Why Managers Are Getting Performance Conversations All Wrong

By Heather Campbell

It’s got to be the fundamental part of every manager’s job: to drive up the performance of the people who report to them.

Yet it is frightening how many managers treat this critical element of their role in a cavalier way, believing that the day-to-day, in-the-moment conversations they have with their direct reports are sufficient.

They aren’t.

Those everyday interactions focus on getting tasks done – and usually on fixing immediate problems so that the task in hand can progress. Naturally this drives up performance – right now.

If managers want team members to become better performers overall, without having to continually bring them their problems to fix, managers need to find how to motivate them using a wider range of conversations.

The importance of getting it right

Performance conversations are most commonly taken to refer to those quarterly, six-monthly or annual  discussions that line managers and direct reports engage in, reluctantly, to “keep HR happy”.

So wrong! In truth, performance conversations are any conversation that impacts an individual’s performance – whether for better or for worse.

And the problems of getting performance conversations wrong are significant.

Disengaged, demotivated, complaisant team members are the ultimate result of getting it wrong when it comes to performance conversations.

This happens because people aren’t clear what they are meant to do or why, don’t know whether they are doing a good job or a bad one, and don’t get the support or guidance they need, when they need it.

People also feel their opinions aren’t listened to or valued, or that they have no meaningful way to share these.

All of this can be avoided if managers think of performance conversations as a process.

Performance conversations are a process

This process consists of three distinct types of conversations and they are all must-dos for any manager who wants to drive up performance and productivity across every member of their team.

  • Give daily recognition for a job well done. “Great job”, “thank you”, “I appreciate that” – these statements take little time to say but create a positive impact that lasts for hours. Such statements, given genuinely, are the foundation of all good performance management because they confirm that the individual’s contribution is valued.
  • Give regular feedback about what an individual is doing well or not well, and provide coaching as required. Depending on how closely a manager works with a team member, feedback and coaching may be a daily occurrence, or they may occur a couple of times a week. Effective feedback lets a direct report know when they have done something well and when they are not meeting expectations, and coaching helps them to build on their current performance.
  • Set aside time every month (allow 45-60 minutes) to sit down with each direct report to discuss their performance – as well as having more in-depth performance reviews in line with the company’s formal review process. This regular, dedicated time is essential, even when the manager and team member have informal discussions every day. It brings together all the ad hoc feedback, coaching and other conversations that have been held throughout the month and consolidates learning from it. It also allows time for the sensitive or tough topics that require more in-depth conversations.

By following this process – daily, weekly and monthly – managers will find that performance and productivity will rocket because people receive appropriate support, problems are nipped in the bud and engagement increases dramatically.


Despite performance reviews being critical to a line manager’s job, they are often underestimated and overlooked.

Performance conversation best practice includes daily recognition for a job well done, regular feedback and coaching and time set aside every month to sit down with each individual to discuss their performance.

This process is proven to work, and you’ll find using the above pointers as your guideline will lead to an increase in performance and productivity.

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