Performance Management Conversations 15

As a labour consultant – often called in to resolve issues that have already degenerated into a sticky mess – I am often amazed at the poor “conversational” skills exhibited by both junior (to be expected) and senior management.
So many of the problems I encounter are the direct result of an inability to broach and deal with performance and misconduct related issues in a mature, calm and balanced manner. The result is all too often an angry outburst or a game of toss the hot potato (making the problem go away by making it someone else’s problem). 

Do we still teach the basics of performance conversations – in other words how do I discuss these sensitive and emotive issues while still maintaining a good working relationship – if that is possible?

Many years ago I used to run programs on coaching for poor performance, communicating minimum standards, negotiating performance objectives etc. While I am sure such training is still conducted, there appears to be a gaping hole in basic performance management skills. So many of  the cases that find their way to the CCMA could have been nipped in the bud had the manager concerned dealt with the issues in appropriate mannner.

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15 thoughts on “Performance Management Conversations

  • Frank Maputla Sepeng

    Hi Alan,

    I believe that performance management should start with senior managers of very organisation. Failure to be implemented correctly, it creates problems such as identification of correct performance gaps. Proper management of performance management leads to improved communications between the manager and the managed. However manay organisations treat performance management as a once off event, yet it must be constantly monitored and feed back be provided by the manager.  It needs commitment of both the manager and the managed, however these days it is not the case managers fear to take decisions and manage performance fairly and objectively so.  Performance management should not be punititive rather corrective in nature however managers use performance management as punititive tool, hence employees as well do not see the need of performance management.  Organisations also believe that the remedy to poor performance is training and yet there might be number contributing factors to non performance such as lack of resources, high standard set, systems, employee wrongly placed, personal problems etc,

  • Nompumelelo Penny

    Ihave seen in my work environment employees are now viewing performance mangement in very negative way. it has fail to serve it purpose which I thinkis to motivate people, training and development purposen and also assist the organisation to meet it objectives.  i think managers need to be trained so that they can understand the important of conducting performance management.

  • Alan Hill Post author

    I think there have been a lot of very valid comments. Des, I agree with you that the first step is to understand what is required and then to communicate performance standards and requirements. Performance objectives over and above the minimum standards can be negotiated – but the employee needs to understand the “how much, of what , by when”. I think even if this is done, failure to adequately monitor and coach for performace remains a problem. Relying on an annual  performace appraisal is competely inadequate. My belief is that there should be no surprises at the annual performance appraisal. Surely management is an ongoing activity of – wait for it – Planning, Organising, Leading and Controling. However, having said all that, I still think many manager do not have the face to face skills to have the “difficult conversations”. They have never been taught the basic skills of focusing on the problem – not the person, striving (even in difficult conversations) to maintain or enhance the self-esteem of the individual, focusing on what is measurable – not on emotive issues (like “your lousy attitide”), setting follow-ups at every counselling session – and actually follow up. When I chair poor performance hearings (the final one in anticipation of dismissal), I often find that the history of poor performance is well documented – however, the evidence for systematic coaching for improved performance is, in many instances, competely absent.

  • Des Squire

    Although many of the comments are valid i stand by my comment – the problem is twofold.

    One – the performance standard must be established and agreed with the employee and the manager must enforce and manage the employee related to the standard.

    Two – if ongoing performance counselling does not happen then the employees are only advised of performance problems when it is too late. This normally occurs at the time of the performance appraisal or when there is a need for a disciplinary hearing. This I felt was Alans point???

    In many instances managers have no idea how to establish and agree on standards because they do not understand what it is the employee is supposed to be doing and take no time to find out. 

    We can try all the training on communication, TA, people management skills and so on but nothing will have any impact until both the the employee and the manager know and understand what is expected. 

    How much? of what? by when? – then tell me how i am doing. The horse still comes before the cart.    

  • Joe van Wyk

    Alan, you’ve hit the nail on the head…especially the “angry outburst” bit. So many managers forget that they should firstly be leaders, and then the management part will follow naturally. It is a fact, albeit a sad one, that so many of our South African economic units are being headed by small-minded egotistic people who think the title “manager” bestows upon them a divine right to talk down on the poor underlings. Decency and mutual respect are without doubt the bedrock of effective performance conversations. 

