May 10, 2017

Three Management Conversations You’ll Want To Master

New to management? The transition from individual contributor to people leader can be wrought with self-doubt and uncertainty (with a bit of excitement mixed in). It’s the first time your results are being driven by performance of others. There are so many variables and situations you want to be prepared for...and of course you want to be great!

It’s easy to become overwhelmed trying to plan for every potential management scenario and master every conceivable conversation. So don’t!

The nice thing is you don’t need a Sorkin-esque dialogue for every scenario (though that would be pretty awesome). When it comes to leading others, there are only 3 convos you need to master and everything else will follow.

When you lead, you are accomplishing goals through others - ideally, enrolling them in your vision of desired results. The three conversations (what I like to call the 3 C’s) help you simplify and streamline your approach, while creating consistency. They are: 1) Creating alignment , 2)Coaching and 3) Closing the loop.

The beauty is that all three conversations share one simple framework - one you probably internalized as a child. Like a story, each conversation must have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

The Conversation Framework

  • Beginning : Introduce WHY you want to have a conversation and WHAT you hope to accomplish in this conversation.

  • Middle : This is the meat of the conversation and the part that will shift based on which “C” conversation you are having. Your focus here is to ASK questions & give insight using HOWs and WHATs.

  • End : This is the wrap-up. Keep it short & simple. Revisit the purpose and clarify next steps. Finally, ask if the purpose was met.

Simple right? This framework helps ensure you and your team are on the same page. Even the biggest risk-taker would admit, at our core, we humans are creatures of habit and crave consistency.

1.  Create Alignment

This conversation happens at every-level and with any scope. Whether you are a CEO sharing your 3-year vision or you are a new manager delegating a task to be completed tomorrow, creating alignment sets the stage and continues to ensure you are on the same page.

So, how do you do this? Regardless of scope, every alignment conversation starts with your ability to articulate what success looks like. Sometimes the details are fully flushed out and at times they aren’t. People often share partially baked ideas, especially in a fast-paced environment. Regardless, when they aren’t shared, you are setting your team member up for failure. Assumptions start taking hold.

Ask yourself, how will you know the project is successful? Is the vision met? Vague descriptions like ‘increase’ or ‘decrease’ don’t give enough detail. Define metrics you are looking to achieve, even if you provide a range or an estimate. Okay, now your are having the conversation and your team is looking at you - head nodding. Don’t assume this is a sign of agreement. Use dialogue in the ‘middle’ portion to ask questions and have he or she articulate the vision back to you to ensure you’re aligned.

2. Coaching

This word takes on quite a few different meanings today. A coaching conversation is your opportunity to give praise and reinforce great work or to make course corrections. Coaching conversations can happen any time. Don’t wait for quarterly or annual performance reviews - it will be too late.

Share why you are having the conversation and what you want to accomplish - then get to the heart of what you want to say regardless of the type of feedback if it is behavioral or performance based, or to simply convey observations, the conversation follows a specific formula:

  • Focus on the facts. As people, we have different perceptions and make judgements constantly. Try to lose any judgements and hone in on the facts. What behaviors you can identify to either praise or help correct. Maybe his project outline lacked the level of detail needed to ensure a successful end result. Be specific, clearly let your team member know what works, what doesn’t or what needs to change.

  • Ask questions. Ask questions with the intent to understand. By asking questions, you will gain greater perspective, maybe unearth new facts that provide more context, and be able to provide more accurate coaching. Are there additional resources you can provide to support his progress, make her feel better prepared?

  • Listen. Try to simply listen to his responses to your questions. Ask for additional input if needed. How confident is she in her ability to achieve this goal? Even if your purpose is pure praise on a job going well, invite the dialogue and focus on what is being said. This could uncover self-doubt or lingering questions regarding the goal. When providing coaching to course correct, the same applies. Listen and identify how the feedback is being interpreted. Is your coachee comfortable shifting their approach?

  • Create clear next steps. Come to an agreement on what is next. Sounds so simple, but it’s often missed. Your goal in coaching is to support your coachee to the next level of readiness. Do you both know what that is and how to get there? Even in a praise conversation, it may be to align to do more of that behavior.

You are still going to follow the basic framework of beginning, middle, and end. Once you’ve aligned on next steps, ask them what they are taking from the conversation. Wrap the conversation by quickly revisiting the purpose of the conversation and recapping next steps.

3. Closing the Loop

We work so quickly, are constantly going from one project to the next, one initiative to the next, that at times it can feel thankless. It is so important to close the loop after projects, goals or tasks are completed. This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out conversation.

Again, you are using a beginning, middle, and end framework. Introduce the purpose of the conversation, that you want to align on how XYZ project went. Then, you get right into the middle - the meat of the convo. Ask your team member to share his or her thoughts on how they did.

  • What do they feel they did well?

  • What would they do differently?

  • What are some lessons learned?

Before you interject, get a good understanding for their own take on the project. You may find that you are really aligned on the next steps and coaching - by learning their insight you can simplify your coaching. Or you may find that you are on really different pages - why? Was the goal not clear? What wasn’t clear?

Your focus here is to ask questions and really understand her perspective. Once you do, engage in a dialogue around your thoughts. Are you on the same page? What key pieces do you see differently? Then, discuss next steps - what are the learnings you are taking from this into the future? Craft a clear understanding of next steps.

There are so many situations that come up as a manager and having a simple but proven framework for communication makes a world of difference. Don’t overthink it. Just keep it simple, keep it consistent, and keep it clear!

Gabriela McManus is Executive Director at Follow her on Twitter: @GabMcM