I recently hit upon a “Eureka!” moment – one that tied up loose ends, as well as connected the dots on other nagging issues that plague our management styles. I knew I just had to share it. A few weeks back, I attended a business management conference and one of the roundtable discussion topics focused on acquiring, developing and retaining any organization’s most important asset – labor.

During the discussion, the panel’s conversation drifted to personnel evaluation methods – the dreaded annual performance review. As managers, we’ve all agonized over these one-on-one meetings with our people. And they’re even worse if you run a small team of individuals who you work closely with on a day-to-day basis. Typically, in these small-scale scenarios over the course of regular conversation you discuss goals and frequently offer real-time critiques on performance.

So, how do you offer constructive feedback of any real substance? How do you impart some real guiding wisdom? How do you not sound like a broken record?

It was suggested to do the following. Sit down together for the evaluation and, on a piece of paper, instruct them to write down three things throughout the course of their daily job they will continue to do in the coming year, three things they’ll stop doing over the course of the coming year, and three things they’ll start doing in the coming year. While they’re composing their list, you’re completing a similar three-question breakdown about them.

Now you’ve got material for a productive discussion. Let me break these down one by one.

Three things to continue doing. Together you acknowledge the key assets and talents they bring to the job each day. Through this self-discovery you reinforce their value to the team, while patting them on the back for a job well done. It also highlights performance points they didn’t realize you valued as a manager, and offers insights to you on what they perceive they bring to the job.

Three things to stop doing. OK, time to get real with some soul searching about job performance. Hopefully, you both identify nearly all the same issues. However, this is a great opportunity for the employee to realize those job-related points you want changed. And it may offer some interesting insight into the things they suspect they shouldn’t be doing or should change.

Three things to start doing. Now’s the time to focus in on developmental issues for the coming year. It also offers a window into not only what the employee sees for himself or herself, but also your career expectations for them over the short- and long-term. It’s a good way to gauge where you both see them on the hierarchal ladder of not only your turf maintenance team, but the course’s management structure, as well.

OK, now here’s the real bonus. Try this exercise on yourself and conduct your own personal performance evaluation. And do it not just on an annual basis, but try it once a month… Heck, do it every Monday morning to set immediate developmental goals for yourself. By doing so, you’ll become a stronger leader, and your team’s performance will benefit from your growth.

As a manager of people, we’re always seeking ways to not only get the most out of our employees, but also get more out of ourselves. So why not start with three simple questions? The answers may just surprise you.