Following on from last week’s blog about research conducted by Gartner1 that found that the quality of a feedback conversation is more important than frequency, I want to address this issue of quality. What makes a conversation developmental for the employee?


Principally, this depends on the needs and expectations of the people being managed.


These for sure will vary according to circumstances. For example, an employee who is more experienced in an activity will need less support, and also feedback about it. However, that same person will benefit from support and feedback in connection with a new responsibility where they have less experience. How effective the manager is in carrying out such ‘coaching’ conversations will also depend on key factors, such as how many direct reports they have, as this impacts significantly on their available time for such conversations, and how familiar they are with the area of expertise in question.


From our work with clients, we have identified the following:


The individuals themselves are the best qualified to identify the level of support and feedback they require and from whom. Responsibility for organising their own check-in conversations should be given firmly to them. Effectively the key coaching conversations that benefit individuals – to develop skills in a particular field, or plan their careers, or understand if their performance meets the required standard – might occur with several individuals rather than with a single manager. 


The less formality there is around these conversations the better. For example, in one financial services firm, the legal counsel for the firm insisted that ‘check-in’ conversations had to be documented. Clearly, she had in mind the need to collect evidence in case of a dispute, over bonus or poor performance. This action turned a process that had been viewed as one of relationship-building, and enhancing collaboration to a bureaucratic exercise. It also made it more time-consuming and so it fell out of favour. It is far better to measure outcomes (e.g. employee satisfaction), and give public recognition to the process than it is to administer it, or even worse, police it.


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Janice Caplan

4 July 2018   

©Copyright Janice Caplan 2018

1 1 May–June 2018 issue (pp.22–24) of Harvard Business Review. About the Research: “Coaching vs. Connecting: What the Best Managers Do to Develop Their Employees Today,” by Gartner (white paper)