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9 Tips for Having Successful Performance Conversations


Treasury Board has come out with a series of timely tips to help managers have better conversations about performance reviews with their employees. However, the tips may also be helpful to employees, as to provide insight into a manager’s perspective and use these tips as a reference for how a good manager would approach productive performance conversations.

Tip 1: Face Having the Conversation

Do you tell yourself that you don’t have the time to schedule your employee performance reviews? Have you rescheduled a review once or twice or more? Are you more comfortable reaching goals than building relationships? No matter what your reason, avoiding the conversation is not the answer (and will only lead to more problems). Stop wasting time and face that conversation head-on!


  • Determine the source of your avoidance (what are you worried about?);
  • Develop strategies to minimize and address the source;
  • Create an outline of your conversation (with strategies); and
  • Practice with an Informal Conflict Management Services coach or someone else you trust.
Tip 2: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Preparation for success is imperative, whether it is your first or hundredth performance conversation. Consider that a lack of preparation may be an avoidance tactic, and that winging it means you can easily come unglued if the conversation starts to deteriorate.


  • Prepare key messages beforehand;
  • Imagine all the ways (positive and negative) the conversation could unfold; and
  • Plan how you would respond to each possibility.
Tip 3: Develop Realistic Expectations

Does your employee have 10+ areas to improve? Trying to correct too much leads to failure. If after six months, only 40 per cent of people follow through with their own new year’s resolutions, what can you reasonably expect your employee to change as a result of your feedback?


  • Focus on correcting one behaviour or improving one skill at a time;
  • Aim for rewards (opportunity, recognition, success) as opposed to fear of failure or demotion; and
  • Consider using a behavioural change model: stop (what will I stop doing?), start (what will I start doing?), and continue (what will I continue doing?).

Research shows that it takes between 20 and 40 hours to become good at a skill and 10,000 hours to become an expert.

Tip 4: Manage Strong Emotional Reactions

You are knee-deep in a performance conversation and your employee has a strong emotional reaction. This may elicit discomfort for you as you try to figure out what to do. Refrain from bulldozing through or ignoring the behaviour. Instead, notice and address the behaviour. Your job in high emotion is to gradually decrease the intensity so that you can continue to have a meaningful conversation.


  • Mention the behaviour (your perception);
  • Ask questions to achieve mutual understanding;
  • Notice their reaction (and be aware of yours);
  • Ask how you can help or how the situation can be managed differently;
  • Get the conversation back on track;
  • End the conversation;
Tip 5: Know When You Are Triggered

Everyone has a weak spot. When someone finds ours, whether inadvertently or not, it becomes even harder to remain our best self. When you give performance feedback and an employee dismisses, minimizes or disagrees with you, be aware that you might just get hooked. Just knowing where you’re vulnerable will help you stay in control when someone pokes you there.


When you are triggered, try:

  • Stop;
  • Take a deep breath;
  • Observe body, emotions and thoughts; and
  • Proceed with discussion from a place of professionalism and integrity.
Tip 6: Keep the Goal in Sight

When a performance conversation turns crucial, it is sometimes hard to stay on track. You might fall into a conversation rabbit hole, finding yourself managing emotions, explaining or defending yourself, or focusing on inconsequential details. Pull yourself out and get the conversation back on track!


  • Determine a clear, realistic and preferred outcome (i.e., to improve x, y and z);
  • Consider conversation obstacles (how it could go off track); and
  • Develop an anchor (something you draw on, e.g., an image, mantra or quote, to help bring you back to the goal of the conversation.
Tip 7: Listen

A performance review is a two-way conversation where you give feedback and listen to your employee’s perspective. When you spend too much time talking, you miss critical information, and your employee will not feel heard or free to express their perspective. If your voice is the only voice you hear in the room, it’s time to play silent rock!


  • Remain curious;
  • Ask open-ended questions;
  • Allow silence;
  • Reflect (name the emotion); and
  • Summarize.
Tip 8: Give Clear Messages

Do you sugar-coat, drop hints or talk in circles when you need to give tough feedback? These strategies may be a result of your discomfort, yet also ensure that your employee will not understand what you need, leading to more uncomfortable conversations (exactly what you didn’t want) and little improvement.


  • Practice being specific (use examples) and concise;
  • Be prepared, direct and fearless;
  • Say your piece and notice how it lands; and
  • Validate their understanding of what you have said.
Tip 9: Create an Action Plan and Follow Up

You’ve delivered your message concisely and noted that improvements are imperative. You close the conversation feeling satisfied with your efforts. But wait! Your employee does not know what exactly they need to do differently (how to change or what supports are being offered), or when follow-up will happen. Accountability (both you and your employee) is a necessity!


  • Avoid disappointment! Determine what needs to happen (action), who will do what (people), when it will be done (deadlines), and how it will be done (process by which it will happen); and
  • Always follow up on your agreement. Consistent follow-up will normalize tough conversations for you both.

via Treasury Board

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