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Nudge Conversations - Waikato Branch Event Review

According to Linda Hutchings, ‘nudge conversations’ provide people managers and HR practitioners with the opportunity to interrupt declining patterns of performance or behaviour.  However, we often miss these opportunities, instead ‘hinting’ with vague statements about poor performance or inappropriate behaviour – usually to those around us rather than to the person concerned. 

Why do we avoid difficult conversations? 

We reflected that there were many reasons for not tackling performance or behaviour issues.  The number one reason was a lack of skill or confidence amongst people managers.  Other reasons for avoiding these conversations included concerns about damaging relationships, a desire to avoid conflict and fear of the conversation going badly.  While nudge conversations may be challenging for those initiating them, we were reminded to ‘pick our hard’.   In most cases the alternatives, either accepting and living with ongoing poor performance, or a committing to a long-term performance management process, were less than optimal! 

Be an Upholder, not a Bystander 

In initiating nudge conversations, we were first reminded to be ‘upholders’ of the values and expectations of our organisations.  We can do this by giving people permission to call out bad behaviour publicly.  Having a ‘go-to’ phrase for this, that we have practiced in advanced so it comes across sincerely, is really helpful e.g. ‘Let’s not go there’ or ‘Can you rephrase that?’.  Having a ‘come-back’ line is also a useful tool, as we should expect some resistance e.g. ‘For me, that wasn’t OK’ or ‘Had you considered that others might find your comments inappropriate?’. 

Secondly, we were reminded to take the time to check that the ‘poor performer’ does clearly understand what is expected of them.  Many performance/ behaviour issues arise simply because the individual and the organization are not on the same page – so it makes sense to check this early. 

Raise it! 

The most effective nudge conversations occur privately, with no framing (i.e. ‘Have you got a minute, there’s something I need to raise with you’) and center around a single and recent issue.  Linda outlined a three-step process for having a nudge conversation; 

  1. Say what you’ve noticed; In a conversational tone, in less than 25 words, specify what you are concerned about.  E.g. ‘Hey Tom, this morning I noticed that you were more than 20 minutes late to work’. 
  2. Pause/ wait; Be silent for around 45 seconds - it will seem like ages, but allows time for someone to reflect on their response.  Wait for the individual to respond with their explanation or excuse.  Anticipate the typical, smart alec or out of the blue response – and listen actively as the response is shared.   
  3. Reset expectations; Again in 25 words or less, in clear and caring language and ignoring any attempts to sidetrack the conversation (e.g. ‘But others are late too’), outline what the expectation is. E.g. ‘Hey, you know we need you here, ready to start each day at 8.00am or  Hey, party or not, we need you here, ready to start each day at 8.00am or Sorry to hear that – how can we help?’ 


Our session concluded with an encouragement to invest time in scripting and preparing for nudge conversations, to help us become confident.  Linda also left us with some apt quotes, that might be good reminders for the people managers in your organisation… 

“The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept” – David Morrison 

“You don’t want to save feedback until someone fails” – Ken Blanchard 


written by Sarah Morton-Johnson