What questions do you ask in your check-ins and performance reviews?

You probably have quarterly check-ins and annual performance reviews with the people who report to you, in addition to your own cadence of one on ones. All of those interactions are intended to help your team members in their professional development and to ensure that their goals and the company’s goals are aligned. Typically, the questions asked include accomplishments since the last meeting, goals for the upcoming review period, and areas of improvement. We also always ask for examples of how the employee exemplified the company values, as it is crucial for us to put our company culture top of mind at all times. This format has worked pretty well in the past, but since it’s advisable to revisit your practices from time to time in order to identify opportunities for improvement, I’ve been thinking about additional, more granular questions to add. Here are a few ideas.  

For the reviewee: 

Why did you/didn’t you reach your goals? 

This question refers to the tangible, measurable goals that were set. What you want to look for in the employee’s answer is their locus of control, which is absolutely vital to their success. If they haven’t achieved their goals, do they exclusively blame external factors (which, admittedly, can play a role) or do they take ownership of the things that they could have done differently? 

What lessons did you learn last week/last quarter?

An engaged employee always strives to become better. Even when things didn’t pan out as planned, they still ensure that they learn from the experience. 

What did you do last week/quarter to hone your craft?

Similarly, since you expect your team members to invest in their own professional development, you’ll want to include this question in your check-ins and reviews. Every person in your company has room to grow, and those who believe that they no longer have things to learn and improve on are probably not the ones who help your company grow and become the best place to work. 

What are you willing to be held accountable for? 

When setting goals for the next review period, you want to set a clear frame of accountability and responsibility. Goals have to be realistic but also ambitious. Similar to the “why did you/didn’t you reach your goals” question, the answer reveals how much of their achievements the team member perceives to be in their control. It’s also important to not just discuss top level goals, such as revenue generated, but also things like activity levels and pipeline, or development velocity and maximum number of fixes needed, depending on the role. 

What are you willing to do to reach your goals? 

You may augment the previous question with this one in order to understand what type of effort the employee is willing to make. For instance, if they’re not on track, are they open to coming in an hour earlier or stay an hour later to see if different times for sales calls render better results? Would they commit to taking a class in order to improve their skill set in a particular area? 

How are your professional goals and the company’s goals aligned? 

Employee engagement is a reflection of how the team member’s goals are in line with the company goals. Asking the question above helps you realize if the employee understands your organization’s goals and vision and if they perceive any misalignments with their own ambitions. 

For the manager:

A one on one, quarterly check-in, or annual performance review should result in an agreement between the team member and their manager. It should never solely focus on the employee’s goals and responsibilities, but include the manager’s role in the success of the employee as well. 

What am I willing to do to help my employee excel?

Since you’re asking the employee what they’re willing to do in order to be successful in their role, the manager should also be thinking about their level of commitment to the employee. Sharing with the team members what you’re willing to do to help them makes them feel supported and can reinforce their level of accountability. Can you commit to spending a certain amount of time every week helping them with their demos? Would you be willing to provide them a list of resources in order to improve a particular skill and then give feedback on their progress? Are you able to share some of the secrets of your own success or some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way? Contemplating the levels of your own commitment should be part of the conversation.

How are the employee’s professional goals and the company’s goals aligned? Where do you perceive a misalignment?

An honest discussion between the team member and the manager must include the topic of alignment. The manager should have a solid understanding of the direction of the company, goals, challenges, and opportunities. Should there be a perceived misalignment with regard to career trajectory or values, it’s best to have an open discussion in order to avoid assumptions, which are the killer of productive and positive relationships.

Check-ins in particular should always be a productive dialog between the manager and their team member, resulting in mutually agreed upon goals and action items and a commitment to hold up their respective ends of the bargain. 

What about you? What questions would you recommend including?

Why we’ll be going back to the office (once it’s safe to do so)

Long before COVID-19 forced us to work from home full time, I had written a post about the benefits of working in the office, such as creating a sense of community, supporting team members who might be struggling, learning from each other, and increasing collaboration across departments. The pandemic has shown that many jobs can be done remotely – some even better. In fact, several of the big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook announced that some of their workforce will be working remotely indefinitely. Not surprisingly, this idea keeps getting floated in our company. At this point, we are planning to return to the office when everybody has had a chance to get vaccinated and achieved the desired immunity level afterwards. We will start out with 2 days per week and ease back into a new routine. Here’s why.


