4 Steps to Get Managers to Have Ongoing Performance Conversations

by David Creelman | Posted | Performance Management

4 Steps to Get Managers to Have Ongoing Performance Conversations

There's been a lot of buzz in the HR world over the past few years about re-inventing performance management. A major theme I’ve noticed in a lot of the discussion is the need to rely less on an annual review and more on ongoing performance management conversations.

This is the first of a three part blog series where we’ll examine this idea in depth.

But before we dive into how to make these conversations effective, let’s first start with the basics — the question of how you get managers to have ongoing performance conversations at all.

Step 1: Be clear about the mechanics of what the CEO wants managers to do

Managers (and employees) need to know what specifically you’re asking them to do. Do you want them to talk with their staff daily? Weekly? Monthly? Are you thinking in terms of half-hour sit-down performance conversations or three minute hallway chats?

Although dealing with the mechanics may seem mundane compared to our lofty goal of improving organizational performance, managers may not fully understand what you’re asking them to do unless you’re clear about the mundane details.

In trying to answer the question about what you’re trying to accomplish, you immediately run into the dreaded “It all depends.” While this response is true, it’s not an adequate answer.

To get past “It all depends“, outline a good practice scenario and prescribe a minimum practice:

  • A good practice might be: “Have a five minute performance conversation with each employee at least 3 times / week and one more in-depth 30 minute conversation once a month”.
  • Minimum practice might be: “Have a five minute conversation with each employee once a week and a 30 minute conversation every two months.”

Note: I phrased the heading for this section “…the mechanics of what the CEO wants…” If the “good practice / minimum practice” guidelines you create are not what the CEO wants, then forget it; if it’s just an HR program it won’t last.

Step 2: Be clear about why the CEO thinks ongoing performance management is worth doing

It shouldn’t be too hard to explain to managers that having regular conversations with employees about how to improve performance could be a pretty good way to improve actual performance. It also won’t be too hard to sell the idea that the traditional year-end performance review doesn’t work that well – since everyone from managers to HR to employees tend to dread annual performance reviews.

You might also mention that two of the elements in Gallup’s employee engagement Q12 survey are “someone seems to care about me as a person” and “weekly recognition or praise for doing good work”. Gallup’s research linked these elements to higher performance; so that’s one more piece of evidence suggesting that giving regular feedback makes business sense.

Step 3: Be clear that you know it’s not as easy as it sounds

Managers know this sounds great and easy, but it’s bound to be tougher in practice, especially (each of them will think) because “my situation is different”. So let them know you know; let them know there will be people with unique issues, and let them know that the organization will be supportive when they face challenges.

Step 4: Gently promote compliance

If you force people to have these ongoing performance conversations, it will backfire.

If you just hope they’ll do it, then chances are nothing will change.

So there needs to be some way to encourage compliance. Behavioral economists like to use the word “nudge”; something that reminds and motivates people to do something without being heavy handed.

In the case of ongoing performance management and conversations there has to be some monitoring as to whether they're occurring and some consequences if they're not occurring enough. For example, if managers aren't having frequent conversations, they should know their boss will ask them about it.

Another nudge is simply to provide tips on having good conversations on a regular basis.

Making ongoing performance conversations happen in your organization

Getting managers to have these ongoing conversations is a big challenge; once you figured out how to make that happen in your organization you can focus on how to ensure the conversations are effective.

We’ll tackle that in my next blog post.

Employee Feedback and Coaching Templates

Get tips and templates to guide your ongoing performance conversations.


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Employee Feedback and Coaching Templates

Get tips and templates to guide your ongoing performance conversations.


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