Performance Talks

Frequent Positive Conversations Provide Space For Supported Growth 

Do you find yourself dreading performance appraisals? If so, you’re not alone. Performance appraisals can lead to a lot of anxiety for leaders and their employees. One of the main reasons that performance appraisals are so uncomfortable is that the same performance review process is often intended to support salary decisions, inform employees of whether their performance is up to par, and provide a space for supported growth. When someone’s salary is on the line, it is not surprising that it is difficult to feel secure and open to feedback.

What would it be like if there were a process that allowed performance appraisals to be separate from salary decisions, less intimidating, and a truly safe platform for employee growth? This would be a process that employees would request more often and may even look forward to each week. If successful, such a process could help produce extraordinary performance.

Unlike current performance appraisals which happen annually, this would be an ongoing conversation. It would focus on uncovering stories of strengths and conditions that elicit employees to function at their best. It would involve crafting a vision that propels the employee forward in their career and pushes them to recreate moments of excellence in an effort to achieve this vision.

Taking a positive conversational approach during a performance appraisal may seem difficult at first, but can actually be easy, energizing, and rewarding. Stemming from Appreciative Inquiry (Copperrider & Srivastva, 1987) and the Feedforward Interview (Kluger & Nir, 2010), I have highlighted 4 steps to help enrich a performance appraisal.

  1. Begin with a story: Ask the employee to share a time when they felt at their best at work. Ask them to be as specific as possible, describing the behaviors they performed, the individuals they worked with, the feelings that were exerted, etc. While they describe the experience, you should begin to notice their strengths at play and what activities really motivate this employee.
  2. Craft a vision: From this story, have the employee begin to craft a dream of what they would like to achieve in this position, with this company, or in the future. Without restricting the creation process, it is helpful to use the strengths and actions of the story to keep the vision anchored to workplace behaviors that are meaningful to them and applicable to their work.
  3. Highlight the conditions and barriers: Ask the employee to reflect on the conditions around their initial story that allowed them to flourish. What resources, internal motivations, and key individuals were involved that helped the employee achieve success in the past? Making note of these key conditions and how they can be replicated is highly beneficial to setting up an environment for success. This is also a time to identify any barriers that may stand in their way of achieving their best self at work, and making note of potential ways of minimizing them.
  4. Set clear goals: brainstorm with your employee ways to provide more of these conditions that enable them to perform at their best. What can you provide to them? What can they provide for themselves? Challenge them to set one actionable step they can complete upon leaving your office that will get them closer to their vision.

Keep in mind that this should be an ongoing conversation with your employees. In order to serve as a growth opportunity, the employee needs to be continuously be reminded of their vision, find new ways to push themselves closer to their best self, and troubleshoot new challenges they face.

Talking about performance doesn’t need to be stressful. It can be a great opportunity to recognize an employee’s needs and help them on their path towards excellence. While more traditional forms of performance appraisal may still be necessary for salary decisions, these frequent conversations provide the perfect space for supported growth.


Cooperrider, D. L., & Srivastva, S. (1987). Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In W. Pasmore, & R. Woodman (Eds.), Research in organization change and development (pp. 129-169). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Kluger, A. and Nir, D. (2010). The feedforward interview. Human Resource Management Review, 20, 235-246.

McGregor, D. (1972). An uneasy look at performance appraisal. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 05, 2016, from