How to Prepare for Performance Management Conversations

Posted 03.22.2023

For a number of my executive coaching clients, it’s the time of year when they’re wrapping up annual performance review conversations. As is usually the case, some of those are easy and fun, and others are hard and stress-inducing. Whether they’re part of an annual cycle, or much more useful, a timely pull-up on recent performance, performance management conversations are a fact of corporate life.

Over the years, I’ve concluded that there are three valuable questions for leaders to ask and answer for themselves before they engage in a performance conversation. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation is in the easy and fun category or of the hard and stress-inducing variety, the questions are worth thinking through before you begin the discussion.

Here they are:

What Do I Want Them to Think? – This question is about identifying the important facts about the team member’s performance and organizing the facts in a way that provides insight into what they accomplished or didn’t and how they did what they did or didn’t do. Help your team member understand the impact of their actions, whether they’re positive, negative, or somewhere in between.

How Do I Want Them to Feel? – This question is at least as important as what you want them to think because the actions that people take flow much more directly from how they feel than what they think. How do you want them to feel at the end of the conversation? Appreciated? Challenged? Committed? Concerned? Those are just a few of many answers you might come up with. The point is to identify and then facilitate an emotional state for your team member that leads to productive action. Once you identify that, consider what you need to say and how you need to say it to help get them there.

What Do I Want Them to Do? – At its simplest, this question is about what you want your team member to keep, start or stop doing. Ideally, the emotional state that you’ve helped facilitate sets them up to take productive action. From there, it’s about support and expectations. For the high performers, you’ll want to talk about what’s next for them, how to leverage what’s on their agenda for the good of the organization and themselves, and what they need from you for continued success. For lower performers, the line of sight to the next set of goals is likely shorter and more focused, and the support from you is likely more directed.

Asking and answering these questions for yourself are worth an investment of your time and brain space before you have your performance conversation. This kind of preparation is very similar to the visualization process that great athletes go through before competition. What’s true for them is true for you too – solid preparation leads to better performance.

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