Your Guide to Performance Conversations

“I don’t have any poor performers; I don’t need to do performance reviews.” This is a common line from managers who didn’t believe in wasting time filling out forms and entering stuff into ‘systems’.

I can sympathise with this. HR has made the whole process of performance reviews admin heavy, and systems to ‘help’ have merely sought to store more and more information, for no other reason than because we can. This has increased the amount of time spent filling out forms, and taken the focus away from the conversation, which, as we all know, is what really matters.

Does anyone go back and look at this stored information? Do we really need it?

There’s a whole industry in trying to measure people against complex capability models. There’s lots of words, that many people don’t understand, or read, and they can’t see how this relates to the work they actually do. The focus is on filling in the form, trying to subjectively assess people against odd capabilities, and then the conversation is focussed on justifying why you’ve assessed them this way. Employees walk out of the conversation feeling that they may never measure up, and managers are just glad it’s over. No wonder people are disengaged in the whole process. If this sounds like your performance reviews, then I can understand why you don’t like them.

There is a better way.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Performance reviews are never for managing poor performance. In fact, if you have a poor performer, and you are only going to address this at the annual or bi-annual performance review, then you have bigger problems, and almost no chance of both turning the situation around and retaining the person on your team. How to coach a poor performer is another topic. What I will say, is that if your intention is to improve someone’s performance, then this is a coaching scenario. If your intention is to move someone on, then this is an entirely different conversation and not a performance conversation.

Performance reviews are an opportunity to talk about a person’s contribution. If needed, you can clarify expectations, then provide gratitude for good work, and land on providing useful feedback on strengths to use more and areas to develop.

What Really Matters in a Performance Conversation?

How often in the day-to-day bustle of getting the job done, do you have the chance to have a one-on-one with each member of your team to really focus on them, and provide some genuine and helpful feedback that is going to support their growth and development? If you do this regularly and naturally, then congratulations! For the rest of us, the performance review provides this opportunity.

Instead of filling in reems of paper, mwah. has stripped down the performance conversation to what really matters. We’ve taken out all of the HR ‘guff’ and instead use a simple short form, that both guides a good conversation and provides a place to record anything important. If you want to store this information in a system, fine, but don’t put a computer between you and your team when having the conversation.

The conversation is what really matters.

There is no system needed, and no numbers. There are no complex capability matrices. The focus is on a face-to-face conversation with eye contact, where two adults talk about what matters at work. Do you have clarity on what we are trying to achieve? How are you going? How is our team going, and how is the organisation going? Is there anything else you need to be better equipped to do your work well? How are your relationships going with your team members and your customers?

What do you see as strengths to use more often, and what needs to be developed?

If you cover these points well, in a two-way discussion, you will have a pretty good conversation and one that will be both enjoyable, and useful to you both.

The key to making the conversation valuable, is doing some preparation. You need to have some real and specific examples to demonstrate any points you want to make. Instead of a general comment like, “I’ve really appreciated your contribution this year”, try being more specific like, ”the presentation you did for the team on our new strategy was really well received.”


Feedback needs to be thoughtful, and useful. Come up with the 2 or 3 nuggets that are going to really help with your employee’s development. Understand any roadblocks and plan ways to get around these together.

By making yourself a collaborator in every person on your team’s success, you put yourself on the same side. This makes the conversation more productive, more directed and more enjoyable!

Who knows, you may even get into the habit of doing them more regularly.