Internal communicators are no longer in the business of creating information – we are in the business of creating conversation. I said this to a listserve with which I participate recently and was bombarded with supportive replies.

It’s true. Our role is changing, technology is changing and the demands of the market are changing. I was reminded today that Cluetrain Manifesto was really the first to get us focused on conversation. Conversation is what we endeavor to generate, not just awareness or even buy-in. It’s true of the market and it’s true in internal communication.

Nowhere am I realizing this more than with performance management. Eloquor is helping a client with performance management right now. They are challenged to get employees to really engage with the program.

An article in the Wall Street Journal recently debunked the entire process. But, let’s face it, you have to have a way to set expectations, work on goals and realize success. I think there is still a strong argument for performance management programs. We just have to make them more about conversation than about ratings and measurement.

Performance management is really about those small conversations that happen throughout the year on an ongoing basis. It’s not really about the singular, end-of-year conversation when you and your boss complete the form and agree on a rating. The value is in those interim bits of dialog.

The fact that we promote/hire people into management roles with no emphasis on communication skills is partly to blame for the fact that a majority of managers don’t do this interim dialog well. We also do a poor job of establishing an expectation with these leaders. For example, do managers in your organization know that part of their responsibility is to ensure the right development opportunities, tools and resources to help their people succeed? Some are surprised when told they need to clear barriers, provide resources.

How does one do this well? Well, it starts with conversation. A manager cannot intuitively know everything their employee requires to be successful. Dialog gets us closer to understanding. Some employees don’t proactively ask, so a manager must take the initiative.

It has become evident to me that providing incentives, drivers if you will, to managers to engage their people in conversation is crucial. Many simply won’t on their own accord.

How does your organization incent this dialog? One idea I’ve come across recently that I really like is the personal performance portfolio. Samples, notes, documentation of accomplishments, challenges, needs and requirements, that an employee can use to start the conversation.  “This is the results of the so-and-so project.” “If I had this the thus-and-such project would have gone more smoothly.” “I am going to need to learn more about X to really help this other team.”

Make such a portfolio a requirement. And, give managers a simple form to document their thoughts and actions in response to the portfolio discussion. It might be a great way to inject dialog into a compliance focused program.