What is Performance Counselling? Principles, Skills

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What is Performance Counselling?

Performance Counseling refers to the help provided by a manager to his/ her subordinates in objectively analyzing their performance. It attempts to help the employee in:

  • Understanding strengths and weaknesses.
  • Improving his/ her professional and interpersonal competence by giving him feedback about his/ her behavior.
  • Setting goals and formulating action plans for further improvement.

The concept of performance counselling is quite often misunderstood and at the same time, it is wrongly interpreted as a process of correcting or controlling the employee behaviour by giving him negative feedback in an assertive manner by his boss.

It has been the trend observed that when employees make mistakes or become unmanageable or non-cooperative, executives often state that they need counselling. There are some managers also are known to make statements like “I called him for counselling and gave him a bit of my mind” or “I called him for counselling and told him clearly that I am not going to tolerate his behaviour any more” or “I called him for counselling and finished him off”, etc.

Unfortunately, due to such misuse of the term “counselling”, it has acquired some negative connotations in the minds of some managers. In reality, such behaviours prevent counselling.

Principles of Performance Counselling

The development does not occur just because there is counselling but the counselling is a means and not an end in itself. The counselling given to employees could be an effective instrument in helping people integrate with their organization and have a sense of involvement and satisfaction.

For counselling to be effective, the following conditions are necessary which are as follows:

General Climate of Openness and Mutuality

If in any organization where the employee is working under high pressure of work, and people do not trust each other, counselling cannot be effective. For effective counselling A climate of minimum trust and openness is essential.

General Helpful and Empathic Attitude of Management

For effective counselling, the counsellor must have a general helping attitude and empathy for the counselee.

Sense of Uninhibited Participation by the Subordinates in the Performance Review Process

Counselling cannot be effective unless the subordinates in a department or organization feel free enough to participate without inhibition in the process of review and feedback. It is not a one-way process of communicating to the employee what he should or should not do but it is a process of developing dialogue which eventually contributes to better understanding on the part of the counselee.

Dialogic Relationship in Goal Setting and Performance Review

This focuses not on the counselee’s achievement of the performance goals he had set in consultation with his manager. It depends on joint participation by the employee and his reporting officer and it is necessary for both in goal setting as well as in the performance review. The counselling does not achieve its purpose without such collaboration effort.

Focus on Work-oriented Behaviour

The focus of performance counselling is to help the employee in improving his performance and counselling can be effective if the focus is kept on the work-related goals rather than diffusing attention into various other areas.

In the course of doing so, the discussion may involve other related and personal issues, but these are used to refocus on the improvement of organizational roles rather than on personal or general personality problems.

Focus on Work-related Problems and Difficulties

It is not related only to the achievement of goals, but also to the contextual problems in achieving or not achieving the goals. The analysis of performance, therefore, becomes the basis of counseling.

Avoidance of Discussion of Salary and Other Rewards

It may not serve its purpose if it includes discussion about salary raise, rewards, etc. Ultimately, the main purpose of performance counseling is to use performance appraisal in planning and improvement of the employee, rather than an understanding of the relationship between performance and reward like salary, etc.

Performance Counselling Skills

For the purpose of counselling, given below are the key performance counselling skills:

Performance Counselling Skills


One very important key essential of performance counselling is active listening which involves paying attention to the various messages being sent by the other person. In the whole process, the obvious message is the ideas being communicated (cognitive message) but more hidden maybe the feelings and the concerns the other person may not be able to put clearly in words.

To listen to feelings and concerns is very important for effective counselling and it involves skills that can be practised. There are some exercises which can be used to improve the listening to such hidden messages.

Asking Questions and Responding

The questions asked can facilitate or hinder the process of communication. The questions can serve several purposes: they can help in getting more information, establishing mutuality, clarifying matters, stimulating thinking. In the situation of counselling, questions play a very important role.

Some questions can shut off the counselee, or make him dependent on the counsellor and another set of questions can build autonomy of the counselee. Obviously, the latter will be helpful, and not the former.

Being Emphatic

When the questions asked about the feelings of a person, his concern, his problem, not so much for finding solutions to indicate and express concern, may be classified as emphatic questions.

It’s a very crucial task for a manager to show an empathetic approach towards employee but he has to do that and in this regard, when a manager asks an employee: “How is your son feelings now?”, he is not merely seeking information, but in fact indicating his personal concern about the health of the employee’s son and thereby expressing empathy.

Such questions asked by the superior help to generate more trust and the necessary rapport with the employee. Empathic questions create a climate of mutual trust and human understanding and this helps a lot in counselling.

Positive Reinforcement

The concept has been established by Skinner that any change in behaviour cannot be brought about in human beings through punishment or negative reinforcement, but only through positive reinforcement. To influence the behaviour, it would involve providing encouragement and reinforcing success so that the person takes more initiative and is able to experiment with new ideas.

