A New Way of Reviewing Performance

From Performance Review to Performance Conversation



Much attention has been given to the movement away from the use of periodic, formal performance reviews and ranking systems, to a reliance on on-going coaching dialogues between managers and their people.  Whether this is seen as a dramatic shift in human capital strategy or simply as yet another swing in the performance management pendulum, this movement offers the opportunity to enrich both individual and collective performance in our organisations.

Done well, the ‘new’ approach offers a robust platform for blending the focus on development with the focus on accountability.  But done poorly, these interactions can quickly degenerate into a round of “what have you done for me lately” check-ups coupled with doses of ‘how-to’ directives to change and improve.   Even worse, the intent to engage in such conversations may get lost in the shuffle of daily fire-fighting, leading to, at best, ‘drive by’ development exchanges.

From an optimistic perspective, this movement represents a welcome and renewed emphasis on the imperative need for leader/managers to not just ‘do’ coaching but rather to see coaching as one of their most fundamental responsibilities.  Toward that end, many organisations are demonstrating a genuine desire to equip managers with essential coaching skills, e.g. asking powerful questions, giving effective feedback, navigating ‘hard conversations’, etc.

While this capability enhancement is vital, a much more fundamental shift in mind-set, for both coaches and coachees is required to ensure this new approach drives the desired results.  A central and explicit component of these on-going performance conversations must be a focus on building and embedding learning agility at both the individual and organisational levels.  This focus can be introduced and reinforced through the use of a cascade of three simple questions:

#1: What have you learned?learning

The performance conversations will inevitably focus on activities, tasks, issues and outcomes.  Attention must be paid to what was done (e.g. How did you solve the problem? How did you make the sale? What seemed to make it go wrong? etc.)  Too often, experience is assumed in its own right, to teach valuable lessons.  The key is to extract those lessons in a conscious and explicit manner, so that the individual gains a clearer understanding not only of what worked (or didn’t,) but also of why.  And, the learning should not be restricted to just skills acquisition or ‘technical’ knowledge.   Managers must become comfortable and confident in engaging people to explore what they have learned about themselves and/or about working with others.  These are equally valuable lessons.

exploration#2: How will you convert that learning more broadly into future performance improvement?

Again, managers must help their people to explore this question much more explicitly.  Far too often we see people try to cope in new situations by simply repeating previous actions, especially when these actions have been successful, only to discover that ‘the magic isn’t working’!  Having explored why something works, it takes only a little time to crystallise how and when to use the ‘new’ learning, as well as to identify the situations in which it is less likely to be useful.   It is through the conversation sparked by this question that the manager can reiterate the old adage that ‘what you know matters less than what you do with what you know’.

sharing#3 – How will you share your learning with others?

If ‘knowledge is power’, then shared knowledge must be treated as a high priority resource in our organisations.  If we want our organisations to become more collaborative in tackling the issues and opportunities that arise on a daily basis, then managers must become more adept at encouraging people to share their expertise, knowledge and ideas, in ways that fuel creative dialogue rather than potentially destructive debate.   Making overt knowledge sharing an explicit expectation and agreeing methods for doing this in a systematic, yet informal manner, must be a primary element of the performance conversation.

A recurring theme in today’s management literature suggests that in order for organisations to be successful in an increasingly volatile and complex environment they must become more agile.  While structures, processes and technologies must be aligned to enable this, the foundation for organisational agility lies in the learning agility of the people within it.  Leaders must continually support and reinforce the efforts of their people to make sense of emerging issues and opportunities, to deal with these in ways that create genuine value for the organisation and its customers, and, to extract learning from those situations to be better prepared for the ‘next wave.’ The use of real-time performance conversations, incorporating the three questions outlined above can be a valuable tool for embedding these capabilities in your organisational DNA.

For more information on how Odyssey can help your managers to develop the competence and confidence to execute these performance conversations, please contact

Kevin Lawrence or Michael Green on +44 (0) 1323 760500 or via