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Performance management: Do you tell people what to do or inspire responsibility?

By Shandel McAuliffe | |6 minute read
Performance management: Do you tell people what to do or inspire responsibility?

Is your organisation’s approach to performance management empowering or oppressive – or a bit of both? Do employees feel like they have a say over how they do their work?


It’s now generally accepted that performance management needs to be an ongoing process. Employees should have regular one-on-ones with their managers, and there shouldn’t be any big surprises come appraisal time. If your organisation has this nailed, now is a good time to really work on the nature of those conversations between managers and employees.

Following a regular cadence for keeping in touch with employees is actually pretty easy. Managers and employees simply need to be organised in planning those meetings, and then prioritising them. The bigger challenge is in training managers and staff on how to make the most of those interactions.

As HR and business leaders, you know that inspiring someone to take personal responsibility for their work is much more effective than micromanaging them to the nth degree, dictating every last detail about how to complete a task. So, now’s the time to ask, are your line managers trained in how to coach their employees?

Investing in a good coaching course for your managers is a great place to start. AHRI, the CIPD, and SHRM all have resources on coaching that you might find useful.

Once your managers are up to speed on how to have coaching conversations, the format for one-to-one catch ups can start to evolve. Depending on how much instruction the employee needs to perform their role (junior staff will always need clear guidance on “how” to do their work), chats with their manager can shift to more of an outcome and output focused conversation, rather than a task focused one.

As employees have the experience to take on more responsibility for how they’ll tackle their work, the role of the manager becomes more about communicating what the overall goals are, and less about detailing every step the employee needs to take to get there. Employees can then use their one-on-ones to talk through their approach to their responsibilities and any challenges, taking on a position much more in the driver’s seat.

This approach to performance management, whereby employees are given greater responsibility, can be very empowering. It also helps people to better understand their business’ objectives because greater focus is given to the “why” behind outcome and outputs, rather than one-to-one conversations being an opportunity for managers to deliver task lists.



Coaching differs from training in that it frequently focuses on a narrower range of abilities or jobs. This might be done as a part of personnel upskilling or performance management. Both internal trainers and outside coaches may carry out this task. Coaching occasionally includes assessments and performance feedback.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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