I have run my own business and coached employees for years, but the whole notion of calling meetings between employee and manager “progress meetings” is something I learned from Wayne Nelsen. Most of this material comes out of my collaboration and association with Wayne and the Keyne Method. Wayne is the president of Keyne Insight, a firm dedicated to identifying and proving the concepts of execution management. He is also the creator of KeyneLink, an execution management system used by many companies globally.
The distinction between progress meetings and all other meetings is simple and elegant and makes all the difference in changing the context of the meeting. The meeting is not an appraisal meeting where the manager is judging the employee’s accomplishments or lack thereof. A progress meeting is a formal opportunity to review, reflect, and give feedback on the progress employees are making on their goals.
Types of Meetings
Many different meetings occur in business between managers and employees. The most typical meetings can be categorized as firefighting meetings. Firefighting meetings occur on an ad hoc basis to solve specific problems such as:
- Customer X did not get the right product.
- Machine No. 6 is not functioning properly.
The purpose of these meetings is simply to resolve issues. Issues discussed are hot topics that need to be resolved immediately. A progress meeting is not this kind of firefighting meeting.
Another type of meeting is a departmental meeting. In this type of meeting, participants shuffle into a conference room and sit around. Someone speaks and updates on various issues. Frequently, people’s attention wanders off. They might look like they are paying attention, but they actually are not and may well be texting and the like. At the end of the meeting, everyone shuffles out of the conference room and scurries off to their next meeting. This process repeats. A progress meeting is not that kind of meeting.
Then there is the yearly appraisal process with associated meetings. This is the least celebrated and underappreciated type of meeting that goes on in organizations. In fact, in most organizations, it is downright hated. Typically, this meeting occurs at the end of the year. It entails the manager evaluating the employee’s accomplishments and skill development. This process turns into a bureaucratic chore pushed by HR so it can update its records. Most of the time, the employees’ goals were not tracked or discussed during the year; thus, the appraisal is often incomplete and inaccurate. The yearly appraisal becomes an exercise that corporate citizens participate in without a lot of enthusiasm or energy.
Progress Meetings Defined
The progress meeting is not an after-the-fact appraisal meeting. No one is being judged or appraised. It is a proactive coaching meeting designed to produce feedback, conversation, next steps, and alignment. It is designed to give power and support, not to give judgment and assessment.
As a precursor to progress meetings, employees and managers work together to build a performance agreement based on the employees’ accountabilities and goals. Progress meetings are 30-minute meeting every two months to discuss the progress being made toward demonstrating the company values, fulfilling job accountabilities, and achieving goals.
For progress meetings, typically I wear my Sunday finest. I’m kidding—usually I am in just shorts and sandals. Kidding again. Dress how you typically dress. Certainly, face-to-face meetings are the best. I like meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant; however, the phone and screen sharing/Web conferencing work.
The rest of the progress meeting is a gap analysis between the manager’s and employee’s perceptions of the employee’s job accountabilities, demonstration of the corporate values, and the status of his or her goals. During the meeting, the employee and manager trade views. The meeting is about listening and reflecting. I have participated in this process as both employee and manager, and, in my opinion, listening to the view and scores of the other is the best part. The meeting also lays out a great process from which to hold conversations about performance.
If you are still confused, the following is an analogy for a progress meeting. Progress meeting are similar to a coach’s meeting with his or her athlete during practice. In my younger years, I competed in riding competitions. These events are timed, and each round gets more difficult, so getting through the course quickly and with the fewest mistakes is critical. This was serious business. My coach and I would meet prior to the event to create a plan based on the type of obstacles and the horse I was riding. After each round, we would meet again to assess my status, the horse’s status, and the course. We would revise our plan based on the current situation to improve our time and win the event.
I was committed to winning by executing the plan the coach and I had designed. The coach was committed to winning despite not riding the horse. He was watching and had a different perspective. He also had a lot of knowledge and experience. I never did figure out what the horse was up to. In this sense, these meetings were like a progress meeting: The employee is committed to making progress and executing on his or her goals. The manager has aligned with the goals and accountabilities of the employee and certainly has a perspective of what is getting accomplished.
These meetings with my coach, which the horse sometimes attended, were an opportunity to share perspectives and assess with real data where we were, given our goal of winning. This is just like the conversation that takes place between managers and employees during progress meetings using the Keyne Method. Right after our meeting, I got back on the horse, and we went back into the arena and started jumping. That is the essence of a progress meeting between manager and employee.
My clients repeatedly express that progress meetings are powerful and useful. Jaime, CEO of a large regional road construction company, reflected, “Progress meetings force me to have the conversations I have needed to have and have been avoiding.”
Ralph, CEO, and Suzanne, executive VP, of a National Staffing Company, feel similarly. “Our culture tends to avoid conflict. We find that the progress meeting format causes straight talk, getting hot topics on the table, and allows us to get our hands around issues and create next steps.”
In all of these cases, an individual performance has improved.
Benefits and Tips
The benefits are many. First, managers get to acknowledge what is working and what is not working, given the employee’s performance agreement. The truth will set you free. It may cause upset, but dealing with the situation is the most powerful outcome.
Second, if there are updates and changes that need to be made to the employee’s goals and accountabilities, it is easy to do right in the meeting, especially utilizing the KeyneLink software. Business conditions are always changing; KeyneLink makes it easy to make changes in real time.
Finally, the meeting allows participants understand each other’s perspectives. If the manager and employee have differing views, the performance meeting allows them to communicate and hopefully align. If not, then the manager and employee at least understand each other and are communicating.
For a great progress meeting, you need to be a bit proactive. Here are some tips to ensure a quality outcome:
- Treat the progress meeting seriously and believe it will make a difference.
- Remember that the meeting is about coaching and development; it is not an appraisal meeting.
- Treat the progress meeting as if you are an athlete meeting with your coach: The game is active and the outcome is uncertain. The conversation you are having matters.
Formal conversations between employees and managers that follow the progress meeting format are essential to good coaching and development. This is the bottom line and end of story. When meetings do not occur, you can forget about getting any value from coaching and development. Progress meetings are the keys to the kingdom.
From growing up in his family’s boating business to founding his company, CMI, Bruce Hodes has dedicated himself to helping companies grow by developing executive leadership teams, business leaders and executives into powerful performers. Hodes’ adaptable Breakthrough Strategic Business Planning methodology has been specifically designed for small to mid-sized companies and is especially valuable for family company challenges. In February 2012, Hodes published his first book: “Front-Line Heroes: How to Battle the Business Tsunami by Developing Performance Oriented Cultures.” With a background in psychotherapy, Hodes also has an MBA from Northwestern University and a Master’s in Clinical Social Work. For more information, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call 800.883.7995, or visit www.cmiteamwork.com