The change cannot take place without experiment and risk-taking and these are encouraged through positive reinforcement.

Performance Counselling Phases

Performance Counselling Phases
Performance Counselling Phases

Rapport Building

In the rapport-building phase, a good counsellor attempts to establish a climate of acceptance, warmth, support, openness and mutuality. This phase involves generating confidence in the employee to open up frankly, share his perceptions, problems, concerns, feelings etc. The subordinate must be made to feel wanted and that his superior is genuinely interested in his development.


In this phase, the counsellor should attempt to help the employee understand and appreciate his strengths and weaknesses. He should also understand his own situation, problems and needs. Questions should be asked which help the employee focus on his problem.

Action Planning

Counselling interviews should end with specific plans of action for the development of the employee. The main contribution of the superior in this phase is in helping the employee think of alternative ways of dealing with a problem.

Finally the superior may render some assistance in helping the employee implement the agreed-upon action plan. Often good counselling sessions fail to produce effective results due to lack of following.

Performance Couselling for Higher Job Performance

In any organization, counselling is given by one who is senior to the other person-in competence, or in knowledge, or in psychological expertise, or in the hierarchical position.

In counselling-communication, there are three main processes involved influencing and helping. The counsellor essentially communicates with the counselee and this communication involves both receiving messages (listening), giving messages (responding), and giving feedback. The person who provides counselling does all three things and counselling also involves influencing the counselee in several ways.

By doing all this, the manager is influencing his employee in such a way that the latter is able to move in some direction. This influence which comes out of the process is of a special type. It is enabling the other person to exercise more autonomy, providing positive reinforcement so that desirable behaviour is further strengthened, and creating conditions in which the person is able to learn from the behaviour of the counsellor through the process of identification.

In the whole process, the third element, i.e., helping also functions in a similar way. It involves three different elements as the helping behaviour is based on concern and empathy the counsellor has for his counsel.

This helping behaviour is also based on mutuality of relationship; the counselee responds as much to the counsellor’s needs as the former does to the latter’s. Finally, helping primarily involves the identification of the developmental needs of the counselee so that he may be able to develop and increase his effectiveness.

Performance Couselling for Higher Job Performance
Performance Couselling for Higher Job Performance


The basis of the performance review is interpersonal communication in which both the employee and his reporting officer are involved. In a performance review, the general climate of such conversation should be congenial which may help the employee to be in a receptive mood.

It is always very important to keep in mind that communication is greatly influenced by how problems and issues are perceived by the two persons involved in the conversation. The communication may get distorted if people are not empathic to each other.

At the same time, they do not try to understand each other’s points of view. Non-verbal communication is as important as verbal communication because people speak much more through their gestures and postures than through words. The tone and manner of speaking is also important which may be positive as well as negative.


In organizations, interpersonal feedback is an important input for increasing self-awareness as it helps in reducing the blind area of a person, helping him to become more aware about his strengths and weaknesses.

If feedback is properly used, it results in higher mutuality between two persons. The processes of interpersonal feedback and conditions which make it effective have been discussed in detail elsewhere and in that condition; it is not going to serve its purpose.

Essentials of Effective Feedback

The feedback will be effective if the person who gives the feedback (counsellor) makes sure that it is:

  • Descriptive and not evaluative;
  • Focused on the behaviour of the person and not on the person himself;
  • Data based and specific and not impressionistic;
  • Reinforces positive new behaviour;
  • Suggestive and not prescriptive;
  • Continuous;
  • Mostly personal, giving data from one’s own experience;
  • Need-based and solicited;
  • Intended to help;
  • Focused on modifiable behaviour;
  • Satisfies needs of both the feedback given and one who receives feedback;
  • Checked and verified;
  • Well timed; and
  • Contributes to mutuality and building up relationship


The word influencing would mean making an impact on the person in a relationship. It need not necessarily be of a restrictive type to make such an impact. The influencing ineffective counselling would involve the following three aspects.

  1. Increasing Autonomy of the Person: Normally, the term influencing is understood in the only sense of restricting the autonomy of the person and directing him into channels which are predetermined by the person who is exerting influence.

    When we use positive influencing, it is the opposite of it; the autonomy of the other person is increased and he has larger scope of making his own choice. Even this is known as influencing but it is a different kind of influencing.

  2. Helping: The counselling is essentially helping and it involves several processes but the following three are mainly important.

  3. Concern and Empathy: Effective helping cannot be provided in the counselling session without manager’s concern for his employee. Such concern of manager is shown when the counselor is able to feel for his subordinate and is able to empathize with him.

All these would be reflected in the kinds of questions asked and the tone in which conversation takes place. The managers may constantly ask themselves how much concern and genuine empathy they have for the employees whom they are counselling but without such genuine concern, counselling may only degenerate into a ritual and cannot achieve its goals.

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