While we’ve learned to use different communication channels, such as Zoom and Slack, in fairly effective ways and even developed a communication playbook, there’s a component to in person conversations that simply cannot be replicated. All too often, I see people multitask during virtual meetings, which doesn’t convey the level of respect for your team members that you would want, and it also doesn’t make for the most effective communication. In addition, in order to foster emotional intelligence, it is important to focus on and allow for non verbal communication. 


There’s no question that working in isolation except for virtual meetings tends to make you more focused on yourself and less empathetic to others. As soon as some of us returned to the office (socially distant and mask-wearing, of course), you could feel that the human interactions and connections became enhanced and the tone more empathetic. 


Great work spawns more great work. Witnessing a Services developer implement a complex integration, a Product Engineer be laser focused on a new feature, or a Sales Rep consult a prospect makes everyone more aware of each team member’s contributions to the company, and, as a result, to each other’s lives. It makes you want to do your best work.  Listening to our Support team help our customers and each other is inspiring. I miss overhearing those conversations, not just because of the level of care that I believe is contagious, but also because it has resulted in new ideas for our products and services. 

Integration of new team members

If you’re fortunate enough to be hiring, you know that it can be challenging to onboard new team members remotely, especially when they’re new to the role. You have to ensure that you as the manager and the rest of your team are available for hands-on training and ad hoc questions, even when they’re “heads down”. If your company culture is as important to you as it is to us, you need to find ways to demonstrate how each one of you lives the values you subscribe to, which admittedly, is a bit easier in an office environment. 

Team over self

One of our values is that the team comes first. Literally “showing up” for your team members a couple of times a week can serve as a great reminder that personal preference or convenience, while important, sometimes needs to take a backseat to what’s best for the team as a whole. After all, some projects or initiatives may be achieved more effectively in person. 

In a company which is as customer-facing and customer-focused as we are, it’s not all about being heads down all the time. It’s also about fostering the best possible culture, collaboration, fun, and service. While it’s certainly not impossible to achieve all of this in a remote environment, being together in person does make those things easier. That’s why we decided on a hybrid set-up once it’s safe to return to the office. We will be more intentional about what we want out of a day in the office and also provide our team members plenty of opportunities to work from home. 

What about you? Does your company plan to work remotely indefinitely?

Five considerations before moving someone into a new role

One of the most fulfilling accomplishments as a manager is when you help your team members grow and flourish professionally. You’re always thinking about opportunities to challenge an individual, to reward good work, work ethic, and attitude, and to optimize team performance. In some instances, this means that you trust the person with new responsibilities without significantly changing their title. In other cases, you may promote the individual or move them to another role altogether, perhaps even in a different department. Those changes have the potential to result in increased morale and productivity, but obviously, they are not without risks. Before you move forward with a promotion or any other move of an employee to a different role, there are a few things to consider. Let’s take a look.

Evaluate current performance and engagement

In most cases, you will want to change someone’s role in order to both reward great performance and high engagement. Ideally, a move is neither a punishment nor a reward for unwanted behavior. If someone is underperforming on any level, it needs to be addressed first. Now, I have seen situations where after discovering that the reason for bad performance was actually rooted in a misalignment of passions and skills, a change of roles rectified the situation completely. However, I would proceed with caution, because, while you can teach someone how to do something, you can’t teach them how to be. If there’s any inkling that the individual is just not the right cultural fit in terms of attitude, do what you need to do, and, above all, do not move forward with a change of roles. 

Do it for the right reasons

A change of roles and/or department must be a win-win situation. I’ve seen managers panic and think that they will lose a team member if they don’t promote them within a specific time frame. But if the individual is not ready or has not displayed the desired work ethic in order to be successful, a promotion will do more harm than good. Be clear and explain the potential trajectory to the person. What do they need to change, what skills do they need to acquire and how? What is your commitment to helping them get there? Also try to gauge what they are willing to do. Of course, if there is simply no need for the role to which someone wants to be moved, you need to be honest about it. While it’s certainly commendable that you contemplate different ways to create the most fulfilling roles for each team member, it is also your responsibility to do what is best for the company, so inventing a new position that is not in alignment with business goals would be unwise. 

