Is it a performance conversation or training need?

You’ve been asked to create a training programme for a select group of staff who aren’t meeting the required standards. You create the programme, filled with great content that will improve performance. All is going well, until the learners turn up…  

The learners don’t know why they’ve been selected to attend. No one made them aware there was an issue with their performance.

Sound familiar?  

Often were approached by either the line manager, a stakeholder or even colleagues in human resources to create training for issues that no one has tackled previously, and the learner isn’t aware there’s a problem.

This post looks to explore this issue from a managers perspective, but also help you, as an L&D professional, manage these requests in the future.

Performance conversation or training need?

How as a L&D professional can you identify training requests that require a performance conversation? Look at the below examples and consider if you think they’re a performance conversation or a training need:

Example A) Employee not meeting deadlines so manager wants to attend time management training

Example B) Line manager not managing performance of team and being very lenient of issues so requested to attend a management development programme.

Example C) Team being asked to attend a session on effective team working when one member of the team is causing team working issues by not being a team player

How easy did you find assessing which category the above examples would fall into?

I would place all the above examples as a performance conversation first. Every training request that makes its way to you should have always started with a performance conversation.

What is a performance conversation?

Put simply, a performance management conversation is a discussion between a manager and employee to discuss the employee’s performance that could’ve been improved.  

I don’t want to give all managers a bad name here. But there are a lot out there (in my experience) that would prefer not to have the performance conversation.

In fact, a survey conducted by Interact found 69% of managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees. Plus 37% said they were uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they think the employee might respond negatively.  

Do those figures surprise you?

Performance conversations or training need? - Why managers don't have performance conversations

If the manager is avoiding having a performance conversation it’s no surprise, they believe the easy route is to fix them by stealth by sending them on training instead. *Queue random training request to L&D here*

Why training without a performance conversation first is a bad idea

Performance conversations should always be the first step, before any training requests are made. Here’s why.

In most cases the line manager sees the training as the way to ‘fix’ an issue with an employee. Which in some instances training might be the best route.

The issue being that the training request usually comes to the employee without any context understanding as to why they’re being asked to attend training, or what the issue is with their current performance.

When they attend the training without this knowledge, they don’t buy into the learning. Resulting in ineffective training that adds little value as there won’t likely be any behaviour change as a result.

More importantly when trying to sustain behaviour change there needs to be a transfer back into the workplace. If the manager hasn’t addressed the performance need in advance, they’re less likely to encourage the transfer of learning into the workplace as again, this would require another performance conversation.

How as an L&D professional do I assess the difference between the two?

As I mentioned earlier, every training need, both positive or developmental should first begin as a performance conversation.

By encouraging your managers, stakeholders or even Human Resources to follow this approach it will immediately weed out a lot of unnecessary training.

For those training requests that do reach you and you still think that training might not ‘fix’ the issue. Spend some time with the manager, stakeholder or HR to really address the root cause issue. Below are some questions that can help:

  • What do you want to be different for the employee(s) as a result of attending this training?
  • How will you transfer the learning back into the workplace?
  • Does your employee(s) recognise there is a developmental?
  • How does this specific training address their development area(s)?
  • Is this a genuine training need or could the development need be addressed via a performance conversation?
    • Has this performance conversation taken place? If not, why not?

The final question on here provides an opportunity to coach the manager, stakeholder or Human Resources into how to have the conversation to get the best results. You might even find that there is a development need for the requestor in performance conversations, rather than the employee!

What is a good performance conversation then?

You’re with the requestor and they’ve agreed to have a performance conversation first and have asked you for some advice on how to tackle it.

What would you suggest?

A good performance conversation ultimately is just about providing honest feedback on their perception of a situation. Some key steps to include are:

Performance conversations or training need? - steps for a clear performance conversation
  1. Give clear feedback on their performance in a situation – This may be the most uncomfortable part of the process, but the employee can’t adapt their behaviour without first knowing there is an issue
  2. Ask the employee for their perspective of the situation – Feedback shouldn’t just be done to them. Let the employee have an opportunity to share their perspective. There might be a reason behind the behaviour that you aren’t aware of.
  3. Set clear expectations about the standards expected – Remind the employee what the company expectations/your expectations are.
  4. Discuss and agree what, if any support is required to help the individual to move forward. I.e. do they need more role specific training or guidance? –  This is the crucial step in this process. I’d encourage the employee to lead this, rather than the manager say “I think you should attend time management”. As the motivation and ownership of the development has now been taken away from the employee. If the employee chooses the development and owns it, they’re more likely to agree to making a change as a result of attending.

In summary

Performance conversations may be uncomfortable and not all managers first choice when it comes to dealing with an issue.

They are however, the first, powerful step in instilling behaviour change. Second, and always second to the conversation is the training. Only if required and the employee takes ownership for their own development.

Performance conversations or training need? - Performance conversation first, training second

Found this blog post useful? Read more from me here. You may particularly enjoy how to improve manager engagement with workplace training.

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