Eight steps for great performance management conversations

Eight steps for great performance management conversations

Magdalena Korzynietz 23rd February 2021

I have not spoken with many leaders, managers and team members who would jump with enthusiasm at the phrase “It is time for a performance management conversation”. There is a lot of negativity in the air and within us when we listen to these words. Pressure goes up; it is time to prove how your people performed, their efficiency and effectiveness at work. Often this is based on an arbitrary list that does not always fit your ideas, tasks, or team structure. How can you judge the person’s performance level?  It often ends up looking good on paper; in reality, we underestimate the importance of performance conversation and do not pay enough attention to making it relevant for personal and organisational development.

A performance management conversation is a beautiful and unique opportunity to assure transparency. Your values come to light, where culture emerges, you can clear out the path to ensure your people know what the objectives are and how to get there. The one-to-one conversation helps you get to know your people better and allows you to support their personal development, helping them use their strengths and confront their weaknesses. It is more critical in today’s remote work world than ever to plan your performance management conversations well, making yourself available and present. 

So, let’s get to the point. Or preferably eight points on how to make your performance management conversations count and make them great.

  1. Create regular channels for performance management conversations and in different constellations. It does not matter how you exactly do it; make sure it fits your people and your company. This way, you can effectively steer the process in the right direction along the way instead of criticising at the end.  Therefore, safe a lot of time and energy.
  2. Make feedback a two-sided conversation. Listen with curiosity and an open mind – ask questions to help your employee discover his/her own better and worst moments. See failures as opportunities to learn and grow. 
  3. Ask for and consider people’s opinion and see it as valuable information for the team and the company. For personal development – try to distribute people’s tasks to their strengths and interests as far as possible. 
  4. Adapt the objectives and how you communicate them to the person in front of you. Some need space- and long-time objectives; some need intermediate goals and more monitoring. At the same time, tickle people’s motivation and ambition, also by getting them out of their comfort zone.
  5. Consider cultural differences. Home exposes each of us to various conversational rules, and the distinctions get more robust with each country. You might have to adapt it, e.g., a Dutch would need much more direct comments than a person from the UK. It helps to ask for feedback on your feedback. Shared understanding is a must. You might be surprised how much we assume and therefore miss on the real meaning of conversations. 
  6. Leave the meeting with jointly created SMART objectives for the next period. Support your employee in setting clear and checkable goals that are  S – specific, M – Measurable, A – achievable, R – relevant, T – time-bound.
  7. Do not forget that as a great leader, you serve others. Share all the tools and knowledge to reassure your employee has everything to perform at his/her best. It might be an extra meeting with you or another team member who has more expertise on a subject. Try to be flexible and understanding. Look at your people as people, not as a part of a machine. 
  8. Please do not underestimate the power of giving a compliment and enjoy doing it. Celebrate your employee’s success as your own. Positive reinforcement works. 

Before you choose some of the steps above, you need to answer a few questions. Do you have all the necessary information and tools to lead great performance management conversations? It should be motivated by personal and company’s values and be guided by your work’s purpose. 

It is crucial to find a balance between key objectives, data collection to provide evidence of performance and relational leadership. The process should serve your people, not the other way around. If there is clarity on the goal and the road map is well planned, you can start sending out invitations for regular one-to-one meetings. 

By knowing and understanding your team better, the performance improvements come along, and you will naturally start to influence and unleash their potential.