Conversation – almost a magic pill

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The simple way to increase engagement

Looking for a magical way to get better leadership, a more inclusive environment, clear direction for everyone, and employees who recommend the company to others? Good news, there is almost one! It’s spelled c-o-n-v-e-r-s-a-t-i-o-n.  It won’t solve all your problems, but if you can get everyone in the company to have both frequent and shorter conversations like 1:1s, and longer development talks once or twice a year, you’ll be well on your way.

Especially the 1:1s make magic happen, and they’re completely free of charge, no big expensive system or process necessary.  

Having a conversation with someone, exchanging information, ideas, support, direction or feedback is the key to so many good things. Sharing a moment of communication is so basic we often take it for granted, but sometimes the basic is what is down-prioritized and in this case that’s a mistake. Keeping up a good and constant conversation is the foundation of all the performance development work we do, and many other initiatives end up being useless if this basic isn’t in place and working well.

Focus on development and future

A few years ago, we decided to adopt a Performance Development approach, as opposed to the traditional performance management process focusing on the past and rating people’s performance in checkboxes. Research shows there are other and better ways to motivate people and handle performance. We decided to focus on frequent conversations with honest feedback, enabling development, and eyes on the future. It’s a process and approach that’s adaptable and nimble, and it makes autonomy, purpose, and mastery the center of attention which is exactly what we wanted. We didn’t hire intelligent and engaged people to micro-manage them, but to set them free finding the best way to reach our vision.

The data says yes!

We thought we were on to something good already in the first year we did it, and now we also have the data to back up our hunch. In our employee survey, we ask our people whether they have regular 1:1s with their manager. We didn’t ask any questions on the quality or content of the conversations, just “Do you regularly have 1:1 conversations with your manager?” The numbers have increased every year and for 2019, 96% of our employees said that they are having 1:1s regularly.

To find out whether that changes anything, we compared the 1:1 score with the results on all the other questions in the survey. It’s clear, and not surprising, that people who have regular 1:1s have a more clear vision of company direction and gave better scores for leadership than those who don’t. But the thing that surprised (and pleased!) us was that the “regular 1:1-havers” score significantly more postive on almost all questions in our survey; lower sense of discrimination, higher expectations for growth opportunities, better on stress levels, conflict, and support by manager. Employees in this group feel more empowered to take decisions and less fearful of making mistakes (this one is important to us, fear of mistakes kills innovation and that’s a dealbreaker for us)

All of this also goes for those who state that they have had at least one development talk with their manager during the year, but it’s the 1:1 conversations that are the real difference makers as they happen in the daily work. And for the 1:1-havers, engagement and employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) are also much more positive.

It all starts with the conversation

So before doing the big shifts like engaging in costly re-organizations, new ways of informing,  shifts in business models, investing in a new feedback tool or IT-system, or bringing in expensive consultants to  analyze your culture, always ask yourself “Do we have leaders who prioritize and understand the importance of regular 1:1s?”. That is the first simple and cheap, yet brilliant, step.