  • Pieter Staal

    I know my comments are late – out of office – I agree with you and Marguirite and Amos – TA is a wonderful tool and I still use it in identifying issues. Amos stating that it starts at the interview stage – I tend to agree – for if that was sorted initially it is usual that the rest follows (with exeptions of course).  But alas all goes back to basics such as education and upbringing and with that work ethic and all the other issues regularly covered by this forum.

  • Moira De Roche

    I think that Managers often hide behind the tools they use – like Balanced Scorecards, thinking they have some magic that negates the need for good communication skills.

  • Amos Mthembu

    Hi All,
    after reading all the comments i now realise that this is a common problem and error all over. like Des and Sylvia said, the lack of perfomance standard establishment is a problem. but again when during interviews when people are promoted or hired, this should be determined (Peoples skills and leadership abilities). this will immediately identify the gap at hand. mostly companies only evaluate process knowledge and experience. but when the paw paw hits the fan? the gap emerges.


    Hi All

    I have also witnessed this situation all too often, with untrained specialists being promoted into line management roles, without the concomitant training.
    Added to that, the tendency to confuse assertiveness with aggression, and a critical omission wrt Onboarding. Very few companies do it effectively, and most don’t do it at all, somehow assuming someone will do it or that the new incumbent will ‘show initiative’ and ‘manage their careers’ sans the basics.

    Another challenge is the very subjective nature of some performance indicators. It appears that targeted indicators eg. sales lead to less controversy than other roles, and for the most part the manaqer has the final say … I would challenge unions and HR practitioners to review this on regular basis, as it does seem that the Commissioner’s office is the place where these irregularities come to light. Performance Development remains an ethical and legal issue for us as people’s livelihoods depend thereupon.

  • Alan Hill Post author

    Thanks for all the great comments. I was particularly interested in Marguerite’s comments about using transactional analysis. I used to train managers in TA skills when I first started working in the corporate world (I think Noah was still around). I find it intersting how some of the great concepts are making a come back as it were. I recently provided some performace management input for a company and found myself refering to some of the tried and tested concepts/authors ( which were apparently new to them) such as Hershy and Blanchards original works on Situational Leadership, Mager and Pipe on Analysing Performance Problems, TA etc. I suppose 20 odd years experience hasn’t been a total waste of time!

  • tandoqeqe1

    I had an interesting conversation with a client on “How to integrate Training & Development on Performance Management for Line-Managers”,and I approached exactly from Alan’s perception.I recommended that, for T&D intervention(s),HR Practioners should have had systems in place,so as T&D can intervene.

    The best T&D Practioners can help with is bringing up evaluations system & quantify the returns on the investment.

    Now I wish some-one can clear/clarify,maybe I understood wrongly.

  • Marguerite Sacco Turner

    My work is entirely in the realm of communication and interpersonal skills, and I know that the underlying reason for avoiding the conversation is because, as you say Alan, they don’t know how to discuss emotive issues while maintaining a good working relationship.  In TA terms we are speaking about how to have an Adult to Adult conversation – even when one party has done wrong. Many organisations do see the need for this kind of training, but many don’t as they see it is ‘soft’ and not adding value to the business – until they realise the time lost in CCMA when mature, effective interpersonal skills would have resolved the issue at the very start.

  • Des Squire

    Hi Frank

    I deal extensively with and train on issues related to “Performance Management” and “Conducting effective performance Interviews” (I am advertising my products – Yes)

    From experience there are two major problems that lead to the conflict you refer to.

    One is that the performance standard has not been established and agreed to with the employee. Added to this is that the lmanagers do not enforce the agreed standard.

    The second is that ongoing performance counselling does not happen so the employees are only advised of performance problems when it is too late.

    COUNSELLING ON PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS, as I have stated previously,is the FIRST STEP IN THE DISCIPLINARY PROCESS. If managers were to concentratE on these two points, I believe we can reducte disciplinary action and resulting CCMA action by at least 50%. In addition we will increase productivity levels dramatically.

  • Chris van Zyl

    I agree with Alan. One of the main reasons could be the pressure of too much work, impatience, and before you could say cheese, …the relationship has broken down!!!


  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi Alan, I agree with your comments about some management lack of performance management conversation skills.  It is a pity that tertiary qualifications generally and particularly in the technical areas, where management of large numbers of employees is probable, do not seem to contain any components of people management.  However, I find that there is also a lack of basic understanding and acceptance from many employees as well of exactly what are the required standards of behaviour in employment and that it is a contractual relationship with obligations of both parties.