycle. HR can help by asking the right questions about who should be included and making suggestions on how to go about getting good stakeholder input. The sooner this work is done, the better. Without clarity of specific deliverables or expectations, employees get worried. HR should drive senior leadership to make decisions early and to communicate those decisions at every level.

The How You Are Doing Conversation

The second conversation is designed to help individuals course correct, continue as planned, or gain new insights that could add to the end results. Coaching and feedback are at the core of this conversation.

HR can add tremendous value if they train managers on coaching. Coaching makes a significant difference in employee performance. If everyone in the organization acted as a positive coach to each other, the results would be amazing. HR can play a big role by hiring people who care about other people’s development and then helping to promote this culture inside the organization.

HR should help managers stay close to employees. If a manager did a calendar audit of the last three months, what percentage of time would have been spent with employees? It is typically low. Set up management routines that create opportunities to connect with employees on an ongoing basis.

The How Did You Do Conversation

This conversation should be easy if you have done the other two conversations well. It’s the period at the end of the sentence you have been writing all year long. If employees are getting surprised in their reviews, managers should be fired because they clearly haven’t been doing their job. The time is now to take this seriously. The conversation centers around if the employee missed, met, or exceeded goals. It’s that simple and HR should make it only as complicated as it needs to be to get the key points across.

Reviews are also more useful when they represent the summary experience of all of the employee’s stakeholders. Until this is an integral part of a manager’s process, HR can help by working with the managers and employees to share the responsibility of soliciting this input.

The Money Conversation

People expect to be fairly compensated for their work. The money conversation explicitly outlines what is to be gained under specific circumstances. HR can help employees stay current on the financial performance of the business through updates or communication of key metrics. The key here is no surprises. Be transparent at the start, throughout the year, and at the end.

To drive fair and equitable rewards, it’s important to understand how individual performance rates compared to similar roles and levels of performance. Facilitating a calibration process is a big area where HR can add value. By gathering managers to discuss their direct reports, ratings, and results and benchmark them against each other, HR helps ensure fair and equitable treatment across the board as well as drive a pay-for-performance culture.

The How You Can Grow Conversation

The last essential conversation is about how employees will continue to add to their experience base and skill set. It is necessary to outline and execute against specific and desired areas for development, both in the near and longer term. HR needs to aggressively hold managers accountable for allocating time and resources to invest in their teams. HR can also work toward creating a large set of resources -many that are free -that managers and employees can draw on for the purpose of development. HR should educate managers and executives on the concept of an integrated approach to talent management and make it a reality. The employee has one job and one set of experiences, so they should have one development plan and one set of comprehensive assessments.

HR has the opportunity to make a big difference in the quality of the employee life and the success of the organization with a fierce commitment to all things people related being tied to each other. This will result in a positive impact for the employee and in turn, the business. The five conversations go a long way in making this a reality.


Kim Janson is author of the book “Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results” and CEO of consulting firm Janson Associates. She has 20-plus years experience working in senior roles including chief talent management officer at the H.J. Heinz Company and SVP leadership development at Bank of America.

Tags: april-2015

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