Improving Engagement and Retention through Better Work Conversations

“Leaders are getting a little anxious that people aren't producing as much as they need,” says Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies. “At the same time, people are overwhelmed. They feel like they're being asked to do a lot.”

Bridging that gap requires exceptional communication skills, says Halsey.

“Organizations have struggled to replace people lost during the Great Resignation and post-Covid, but the work has continued to increase. Many people find themselves doing two jobs instead of just one. Workers are feeling undervalued and underappreciated. And most leaders are feeling the same!

“With everyone crunched for time and being held accountable for unrealistic targets, many leaders are starting to implement processes, lean into targets and deadlines, and push a little more for ‘Let's get this stuff done.’ What might be forgotten, though, is that it's a person who needs to get it done.

“How do we get people who already feel like their plate is pretty full to be fired up to want to do all the work they need to do? What tasks are they currently doing—and are those tasks aligned with organizational needs? These kinds of questions are messy, but they get at what people are dealing with these days.

“Authentic conversations are needed here. They give leaders a chance to connect with and value who people really are and what is going on with them,” says Halsey.

“I'm finding that people are holding in a lot of emotion. That’s why as leaders we need to start leaning more into asking, listening, facilitating, and problem solving. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What do I want people saying, thinking, and feeling as they walk away from a conversation with me?’”

For Halsey, this includes clarity, support, and—most of all—a sense of caring.

“Scott Blanchard, our company president, describes this as having a leader who’s ‘got your back.’”

That entails trust and a sense of being others-focused, explains Halsey.

“We’ve done some great research in this area that shows a strong correlation between perceptions of a leader being others-focused and a direct report’s intentions to stay with the organization, endorse it to others, perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort, and be a good corporate citizen.”

Next, says Halsey, is clearly identifying what a good outcome looks like.

“Managers know, better than anyone, the challenge of having an excess of competing priorities. Our in-depth look into issues that are top of mind with managers found too many competing priorities, combined with a sense of ineffectiveness, as the biggest cause of burnout. Leaders need to help their people sort through their priorities and determine what is most important and what they need in order to do the job well.

“This requires a serious discussion—something beyond ‘everything is important.’ It requires a concentrated effort by both manager and direct report to sort through the different priorities and rank them in terms of impact on individual, team, and organizational performance.

“A realistic conversation about what is already on a person’s plate, together with a realistic appraisal of what’s needed to get the job done, will go a long way toward establishing a sense of partnership or ‘we’re in this together,’” says Halsey.

“Once priorities are clear and established, clarity on goal setting and demonstrating what a good job looks like are especially important right now. I’m hearing all too often, ‘My boss does a great job of telling me what to do but not a great job of how to do it.’ There is need for real-time conversations about task-specific competence and commitment to getting the work done.”

Halsey points out that Blanchard teaches a conversation-based approach to performance management called SLII® that has been used successfully by managers since its introduction forty years ago. SLII® has stood the test of time—in good times and bad, in all economic environments—and has proven to be a practical, effective, and engagement-boosting approach to leadership.

“At a financial services company, SLII® boosted performance by an average of 10%. At a health insurance carrier, it increased performance by 11%,” said Halsey.

And at a large consumer goods manufacturer, using this situational approach to goal setting, diagnosing development level, and providing a matching leadership style yielded statistically significant improvements in categories such as:

  • Connectedness to Leader
  • Collaboration
  • Growth
  • Meaningful Work

It also generated intention scores above the statistical norm in these three important categories:

  • Performance Intent
  • Employee Endorsement
  • Intent to Remain

“Better performance management conversations help connect, align and engage all,” says Halsey. “Not only do people perform better, they also feel better about their work. It’s a great combination during times of stress.”

Strong performance planning and day-to-day coaching also increase engagement and work passion factors, says Halsey.

“That's where the others-focused approach becomes apparent. People will say, ‘You didn’t just tell me what to do, you also took the time to give me the direction and support I needed in order to succeed at my to-do list. You didn't leave me hanging there. You literally delivered on the promise, you followed through, and you cared enough to be committed to my success and to be attentive to what I actually needed.’

“That’s how you ultimately empower people to bring the best of who they are to the job. Those are the people who are coming back.

“You know, the world's a little crazy right now. People need reassurance that they're on the right track and they're important both to their leaders and to the overall vitality of the organization. Authentic conversations go a long way toward building trust and showing people you are on their side.”


Would you like to learn more about bringing out the best in people? Join us for a free webinar!

Communication Essentials: 3 Conversations Leaders Need to Master

Thursday, April 20, 2023

During challenging times, good communication skills are essential—especially when people are feeling stressed and pulled in multiple directions with competing priorities. In this webinar, leadership communication expert Vicki Halsey will share Blanchard’s proven approach to conducting effective conversations when they matter most. Drawing on Blanchard’s time-tested communication model, SLII®, you will learn about:

  • The Goal Setting Conversation—clarifying and prioritizing the objectives to be accomplished, in what order, and at what level of performance
  • The Diagnosis Conversation—identifying resources and roadblocks and determining the required levels of leadership direction and support needed
  • The Matching Conversation—providing the required day-to-day coaching to get the job done

Halsey will demonstrate how you can engage in performance management conversations that help both parties walk away with clarity, a clear plan of action, and an enhanced regard for each other.

Don’t miss this opportunity to improve the quality and quantity of conversations taking place throughout your organization.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

More Content by David Witt
Previous Publication
What Do We Know About Development Level?
What Do We Know About Development Level?

Achieve a deeper understanding of the concept of development level and its components.

Next Resource
3 Performance Conversation Skills All Leaders Need to Master
3 Performance Conversation Skills All Leaders Need to Master

Learn how to help your leaders diagnose development level on new tasks and goals, and how to provide people...