January is the time when many organisations hold their annual reviews. It’s when performance objectives are set, and it should also be a time when meaningful development objectives are also set.

A mounting body of research is showing that the old ways of focusing on weaknesses to develop demoralises employees and doesn’t actually turn around their performance and may even decrease it by as much as 26% (Corporate Leadership Council).

So here are my top tips if you want to engage your team to the max, and truly support their growth and development this year:

1. Focus on stretching strengths to be effective in upcoming work and/or to grow into the next role.

When we play to our strengths we are naturally more energised and more effective. Help your team members identify their strengths by asking what has been the most and least energising aspects of your job this year, and what would you like to learn to optimise your strengths and performance to identify potential development objectives.

2. Focus on performance risks, rather than weaknesses and choose just one or two to work on.

Performance risk are the blockers to achieving optimal performance. Ask what if you were to work on it, would have the greatest impact on your success in your role. Use competency frameworks – and your own knowledge as a leader – of what it takes to truly succeed in this role to brainstorm a few risks and allow your direct report to choose the one(s) that make sense for them to work on. You know this – but it’s worth a reminder – if your team choose their own development objectives and learning activities, they are more likely to follow through on it (and won’t blame you if it “doesn’t work”).

3. Explore a range of learning options for ways they could both strengths and minimise performance risks.

Often staff complain they are never given sufficient development opportunities because they assume that only courses count as development. Asking the following will coach them to come up with a range of learning activities:

    a. What on the job experiences will stretch you to the next level?

    b. Who can you engage as a coach, mentor, feedback giver to help you raise your performance?

    c. What education and training will you need ?

4. Always check for commitment before ending the conversation.

My favourite is the scaling question: on a scale of 1-10 how committed are you to completing this action? If it is less than an 8, ask them what the activity needs to be instead to be closer to a 10.

5. Keep the conversation alive to fulfil goals.

Setting development goals with your team is only the beginning. Have regular check-ins, encourage co-worker feedback, keep reviewing and learning (and make it safe to make mistakes by focusing on what was learned if the actions taken did not yield the intended results).

And if you really want to set performance and development objectives in a truly best practice way do what Intel, Google, and AirBnB are doing which is to set no more than three goals every three months rather than across the whole year to make goals focused and more manageable. This reflects the increasing “agile” way in which tech and most other companies are working now.

If you would like to learn more about how to have meaningful appraisals and development conversations, get in touch.