“Conversations are at the heart of every relationship,” says Stacy Engle, executive vice president of Fierce Conversations. This is true of our personal relationships as well as our professional relationships. However, in the office, we must work with people who have different communication styles and preferences, which can make conversations challenging. This is especially true when it comes to performance management and one-on-one conversations between managers and their direct reports.

In a recent survey by Fierce Conversations and Quantum Workplace, only half of respondents reported having “great or excellent” conversations at work with their peers or their managers. Engle says that in most cases, the great conversations are held consistently with the same people, and vice versa. Based on these data, the researchers concluded that “some people are skilled in conversations, while others are not … If you increase the number of individuals who understand the nuances of communication, this 50 percent increases across the board.”

It also improves employee engagement; “if you have meaningful, thoughtful conversations in which you feel heard and understood,” says Chris Douglas, executive vice president of Fierce Conversations, “you will enjoy your role and, in turn, be more engaged.”

Training Managers to Be Effective Communicators

Matt Bingham, vice president of product for Bridge by Instructure, says that 75 percent of voluntary turnover consists of employees who leave because of their managers. In a Bridge survey of over one thousand people, 65 percent said that meeting with their managers weekly or monthly “had a meaningful impact on their performance” and organizational growth.

Additionally, Megan Maslanka, director of client success at Quantum Workplace, says that 85 percent of “highly disengaged employees” don’t receive the level of coaching they desire from their managers, and companies that use 360-degree feedback for peer coaching “are more likely to have highly engaged organizations.” By teaching managers how to coach and communicate effectively with their direct reports, organizations can improve engagement and retention.

“Not having this skill is costing organizations in a number of ways, including having a negative impact on revenue and business results,” Douglas says. Fortunately, managers (and their employees) can learn the skills they need to have more effective performance conversations. Make sure such training includes:

  • When technology can support effective communication and when it would be better to use the phone or schedule an in-person meeting
  • Understanding how they prefer to communicate and process information, how direct reports prefer to communicate and receive feedback, and how to tailor communication accordingly
  • How to ask open-ended questions – and then listen thoughtfully to the answers
  • Opportunities to practice effective communication

The Role of Technology

Technology makes communication easier, faster and more convenient. But, Engle says, it’s important to identify the purpose of your communication to determine how it should be delivered: “Technology is great when communicating logistics, sending quick notes of appreciation or summarizing a conversation with action items.” However, employees should avoid using technology to:

  • Confront someone
  • Develop meaningful relationships and connections
  • Make important or strategic decisions
  • Work in flow or encourage creativity

“Good HR tech tools for feedback don’t replace face-to-face communication,” says Greg Harris, president and CEO of Quantum Workplace. “They help prepare for it, record it and turn it into data that can be integrated with other organizational metrics.” They slow down communication, enabling both manager and direct report to be more thoughtful in planning what they say.

Bridge by Instructure believes it has developed this type of solution. In the traditional annual performance review process,” Bingham says, “you’re saving these opportunities … to develop and grow” to once a year. Bridge Perform, Instructure’s new mobile-first platform gathers employee performance data, enables continuous feedback and supports more effective one-on-one meetings by providing a place where managers and employees can recognize accomplishments, assign tasks, take notes and track goals.

When employees are uncertain about how they are performing, they are less engaged; they don’t know if their effort is worth it. The energy required to complete even simple tasks is increased, which can “cripple individuals’ ability to think strategically and be productive,” says Maslanka. Providing insights into their performance “reduces uncertainty and reinforces their value in the organization, driving engagement.”

“Effective conversations are the solution to a vast array of business problems,” says Douglas. “Now more than ever, it’s essential to provide leadership with relevant, easily applied conversations training.” An investment in this training will provide “big returns” to the organization’s goals, values and culture. What’s more, Bingham says, by tracking employee performance data, HR and L&D leaders become “strategic partners” who can demonstrate real value and help the organization grow.