|IN 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!