How To Have A Performance Conversation With An Employee

July 15th, 2014

Jim Nesbitt

Candidate Experience

PERFORMANCE CONVERSATION WITH AN EMPLOYEE My 11 year-old daughter recently presented my wife and I with a fashion show for a wedding the family was attending. She modeled a few dresses for us and on the third one, appeared wearing shoes with 4 inch heels (!). My initial reaction was “whoa!” and I wanted to say, “no you can’t wear heels that high!” But that’s not how I let the conversation progress. As a parent, you have responsibility to share good feedback, sound reasoning and give guidance towards a better outcome. The same holds true in our professional lives. Everyone has a manager (parent?), a boss or a leader. For Obama, it’s Congress. For my daughter, it’s my wife and I. And between those bookends – where we live and spend a great deal of time, are the daily interactions that drive how we communicate improvement opportunities at work. Interestingly, we all have to wear two hats… sometimes the “giver” – providing performance feedback, and sometimes the “receiver” – hearing performance feedback. Regardless of which side of the conversation I am on, I like to think of 3 things when having a performance conversation., They apply to peers, direct reports, leadership and my children: don’t wait, be progressive and don’t accumulate. 1. Don’t wait – timing is everything. The four letter word of “performance review” is annual. Abolish it from your vocabulary. Feedback and direction needs to be close to the event. Imagine if I waited a year to tell my daughter about the shoes? Sounds silly. But it happens all the time at work. See something now? Address it in the near term. And I say “near term” because a deep breath or a break will enable you to remove the emotion (my first reaction of, “NO!” with the shoes) and have a more constructive conversation that results in the change you want made. 2. Be progressive – for the conversation to yield positive results, keep these key thoughts in mind: a) Start with a compliment to establish a positive frame of reference, b) State a truth to build your credibility and recognition that your thoughts are good, c) Share the improvement opportunity 3. Don’t accumulate – one thing at a time. Piling on is a pitfall to be avoided. After the shoe conversation, I could have easily mentioned to my daughter that her room was messy, but that would have distracted from my message. So have the discussion now, be progressive towards your feedback and don’t pile on. Performance conversations can go one of two ways: quickly downward if the receiver doesn’t feel the love, or quickly upwards if your conversation is framed well. So get positive – take that breath, embrace all of the positives and deliver the performance opportunity with passion. Like I did with my shoe conversation. I told my daughter how great the dress looked and that the shoes were killer-cool, but that she needed to consider another option. The compliment hit home and she smiled from my compliment about the dress. My “wow” on how sharp the shoes were was totally true. She knew I really thought they cool and my guidance that they were not appropriate for an 11 year-old was readily recognized, as she wobbly walked around the house. Photo by Alan Levine/CC BY