Consider a switcheroo

If creating a new role doesn’t make organizational or financial sense, consider the opportunity to switch roles between team members. In one of my previous companies, for example, it became apparent that the network administrator and the support manager were stuck in roles that didn’t match their personalities and interests, so we developed a transition plan for a switcheroo. It worked out great. Keep in mind that it doesn’t even always have to be a one to one switch, but it can involve revamping multiple roles. Needless to say, it’s crucial to get everyone’s buy-in. Be sure to have confidential one on one conversations in order to explore the possibilities and potential backlash. 

Let people try out

You can’t always predict if someone will be a fit for a specific position. And sometimes, the individual might not know if they would enjoy a different role. Rather than making drastic changes, allow people to try things out. Give them a couple of days per week or maybe even two to four weeks to interact with their potential new department, learn about processes, challenges, and team dynamics, and make it clear that it’s okay to say that it wasn’t what they had envisioned. Don’t push them in any particular direction. Instead, observe. Do they proactively reach out to make sure that the trial happens? How many questions are they asking? Do they seem excited about the opportunity? 

Set clear expectations

Clarity is key when it comes to any change of roles. Ensure that the manager has a documented training plan in place and that the job description is comprehensive and fully understood by all parties. It is also useful to not just limit the expectations to the job responsibilities but also with regard to communication. The manager and the individual need to be on the same page with regard to the definition of success and also about what the other person will commit to in order to make the transition a success.

Putting the right people in the right roles is one of your main responsibilities as a manager. Be thoughtful and honest about if a move to a new role is realistic and in the best interest of everyone involved. And, as always, make adjustments when you need to. 

What about you? What’s your experience with moving team members?


Three leadership book recommendations for your end of summer reading

One of the things that almost all successful leaders have in common is that their thirst for knowledge and continuous learning. As I mentioned previously, the average CEO reads 60 books a year. With the end of summer approaching, I thought I’d share a few books that have made a big impression on me over the years.

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Seth Godin, in my opinion, is not capable of publishing bad content. My favorite book of his is Linchpin, in which he talks about how each individual can make themselves indispensable, regardless of what position they hold within an organization. The key is to treat your work as your craft instead of your job. The book is an inspiring read, despite some of criticism it has received (“Nobody is indispensable!”). I could immediately think of people I’ve worked with or interacted with in other capacities who are so passionate about their work that they make it their personal mission to push themselves on a daily basis and to do and try things that others aren’t willing to do – no matter what their job description says. Look for those linchpins and hire them. Above all, strive to be one of them.

Sample quote:

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.”

Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

I believe that any aspiring manager, first time manager, or company leader can find valuable takeaways and action items in Multipliers. As a first time manager, you may feel insecure and threatened by high performers. Liz Wiseman explains in no uncertain terms that your existence and success as a leader hinges upon your ability to make everyone around you better. You’re not in a leadership role in order to be the shining star or amazing individual contributor. You’re there to inspire, to coach, to remove obstacles, and to empower team members to get out of their comfort zones. Wiseman uses specific examples to illustrate the qualities needed to be a multiplier instead of what she calls a “diminisher”. One of the things that hopefully resonate with readers is the fact that as a leader, you have to allow mistakes, exercise restraint, and be committed to tapping into each individual’s hidden potential. Don’t hog the spotlight. Be a genius maker.

Sample quote:

“Multipliers aren’t “feel-good” managers. They look into people and find capability, and they want to access all of it. They utilize people to their fullest. They see a lot, so they expect a lot.”

Practically Radical by Bill Taylor

Practically Radical walks you through the cases of 25 companies of different sizes and in a variety of industries to showcase how each one identified opportunities for change and took calculated risks to implement them. Even though this book was published more than six years ago, it is more relevant than ever, as our world has gotten increasingly disruptive. Finding new ways to connect with your customers is more important than ever. In times when new products and new services emerge so quickly, you have to ask the right questions, foster the right company culture, and be truly transformational – whether you’re a startup or an established enterprise. Practically Radical lays out processes and techniques to make meaningful changes in your company, but also in your life.

Sample quote:

“We are living through the age of disruption. You can’t do big things if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before. In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”

Reading is one of the best things you can to do invest in your own growth. A word of caution: Sharing insights from your reading is great, but be prepared that some people will inevitably make negative comments (“Here you go again. It’s just something you read.”). Don’t let it get to you. Keep reading.

What about you? Which management books would you recommend?