It’s Not the Appraisal

Five Conversations that Transform Employee Performance

I am often asked whether performance appraisals are good or bad. My answer?

It’s not the appraisal. I’m not a fan of appraisals. But the appraisal itself is not the issue.

It’s all about the conversations that come before, during, and after the appraisal.

Take the worst appraisal form ever created and put it in the hands of a leader who knows how to hold transformational conversations and you will see significant positive results. Take the best appraisal process ever created and put it in the hands of a manager who is not leading, but merely transacting daily work, and you will see the negative effect that gives appraisals such a bad name.

And yes, take the appraisal away from the transformational leader altogether and you will still see transformation occur.

It’s all about the conversations. The right conversations can create focus, ensure alignment, inspire effort, enhance capacity, and literally transform performance.

And here’s the kicker. Nearly all managers and supervisors can hold these types of conversations. Super powers are not required. But having the right tools can help.

Please contact me to learn more about what our most recent research tells us.

Here are five conversations that will help you transform employee performance. They are not one-time conversations. Each of the five should be ongoing and continual with each person you lead. And you need to believe that your primary role in holding these conversations is to help the employee succeed in his/her role.


  1. The Context Conversation
    The context conversation helps the employee gain clarity about what matters most and why. You and the employee gain a common vision of what is possible. The employee begins to see and believe the unique contribution that he/she can make to the team and organization. This type of conversation fosters trust between you and the employee. The employee gains a desire to be coached by you.
  1. The Planning Conversation
    The planning conversation helps you and the employee create a clear roadmap toward success. The outcome should be a written plan with all the topics you would see on a traditional performance plan (goals, deliverables, expected behaviors, action plan, etc.). Our research tells us that most employees do not have such a plan. Do yours? But remember, it’s not just about the plan. It’s about the conversation. The conversation creates mutual understanding about vision, performance goals, milestones, learning goals, action plans, and necessary support. Together, you create a scorecard that defines and facilitates employee success. You will know how to follow up with each other and verify that desired success is happening.
  1. The Execution Conversation
    The execution conversation is all about daily and ongoing performance communication between you and the employee. It involves the dozens of regular check-ins and touch points that keep the work effort headed in the right direction. Think of it as the gentle nudges, reinforcements, questions, tips, and suggestions that keep the work on the rails. Your communication will likely focus primarily on the work, but it’s still very much about helping the employee accomplish the work successfully. The work itself is often a powerful teacher, especially with a good coach nearby.
  1. The Growth Conversation
    The growth conversation is about the employee, not the work. It’s about continually building capacity (ability and motivation) in the employee. The purpose of this conversation is to help the employee see and address his/her most important development opportunities. They could be strengths or they could be weaknesses. They are likely a combination of both. These opportunities become apparent as you consistently hold the first three types of conversations (context, plan, and execution). This conversation allows you to talk about patterns that you observe. Patterns of strength and patterns of need.
  1. The Review Conversation
    This conversation helps the employee see measured progress and success over time. It focuses on reviewing key results and key lessons learned. Yes, this is somewhat like the traditional performance review, but with much more meaning and vitality. This type of conversation should happen much more frequently than once a year. It should be a summary of success rather than an arbitrary surprise. The goal is that the employee always knows “the score” and how well he/she is doing. If you’re consistently doing the first four conversations (context, plan, execution, and growth) the review conversation becomes a true energy builder.

Again, these five conversations are not intended to be “one-and-done” conversations. They need to be ongoing. It may take several months to establish the pattern and cadence that will work best for your situation.

I plan to write about each of these five key conversations in my next series of articles. So stay tuned.

Also, Learning Point’s Coach 2 Excel workshop provides a powerful roadmap and set of tools to help you master these five conversations. Click here to learn more.

Best of success in your role as a workplace leader.

Mark Christensen