Effective performance and development conversations with staff need not be 'difficult', says IES

Press Releases

30 Apr 2018

HR is failing to make performance and development conversations effective, suggests a new IES paper.

HR rightly says that line managers should have better performance and development conversations with the staff that work for them, but is not yet doing what is needed to help this happen.

The 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. Branding such conversations as ‘difficult’ is an especially unhelpful thing to do.

If HR is to succeed in fostering a culture in which employee performance is improved and development is valued, the paper argues that it 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.

Authored by IES principal associate, Dr Wendy Hirsh, the paper presents a model of the characteristics of effective performance and development conversations, drawing on research and case study examples.

Effective conversations use four key levers for change: aligning work priorities with business needs; offering constructive feedback; agreeing skill and career development actions; and 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 which involves a stronger, more continuous focus on improving the performance and fulfilling the potential of their workforce.

Dr Wendy Hirsh commented:

‘Managers and leaders at all levels can feel more nervous than they need to about engaging their staff in performance, development and career conversations. 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.’


Notes to editor

The paper is available to download for free here.

The paper is the first in IES’ annual ‘Perspectives on HR’ series.

Interviews and further information

Dr Wendy Hirsh, author of the paper, is available for interviews and comment. Please contact Mark Jack, IES communications officer:

Tel: 01273 763 735

Email: mark.jack@employment-studies.co.uk

About Dr Wendy Hirsh

Dr Wendy Hirsh, principle associate at the Institute for Employment Studies, is a consultant and researcher on a range of people management issues, including career development, talent management, succession planning, workforce planning and leadership development.

Her particular interests are in considering both organisational and individual perspectives; linking employee development more strongly with changing business and skill needs; and helping managers and employees to tackle these career and future-related aspects of employment more clearly and more confidently.

In recent years, she has regularly featured in the top 20 list of HR magazine’s Most Influential HR Thinkers.

About the Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

IES is an independent, apolitical, international centre of research and consultancy in public employment policy and HR management. It works closely with employers in all sectors, government departments, agencies, professional bodies and associations. IES is a focus of knowledge and practical experience in employment and training policy, the operation of labour markets, and HR planning and development. IES is a not-for-profit organisation.