Help for Those Tough Conversations About Performance

January 6, 2014

We value your work as super human

Today’s post was written by Carol Pollack, vice president of finance & operations.

While it is not the case this year, in the course of my career there have been times when I have dreaded the beginning of a new year because it meant discussing the prior year’s performance with someone whose results did not meet expectations. I realized that I was not the only person to feel this way when over the last month or so I saw several publications that provided tips for making this easier.  Here are a few I found interesting.

Why Has Performance Slipped?

Two key elements of performance are ability and motivation.  In assessing performance that is not as strong as we would have liked we should determine the answers to these two questions:

  • Does the employee have the training and knowledge to perform the tasks in question?
  • Does the employee want to do the job?  Does he understand why the tasks are important and are the proper rewards in place to increase motivation?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help us target improvement efforts and prepare for our discussion with them.

Giving Great Feedback

They noted that “useful” feedback can motivate employees to do their best work.  We can accomplish this by employing these techniques:

  • Focus your comments on helping the employee to do a better job versus punishing.
  • Be direct – Tell them what they need to do differently or do more of.  Be specific and give examples.
  • Stick to the facts – Don’t guess or assume why the other person is doing something.  Use objective observations and facts.
  • Be timely — ideally you have been giving ongoing feedback when the indicated performance was fresh in your minds so there should be no surprises and limited confusion.
  • Be practical – Indicate no more than 3 to 5 steps and options that the employee can easily act on.


We’re not done yet!  In fact, follow-up is where the rubber hits the road.  We begin by quickly documenting the results of the coaching session.  If it is an issue of skills development, we arrange for training to occur.  We then observe their performance, give prompt feedback and recognize success, large and small, as soon as we see it.  These steps will enhance the chance for success and keep the employee motivated to continue to improve.

These tips resonate with me and with some effort I think I can employ them.  Do they work for you?


Image by © andrewgenn from

4 Responses to Help for Those Tough Conversations About Performance

  1. Pat Baker says:

    Great suggestions and it is terrific that we are talking about it. So much anxiety builds up and yet we don’t bring the issue of performance management in the light of day.
    I would also add that all of us need to abandon this process with the old
    “school” frame- that is grades, A, B, C etc. We left those behind let’s keep them out of the office.

    Thanks, Carol

  2. Carol Pollack says:

    I too am hopeful that discussions like these will help reduce the anxiety levels. You are right about how difficult it is for all of us to let go of A, B, etc. I guess we just have to keep reinforcing this point and emphasize the document narrative and the dialogue between supervisors and employees.

  3. This comes at a good time for us. There are too many anxieties associated with performance appraisals, on both sides of the issue. Thank you for posting these tips – it is a good summary of what I have been reading.

    • Carol Pollack says:

      Mary — you are so right about anxiety levels being high for all parties associated with a performance management process! I think having more, smaller conversation throughout the year is a good way to help with this. What do you find helps?

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