If somebody said to you, If you do this one thing every week over the next year, you’ll enormously increase the chances of your professional success, you’d do it, right?

Of course you would—you’re a smart person.

OK: I’m saying that to you now.

Dozens of workplace studies conducted over the past 20 years have shown again and again that:

  • Good employees stay and thrive in companies where they are managed well,
  • The core of “managing well” consists of having simple, regular conversations with employees about specific topics,
  • Managers who are seen as able to attract, retain and grow good employees (e.g. manage well) are more likely to continue to advance in their careers.

Here’s one example of such a study: in the Cornerstone OnDemand 2013 U.S. Employee Report, when employees were asked Aside from compensation and benefits, what would most motivate you to stay in your current position?” the most frequent response was a good manager who I enjoy working for,” and the second most frequent was feeling appreciated by my supervisor or employer.Turbo Charge Your Career

AND about 2 out of 3 of these same employees say that over the past six months they haven’t been given any useful feedback from their manager/employer and don’t understand how their performance goals align with the company’s business objectives—and fully 3 out of 4 say they haven’t discussed any career goals with their manager.

So, the one thing you can do each week over the next year to dramatically increase your own chances of success—not to mention reduce turnover, improve results, and crete a more fun and enjoyable workplace—is to have a simple, clear, supportive performance conversation with one employee.

If you do that, by the end of the year your employees will almost certainly be more competent, more productive and more committed. How about this as your manage-well-to-advance-my-career pledge: In 2013, I will have at least one conversation a week with an employee where I: 1) acknowledge a specific contribution he or she has made, or 2) coach him or her to learn something new or do something better, or 3) provide specific behavioral feedback about how he/she can improve, or 4) listen to his or her ideas or concerns.

If this appeals to you, here’s some support for doing it:

  1. Acknowledge a specific contribution he or she has made. This is the easiest of the four. How hard is it to say to an employee, “When you stayed late to finish that report, it helped the whole team. Thank you.” It’s not hard at all—you just have to remember to do it. One thing that will help you remember is to remind yourself how motivating it is for most employees to hear this kind of authentic, deserved praise—and how much more likely people are to repeat behaviors for which they’ve been praised.
  2. Coach him or her to learn something new or do something better. I bet you have valuable things to teach every employee. Even if you haven’t done their particular job, you have lots of other skills and knowledge to share: perhaps you can help them get better at problem-solving, time management, gathering information, building good relationships…whatever you’re good at, that’s been useful to you in your career—if they’re not good at that thing, you can help them get better. Passing on your skills and knowledge is a truly wise investment of time; you’ll get it back ten-fold as your employees become more and more skilled and capable.
  3. Provide specific behavioral feedback about how he/she can improve. This one is the toughest—and perhaps the most valuable. We think employees hate corrective feedback—but when it’s done skillfully, and in the spirit of improvement, offering your employees regular, clear, balanced, behavioral performance feedback is like rocket fuel for their growth. And they actually appreciate it. Most managers (as per the survey I cited earlier) either don’t give feedback or do it so badly that it’s not understood or acted upon. Because it’s so important, and because it’s a skill that most of us don’t learn in school or on the job, here’s a post that includes core pointers about how to give that kind of feedback. There’s also a chapter on giving feedback in my book Growing Great Employees that goes into detail about how to do it in a way that’s both hearable and actionable.
  4. Listen to his or her ideas or concerns. This is the foundation of your success as a manager. In fact, if you only did this one thing regularly, you would immediately be seen as a much better manager. I believe most managers don’t listen to their employees because they think they “don’t have time.” But time spent simply listening to your employees pays off both immediately and over time. Being genuinely curious about and open to employees’ point of view is a powerful way of demonstrating your trust in and respect for them, which builds commitment, openness and loyalty. It also ensures that you’ll get critical information—about the employee, their work, the team, and the organization—when you most need it. Finally, creating an open dialogue through listening is the single best catalyst for new ideas—it stimulates everyone’s creative juices and lets them know it’s OK to explore new possibilities.

My fondest hope would be that a few months from now, I get a comment from someone saying, “that one-conversation-a-week thing is really working. I’m thinking about upping it to two conversations a week…”