If you are like most leaders, time is your most precious resource and everything is urgent all the time. And, again, if you’re like most leaders, you’re probably spending most of your time feeling like a firefighter working in the business rather than operating like a leader and working on the business. Working on the business you’re spending time developing the vision and strategy for your organization or team; a vital practice for in order to ensure your organization’s growth and progress. You having time for that kind of routine is only able to happen when your organization is keenly aware of how it needs to optimally operate. As your team’s leader, it’s your job to set that standard. You can’t do it in one fell swoop, however. In order to set up your team for success, there are four critical conversations that you need to have at the beginning of the year that will not only equip your team with what they need to know, but also elevate their performance to the next level.

Conversation #1:  Where are we heading?

Every one of your direct reports, whether they’ve said it out loud or not, wants to know “What are the goals for our department, team and organization?” and “What are the priorities for our department, team, and organization?” Most leaders cover these conversations in an all team meeting. That’s perfectly fine, but it’s also important that you communicate this one on one with your direct reports. This will set up your next three crucial conversations because deep down, every single one of your direct reports wants to know how their work fits into the bigger picture and why they need to prioritize the things they need to prioritize.

Conversation #2: Share Your individual goals and priorities for the year.

Now that you have laid out the goals and priorities for the department or organization, you need to lay out the goals and priorities for your individual direct report. What do they need to be focusing on? What would success look like for them this year in your view as their boss? When your direct report is faced with other demands, what has higher priority? Making sure that you clearly articulate what their goals and the priorities should be will help them know exactly what they need to work on and how they need to focus their energy.

Word of caution, you should not provide more than three priorities for your direct reports to focus on. More than three priorities starts a slippery slope that leads quickly into everything being urgent all of the time. This will be counterproductive and will do more harm than good. Remember, we are trying to focus our team, not create more anxiety and confusion for them. You might be saying, “But Brandon, my boss gives me more than three priorities and my boss tells me everything is urgent all the time. What should I do?” The simple answer is be better than your boss. More than three priorities is a sign of poor leadership and unfortunately most leaders today are poor.

Conversation #3: Establish meeting preparation & cadence with your direct report.

Now that you’ve laid out goals and priorities for both your team as well as your individual direct report, it is time to talk about how frequently you are going to meet and what preparation needs to be part of those meetings. So have that conversation. Start with determining how often you need to meet to determine progress and ensure projects are running on schedule. Common practice is to meet once a week for one hour, but obviously you are free to change that if you see a different need.

Once you’ve determined your meeting cadence, the next area to discuss is what needs to be included in those meetings. In other words, what does your direct report need to bring to those meetings? Remember the principle of editor versus author. As a leader, you should always be in the editor seat and your direct report should always be in the author seat. In order to ensure this, be sure to spell out what you want your direct reports to bring to each meeting that you can review. For example, do you need them to bring some kind of a status update? Do you want them to prepare the agenda ahead of time? Are there other items that are important for you to have on the agenda every meeting that are particularly relevant to your goals? These would be things that you would want to discuss so they know exactly what they need to be preparing for every meeting. The better prepared the meeting, the shorter the meeting has to be. After all, when we make our meetings more efficient and effective everyone wins.

Conversation #4: What can I do to support you?

The final conversation you need to have with your direct report is you need to ask her or him what you could be doing to support them this year. In other words, what do they need from you in order for them to be successful? This is a critical conversation because it allows you to not only hear and understand their particular needs, but it also may highlight a lack of resources or other items which may be critical for their success. This final conversation helps to round out this meeting. You’ve started with the needs of the organization, you talked about your goals, you talked about your communication rhythm, and finally you talked about their needs. If you can make these four questions a priority to address with your direct reports sometime in the first quarter, you will set up everyone for success. And most importantly, if done well, it should free up more of your time to focus on the stuff you really want and need to focus on.