Between email, text message, instant messaging, and social media, it’s never been easier to communicate with each other, yet the quality of our interactions seems to have become brief, fragmented, and altogether unfulfilling. That’s a big problem for leaders and the people they manage.
Productive and timely conversations are critically important to help people achieve their goals. Without a clear focus on goals and the proper direction and support to achieve them, individuals are cast adrift in the rough seas of the workplace, left alone to navigate their way to success. It’s the leaders’ responsibility to have the right conversations at the right time to help their people succeed. But what kind of conversations are we talking about?
There are six types of conversations leaders need to have with those they lead:
1. Alignment Conversations – All good performance starts with clear goals and an agreement on the type of leadership style the leader will provide the direct report. You’re probably familiar with the concept of setting goals that are SMART: Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. Many managers get bogged down trying to follow the SMART process when creating goals, so I suggest you switch up the letters and set STRAM goals. Start with making the goal specific and trackable, the two most important elements of SMART goals. Then make sure the goal is relevant to the person’s job and attainable with good effort. If those pieces are in place you can almost be assured the goal will be motivating to the individual.
2. Directive Conversations – Have you ever seen someone extremely excited to accomplish a new goal or project yet doesn’t have a clue where to start? Leaders need to have directive conversations with those individuals to build their competence and maintain their commitment and enthusiasm. They need their leader to explain the who, what, where, when, and why of the work they’re being asked to do, as well as being given the necessary training and resources needed to accomplish their goals. Directive conversations set a firm foundation for an individual’s future success.
3. Coaching Conversations – Individuals discouraged with their lack of progress or success in achieving a goal need coaching conversations with their leader. Coaching conversations blend high amounts of direction and support to pull individuals out of their disillusionment and help build their competence on the goal or task. The direction looks like continued training, instruction, and assistance in problem solving. Support from the leader includes listening, praise, and encouragement to help build the individual’s commitment and motivation.
4. Supportive Conversations – Leaders engage in supportive conversations with those individuals who have the skills and abilities to do the job but lack the confidence to take their work to the next level. Supportive conversations involve heavy doses of listening, asking open-ended questions that allow individuals to solve their own problems, and offering the praise and recognition they need to help boost their confidence.
5. Delegating Conversations – Leaders have delegating conversations with individuals who are high performing, self-reliant, motivated, and competent. These people need their leaders to affirm their competence and commitment by giving low amounts of direction and support. Leaders delegate the goal or task to these individuals and let them run with the ball, yet still being available on the sidelines to assist as needed.
6. One on One Conversations – These 15-30 minute conversations, occurring every 1-2 weeks, help leaders stay in touch with their employees’ goals and provides them the opportunity to ask for the direction and support they need from their leaders. One on Ones keep the lines of communication open between leaders and direct reports and allow for mid-course corrections if performance gets off-track.
The frequency and quality of conversations between leaders and direct reports will determine how successful individuals and teams will be in the workplace. Leaders need to be able to diagnose the competence and commitment of their people, use the leadership style that combines the right amounts of direction and support, and engage in the type of conversation that gives their people what they need to succeed on the job.