“Human” conversations gateway to better performance

A new paper from the Institute of Employment Studies examines career and performance conversations. While detailing what works, it suggests overly formal approaches can be counter-productive.

Image of two colleagues chatting at water cooler
A new IES paper, Effective performance, development and career conversations at work, argues that HR can unintentionally make conversations at work about performance and development feel like a sort of test, especially for managers.

More chat and less talk?

If HR is to succeed in fostering a culture in which employee performance is improved and development is valued, the paper argues the profession needs to encourage "more frequent, less formal and more effective conversations" on a range of topics.Much simpler guidance, less bureaucracy and giving managers the practical skills they need can help this happen, says the report’s author, IES principal author Dr Wendy Hirsh.Dr Hirsh's findings chime with other recent studies around approaches to engagement, performance and people management – themes explored in successful international assignments and employee experience at next week’s Relocate Global's Festival of Global Mobility Thinking around diversity, inclusion and talent, and industry 4.0.
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Characteristics of effective performance and development conversations

The IES paper presents a model of the characteristics of effective performance and development conversations, drawing on research and case study examples.It finds that effective conversations use four key levers for change:
  1. aligning work priorities with business needs
  2. offering constructive feedback
  3. agreeing skill and career development actions
  4. encouraging motivation through giving the employee individualised attention and addressing any concerns.
If organisations can help managers use these four levers more effectively, they can, the paper argues, achieve a culture that supports a stronger, more continuous focus on improving the performance and fulfilling the potential of their workforce.

Talking makes tackling issues easier

"Managers and leaders at all levels can feel more nervous than they need to about engaging their staff in performance, development and career conversations,” says Dr Hirsch.“HR is sending contradictory messages. It does want to encourage better discussions, but then calls them ‘difficult conversations’ and provides over-complicated forms to fill in.“If we support and train managers to talk with individual members of staff about their work more often and in a normal, human way, tackling even difficult issues at work gets much easier."
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