The Five Conversations Framework

An Alternative Approach to Appraisals

The Five Conversations Framework - An Alternative Approach to Appraisals

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Invigorate your performance reviews with good conversation.

Imagine it's time for your team members' annual performance reviews. You're keen to use these productively and effectively, and you look forward to building stronger relationships with your people through them.

In your mind's eye, a member of your team is sitting across from you. They're clear on what their strengths are, and what skills they need to develop to perform even better next year. The conversation is open and honest, and discussion flows naturally...

Now let's get back to reality. How far is this scenario from your regular appraisal meetings? If your meetings tend to be more "awkward monologue" than free-flowing conversation, don't despair. A growing discontent with the traditional appraisals system is prompting organizations, including some big-name companies, to experiment with alternative approaches.

In this article, we identify the shortcomings of traditional performance reviews, and we'll explore how you can use an approach called the "Five Conversations Framework" to promote dialogue, increase positivity, and build better relationships with your people.

About the Tool

Dr Tim Baker is a consultant and the managing director of Winners at Work Pty Ltd, a leadership development and change management company. He created the Five Conversations Framework and featured it in his book, "The End of the Performance Review." [2]

In this book, Baker tells of how he spoke to thousands of HR professionals around the world, and discovered that many managers and employees see performance appraisals as nothing more than an empty, bureaucratic exercise imposed on them by HR.

Baker says the standard performance review can be:

  • Costly to implement.
  • Sometimes destructive.
  • Often a monologue rather than a dialogue.
  • Too formal, and likely to stifle discussion.
  • Too infrequent.
  • Not sufficiently meaningful to the role (an exercise in form filling).
  • Rarely followed up with appropriate actions.
  • Often a stressful experience for those involved.

He says that his Five Conversations Framework offers managers and organizations an alternative that identifies and builds upon people's innate talents.

How the Five Conversations Framework Works

The Five Conversations Framework is based on five themed conversations that you have with each of your people, one theme per month, for five months out of six. This means that each topic is covered twice in a year, helping you review their development easily.

A conversation with your team member should last around 15 minutes, and focus on one of the following themes:

  • Climate Review: To measure their job satisfaction and morale.
  • Strengths and Talents: To identify and develop their innate abilities.
  • Opportunities for Growth: To improve their performance and standards.
  • Learning and Development: To identify and support future learning opportunities.
  • Innovation and Continuous Improvement: To improve their own and your team's effectiveness in line with business needs.

There are no conversations for two months of the year. Each organization has particularly busy periods, and this gap means you are free to get on with other tasks during these times.

It's important for everyone within your organization to follow the same conversation topic each month. For example, if the Climate Review conversation falls in November, all managers and supervisors across the business will have this conversation one-on-one with their team members. This will give you a clear picture of climate within your organization.


Avoid lumping all the themes together into one single conversation – the idea is to have regular dialogue with your people. If you have conversations regularly, you will get to know them better, help them to stay motivated, and get valuable early insight into any problems that may be affecting their performance.


If you feel that you don't have time to hold regular meetings with all your people, decide which of your routine tasks could be carried out by others and delegate them. This will give you time to develop your team members effectively.

What Are the Five Conversations?

The table below shows the objectives of each conversation, and key questions you can ask:

Month's Topic Content Key Questions Key Objectives
Climate Review Job satisfaction, morale and communication

How would you rate your current job satisfaction?

How would you rate morale?

How would you rate communication?

  • To determine your team members' views on job satisfaction, morale and communication.
  • To provide a snapshot of the current climate within your team.
  • To identify (and find solutions to) any problems your team may be facing.
Strengths and Talents Effectively deploying strengths and talents

What are your strengths and talents?

How can these strengths and talents be used in your current and future roles in the organization?

  • Identify each team member's strengths and innate talents.
  • Develop their roles based on those strengths and talents.
Opportunities for Growth Improving performance and standards

What are some opportunities for improved performance?

How can I help you to do this?

  • Identify current and expected standards of performance.
  • Discuss and agree upon tangible ways to develop performance to match expectations.
  • Align expectations with the future direction of the business.
Learning and Development Support and growth

What are some skills you would like to learn?

What learning opportunities would you like to undertake?

  • Identify training methods that will build upon your team members' strengths and lift their performance in critical areas.
Innovation and Continuous Improvement Ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the business

What is one way that you could improve your own working efficiency?

What is one way that we can improve our team's operations?

  • Obtain insight into your team from its members' perspectives.
  • Identify how to help your team members improve their efficiency, both individually and as part of the team.

Reprinted here by permission of Dr Tim Baker, taken from his book, "The End of the Performance Review," (2013). Palgrave Macmillan.

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Key Points

Dr Tim Baker developed the Five Conversations Framework after finding that the traditional annual or bi-annual performance review has significant drawbacks. Using his approach, you have one 15-minute conversation with each team member every month, based around the following themes:

  • Climate Review.
  • Strengths and Talents.
  • Opportunities for Growth.
  • Learning and Development.
  • Innovation and Continuous Improvement.

These themed conversations aim to:

  • Encourage effective dialogue in appraisal meetings.
  • Facilitate less stressful encounters between you and your people.
  • Help you to build good relationships with your team members.
  • Develop people's skills based on their strengths.

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Comments (8)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi jes1ram1,
    Welcome to the Club and thanks for sharing your experiences with the Five Conversations Framework. It would be great to hear more about your experiences so why not come over to the Forums and share with other members.

    The Forums are a great place to further your learning by asking questions and sharing ideas with other members. Hope to see you over there!

    If there is anything I can help you with, just let us know and we will be happy to help.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago jes1ram1 wrote
    I tried this sometimes back in my previous job, and you know what !! it really works..
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi Jaqueline,

    Good question. The redesign of performance appraisals is a hot topic in the business press these days and for all the reasons stated in this article. Many, if not most, employees dread performance reviews and some organizations do make appraisal a bureaucratic exercise. In my opinion, Baker's Five Questions is a method to increase the frequency of feedback and improve engagement within a team - all good reasons to adopt it. The Five Questions do not replace an assessment of goals linked to business objectives. They supplement the process and allow for a continued dialogue throughout the performance cycle.

    Mind Tools Team
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