I’ve been writing about how managers can avoid under managing by more effective management conversations: highly structured, high substance conversations. How can we describe how that plays out?

Author Bruce Tulgan in The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-Step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Problems advises managers to set aside an hour a day to hold conversations with three to four employees (about 15 minutes per person). Be sure to have a well-organized agenda. Additionally:

  • Prepare in advance. Make sure your direct reports prepare, as well.
  • Follow a regular, yet personalized, format for each employee.
  • Start with top priorities, open questions and any work in progress.
  • Consider holding these conversations while standing or walking, as appropriate. Use a clipboard to make notes and maintain your focus.
  • Don’t do all the talking. Recognize the value of listening.
  • Don’t let anyone go more than two weeks without meeting.

As for high substance, make sure content is immediately relevant and specific to each person/situation. This is where many managers miss the boat. As stated earlier, pre-planning is key. Follow these guidelines:

  • Regularly remind each person of broad performance standards.
  • Turn best practices into standard operating procedures; teach them to everyone.
  • Use plans and step-by-step checklists, whenever possible.
  • Focus on concrete actions within each employee’s control.
  • Monitor, measure and document in writing each individual’s performance.
  • Follow up. Provide regular, candid, coaching-style feedback.
  • Follow through with real consequences and rewards based on how performance relates to expectations.

High-structure/substance conversations provide a clear window into employee problems before they become crises. Engaged managers use this tool to learn what’s really going on. Doing so each day, starting with a minimum of one hour, will prevent potential challenges from exploding into fires.

Use these effective management conversations to identify and memorialize any negative behaviors. Be sure to:

  1. Pinpoint problem language, tones and gestures.
  2. Connect behaviors to tangible work outcomes.
  3. Reference performance requirements or best practices from which negative behaviors deviate.
  4. Suggest replacement behaviors, and have the employee commit to trying them.
  5. Continue to follow up in future conversations.

If any of your people complain during your meetings, ask them to provide solutions to the problems they see. Have them prepare an executive summary that covers key points:

  • Here’s the issue.
  • These are the options.
  • This is the option I propose.
  • This is why my option is best for the business.
  • Here’s what it would cost (money, time, people, other resources).
  • This is where we could get the resources.
  • This is what the plan would look like.
  • Here’s the role I propose for myself in executing that plan.

This approach teaches employees to focus, troubleshoot solutions and participate in making changes. You’ll boost productivity and overall quality almost immediately.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.