The Power of Context in Performance Management

Empty,half and full water glasses . Isolated on white

Our beliefs, attitudes, and biases create a filter in which we view the world. At Fierce, we call this context. While it is unconscious, context affects everything we experience daily. What we believe determines how we interpret the world around us, and yes, it has a direct impact on the results we are – or are not – getting in our lives.

Context shouldn’t be ignored during a performance management discussion. Before you begin the conversation, examine your context around the individual and the situation. Is it negative or positive?

Ask yourself these questions:

    • What are my beliefs (context) about this individual?


    • Are there beliefs that I am holding skewing the way I am preparing to approach this conversation?


    • What context does this person hold about me? This conversation? This company?

What you believe to be true about people determines how you interact with them and how you lead or follow them. Often your context might be about what you think of that person or their capabilities. If you take your beliefs at surface value, it may cause premature judgement – in the positive or negative light.

If your goal is to change behavior to get different results, and you hold a negative context about the likely outcome of the conversation, then you will be right about that. If you don’t believe someone can do something, that very well can become a reality. The question to ask yourself in that scenario is: Have you set things up well for that individual? Negative context can cloud the discussion and not set the stage.

Conversely, having a positive context regardless of the type of performance conversation you are having, opens you and the individuals involved to explore new possibilities by asking questions, exchanging ideas, and tackling any challenges that may be presented in a manner that allows space for learning and growth. A positive context is about finding solutions, generating new ideas, and committing to action that can drive the desired results.

[tweetable text="To explore different perspectives, invite your direct reports into the conversation and get curious." tweet="“To explore different perspectives, invite your direct reports into the conversation and get curious.” via @fierce_inc"] Hold them ‘able’ to have the discussion and allow them to share with you their tangible commitments of what they will do to shift their performance. Form an agreement on deliverables, timeframes, and ownership of these commitments.

When a performance discussion turns into the idea of “if ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, were different, I’d be fine,” take this opportunity to reframe the conversation from a positive context lens by suggesting these type of phrases:

    1. Given where you are in your performance, what DNA do you have on your situation that has gotten you to this point today?


    1. Your context appears to be very strong on this situation. Have you considered adapting approaches of others in this organization who are achieving the results you want to have?


    1. A. Looking at everything we’ve discussed at this point, is it more important to be right, or to get it right for yourself? Your team? The company?

As you have these performance management conversations, there is value in testing your own assumptions and beliefs. Be cautious of your auto-pilot mode, it can cause you to avoid questioning your own and others’ thinking.

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