Co-Creative Conversations: Leading, Motivating and Evaluating with Excellence

By Sasja Chomos

When I ask leaders if they are having regular conversations with employees, they inevitably say, “Of course! I talk with my staff all the time.” While there is no doubt that multiple communications happen on a daily basis, the real question becomes: are leaders having the right kinds of conversations that lead to performance excellence?

An Investment of Time
Today’s fast-paced, constantly changing workplace—combined with the continuous need to improve service, add more value to customers, improve productivity, improve collaboration, and reduce costs—requires leaders who have the mindset and the skills to bring out the best in their people and deliver excellent results.

This is what we call the “10:10 Leadership Model” at Dynamic Achievement. A manager who does not invest time with their team members to discuss their goals, performance, and development, will have employees who are less engaged and less committed to the success of the organization.

Tradition Counter to Expectation
At worst, some leaders have these evaluative and developmental conversations once a year during the annual performance review. Research shows that these kinds of conversations add little to no value and are often-times even detrimental to the employment relationship.

This traditional approach also stands in stark contrast to the expectations of employees these days, especially with Millennials who are hungry for extensive growth and learning. Leaders at all levels need to be constantly engaged in conversations with their staff about the full range of issues that confront them as they engage with customers, fellow team members, work challenges, career aspirations, personal issues that are impacting work, and leadership challenges to name a few.

Finding the Courage to Question
The common reason that most leaders express for not having these kinds of conversations is: “I don’t have the time,” but what they really mean is “I don’t know how” and “It’s not my priority.” Both of these serve as a cover for the real story, which is that managers are uncomfortable with these types of conversations because they are much more personal and unpredictable.

It is far easier to discuss tasks and what needs to be done than it is to discuss another person’s performance and development. It is even more uncomfortable for a manager to ask an employee how they can best work together, or how the leader can add more value to the employee and their development.

Questions like “please tell me what I am doing well that is helping you to perform at your best,” and “what are a few changes that I can make in my leadership style that would make your job easier?” take courage and are uncommon.

Leadership as a Co-Creative Conversation
Many organizations invest a great deal of time, energy, and money to develop high-performing cultures. The reality is that leadership drives culture, and culture drives prosperity. Developing a culture of excellence requires shifting the kinds of conversations that leaders are having.

“10:10 leaders” understand that the most powerful conversations are co-creative conversations. Co-creative conversations require the leader to have a mindset and the skills to be collaborative, open to influence, to explore new ways of thinking, and to be able to co-create a better future with their team. The fundamental premise of co-creative conversations is that two minds focused on achieving something great together can achieve significantly more than any one person can achieve alone.

Three Key Co-Creative Conversations
What do co-creative conversations look like? From a talent management perspective, there are three essential conversations managers need to have with employees:

The “Create Clear and Consistent Direction” conversation: Most managers know in theory that they need to be setting goals and expectations with employees, yet more often than not, what employees need to do is not well articulated (or articulated at all) and is often one-sided. A co-creative conversation to clarify goals, roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities includes the employee as an equal partner in the journey.

The “Care for Me as a Person” conversation: Every human being wants to be seen, heard and appreciated for their individual uniqueness. Recognizing each person’s distinct skills, weaknesses, talents, personality, goals and aspirations requires intentionally taking the time to not only discuss performance, but to deeply understand each person’s whole life.

Dialogue with employees on their performance needs to happen continuously throughout the year, and should not just focus on what they have achieved, how they are getting the work done, but equally on the individuality of the person who is coming to work. Employees want to be cared for as people first and foremost,  and this may include knowing more about their background, family, hobbies, and relationships. 10:10 leaders are genuinely interested in the overall wellbeing of their employees as people.

The “Help me Grow and Develop” conversation: Co-creative developmental conversations are the least-had conversations in organizations, as many managers shy away from having tough or sensitive conversations that may include corrective feedback. However, employees express time and time again that they want their managers to engage in their development, which often requires not only positive reinforcement, but corrective and developmental feedback. ??I personally believe that to withhold these kinds of discussions with employees is to set them up for failure.

Though it may be uncomfortable for the manager to say and for the employee to hear, all feedback is essential when the goal is to help the employee (and the organization) become more successful and achieve excellence. ??10:10 leaders engage in co-creative feedback conversations, which require curiosity and an openness to fully understand the employee’s experience and perspective as much as their own needs and perspectives. These leaders spend time with employees to explore how they want to grow, what they want to accomplish, what they need to do in both the short and long term, and what kind of support, coaching and mentoring they will require.??The most exceptional leaders also realize that co-creative conversations involve examining how their own leadership styles have contributed to the situation.

Three Qualities of a Co-Creative Conversation
The three conversations outlined above are by no means the only kinds of conversations that make a difference, but they form the foundation to improving employee engagement and performance. Knowing “what” kinds of conversations matter is only the first step; knowing “how” to have them is even more essential.

The Right Mindset: Co-creative conversations require focused, uninterrupted time together. Anything that can distract from the conversation needs to be removed or attended to so that both parties can be fully present. If the expectation is for employees to be serious about their performance and development, then leaders need to treat these conversations with the care and attention they deserve.

Relationship Alignment: In order to have a successful co-creative conversation, all parties need to be aligned. The problem is that most often people have created distorted and subjective stories of reality—which may be utterly false. Co-creative conversations focus on collaborating with others by fully understanding each party’s experience and building trust.

Focus on Achieving a Common Goal: With the right mindset and a strong trust-based relationship alignment, co-creative leaders work cooperatively and collaboratively with others to create a future that is better than any one party could have produced alone. In order for the co-creative process to work and achieve excellence, leaders must remove the need for one-upmanship, being right, winning at the expense of others, or protecting territories.

Co-creation requires a generative mindset that constantly looks at optimizing and building on what others have contributed in pursuit of the greater good.

Co-Creative Conversations Guide Results
The kinds of conversations that your leaders have with your employees and how they are having them will determine the level of trust, connection and engagement that will be created. In turn, trust and engagement will determine the kind of relationships and culture that will exist in your organization, which will ultimately determine the results that you will achieve.

Imagine what would be possible for your organization if all your leaders were 10:10 leaders skilled at having co-creative conversations? Even more importantly, ask yourself: Am I having the kinds of conversations that really matter?

Sasja Chomos is an executive coach and senior consultant with Dynamic Achievement, known for their focus on mindset, culture, and leadership excellence.

(PeopleTalk Spring 2017)

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