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The Million-Dollar Performance Review Question

If there’s such a thing as a million-dollar question that managers should ask employees during a performance review, it’s this: What do you really want to do?
Why is such a simple question so valuable? First, it helps you understand exactly what your employees are passionate about, what engages them, and what they see as truly meaningful work. Second, it helps to instill greater accountability in your people by involving them in personally managing their careers and creating reach assignments. And third, it shows that you care about your employees’ needs as well as those of the company.

Add those factors together and you have a powerful equation for boosting the value of your performance reviews—and for raising employee engagement, happiness and retention levels.
Another reason this simple little question is pure gold is that helps transform your performance appraisals from backward-looking reviews into future-focused planning sessions. In fact, more and more companies are de-emphasizing the “review” aspect of their performance appraisals and focusing more on looking ahead—at what makes employees happy and productive, how they’d like to grow, and how they envision their future with their employers.
Texas Roadhouse recently changed its performance review process to be more forward-looking (which you can read about here). And Union Bank & Trust revamped its performance appraisals in a way that more deeply engages employees in the review process (which you can read about here). Both companies now ask employees about their feelings regarding their work and the future.
In her Harvard Business Review post, “IfYou’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material,” professor of management Monique Valcour offers managers this piece of advice: “When planning your team’s work, ask employees to identify both how they can contribute and what they would like to learn. This gives employees the primary responsibility for clarifying what they want to learn and for proposing ways to incorporate on-the-job learning. It also helps to avoid having employees volunteer to perform only the tasks that they are already highly skilled at.”
She also urges managers to require employees to report back to them periodically on what they’ve learned and how they’re using their new skills and knowledge.
Asking the million-dollar question—“What do you really want to do?”—during your performance reviews can be a powerful way to maximize employees’ contributions and commitment levels. And when you actually put your findings to use, the results will be money in the bank.
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