Six Weekly Performance Questions to Ask in One-on-Ones

Previously, I wrote about weekly performance questions to ask your teams. This week we cover weekly performance questions for one-on-one meetings.

What Are Good Weekly Performance Questions?

Every time I ask my kids how school was, the answer is the same, “fine.” So it goes with employees. If you’re trying to get candor from people in a one-on-one meeting, you’re going to have to do better than “how are things going?” or “what’s on your plate this week?”

Try some of these to get a better sense of how the work is actually getting done and how energized an individual is to get the job done.

  • Who are you working with and how often are you meeting? This might not start out as a question, but more of an encouragement / direction. Depending on your culture and the level of the employee, you might not want people setting up meetings and identifying partners in crime without first talking to you. However, if you want to grow a person, they need visibility beyond your team; they need to identify and get input from key stakeholders on projects; and to learn how to collaborate effectively (even with ineffective people). For entry level employees, they will also need to be reminded again and again and again that email and instant messenger are not a substitute for a conversation or face-to-face meeting. This isn’t micromanaging. This is making sure the members of your team know how to effectively work cross-department and that you don’t get caught with your pants down when another manager asks you why your direct report keeps calling them. If you’re new to an organization, it’s also a good way to learn how to navigate it from your most senior employees while acknowledging a level of insight you don’t yet have.
  • What do you need to accomplish what you’re working on AND are you getting what you need from [insert client, peer, manager]? This question is essentially asking – where do I need to intervene. Problems with peers, other managers, or departments land on you – either as the person who is going to coach the employee through the challenge and back them up when needed, or as the direct point of intervention. Either way, your message is “I’m here to help tear down barriers (or explain why they exist).” The ability of a manager to remove roadblocks is consistently on lists of qualities that make a great manager and this level of specificity will help you uncover those landmines.
  • What’s next? If you want employees who are engaged and productive, ask them to identify priorities and create their own work. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to steer this conversation and redirect it towards what you know is most important. However if you never create the space for them to think bigger picture and coach them towards the activities that move them closer to their goals, as a manager, you’ll be constantly disappointed that no one on your team can solve problems or think strategically.
  • What do you want to do more of? This is not, in fact, Pandora’s box. I promise you, you will not have a team of people who all want to be the boss or think they can just do what they want when they want. This question uncovers motivators. And motivation is your direct path to engagement and productivity. Use their interests and goals to find balance between the work that must get done and the work they want to get done. Become their advocate for their interests. Less than two decades ago, but more than one (just to leave my age out of this discussion), I was a young, mid-level employee working on a project with a global company and wanted to write a speech for one of their SVP’s that would be given in front of important people, like the Secretary of Labor. I asked for it. And I was given it – on top of all my other work – with specific deadlines that accounted for my inexperience. I spent many a night working until midnight to do both the work that had to get done and the work I wanted to deliver. A few months later, I was promoted and one step further from the mundane work I had to do and one step closer to a portfolio that would allow me to do the work I wanted to do. Help your people become the professionals they want to be, and you’ll get the productivity you need.
  • Is what you’re doing sustainable for you? All that said, you cannot indefinitely pile on “work you want” with “work you must do” – or our angry pal burnout will begin joining our meetings. This question is a great way to identify burnout and frustration before it’s too late. I’ve asked this of many people who have been on my team and on other teams and most people will either say things are ebbing and flowing as they expect, or they can’t continue as things are for more than a few weeks or months. Sometimes, they’ll tell you they are at their breaking point. That’s powerful information for minimizing turn over, improving morale and making a case for resources and / or change. If this question scares you, I’d compare it to having a Facebook page or company Twitter handle. Early in social media, companies were afraid of what people would write or post on these pages. Over time, most came to realize that customers / consumers were using word of mouth anyway. And not only were they using word of mouth, but word of mouth was one of the most powerful purchase influences around. Rather than staying in the dark, most companies realized that setting up social media assets just meant they would know what was being said and could do something about it.
  • What’s your schedule look like? Make this question less about managing schedules and more about knowing and caring about what’s happening in their lives.

Over time, expectations will change. And so will your perceptions of your team.


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