A better idea for addressing performance is to build into your daily routine (and by daily I mean whenever the opportunity presents itself) a process called the Oil Change. Think of it as taking your car in for a routine oil change to keep your car running smoothly.  Your staff needs the same sort of oil changes.


The oil change process is made up of four simple questions:

  1. What’s worked well?

  2. What didn’t work well?

  3. How can we fix what didn’t work well so it doesn’t happen again?

  4. Is there anything else we should discuss?


Several observations about the oil change process.  First, use it after any important event.  For example, after you have a client review and one or more members of your staff participate in the review and the client has departed, take ten minutes to do an oil change about the review process.


Second, when doing the oil change, you, as the senior person in the room, speak last, even if you know the answers to the oil change questions.  Especially when developing junior financial advisors or working with support staff, once the boss has spoken you are unlikely to get other ideas from junior people. Listen to what they have to say. It encourages them to critically evaluate the event from both a positive viewpoint (what went well?) and from the negative viewpoint (what didn’t go well?). Once they have spoken, you can add anything else they have not already mentioned.


Third, this takes practice and repetition to make the process time efficient and, most importantly, a safe place where your direct reports feel safe putting words to, especially, what didn’t go well (it's easy to say what went well). Creating a safe space often evolves from how you handle the process of discussing the third question – How can we fix what didn’t work well so it doesn’t happen again?  This is not a time for “gotcha” statements. Rather, look at any mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve.  It may have been a mistake, but if you learn from the mistake than you have gotten something positive and valuable out of it.  When your direct reports see that they will not have their heads chopped off for a mistake, but find their boss willing to help them learn from the mistake, they gain confidence and trust that you are vested in their growth and development.


Fourth, the final question (Is there anything else we should discuss?), is not a throwaway question. At first you may not get much feedback. But as the safe environment evolves and your staff experiences your willingness to address issues as positive learning experiences, allowing trust to grow, you will find that some important insights and issues will arise.  For example, it takes some guts to criticize the boss.  But if you have created a safe environment, and you have a blind spot about some aspect of your interaction with a client in a review meeting for example, junior staff may well bring it up because they know, from experience, that you value learning and improving.


Your assignment for today is to go find two people in your office and perform an oil change with them.  It may be your assistant, with the focus of the oil change on how well the two of you work together.  And perhaps meet with a junior financial advisor who sat in on a very recent client review. The point is you can use the oil change on just about anything, anytime.  And practice makes perfect.


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