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How to Coach Your Team with Vertical Reviews It's time to shake things up, get rid of those standard annual reviews and use a vertical review to help your employees improve their performance.

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The following excerpt is from Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem's book Total Alignment. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Vertical reviews are great tools for managers at all levels of an organization. They allow managers to supervise their direct reports in a systematic and organized way. Once the vertical review is finished, the manager has peace of mind because an agreement has been reached as to specific actions that need to take place. He becomes informed of performance, of plans for improvement and of the commitments of the direct report. He has the opportunity to guide and develop the individual team member.

Related: The One System That Changes Employees' Behavior

The vertical review is also a welcome opportunity for the direct report to gain clarity on what the boss expects. Employees get agreement and support from the boss on the lines of action they're pursuing. They also receive needed encouragement and coaching on performance and competency as well as the opportunity to express any concerns.

There's great power in the vertical review process as it serves to clarify the priorities of the month between a manager and the direct collaborator. For the manager, vertical reviews ensure that the delegated tasks are under control. This frees up considerable time to focus attention to his or her own scorecard and on future related projects for the company.

Vertical review process

Vertical reviews support individuals to improve their performance and increase their value to the organization. The name identifies the three aspects:

  1. Vertical. A vertical review is a one-on-one meeting between a person and his boss.
  2. Review. During the meeting, the performance and competency are reviewed.
  3. Process. This is not a one-time event; it's a continuing process of improving results.

The vertical review provides the perfect forum for coaching the next level in the organization. Just as a coach in sports strives to develop the players to win the game, the manager in the vertical review strives to develop the collaborator to achieve great performance. The coaching emphasis is on two objectives: improving performance and developing talent. The manager becomes the coach and applies the appropriate leadership style to achieve the dual objective. This coaching opportunity requires attention to two important factors explained below.

Climate of the vertical review

When the individual comes to meet with you, his boss, he has the natural tendency of being on guard, especially in the first meeting. He doesn't know what to expect and could arrive in a defensive mode. This mode affects your ability to coach. You should establish a safe environment where you can both converse and exchange ideas. Limiting distractions like cell phones is important as doing so encourages managers to take the meeting more seriously and to concentrate.

As the boss, you'll act as the facilitator of the one-on one-meeting. You need to be aware of what degree of direction or support the other person requires. This can be determined partially by what skill level the person is currently functioning at. Be aware of the importance of listening. Start the meeting on time, stay focused on the purpose of the meeting, and be sure you're not interrupted by outside demands.

If you're the direct report, you'll act as the recorder and capture the commitments made during the meeting. There are no minutes in a vertical review, only commitments assigned to the participants. Deadlines are also recorded.

Four conversations

Four important conversations take place during the vertical review: culture, performance, development and miscellaneous. The manager prepares the agenda in advance and allocates time for each topic based on the priorities and needs he perceives to be important. Let's take a look at how those conversations might flow.

First, together they review and identify specific behaviors that need to be improved. An example of this might be "completing commitments on time."

Related: 3 Reports Every Manager Should Have

Second, they review the Focus and Feedback Reports of the team member. They view the graphs for each indicator, analyze the trends in the data and review the action plans he's already developed for the factors. If the action plan is aimed at the improvement of a critical success factor, then the manager serves as a coach to be sure the action plan fulfills the following criteria:

  • The plan solves the pinpointed problem based on data. The plan is based on a thorough root cause analysis.
  • Alternative solutions have been considered, and risk analysis of the impact of the solution is performed.
  • The solution is creative and has a high probability of success.
  • It has the benefit of the input from the individuals with CIFs who represent the cross-functional relationships.

If the action plan is aimed at the improvement of a critical management factor, the review of the action plan provides the opportunity for the manager to add his input to improve the plan and becomes aware of any causes he can impact. The performance conversation results in specific commitments that the two participants agree on with specific deadlines.

Third, they have a conversation about competency. The core skills needed for excellent performance are jointly identified and evaluated using two variables: "extent of effort" and "extent of supervision." Here, they look at the improvement plan developed by the direct report. He gives an update on his progress in improving the skill to the next level of development. The boss adds input and provides support for the improvement effort.

Fourth, they discuss any other topic either of them considers important. It could include such topics as vacations, changes in work schedule or progress on career path.

The four conversations described above can be conducted in any order the two individuals find comfortable. We recommend that the miscellaneous topic be the last topic covered. At the initial meeting, the two participants will determine the frequency of the conversations. We recommend that performance and miscellaneous conversations be done monthly and the other two at least quarterly.

Ideally, the lowest level team review takes place first. Then the action plan from this meeting is presented at the vertical review of the next level before the team review of that level, and so on up the line.

Outcomes of the vertical review

Vertical reviews have great value for both the individual and boss. The coaching translates into learning and greater focus and motivation for the person to pursue the opportunities ahead. The boss becomes aware of what's happening with the direct report and stays on top of any issues that need addressing. Other tangible outcomes of the meeting include commitments and revisions to the action plans.


Each of the four conversations in the vertical meeting will lead to commitments for both participants. A commitment is an action item with a specific deadline and should be clear and begin with an action verb. The participants in vertical review agree on the wording of the commitment before it's committed to. The deadline should be realistic. Once the deadline is past, any commitment not completed will be overdue. As the boss is viewing the action plans developed by direct reports, he may find causes that they can't control but he can. Commitments to address those causes will also emerge from the conversation.

Related: The 4 Roles of Accountability Within Your Company

Revisions to the action plans

As the individual presents the action plan he's developed, the boss will have the opportunity to suggest changes to improve the plan. These suggestions should be noted by the direct report and presented in his next team review. The tendency of just going with the suggestions of the boss without discussing it in the team review should be avoided as it would demotivate the team and miss the opportunity of further enhancement of the action plan through the team participation.

Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem

Business Strategy Experts

Riaz Khadem is the founder and CEO of Infotrac, a U.S.-based consulting firm that specializes in aligning and transforming organizations. Linda Khadem is Vice President and Corporate Counstel for Infotrac. They are the co-authors of Total Alignment (Entrepreneur Press 2017) and each posssess more than 25 years of experience in alignment and strategy deployment for organizations in Europe and North America.

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