10 Simple Strategies to Improve Performance Conversations and Change Trajectory

Many teams are afraid to discuss the source of success – performance.


10 reasons performance conversations suck:

  1. The dynamic is from superior to inferior, rather than partnership. 
  2. One person pulls the rope in one direction – the other pulls in the opposite direction.
  3. Infrequency makes performance conversations feel unnatural.
  4. Past performance overshadows forward-facing aspiration.
  5. Follow-up and follow-through are nonexistent.
  6. Managers control the conversation.
  7. Lack of behavioral examples that illustrate great or poor performance.
  8. Goals, when established, are beyond the control of individuals.
  9. Posturing blocks vulnerability and clarity.
  10. Responsibilities and accountability are fuzzy.

10 simple ways to improve performance conversations:

  1. Increase frequency – at least twice a month.
  2. Decrease formality. Touch base in the hall while walking to your next meeting.
  3. Shorten length. Several ten minute conversations are better than occasional ninety minute marathons.
  4. Ask more questions. Listen. Don’t fix.
  5. Build partnerships.
  6. Connect development and performance.
  7. Build on strengths. Why do we hire for strengths and then focus on weaknesses?
  8. Establish mutual accountability.
  9. Give control to teammates. “You set the agenda for our next performance conversation.”
  10. Provide tools to guide the conversation.

Trajectory tool:

Performance always has positive or negative trajectory. Steady as she goes eventually turns downward.

The purpose of the trajectory tool is to ignite conversation. (There was a typo in the original post. “Conversation” was originally “conversion.” Some readers thought conversion was an interesting idea.)

  1. Complete the trajectory tool for your own performance over the past month. Send it to teammates. Include a brief explanation.
  2. Use and define your own terms on the arrows. (Don’t get too technical.)
  3. Circle one negative and one positive arrow.
  4. Provide an example that illustrates the reason for the trajectory of your circled arrows.
  5. Describe one behavior for each circled arrow that you will employ in the pursuit of better.
  6. Invite suggested behaviors from teammates.
  7. Ask teammates to bring their own trajectory tool to your next performance conversation.

How might leaders/managers improve performance conversations?

How might you design and use your own trajectory tool?