How to use strategy sessions as a way to manage indirect sources of info about your employees (part 1)
Managers receive a lot of information about their employees from indirect sources – often much more information than from direct observation. I frequently write about how it is important that performance feedback be performed based on direct observation, or else it risks being non-specific and non-immediate, and generally becomes useless the less specific and less immediate it is.
However, managers are not often enough in the position to observe directly what it is the employee did exactly and provide this level of performance feedback. And with all of the indirect information floating around – such as from customers, other employees, bosses and metrics – it becomes difficult to figure out what to do about it.
Here’s an example I’ll use throughout this series: You are getting “feedback” from your employee’s peers and partners that he was “difficult” during a recent series of meetings. You’d like to give feedback on this. But what is it exactly that was “difficult” and why is this happening? And maybe this “difficult” behavior was actually a good thing? You really don’t know.
My recommendation is, instead of having a “feedback conversation”, have a “strategy sessions” with your employee. The idea with strategy sessions is that you partner with your employee to figure out the best course of action moving forward to address the “feedback” (actually, it’s an indirect source of information) and still achieve the goals. In short, you and your employee strategize together.
This is different from delivering corrective feedback, which is more direct, specific and immediate, with a clear course of behavioral actions that are different the next time it is performed. Strategy sessions are more along the lines of “What should we do to get the best outcome?”
Here are the first three steps on conducting strategy sessions with an employee:
1. Make sure that the point of discussion is important and related to the job
Indirect sources of info can be very random to managers, and they may or may not be important. If you get indirect information that may or may not be important, or may or may not be a trend, the first course of action would be to document this in a performance log, and see if it becomes a trend that is important to the employee’s ability to perform the job. Many times the “feedback” you get is singular and incorrect. This is a way to avoid getting into deep discussion about something that is either not important or not correct. Of course, if it is obvious that it is something that needs to be address (like a complaint), then you can move on to the next step. First make sure you aren’t being too reactive to the data you’re receiving.
2. Open the conversation with “I’d like to strategize with you on how we can address an issue”
Attempt to identify the larger issue that goes beyond the employee’s specific behavior. In our example, the meetings are not going well (and the “difficult” behavior of the employee appears to be a contributing factor). This may or may not be the issue, but this is your best understanding.
When you decide that you need to address the issue you’ve identified, introduce it as a strategy conversation with your employee. “I’d like to strategize with you” is a great way to demonstrate that this is a partnership conversation, and not an evaluation-type conversation. When opening the conversation, the idea isn’t to say, “What you are doing is wrong and it needs to change,” it’s to make it clear that you and your employee are to work together in solving the problem – the larger issue and not simply the employee’s specific behaviors. This will go a long way in building trust, and assuring the conversation is less about the employee’s ability or performance, and more about what to do next.
3. Share the indirect information as part of an “issue” that needs to be strategized
Since this is a strategy session, introduce the issue as “The issue is this. . . .”, but make efforts to avoid casting responsibility on the employee, since you don’t have direct observation in this scenario. For example, you can introduce the issue in this way:
“The issue is that I’m getting information that the meetings aren’t going well, and one of the pieces of information I’ve received is that you’re being difficult. I’m not certain of what the real issue is, and I’m not even sure what “difficult” means, since I wasn’t there, but I want to strategize with you on how we can make sure these meetings go better. Can we do this together?”
In this example, the issue that needs to be resolved isn’t necessarily the employee’s behavior (it was not directly observed, so we don’t know what the employee’s behavior is). The issue is to make sure the meetings go well – and this is what needs to be strategized. The employee’s reported “difficult” behavior is a data point, but only one data point.
So these are the first three steps for embarking on a strategy session. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to transition from identifying and sharing the issue to strategizing on how to solve it.