The Secret to Great (and Productive) Performance Check-in Meetings

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Meetings get a bad rap and the arguments against them are well known:

  • They get in the way of productive work;
  • Too much of meetings are spent recapping previous meetings;
  • They often don’t produce a decisive way forward.

For these reasons and many more, people avoid setting meetings like the plague, and regularly scheduled meetings can fall by the wayside.

One casualty of the drive against meetings is the regular performance check-in. As a result, annual reviews can be poorly informed, employees can feel distant and not cared for by their managers, and overall performance can lag.

However, I say that meetings aren’t the problem. It’s the execution. In the case of a regular performance discussion, a good mix of structure and focus on the right details can yield positive results.

Focus on listening

An employee check-in is only useful if everyone involved is getting something out of it. Since, in general, you gain more from getting someone else’s input than by hearing yourself talk, the most productive check-in should feel like a conversation.

The key to generating a conversation is to ask questions that require detailed answers, such as “What was your reasoning behind…?” or “Tell me what interested you the most about…?” Most importantly, always try to have a follow-up question ready. Going a level deeper will help you gain the less obvious insights from how your direct report is performing.

Ultimately, when useful, accurate information is shared in both directions, good things happen.

Limit the agenda

A common reason meetings can be frustrating is when you leave not feeling like you’ve accomplished anything, which can lead to trying to make a standing meeting longer or bringing in more people.

While these quick fixes might seem logical, they often exacerbate the problem.

Instead of trying to achieve everything you can out of a weekly check-in, focus on discussing one or two things from the previous week. If you have a weekly status report, spend time discussing that. By increasing the probability that you complete what you hope to achieve, you’re more likely to leave a meeting feeling fulfilled, and those are the kinds of meetings that stay on a weekly schedule.

Share something positive

Often the focus of a check-in meeting is to create at least one action item that your direct report can work on over the next week. However, knowing that the primary purpose of a meeting is to give you something to work on can be terribly discouraging, especially when your plate is already full.

When you’re working hard, one of the most encouraging things can be just one tidbit of validation that your work is helping your company. By rewarding your direct report with positive feedback in each meeting, you’re giving them a reason to look forward to and participate in your weekly status meeting.

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When done right, this sincere reinforcement is an important part of a high performance culture, and can even help with employee retention.

By including these elements, regular performance check-ins can be productive both for you and your direct reports. What changes have you made to your regular check-ins to make them more effective?

This originally appeared on the PerformYard.com blog