Delivering bad news or pointing out maladaptive habits isn’t easy, even if you think the employee may have an idea of what’s coming. Assuming you’re both on the same side of the table sharing a common goal can make difficult conversations easier.

Your job is to ask good questions, to find ways to help your key employees identify what’s working well, where they want to go in their careers, which skills they might like to pursue, etc. Your questions are designed to facilitate buy in, give them an opportunity to critique their own performance and to offer information first. Your questions also give you better information to develop a strategic approach to the next phase of the conversation.

The questions below are worded for an annual review: (You can, of course, tweak the time line if it’s different). We recommend reviews much more often to keep tabs on how your team members are feeling and what they’re thinking.

Usually, you’d give these questions in advance so there’s time for them to think about them and write out answers.

1) What professional accomplishments of yours do we need to remember from last year?  Please include items that might not have been noticed.

2) Were there professional skills you were able to improve on last year?  Did you receive training or help from any member of the team?  Again, please be as specific as possible.  What skills do you want to work on this year?

3) Were there projects or tasks that you had the freedom and responsibility to do in the way you thought best?  Please think of both ongoing and one-time projects you did and describe how much independence, if any, that you had.

4) What do you do well professionally, enjoy doing, do easily, get compliments on, etc.?  I’d be particularly interested in things you do well that I don’t know about.

5) Are there things about your work that give you real pleasure or make you feel you’re making a difference?

6) What could I be asking that seems important for your success here?

The answers are important, but building a process of open, corrective conversations with your employees is just as important. And slowing down to listen to their struggles and goals is the only way to create effective plans for future growth.