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Meaningful Performance Conversations: 5 Tips for Managers

Meaningful performance conversations seem elusive. Many people find talking about performance to be stressful or lacking value. When performance conversations focus too much on past actions that are water under the bridge, they breed a sense of futility. Another common challenge occurs when performance conversations turn into critiques that constantly pit people against an unrealistic standard of perfection.

However, performance conversations can be painless and valuable. Here are five ways to make performance chats meaningful, and even enjoyable.

Foster Trust and Rapport with Your Team

As a coach, take some time during performance chats to ask, “How are you doing?” or “How has your week been?” Positive interpersonal exchanges that are not solely work-related build mutual trust and loyalty1.

A foundation of trust enhances the chance for meaningful performance conversations by increasing openness and honesty.

Boost Personal Growth

While it’s important to talk about the work being done, it’s even more important to talk with the person who is doing the work: What drives this person? What skills are appealing? What career path is attractive?

Talking with team members about what drives them opens up opportunities to integrate professional and personal growth, which fosters intrinsic motivation. To foster more meaningful performance conversations, focus on personal drivers and growth.

Frame Meaningful Performance Conversations with Values, Purpose, and Mission

Infuse your organization’s purpose, mission, and values into performance conversations. When discussing new responsibilities or projects, discuss how that work will help your organization pursue its mission. When talking about performance, discuss how actions align (or misalign) with the organization’s values.

Reinforce your organization’s culture, and impact how team members view their work.

Talk about Impact

It’s easy to move from one task or project to the next without thinking about the ultimate impact on internal or external customers. Most people want to do work that makes a difference and positively contributes to others2.

Taking some time during meaningful performance conversations to dwell on the impact personal efforts are having can boost motivation, work satisfaction, and sense of ownership for the work being accomplished.

Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up

Develop a habit of circling back to important topics discussed in prior conversations. Revisiting topics creates a sense of continuity and evolving dialogue. Sometimes giving an idea or action time to stir leads to increased insights and deeper discussions about ways to move forward.

When your team member has brought a topic forward, looping back is especially important as a demonstration of placing value on what matters to him or her. Finally, circling back creates opportunities for celebration of accomplishments that might otherwise be brushed aside in favor of moving on to new business.


  1. Brower, H. H., Schoorman, F. D., & Tan, H. H. (2000). A model of relational leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 11(2), 227–250.
  2. Grant, A. M. (2011). Developing an agenda for teaching coaching psychology. 6(1), 17.
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