The Performance Conversation

A performance conversation builds a relationship that allows managers to influence others toward improved performance, development and positive outcomes. Talent conversations can happen at any time, but one of the most critical moments for doing them right is during your organization’s regular performance review process.

The first step is to understand who you are engaging with in a talent conversation. Managers need to be prepared to have four types of talent conversations, each focusing on a different key message.

The Top Talent Conversation

The message here is future investment. Individuals who clearly meet or exceed expectations and deliver superior results are top talent. These are the individuals who are seen as the future leaders in the organization. During the conversation with top talent, you should:

· Recognize the person’s high performance level and perceptions of his leadership abilities and potential.

· Focus on how to provide them with the skills and experiences needed for future roles.

· Discuss future aspirations, goals and desired development.

· Find out what motivates them and what you and the organization can do to ensure that he stays with the organization.

The Solid Performer Conversation

The message in this conversation is about maintaining or building value. Solid performers are typically individual contributors who are valued by the organization, but could take on more responsibility. During this conversation you should:

· Recognize the person’s solid performance level and accomplishments.

· Convey that they are appreciated and well-placed, with potential to grow in their current position.

· Focus on how the person can improve in their current position, staying aware that new opportunities may arise in the next one or two years.

· Learn how you can best engage and retain this individual.

The Potential Performer Conversation

The message should focus on short-term success. Potential performers are individuals who may not have had enough time in their role to show significant results, but are expected to bring a lot to the role they are in. During this talent conversation, the focus is on ensuring a successful transition:

· Share your perceptions that the person has high leadership potential.

· Identify any performance concerns or expected challenges.

· Focus on the steps that they need to take over the next three to six months, identify how you could provide support, and discuss how to remove or mitigate any barriers to success.

The Under-performer Conversation

The message here to stress that they improve performance. Under-performers are people who are not meeting expectations. The talent conversation should remain focused on the here and now, rather than future options, new tasks or additional responsibilities. During the conversation with an under performer you should:

· Clearly identify concerns about performance and potential – be clear about why their performance needs to be improved.

· Focus on performance issues before addressing concerns about potential.

· Concentrate on actionable next steps required for the individual to be successful in   his role for the next three to six months.

Of course, preparing for and having a talent conversation are two different things. Remember, a talent conversation is not done to someone but with someone. To guide the discussion, it helps to follow six steps:

1. Clarify the goal. What is the purpose of the conversation? What exactly does each of us want to accomplish?

2. Explore the issues. Assessing strengths, vulnerabilities, development needs and performance enhancement. Identify motivation and career aspirations.

3. Identify the options. Generate ideas and opportunities for learning and improvement.

4. Set expectations. What do we want to do first? Next? What are the obstacles?

5. Motivate. What support is needed? Are you sure the goals are meaningful?

6. Identify the plan. How will we know you are on target? How will we track outcomes?

Remember, a lot of what is considered talent management happens in meetings and behind closed doors. Where it often succeeds or fails is in the personal interactions managers have with their talent. This is especially true during uncertain, volatile times when you need engaged employees, and employees need good reasons to be engaged.


Denis Coleman

Denis Coleman is the founder and CEO of Work Compass, a cloud staff performance collaboration software platform that helps teams align their efforts with strategic goals and continuously improve performance. Frustrated with the disconnect between strategy setting and day to day execution and the lack of tools available to managers to help them be great at their most important function …. Aligning their teams activities with strategic goals and actively managing for high performance Denis spent over 5 years researching strategy execution and performance management practices before founding Work Compass to create a software solution. Denis has held senior roles in Ireland, Czech Republic and North America with high performing electronics manufacturing and professional services organisations for more than 12 years. Denis has worked as Finance Director responsible for €800 million in annual revenues for Flextronics International, Key Account Manager responsible for annual revenues of more than €600 million for Dovatron International and Management Consultant for BDO one of Europe’s most successful professional services providers.

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