How to have a Performance Conversation

Innovation; Research
By John Sautelle

How to have a Performance Conversation By John SautelleHere is the paradox – when I ask school leaders if they want feedback to help them improve performance, the resounding response is “Yes!” When I ask them if they are comfortable giving feedback to others to help them improve their performance, the response is often “No!”

Fear of conflict is the most common reason leaders give for avoiding difficult performance conversations. This fear is typically driven by a survival need we all share, which is to stay connected to people who are important to us.

Another reason performance conversations become difficult is the extent to which we approach them without checking the assumptions, judgements and perceptions we have about what is really going on. As humans we have a great capacity to “sense make”, in other words to make up stories to fill in the gaps when we do not have enough information. This becomes problematic in the context of performance.

One way of reducing fear and minimising the impact of “sense making” is to carefully plan the conversation from multiple perspectives. Set out below are extracts from a set of “Performance Diagnostic Questions” I have developed as part of the planning process. I hope you find them useful.

  1. What is the performance discrepancy?
    a. What is the difference between what is being done and what is expected?
    b. What is my evidence?
    c. How reliable is my evidence?

  2. Is the discrepancy important?
    a. Why?
    b. What happens if I do nothing?
    c.  Is it worth improving?

  3. Are expectations clear?
    a. Do they know why this needs to be done?
    b. Do they know what is expected and when?
    c. Are priorities clear when there are competing demands?

  4. Do they have the required resources?
    a. Do they have the necessary time?
    b. Do they have the necessary resources?

  5. Do they have the required skill & capability?
    a. Have they successfully done this before?
    b. Could they do this if they really had to?
    c. Do they do this often enough to maintain the required skill level?
    d. Are they overqualified for the work?
    e. Do they have the physical and mental capacity to do what is required?

  6. How rewarding is this to them?
    a. Is there a favourable outcome for doing this?
    b. Is there an unfavourable outcome for not doing it?
    c. Is there self-pride in doing? Not doing?
    d. Is there status or lack of it connected with this?

  7. Are there other obstacles?
    a. Are there system or process barriers? Are required resources available?
    b. Is doing this somehow self-punishing?
    c. Is there some pressure not to perform?

  8. What needs to happen?
    a. What do I really want?
    b. What do they really want?
    c. What options can I think of?
    d. What options might they suggest?

© John Sautelle 2013