Six Questions To Ensure Alignment With Your Team

August 4th, 2009 · 10:04 am @   -  6 Comments
WalnutShellIN A NUTSHELL: Using this simple quarterly process with your direct reports will ensure that their plans, actions and progress are aligned with yours and the organization’s.

If you’re like me, you may have participated in a “Goals and Objectives” process with one of your bosses at some point in the past.  I never found them very effective, for a few reasons.  I tended to spend a lot of time creating a document and forwarding it to my boss, and we never had much real dialog or interplay about it.  I was never 100% sure that my goals and the things I was working on were consistent with his direction and the overall company’s direction.  Additionally, the standard G&O framework didn’t really give me a process to give feedback or input to my manager.

I’ve been a practitioner of a process called “Six Questions” for several years with all of my direct reports.  I didn’t invent this process, I actually learned it from Kevin Wilde, the Chief Learning Officer for General Mills, from one of the original Getting Things Done GTD Connect “In Coversation With” CD’s.  Turns out Kevin didn’t invent the process either, it was really developed and honed by Marshall Goldsmith.  There was recently a pretty good post about the process on the Huffington Post, which prompted me to share my experience.   Here’s how I execute this process (which is a slight tweak on the original questions proposed by Marshall, but which works well for me.)

I set up a series of quarterly one-on-one meetings with each of my direct reports.  I usually try to do these in the first few weeks of the quarter, and definitely within the first month of the quarter.  I like to do them offiste, and typically schedule them over a long (2 – 2.5 hour) lunch.  They choose where, I pay. After the meal is done, we engage in a discussion around the Six Questions:

  1. What is on my plate right now? I go through the top four to six key initiatives and imperatives that I am working on for the current quarter and try to tie them to the overall business success.  Almost inevitably, these are simply re-iterations for my people, but they serve as a grounding point and foundation for the next few questions.
  2. Looking back at the quarter which just completed, What are the things you feel good about? For each of these areas discussed , often 5 to 10, I try to encourage my people to think about the Critical Success Factors that enabled that initiative to be successful.  Wherever possible, this discussion is a good chance to encourage my report and their team and to give them accolades for a good job.
  3. Looking back at the quarter which just completed, What could have gone better?  What disappointed you? Again for each these areas, the focus of the discussion is trying to elicit the root cause as to why we weren’t successful in that area and to try to pull out some learnings for future reference.  Based on the rapport you have with your report, you may have to reinforce that this is a non-threatening discussion to get them to open up and really talk about their disappointments.  I usually bring my notes from Question 4 from the prior quarter’s discussion to double check versus prior commitments and have a discussion about any misses.
  4. Thinking about the current/upcoming quarter, What are the things which you want to accomplish? For each of these areas, wherever possible try to cement accountability through agreement on SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).  Even if it is a multiple quarter initiative which will not be complete by the end of the quarter, try to mutually agree on a measurable milestone to ensure that you are on track.
  5. What help do you need from me to achieve your goals for this quarter? Usually this discussion revolves around potential barriers or roadblocks which may require some assistance from above to overcome.  Occasionally there may be organizational issues or cross-functional  influencing where my help can be advantageous.
  6. How can I be a better boss for you? This is typically an open ended discussion about leadership styles, communication rhythms, mentoring, feedback, etc.  Once they know that you will give them this quarterly opportunity to give you candid feedback, eventually you may get some real nuggets during this section.

The discussion itself typically takes about 2 hours.  Personally, I just hand-write notes in a journal and then summarize them into a Word Template document later.  I use a two column format for the notes in my template, which you are free to use.  I find it really critical to try to summarize and distribute the notes within a few days of the original discussion if at all possible.

I encourage you to give this process a try if it sounds interesting.  It ensures that your team members stay aligned with your direction and it makes the annual performance review process much easier, as there will be no surprises.  If you do adopt it, please let me know how it works for you!!

Share

Tags: , , , ,

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...

6 Comments → “Six Questions To Ensure Alignment With Your Team”


  1. Aaron

    8 years ago

    Interesting take.

    On questions 3 and 6, the key element is the subordinate's trust that their candor won't be abused / misused. If you are in the first 6 months of a role, the trust level of subordinates is likely a function of how they were treated before your arrival.

    In practice, have you seen improvements in the process the longer you've been in a role?


  2. JeffreyJDavis

    8 years ago

    Thanks Aaron, great question. Probably I would not advise starting the Six Questions process within your first 30 or 60 days in a job. I would maybe give folks a heads up that you would like to engage them in this manner, but I would wait until you had a quarter under your belt as the team leader before you started the formal process.

    Maybe it's just my leadership style, but I have not sensed any reluctance for folks to open up in the discussions of question 3) and 6). They know it's no retribution, and I back that up. I do find that sometimes I may have to lead them a little to pull out meaty feedback for question 6).

    As with any new rhythm, it's likely to be a little rough / awkward the first go around, but invariably at the end of the first session, your folks will realize it's a value add interaction. It definitely gets better and crisper over time, in fact most of my folks are bringing pre-prepared discussion bullets to lunch (even though I didn't ask them to) to make sure they hit all the topics we need to.

    Best of luck and let me know if I can help!


  3. donlang

    8 years ago

    Simple-Yes!; Valuable-Yes! All we need to do is commit to the time to do it! For many leaders, that is the obstacle. Yet, as you point out, it makes the annnual performance review process more effective. It also takes away any surprises that some leaders experience when the participate infrequently in 360 surveys. By working this process as CEO, you set an effective model for your team to replicate with their respective direct reports. Thanks for sharing your experience with this approach.


  4. JeffreyJDavis

    8 years ago

    Thanks Don for your valuable insights. You are correct that this will require a time commitment. For each staff report, I probably devote four to five hours per direct report per quarter. (2.5 for the actual dialog, 2 to summarize the notes). So six direct reports would be 120 hours / year. I don't think it's too much of an investment, considering that a leader's biggest job is helping his people achieve as much as possible. I'm sure you agree.

    An additional benefit is that via shortening the frequency between targeted feedback sessions, you can drive improvement and redirection more quickly, as opposed to a standard annual performance review cycle (which of course we still do).

    Thanks as always for your inputs.


  5. donlang

    8 years ago

    Simple-Yes!; Valuable-Yes! All we need to do is commit to the time to do it! For many leaders, that is the obstacle. Yet, as you point out, it makes the annnual performance review process more effective. It also takes away any surprises that some leaders experience when the participate infrequently in 360 surveys. By working this process as CEO, you set an effective model for your team to replicate with their respective direct reports. Thanks for sharing your experience with this approach.


  6. JeffreyJDavis

    8 years ago

    Thanks Don for your valuable insights. You are correct that this will require a time commitment. For each staff report, I probably devote four to five hours per direct report per quarter. (2.5 for the actual dialog, 2 to summarize the notes). So six direct reports would be 120 hours / year. I don't think it's too much of an investment, considering that a leader's biggest job is helping his people achieve as much as possible. I'm sure you agree.

    An additional benefit is that via shortening the frequency between targeted feedback sessions, you can drive improvement and redirection more quickly, as opposed to a standard annual performance review cycle (which of course we still do).

    Thanks as always for your inputs.


Leave a Reply