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If you’re anything like me you can’t help but say the phrase ‘how you doin’ in a dodgy American Italian accent like an extra from the Sopranos or like Joe Tribiani from Friends.

It’s a hello, how are you all in one; used to show you care, to show your interested and to well show you’re Interested (nudge nudge wink wink).

Three simple words – not perfect, not grammatically correct but enough to be thoughtful and to start a conversation.

It really does show the power of a simple question. And from this we can find all sorts out.

In the workplace when we want to see how someone is doing often this gets framed in an hour and a half twice a year formal conversation. There are forms prepared and shared in advance and notes made and taken. Sometime insight from colleagues is requested and sometimes results are tabled and measured. (Let’s not even start to talk about what happens to those forms post or between meetings…..)

At the heart of the oft dreaded appraisal is one main aim – checking in on how you’re doing.

In my place of work we’re trying to make this easier – to make the process of assessment and review more fluid, more a part of the ongoing coaching relationship between an employee and both their and other managers within the organisation.

I haven’t managed to get it down to just the one question but I have got it down to five. The process is simple, each manager is encouraged to ask their direct reports (and the reports of their reports – skip level) the same five questions (known as the 5Q) at regular intervals. An employee should get asked at least once per quarter by their direct line manager but could be asked many more times than that by other manages in the business. The questions are simple and are aimed to start conversation and lead to more details discussion if necessary.

1- How are you doing?
2- What’s going well?
3- What can I, we, the company do more of or better?
4- What more can you do or what can you do differently?
5- What’s next for you?

The questions aren’t mean to be the be all and end all but to start and encourage conversations. Managers will be encouraged (& be able to) react to any issues raised, making small local changes immediately or feeding back in more significant changes or ideas.  We will ensure feedback is followed up, so employees know why changes are made and are recognised when their good ideas are turned into action.  Where possible employees will be part of any project teams formed to put ideas into practice.

Alongside the conversations we observe, coach and give immediate feedback on performance and service standards.  By taking the Performance out of the 5Q conversations we are aiming to remove the opportunity for managers to save performance issues for that big conversation -I was once asked to comment on a conversation I had had 5 months earlier in a performance review as the only example offered of where I could improve something….

It’s in it’s very early stages, feedback so far has been positive – particularly for the skip level conversations. It will take time to take root I’m sure and there are some sceptics. But both front line and senior staff are taking part, we’ve already seen some good ideas come forward and some interesting career conversations happening as a result of ‘what’s next for you?’

I know there a way to go but I’m excited by the start. Excited by the potential.

So rather than smart objectives and behavioural competences we’ve taken a couple of steps back – and what I really want to know is How you doin?

Amanda Arrowsmith is an HR professional with over 16 years expert generalist experience in a variety of fields.  In the last few year she has specialised in OD in senior interim roles both in the UK and globally.  She’s active on twitter (@pontecarloblue) but be prepared for tweets about football (both premier league and the American kind – GO Irish) and Shoes.  You can find out more about her and get in touch via LinkedIn uk.linkedin.com/in/amandaarrowsmith/