Your step-by-step guide to ditching appraisals

This post will show you the first few steps that you need to take that will allow you to move away from management by appraisal and substitute proper leadership.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll elaborate on these steps, to help you to see how change is possible.

Unfortunately, you can’t just stop doing appraisals and hope that this will improve your business. You need to think about what you actually want to happen, and then build a plan to transition from where you are now to where you want to be. As with any major change, you need to invest time and effort up front, to plan, to communicate, to test and to identify potential problems.

Image courtesy of Ohmmy3d /

Image courtesy of Ohmmy3d /

So, what are the steps that you need to take?

First, understand whether you really need to change

Now, you might find this an odd thing for me to say, as an advocate of replacing appraisals with leadership, but the key thing to any business change is to understand what the problem actually is before you leap into a massive change program.  I’ll cover the sort of things you need to do in my next post.

Second, senior management involvement, buy-in, support

You will not be successful in changing anything unless the top management actually believe what you’re telling them and REALLY support what you’re doing.  Remember, you’re going to be able to do this on your own and that business change needs resources, people, time and this all adds up to money!

Third, get the right people together

As I said above, you can’t do this on your own.  You need to assemble a team of people, the right people, to design what you’re going to do in the future.  Getting the right people together is critical to your successful delivery.  Don’t think that only this team of people can work on your program; this is the core team of credible individuals from across the area that you are changing.  DO NOT JUST ASSEMBLE ANOTHER COMMITTEE OF MANAGERS!

Fourth, look back into history

It is critical that you have a good understanding of what systems have been used before.  Understand why the current appraisal process is there, what were its aims, what were its outcomes, what did it look like, were there any underlying assumptions and how were these realised in what we saw.

We cannot replace something in our business without understanding the above points.  You might want to do this analysis of the current system and its predecessor, assuming that your business, like many, changes appraisal systems frequently.

Fifth, start to design the new process

You should start your design program by creating a set of outcomes that must be in place in your new way of working.  Review the original objective to make sure that you, your team and the management really understand where you want to get to.  You don’t want to set off in the wrong direction.

Sixth, review your assumptions

Just like before, you’ll need to make some assumptions about the new process.  It is worth comparing and contrasting these assumptions with the previous ones, and where there are significant differences, you should probably test them.

Finally, design the new system

The time to be creative!  Starting with your assumptions, the list of things that must be delivered, create some outlines of what you need to do.  You will probably reject some as you go along but, at this point, try not to reject anything.  The outcome of this process will not be the finished product.  You should focus on creating a framework that you can use to show to others.

Next steps

Once you’ve created a new framework, the hard work begins.  You have to translate your ideas into a workable solution that covers everything from communication, through training and implementation, to a means of keeping this system running and improving with time.

More about that another time!

My favourite leadership books

If you’ve read some of my blog entries, you might be interested to know where some of my inspiration came from. To make it easy for you, I’ve created a bit of a bibliography for you.

These books answered my questions about what was wrong with performance reviews, performance-related pay and various corporate management techniques that didn’t seem right to me!

Happy reading!

What motivates us

OK, so these are not my thoughts, but this video from RSA, based on a talk by Dan Pink is brilliant.  If you never get around to reading Dan Pink’s book “Drive:  The surprising truth about what motivates us”, spend the next 11 minutes watching this amusing animation from RSA:

A really good, entertaining summary of what motivates us!

What are your Leadership Styles?

This is not going to be the start of a step-by-step guide about how to become a Leader, but some thoughts about things I’ve seen that have made me stop and think.

What do real Leaders do differently to other people?  What is it that they know?  I believe the answer is simple: they understand the impact that they have on others around them and modify their own behaviour to have a positive impact.  They don’t use some standard, formulaic approach, they consider each situation and the people involved and start from there.

As far back as 1968, George Litwin and Robert Stringer published a book about “Motivation and organizational climate”.  Further work in this area, by numerous researchers has culminated in the development of an Inventory of Leadership Styles, comprising six different styles:

  • Coercive: placing an emphasis on immediate compliance from employees, good in a crisis, but dangerous elsewhere
  • Authoritative: creating and communicating a vision to employees and taking action when the work deviates from this vision
  • Democratic: asking for employees’ opinions to create a consensus view, but bear in mind that you can’t please everyone
  • Pace-setting: some might call this micro-managing, constantly monitoring and adjusting each employee’s work.  Not good for team-working and harmony
  • Coaching: helping employees to work it out for themselves, good for well-motivated people
  • Affiliative: making the employees feel good, but need to resort to other styles to manage under-performance and other issues

It is not enough to know about these styles.  Good leaders use a blend of these styles, selecting the most relevant style to the situation that they find themselves in.

Let me give you a scenario and see if you would do the same as me:

You walk into your workplace and it is a bit of a mess; maybe there’s been a big delivery of stationery and there’s boxes and packaging on the floor.  Shortly after arriving, a colleague burst into your office in a state of angry panic.  You have someone from the corporate headquarters visiting you, the Chief Executive or someone similarly senior, and the visit is today, in 15 minutes time, and your staff are working in the “worst looking office in the building“.


What do you do?  Panic setting in already? Should you run into the office and bark orders at the team (coercive style), in order to get it sorted in time?

You might expect me to tell you to stop and think of a way to calmly walk in to the office and gently persuade your staff to tidy up a bit.  WRONG!

My answer is, as always, “it depends”!

It might be that storming in there and ranting about the mess MIGHT be the right thing to do.  But you must stop and think about the impact this will have on them.  Are they likely to respond positively to this approach or are they going to be wound up by you passing on your anger at being dropped in it at the last minute, because that’s how it may feel to them!

How would you know whether this strongly directive approach would work?  If their jobs, their livelihoods depended on tidying up the office, then it might be ok; if you were trying to get them out of the office during a fire, you’d hardly be likely to take the softly, softly approach!!

In the absence of serious consequences, the calm considered approach would work for me.  Set the scene (authoritative), tell them what’s happened, tell them you’ve been dropped in it, give each of them a specific job to do to office organised (coercive) and lead by example (affiliative).  That blend of styles would probably get the job done with the least damage.  Once you’ve got through the crisis, it might be best to ask them to come up with a plan to avoid the situation in the future (democratic).

Now, what would you do?


Moving again…

Apologies, but I’m going to move my blog again.  It doesn’t really fit with my company website and so you can continue to follow my thoughts on leadership at

I’ll add another, more insightful post soon.