The critical conversation: Improve performance by aligning discussion to goals

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How we approach someone when we are unhappy with his performance will cause him to either react or respond to our awareness. If we begin by telling him his performance is not meeting our expectations, you can be sure their mind will chatter in his defense, and he will stop listening.

This tendency to be guarded when criticized is the way of the Ego, which formulates an argument to be right when there is a perceived attack. For this reason, many managers and employees often avoid the necessary conversations needed to align optimal behavior to meet the goals.

Whether you are the person who needs to initiate a conversation where you are unhappy with results, or you are the receiver of a conversation you anticipate will be intense, aligning conversations to the goals allows us to collaborate on a game plan that will yield greater buy-in, follow-through and results.

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Goal alignment conversations:

  1. Remind us of the WHY we are doing what we are doing by re-stating the goal.
  2. Raise awareness of WHAT behavior, ideas or practices are not working to reach the goal by stating facts, not criticizing a person.
  3. Collaborate on HOW we can reach the goal by seeking optimal ideas to reach the goal.
  4. Solidify the ideas and decisions by outlining WHO will do what by when and be sure everyone gets a copy of this in writing.

To illustrate how the goal alignment conversation works, imagine there is a member on your team that is not meeting deadlines. She promises to do something for the team, but when the deadline comes up, she has all the common excuses, including: “I’ve been so busy,” “so-and-so never got back to me,” “It’s taking longer than I thought,” “I can’t  get it done because additional things were put on my plate,” etc. These reasons for missed deadlines, whether true or not, can leave us feeling uncomfortable in a merry-go-round of criticism and rebuttal.

To create a conversation that will get results, align your problem statement to the pertinent company goal and LISTEN to others’ input before you share your ideas! When we ask for input first, we encourage the collaboration and innovation process. Even if we do not agree with someone’s ideas, we write them on the board and keep gathering ideas until the stage of innovation is complete. Note, there is no room for blaming or excuse-making in this process. There is only conversation around what CAN be done better, not what was done wrong, or can’t be done.

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By having an open minded conversation to share ideas, we are more apt to achieve our goals because we will get greater buy-in.

The following are common dynamics that show up in our conversations, even when we align them to the goals and focus on collaboration. By familiarizing yourself with these common dynamics and responses, you will be equipped to keep your conversations productive:

Someone is determined that his way is the right way: “I appreciate your thoughts on how we should approach things. Let’s gather everyone’s ideas before we determine which ones to keep.”

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Someone is verbally attacking and criticizing another’s performance: “Let’s focus on the goal and problem statement, and the possibilities of resolving our issue at hand.”

Someone is not contributing any ideas at all: “You haven’t said much. What are your ideas?”

She changes the topic: “While what you are saying is important, we are off the topic for today’s conversation. Let’s make a note of your concern and get back on track so we can solve our topic at hand, ok?”

He wants to focus on excuses or what will not work: “Let’s focus on what we can do to improve, as this is the only way we can move forward, ok?”

Challenge: What conversation do you need to have to improve performance?  n

-Susan K. Wehrley has been a business consultant and executive coach for 25 years. You can learn more about her at and She can be reached at (414) 581-0449 or

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