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The Do’s and Don’ts of Performance Conversations

The Do’s and Don’ts of Performance Conversations

A performance conversation, which you may also hear referred to as a performance discussion or dialogue, happens between an employee and their direct supervisor. The purpose of such a conversation is to discuss the current state of an employee’s performance and to look forward to the future for ways to improve.

Unlike the traditional annual performance review, performance conversations are an ongoing activity that should occur regardless of whether your employee is struggling with poor performance or is one of your top performers. Done well, they present you with an invaluable opportunity to get to know your employees better, provide actionable guidance, collaborate on ideas for development and improvement, and catch performance issues before they get out of hand.

To give you an idea of what you can do to make your performance conversations better, here is a list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind going forward.


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✅ Do Step Into the Role of a Coach

If your employee’s past experiences with performance conversations have all been negative and punitive, then it’s going to take time and effort to help them see it as a collaborative and positive experience. One way you can help that along is by taking on the role of a coach when engaging in performance conversations, which according to a Harvard Business Review study means that you:

  • Give the employee your full attention and listen to them with an open mind
  • Ask thoughtful questions
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Help set realistic goals
  • Show empathy
  • Let the employee arrive at their own solution, even if it looks different than yours might have
  • Recognize, celebrate, and tap into the employee’s strengths
  • Provide structure
  • Focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the past


❌ Don’t Keep Employees in the Dark

Just because performance conversations happen more frequently than a formal performance review, it doesn’t mean your employees won’t feel some nerves or anxiety leading up to the discussion. Fortunately, you can alleviate some of that by letting employees know upfront what to expect when they enter the conversation. Doing so can be as simple as sending out an email outlining your agenda items/talking points and anything you wish for them to bring or prepare.


✅ Do Focus on the Future

How do you want your employees to feel when they leave a performance conversation? Do you want them to feel motivated to improve their performance and optimistic about their future? If so, it’s essential you do not spend the entire conversation looking backward at the employee’s past failures, mistakes, or issues.

While it’s important to address these things, if you spend your whole time on them, then there’s a good chance your employees will leave feeling disheartened. To avoid this, make a conscious effort to look towards the future and at the possibilities for improvement. When you do so, Gartner has found that it can increase your employee’s performance by up to 13%


❌ Don’t Avoid Constructive Feedback

When you have to give an employee constructive or negative feedback during a performance conversation, it’s best to come right out and say it. If you’re vague about it or try to use the old and tired feedback sandwich method, you will only confuse and frustrate your employee. If you’re worried about how your employees will react, you might want to think again as research has shown that 92% of respondents believe that when negative feedback is appropriately given, it’s an effective way to help them improve their performance. Meanwhile, another study found that 74% of employees who recently received constructive feedback indicated they already knew about the problem and were not surprised to hear it.


✅ Do Seek Out Training and Development Opportunities

If you want to have more open, honest, and frequent performance conversations with your employees, but feel hesitant or anxious to do so because you don’t exactly know how to get started, rest assured that you’re not alone. According to research by Gallup, “There is an overwhelming agreement [among managers] that more frequent [performance] conversations are important. But, we've found that many don't feel comfortable assuming these new expectations or that they haven't received additional support/guidance about how to have these conversations effectively.”

If this sounds familiar, consider seeking practical training and/or one-on-one coaching on the topic that gives you the knowledge, tools, and confidence you need to have these types of performance conversations. Need help getting approval for these development opportunities? We recommend using this request letter template.


❌ Don’t Forget to Tie Up Loose Ends

Before you wrap up a performance conversation, take the time to review the action items you discussed and to set a realistic timeline together. Then, afterward, send a follow-up email that captures all that information, as well as includes any documents or tools that you think they will find helpful. Doing this will help ensure that your employee knows exactly what they need to accomplish before your next conversation. Plus, it gives you something tangible to hold them accountable to and coach them against.

Performance Management Toolkit PDF for Leaders

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