Development conversations hold key

Melitta Hardenberg.

The benefits of an engaged workforce are no secret.

Most business leaders know that employee engagement is intrinsically linked to a range of business success factors such as employee performance/efficiency, productivity, attendance, retention, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and ultimately, profitability.

Recent leadership research by Rath and Harter (2010) shows that the degree to which a manager focuses on the development conversation determines the level of an employee’s engagement. So, performance conversations seem like an excellent opportunity to drive engagement and reap the benefits, yet few managers take advantage of this.

When little or no attention is paid to employee development, the chance that the employee remains actively engaged is only 40 per cent.

If you are having development conversations with a staff member, even if it’s only about their weaknesses, the likelihood of them remaining actively engaged almost doubles to 78 per cent. Have a development conversation with your employee about their strengths and how they can be leveraged for the greater good of the company and the chance of active engagement skyrockets to more than 99 per cent.

With the stakes so high, it pays to understand the power of the performance conversation and to use it to drive a more engaged workforce.

Tap into your development conversations

Here are three steps to get the most out of the development conversation:

1. Rethink your understanding of ‘strength’

Stop thinking of a strength purely as something the employee is good at. Instead, think of it as something that also makes your employee ‘feel’ strong. Undertaking a strengths-based task has a range of positive impacts. For example, when a person undertakes a task that lets them tap into their strengths, they will feel re-energised, like they have just put in fresh batteries. Strengths have a ‘feel good’ factor about them, so your employees will find they volunteer to use these skills, even if it’s not part of their core role.

2. Become a strength finder

It’s not easy for your employees to recognise their own strengths, especially if they have never been encouraged to identify them before. That’s where you come in. You need to help your people define and articulate what their strengths are. This can be achieved through some simple coaching questions during the development conversation:

When are you at your best?

If you could describe the perfect day at work, what would you be doing?

What is a high-point moment for you? Tell me about a time that is memorable and stands out, when time flew and you felt re-energised? What were you doing? Who were you with?

3. Challenge your employees to develop their strengths

Once you have worked with an employee to identify their strengths, challenge them to be creative in their self-development activities. Look for stretch projects, secondment opportunities and role shadowing where they will have an opportunity to work to their strengths. Ideally, you should find an opportunity that is mutually beneficial to the team as well as the individual. Ask them to report back on their results and key learnings.

So next time the development conversation time rolls around, get ready to tap into your employees’ strengths and reap the benefits of their engagement.

Melitta Hardenberg AIMM is extensively experienced in building an organization of ‘exceptional thinkers’ who make better decisions faster, are more engaged, and bring a healthy mind, body and attitude to work. Melitta is an experienced executive coach who has implemented strength based development programs with clients in the banking & finance sector.