Feedback, Inquiry, Timing: Performance Conversations that F.I.T. Your Workplace
Having regular conversations about performance is one of the best things a manager can do to help their reports grow and improve. So, what's the best way to go about these conversations?
Providing constructive feedback on a colleague’s performance is one shared workplace experience that nearly everyone—managers, executives, and employees—can relate to. It’s a skill that can be difficult to cultivate.
Is your colleague failing to communicate effectively? Can your director do a better job of listening to new ideas? Are your direct reports feeling burned out?
Questions like these are common among managers and executives looking to encourage team improvement. But let’s be honest: initiating “the feedback talk” can be awkward, especially if the feedback is on the negative side.
Some companies opt for more casual or spontaneous forms of feedback, wherein managers provide informal feedback where it feels natural. A simple, “Great job on that presentation!” is a typical exchange among peers. Most companies, however, structure their discussions in the form of periodic performance reviews. Gartner research indicates that a staggering 92% of organizations have formal performance reviews, and 65% of organizations provide formal performance feedback. Still, despite the high number of conversations occurring, research shows that performance management remains a “largely unsatisfactory experience” for both employees and managers.
So, what can be done to improve the experience??
At Campfire, we believe that performance conversations don’t shouldn't be saved for a once-a-year formal review. We’ve developed a framework using the elements of feedback, inquiry, and timing (aptly referred to by the acronym F.I.T.) to keep your teams strong, your relationships healthy, and your employees’ performances fitter than Planet Fitness in January.
Read on for some tips on how to implement F.I.T. in your organization.
Understanding the F.I.T. Framework and Why It Works
The F.I.T. framework helps managers master the different types of conversations that help teams understand and meet expectations. We developed this outline to give managers a strategic and developmental view of what their reports are doing effectively (and not-so-effectively) and offer actionable insights into how each member can help meet the team’s—and the company’s— future objectives. In other words, using F.I.T. makes performance conversations worth everyone’s time.
As Jennifer Porter, Managing Partner of The Boda Group, writes for HBR: “Most of the feedback we receive isn’t actually very useful. It’s often filled with platitudes and vague labels like ‘inspiring,’ ‘great,’ or ‘lacking executive presence.’ To help someone grow, try strategic developmental feedback instead.”
Before diving into specific methods for conducting strategic performance conversations, let’s first explore one of the essential components of any performance-based discussion: you.
Consider Your Role
As a manager, you set the tone for performance conversations. Use the following questions to help you prep for upcoming performance discussions:
- What are the key outcomes of this conversation?
- What behaviors and skills do I need to achieve these key outcomes? What does the other person need?
- What is my preferred check-in cadence with my manager? What about with my direct reports?
These questions will serve as a starting point for your F.I.T. conversation.
Great managers understand the balancing act at play in every performance conversation. On one hand, it’s important to hold people accountable for their performances and provide them with direct and honest feedback. However, creating a safe space that fosters open lines of communication and is conducive to growth and learning is ultimately necessary for a successful performance conversation too. You can’t have one without the other
Ensuring you have a baseline of trust before jumping into holding someone accountable for their performance will help set the tone for your future conversations. It will also help your verbal delivery and your listener’s receptiveness to your suggestions. We’ve identified two ways to set the foundation for a trustworthy manager/direct report relationship.
(1) Avoid assigning meaning, intention, or a characteristic.
If you jump immediately into critiquing a person’s performance without first building a sense of trust and understanding, you could miss critical information that informs the performance conversation. Try to understand the whole picture without making prior inferences.
(2) Objectively state your observations and get their take.
A few ways to state your observations are:
- “Here are the most significant ways in which you’ve impacted the team positively/negatively…”
- “Here are the ways I’ve seen you contribute to the success of others…”
- “These are the things I would like to see more of…”
- “These are the things I would like to see less of…”
Inquiry is our way of saying, “Ask good questions.” If you ask questions in a genuine, empathetic, and purposeful way, you’re on the right track.
When asking questions, consider your intention: Are you looking for a genuine answer or do you have a predetermined agenda? Is the question a set-up or a “gotcha”?
For example, a leading question would be: "How do you think you are contributing to this project's success?" followed by, "I'm seeing little contribution of your time, you are distracted.” While the question itself isn’t necessarily bad, it’s clear to all involved that you asked it intending to say, “You weren’t doing a good job.” When we are in inquiry mode, our objective is to gain our employee’s insight and perspective—not give them our own views right off the bat.
Here are some questions to start the inquiry process:
- What specific achievements or accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced recently?
- Do you feel like you’re on track to achieve your most important goals?
- Where could I be most helpful to you as your manager?
Every company is different, but we believe that talking about role performance should happen at least monthly. And we are not just referring to a formal performance review.
Performance is made up of the outcomes you’re working toward and the behaviors and skills used to get there. It’s a daily progression. Each role includes specific tasks and duties to reach the desired outcome, and it’s vital for employees to know if they’re meeting, exceeding, or falling short of expectations on a regular basis.
A sneaky-safe place to have these conversations is in your one-on-one. Managers can use this time to make an intentional space to talk about performance. Employees can bring up any issues they’re encountering in real-time. The key is to determine a performance check-in cadence.
It’s important to remember that every person is different. Someone new in their role might want to know how they’re doing daily, and someone more established might want a bi-weekly check-in. But great managers know that making an effort to establish a regular cadence of communicating about role performance is an important first step in developing a strong feedback process.
F.I.T. in Action
The opportunity to help others develop can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing. To provide meaningful strategic developmental feedback, managers must approach performance conversations with reports that include observations about the employee’s performance. To effectively communicate our intentions, we need to establish a clear purpose for the conversation and ask intentional questions that allow the employee to express their point of view. Finally, effective development conversations require timing — and cadence that occurs often and regularly — to optimize performance improvement.
Together, these elements of performance discussions make up the F.I.T. framework that will help you give your team members the care and attention they deserve.