Yes, it’s that time of year again — when the groans of managers can be heard over the mere mention of the words, annual performance reviews. Many managers see performance appraisals as nothing more than an empty, bureaucratic exercise forced on them by HR. 

My research of 1,200 HR managers across a range of industries reveals the following shortcomings of standard performance review:

  • They are a costly exercise
  • Performance reviews can be destructive
  • They are often a monologue rather than a dialogue
  • The formality of the appraisal stifles discussion
  • The infrequency of reviews
  • Appraisals are an exercise in form filing
  • Performance review are rarely followed up
  • Most people find the appraisal stressful

Please don’t get me wrong - I am not against performance feedback. In fact I believe it is one of the most important things a manager ought to be doing.

Here is an approach called The 5 Conversations' Framework that I think you will find very helpful. It is easy to implement, constructive and not bureaucratic. 

The 5 Conversations' Framework




Key Questions

Month 1

Climate review

Job satisfaction, morale &   communication

  • How would you rate your   current job satisfaction?
  • How would you rate morale?
  • How would you rate   communication?

Month 2

Strengths & talents

More effectively deploying   strengths & interests


  • What are your strengths & talents?
  • How can these strengths & talents be used in   your current & future roles in the organisation?

Month 3

Opportunities for growth

Improving performance & standards

  • What are some   opportunities for improved performance?
  • How can I assist you to   do this?

Month 4

Learning & development

Support & growth

  • What are some skills you   would like to learn?
  • What learning opportunities   would you like to undertake?

Month 6

Innovation & continuous   improvement

Ways & means to improve the efficiencies & effectiveness of   the business

  • What’s one way that you   could improve your own working efficiencies?
  • What’s one way we can   improve our team's  operations?


The 5 Conversations' Framework is a fresh approach to managing performance; a substitute - if you like - for the traditional performance appraisal. It is not perfect - no performance management system is - but it does address many of the weaknesses of the standard approach to appraising performance.

In a nutshell, the new approach I propose is based on five conversations between the manager and each of his or her staff over a six month period. Each of these five conversations need only last 10 minutes or so. Over the course of a year, using this system, the line manager is expected to have 10 conversations with each of his or her colleagues. The conversations are based on themes or topics. These conversations are designed to be less formal, more relaxed, more frequent and more focused than the conventional once or twice a year performance review.

Ironically, there ought to be nothing new or novel about my approach. This frequent, less formal and more focused dialogue should be something in which managers engage anyway with their colleagues. Good managers build a professional rapport and understanding between themselves and their team members by having regular conversations with each of their team members about a range of matters. The 5 Conversations' Framework centres around key issues relating to performance. Although it ought to happen, I am sure you would agree with me that regular constructive conversations about performance rarely take place in most workplaces.

This is not to suggest that managers don't pull up their staff when things are not done properly. While managers also have regular conversations about work-related matters, they rarely engage in a two-way dialogue about important aspects of performance. These factors are usually left until performance appraisal time. But in these forums they are usually done formally, stressfully, and less frequently; they are more generalised evaluations, and less a discussion and more a monologue. They are therefore unsurprisingly, less effective.

Dr Tim Baker is the author of The End of the Performance Review (Palgrave Macmillan) out in September this year.


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