Employee performance

Three ways to improve performance management conversations

Performance management – two terms that frequently come up in conversations with our clients. Many of them recognise that the challenge is not simply in understanding the basics of what this means, but more so about how they enable managers to have effective conversations. They’ve uncovered the link between frequent and consistent dialogue with staff and that the how is more important than the what.

A recent article in Gallup suggests that if we reframe the concept as performance development, and not performance management, we start to unlock the real role for managers and motivation for employees.  Managers can start to think in terms of being a performance coach, not as a boss, and refocus the conversations to:

  1. establishing expectations
  2. continuous coaching 
  3. creating accountability

With these focuses, manager-employee discussions feel encouraging, purposeful and rewarding in ways that many current interactions do not.

Establishing Expectations

Clear expectations and collaborative goal setting are especially critical for new employees, but all employees need their managers to check in with them consistently and reconfirm and clarify priorities and expectations.  A few simple tips for managers in achieving this include:

  • Be Clear.  Determine and agree the employee’s duties, define what success looks like and how it is measured and what the priorities are.  Expectations are not clear until they are prioritised.
  • Be Collaborative. Both managers and employees are responsible for focusing on the right activities and goals.  The employee’s voice is important in setting goals that are fair and challenging.  
  • Be Aligned.  Employee goals should be aligned with team and organisation goals.  

Continuous Coaching

Coaching is about maximising performance through people – it is not micromanagement.  The purpose of continual coaching is to create more natural relationships with staff that are aimed at developing the employee and improving personal performance.  To help achieve this, managers should ensure their conversations are:

  • Frequent.  Understand each employee’s preferences around frequency but strive to touch base with them at least weekly to provide some form of coaching.  Address improvement opportunities immediately so staff can quickly incorporate small changes into their daily work.
  • Focused.  Have a clear purpose and expectation for each conversation before it starts.  Concentrate on topics that are relevant to the needs of the employee, addressing progress, successes and barriers to further achievements.
  • Future-oriented.  The best conversations proactively provide advice and strategies for achieving future performance.  Where corrective actions are needed, focus on what can be done differently in the future.

Create Accountability

With clear expectations and ongoing coaching, manager-employee conversations can focus around progress.  A progress review frames the conversation towards the individual’s achievements and journey towards excellence.  Accountabilities are clear to both parties.  Successful process reviews are:

  • Achievement-oriented.  Spend time recognising employees’ accomplishments and strengths.  Build an encouraging tone.  Don’t ignore coaching needs or improvement areas, but remain centred around success and future opportunities.
  • Fair and accurate.  Measures of employee success should be consistent across the team, while goals and contribution are individualised to truly reflect on the person.
  • Developmental.  Leave the conversation with a clear understanding of the employee’s opportunities to learn and grow, and with a clear plan for how the employee will experience those opportunities.

The bottom line

Play to your teams strengths and unlock ways to motivate each individual to keep them engaged, focused and accountable. Invest time and effort in developing a high performing team rather than simply managing one because when employees thrive so does the business.


Looking to improve employee engagement? Read about the four building blocks here.