Improving Those Conversations About Performance

February 21, 2016
Wally Bock

Talking to people who work for you about their performance is one of your biggest challenges. Here are some ways to dramatically improve the odds of a successful outcome.

Get specific

Talk about specific behavior or performance. Behavior is what a person says or does. It is observable. You can describe it. Performance is the measurable result of work.

Keep the language clear and non-judgmental

Just the facts. Drain off the adjectives. Do not, ever, use the words “attitude” or “always.”

Why we’re having this conversation

There are logical reasons for why behavior or performance matter. And there are emotional reasons (how people feel). Both are valid. Tell your team member why it’s important to have the conversation.

The order matters

Put the description of behavior you’re talking about ahead of the reason why you’re having the conversation. That keeps those emotional protective shields from going up and blocking real communication. This won’t come naturally. Most of our parents, early bosses, and role models did it just the opposite way. You’ll do it the ways they did it unless you make a conscious effort to do it the more effective way.

Practice, practice, practice

Write down what you want to say. Rehearse your opening. That will help you put the behavior ahead of the reason for chatting. Practice until you do it naturally.

Quiet now

Once you’ve had your say, shut up. Wait for your team member to talk. This may take a long time. You may get very uncomfortable. Wait anyway.

What happens next

There are a couple of things that can happen next. Your team member might agree that you’ve got things right. Your subordinate might dispute your description of what happened or agree with your version of events, but offer an excuse. Whatever happens, you can now have a conversation about behavior or performance. Before you’re done, you must come to agreement on what will change and when.

So why doesn’t everybody do it this way?

This is simple and gets great results. So why don’t more of us do it more of the time? The answer to that one is easy. Old habits are hard to break and just about everyone we emulate did it the other way.

Boss’s Bottom Line

If you do the preparation and practice to get these things right and in the right order, your conversations with subordinates about behavior will be much more productive.

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In addition to writing the Three Star Leadership blog, Wally Bock is an author, ghostwriter, writing coach and book doctor. In his past lives he has run a small publishing company, been a popular keynote speaker to audiences around the world, and served as a U. S. Marine. He loves good beer, good friends, and good stories.

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