What’s your reaction to the following scenario….

Your manager comes up to you and says,

“Hey Kerry Anne, can I have 5 minutes of your time to discuss a performance issue?”

If your first thought is,

“Oh dear, what have I done wrong?”

Then you are not alone!
Almost all of the managers and leaders I work with give me the


…when asked this question.

And, this is crazy.

It’s crazy because performance management is SUPPOSED to be a POSITIVE experience!
And it’s crazy because most managers and leaders would agree that building relationships with your staff is crucial to the health and performance culture of a team.

So, how do we upgrade our thinking and therefore our actions or behaviour around this essential yet complex topic?

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In this article, I want to break through the myths and the misunderstanding around what exactly performance management is in order to give you clarity and a tool-set to confidently lead your team into high performance. We’ll explore:


What is Performance from a Workplace Perspective?


What is the difference between Performance Management and a Performance Improvement Plan?


What are our Biggest Fears When Engaging in Performance Conversations?


Why Managers Need to Have Regular Performance Conversations


How to Create a Positive Performance Culture through Conversation


Five Steps to a Positive Performance Conversation

One: What is Performance from a Workplace Perspective?

What is performance from a workplace perspective?

As we start off, let’s get clarity around some terms.

The first term I want to explore is Performance. The following concepts are useful in describing workplace performance:


  1. a: the execution of an action
    b: something accomplished : DEED, FEAT
  2. the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request : IMPLEMENTATION
  3. the ability to perform : EFFICIENCY
  4. the manner of reacting to stimuli : BEHAVIOR

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/performance

From these descriptions, we see that performance is a goal or task that we agree to take on, and within the task, we have to pay attention to:

  • The output which needs to be to a certain standard or measurement
  • The process or steps we need to go through in order to implement the task/s
  • The necessary knowledge and skill-set needed to achieve the task
  • The attitude or behaviours required in order to achieve the task

Two: What is the difference between Performance Management and a Performance Improvement Plan?

What is the difference between performance management and a performance improvement plan?

Performance Management is the management of the day to day operations of your workplace or team, and is the first part of the Performance Continuum.

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is the formalised process to manage under-performance.

It is the second part of the Performance Continuum and its aim is to provide a formalised framework that acknowledges that an individual’s performance is not up to standard and therefore needs to be paid attention to.

For more detail on what a PIP should entail, click here to sign up to the video teaching on this topic

At the end of a PIP process, we will hopefully have got to a point where our staff member is meeting objectives and ready to move back under the “Performance Management” area.

This is what we want!!

If however, our staff member has not met objectives, then the PIP process may well move into the final stage of the Performance Continuum, “Termination”.

In this case, an organisation will most likely use HR resources and even legal aid, to move this forward.

See more about how to do this in the video teaching, “How to Have a Positive Performance Conversation”

Three: What are Leaders Biggest Fears when Engaging in Performance Conversations?

What are leaders biggest fears when engaging in performance conversations?

Of course, the biggest challenge we have around performance conversations, is that if we don’t make time for them, we leave ourselves and our team open to uncertainty, misunderstanding and possible tension as a result.

Everyone wants to know they are doing good work and to be recognised for this.

Equally, we also want to know where the gaps are, so we can close those as well.

Why do leaders and managers avoid having performance conversations?

Some of the most common reasons I have experienced include: 
  • Fear of confrontation, judgement or criticism
  • It can be seen as a challenge to status
  • Staff don't like change
  • Staff have an inflated assessment of their own performance
  • Staff feel under pressure
  • Fear of possible repercussions
  • Lack of support from senior management
  • Lack of trust in process - favouritism, double standards, inconsistencies
  • Lack of time or operational limitations
  • Lack of training and confidence in communication skills

Four: Why Managers Need to Have Regular Performance Conversations


Even though most of us would rather have our teeth pulled out than have to deal with difficult conversations, there are so many benefits to regularly engaging in conversation about performance with our team. It’s important to outline them so we buy into the bigger picture.

As managers and leaders, it is our responsibility to manage performance within our teams proactively. The buck has to stop with us.

Here are 8 reasons to get you thinking  about why leaders and managers need to have regular performance conversations with our staff: 

  1. They provide us with a road map of work role and expectations
  2. We are able to address issues of poor performance
  3. They can help us identify strengths in our people that we don’t have
  4. They allow us to provide recognition and affirmation for good performance
  5. It provides us an opportunity for personal interaction with our staff
  6. Helps staff to evaluate their behaviour
  7. They encourage change and innovation
  8. It is our responsibility

Five: How to Create a Positive Performance Culture through Conversation

How to create a positive performance culture through conversation

So, now that we have created clarity as to why we need to engage with our people regularly, let’s have a look at how we can go about creating an environment that allows for safety, trust and openness to occur.

As managers and leaders, we can do this through: 

  1. Being clear in communicating our vision – read my article on how leaders set good goals here
  2. Setting expectations on things like behaviour, roles, task clarity and measurement, team behaviour and interaction
  3. Diarising consistent meetings with our staff to review and provide support regarding their performance
  4. Making time to observe what your team is doing well in order to recognise and affirm this
  5. Tailoring the conversation to the needs and communication style of your team – you can find how to do this here
  6. Value the experience and contribution of your team
  7. Being consistent in our interactions with individuals within our team
  8. Upfront and frank – sharing necessary knowledge so that our team feels informed
  9. Bringing a positive attitude to work – irrespective of what is going on
  10. Being approachable and proactive in our attitude to failure and learning from mistakes
  11. Ensuring our conversations are positive and our team is encouraged to bring solutions
  12. Defending our team and making sure we have their backs when other’s judge, criticise or lay blame
  13. Encouraging self-reflection

Six: five Steps to Having a Positive Performance Conversation

Five steps to having a positive performance conversation

As we come to end of this article, I’ve left the best til last: the five simple steps to creating positive conversations.

It is important to mention that unless we believe in the goodness of our people as well as take the time to role model the values and behaviours we want to see, it can be difficult for our team to believe we have their backs

The following are five simple steps you can take to make sure you focus on the positive and keep your people front and centre of your conversations:

  • Set the scene by focusing on the positive outcome you are looking for from the conversation
  • Ask them to clarify and self-reflect on their performance: both the good and the areas for development
  • Share your observations, giving examples that are specific and timely on one good and one area for development (more than this and you can overwhelm the conversation)
  • Explore, negotiate and agree on action steps and behaviours
  • Ensure follow-up and when the next conversation will happen

Having regular, positive conversations with your staff will make it a lot easier when you need to have the constructive ones.

Questions to Consider:


What 3 considerations do you believe are important to focus on within your team today?


Where are you spending most of your time in your team currently? 


3.1 What message does this send to the team?

 3.2 Is it the appropriate message you want to send or do you need to work on this?


What behaviours do you most want your team to associate with your leadership?


What one item would have the biggest positive impact on your team that you can focus on over the next week or two as their leader?

I hope I have given you something to mull over in the detail shared.  There certainly is a lot to consider and reflect upon in the search for high performance and positive culture.

Best wishes in stepping up, be sure to leave your comments below and I’ll,

See you at the top!

Signature Sign Off - Kerry Anne Cassidy

Extra Resources

For more detail on legislation to help you in your journey, you can go to:

For the public sector: https://www.apsc.gov.au/code-conduct

Sign up to my Video Teaching

Learn the step by step framework to use to engage in positive conversations.

Included with Kerry Anne's video teaching are templates to help you plan your performance conversations and those regarding underperformance


Download your free copy of the article worksheet to work through.
It's also a super-useful reference guide when planning your next performance conversation

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February 22, 2021

February 22, 2021

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