Environmental agency


Local government


Performance and behaviour change




A local environmental body was deploying a performance and engagement strategy that included an initiative to enabling managers to have “difficult 
conversations” with their staff on a regular and ongoing basis.

The organisation was perceived to be one where “positive, friendly relationships” and “performance-orientation” seemed to be at odds.  Managers across the organisation either shied away from regular performance conversations, or handled these seemingly “difficult” conversations indirectly or with little positive outcome.

The analysis:

In surveys, the organisation scored low on “managing poor performance”, causing frustration amongst staff and consternation for unions. The HR Manager was keen to foster a shift in the culture where being people-friendly was as important as being performance-oriented and where everyone was consistently having regular, robust conversations about work performance.


A series of one full-day and four half-day workshops for all managers were held over a 12 month period. With behaviour and attitude change as core, the aims of these experiential workshops were:

  • Developing greater ability of managers to give positive and critical feedback, or to have “difficult conversations” with their direct reports while maintaining positive working relationships
  • Growing managers’ willingness to ‘ask for help’ from the HR team
  • Developing a common understanding and appreciation of the necessity for “difficult conversations” to occur 
as daily business practice
  • Developing a common language throughout the organisation for engaging in performance conversations


By the end of the year, the workshops had resulted in a significant shift in culture to one where managers were having more frequent conversations about performance with their staff.  As this culture shift occurred, staff were also engaging in similar conversations with their peers and their own managers, while maintaining the culture of friendliness and positive working relationships that made the organisation such a good place to work. Participants had developed:

  • Deep understanding of the phases of performance conversations, including having a clear identified outcome
  • New behaviours and strategies with which to engage in challenging workplace conversations
  • Greater comaraderie and support amongst managers with regards performance issues
  • The ability to analyse staff performance in a systemic and strengths-based manner
  • Greater ease and confidence in dealing with the emotions often inherent in “difficult conversations”