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Managers, Put Down the Predictive Apps and Talk To People

We live in the age of software tools that help managers predict which employees will leave the company. It all begs the question: Whatever happened to just talking to people?

A Business Insider story tells us about a new HR app that can sift through internal paperwork and outside data points (such as job postings) to calculate which employees are most likely to walk out the door. The app can also offer managers advice for keeping these flight-risk employees.

Just like movie special effects, however, this management-by-app stuff seems to be getting waaaay too easy. So easy, in fact, that it's made us lazy. After all, who needs a good movie script when we can just use a lot of CGI?

Likewise, who needs to talk to employees when trendy, predictive data points can avoid the conversation altogether?

I know, I know. Technology makes everything easier, and more efficient. It's the way the workplace is going, so let's just try to keep up. Step by step, app by app, we're pushing employee management online. If we can't predict how many eyelashes employees have, we will be able to soon enough.

But managers: Nothing -- and I mean, nothing -- can ever replace in-person, one-on-one conversation and regular performance reviews with employees. Nothing.

That's because employees across jobs and industries like to find out directly from the boss how they're doing, what they do well, what they can do better, and how they can eventually merge into the fast lane toward better work assignments and greater work responsibility (e.g., the work responsibilities they actually want). In-person communication still matters. Yes, even here in the wireless, text-ridden 21st Century! I know, right?

Perhaps today's "the data say you want to quit us" predictive apps can be useful as a backup tool, but good, day-to-day employee management requires much more...work. Hard work. Great management requires talking to employees individually on a semi-regular basis to find out what they're working on, how it's going, which successes and setbacks they're seeing on the job, and where they see themselves in five years. Employees need regular feedback to stay motivated.

A recent survey, however, found that fewer than half of employers still offer annual performance reviews. Fewer than half. Even more intriguing, around one-fifth of employers are turning to predictive technologies to anticipate which employees will "probably" leave soon, and so on.

Again, why not just ask employees how it's going? It's so funny how we don't talk anymore.

In-person conversation is quickly becoming a lost art, but it isn't that hard with some practice. You simply need to close the apps and apply yourself here, managers! Sure, speaking one-on-one with a subordinate isn't tech-sexy or trend-setting or over-the-top groundbreaking; it's boring, analog, old school management 101 like grandpa used to do. But it works! And you won't have to interpret any confusing predictive data. There's already too much paperwork.

Instead, simply ask the employee: "Hey, can we find 15 minutes to sit down and catch up?"

This way, you'll find out directly from the source what's happening, and what can happen to keep this valued employee happy. The employee, meanwhile, will appreciate -- and in this day and age, could be impressed! -- that you actually took the time to listen and offer direct, one-on-one feedback (and praise) regarding his or her job performance.

Challenge yourself this year to set up 15-minute, quarterly one-on-ones with each employee in your department, managers. Recognize how important it is to employees. One by one, step by step, person by person, conversation by conversation. The semi-annual, one-on-one performance review doesn't have to go the way of the dodo. Really!

You can compare notes with the data gathered via today's trendy predictive apps after meeting with employees. My prediction? You might be surprised just how much more you learn from a one-on-one conversation.

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