Ditching Appraisals – Step 10 – Refine

Now that you’ve recovered from listening to what your stakeholders think, you must include their feedback as you refine the proposed design.  You and your project team will review all of the feedback, and see how you can use this to modify the design.

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You have to be prepared to be open to the suggestions that you received and avoid being defensive.  You should also not react to individual comments, but rather to look for the consensus across the groups.  However, don’t completely dismiss these individual, perhaps critical or radically different views; review them equally with those that are in favour of your proposals.  You must check for errors in your plans.

At this time, it would be good to have a sanity check yourselves.  Check the underlying assumptions that you made earlier.  It is all too easy just to fall back to the original assumptions underpinning your existing appraisal process.

What you’ll end up with at the end of this stage is a firm set of plans detailing objectives, assumptions, new processes, the groups of people affected, a communication strategy, training programs and resources required.  You now need to start to think about how to pilot your proposed changes, if you haven’t already identified a target group.  Again, at this point you have not got the go-ahead to implement this, so right now, you should avoid building detailed plans that may ultimately be rejected by the leadership team.

You now need to get approval for the next steps from your sponsor or senior management team; this approval will give you permission to make the detailed plans to enable you to pilot your changes.  Show the management team the key features of you plan; share with them the results of your stakeholder meeting and how you have implemented the views of the staff and listen to their concerns.  You must come out of this meeting with firm agreement to progress further; you’re committing serious company resources the further you progress with this project.  You need the explicit support from management to take the next steps.

Ditching Appraisals – Step 9 – Stakeholder Feedback

You’re well underway with your project now, but you must take an objective look at your plans and progress so far by turning to your stakeholders and asking for their feedback on your proposals.

You’ve been so closely involved in your project that you need to know what other people, outside of the project but impacted by the proposed changes, think of the proposal.  They can help you to understand whether the proposed changes actually

  • have the right objectives
  • are consistent with the stated objectives
  • will be effective in attaining the objectives
  • be implementable according to your plans

These people will also be able to answer the question: what have we missed?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can’t ask everyone, but you need to ask representative groups from across the organisation.  Get together groups of people from across the company, but make sure that you work in bands within your organisation’s hierarchy:  don’t mix groups of managers with people who have no supervisory role.  You want to know from each stratum in the company whether the proposal works for them!

Remember, this is only a proposal; make sure that you start each of these sessions by stating that this is not a polished final product, and explain how you got to this new way of working.  Ensure that you address each of the bullet points above with questions that will help you to refine the design.  Make sure that you understand the responses from each group of stakeholders by reflecting back their answers and capturing what they say visually, on flipcharts.  You must avoid challenging their answers and not try to defend your plan.  You have asked for their input and feedback so be prepared!!  An even better solution is to use an independent facilitator; that will bring about a free flow of information from each stakeholder group.

This is going to take up some time.  Each session should last between one and two hours and need to be as interactive as possible.  Think about how you want to score the responses to each of the questions; you could consider making flipchart pages with 1-10 scores for agreement-disagreement.  Your stakeholders can use sticky notes to each indicate their individual scores.  Try to be as creative as possible!

My final piece of advice to make these sessions go smoothly is to provide the magic ingredient: TCB.  Meetings with tea, coffee and biscuits always feel better to me, especially when there are chocolate chip cookies!

Ditching Appraisals – Step 8 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

With the best will in the world, you will never rid your company of its appraisal system unless you follow my mantra of Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

You’ve embarked on a major mission to make a significant change to the way your business and its employees work, and now you need to start the charm offensive.  Having a strong communication strategy throughout the rest of the projects is critical to your team’s success in delivering against its goal.

If you don’t tell people what’s going on, and why its happening, they’ll make up their own story, and it won’t be anywhere close to what you want them to be discussing around the water-cooler.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With any communication strategy, you must try to put yourself in the shoes of the audience; your audience is not comprised of clones!  Different groups of people at different levels of the organisation will want to know different things and will have different concerns.

Don’t be afraid to use multiple channels of communications.  Look at the merits of each channel, and use it appropriately.  Personally, I’d avoid the group-wide email.  Communication is a two-way street, after all.  Remember, you are not trying to sell a new approach at this point, merely explaining what’s going on, what you see as the failings of the existing system and your initial design thoughts.  You want feedback here so that you can build positively on your design with some indication that it will be successful.

You should also be thinking about how different people will react to the impending change.  There’s plenty of reference material out there that describes the emotional roller-coaster associated with change!

Alongside the communication strategy, you should also be thinking about how you will deliver training in the use and application of the new strategy.

Ditching Appraisals – Step 7 – Start to Design

After a longer break than I’d planned, here comes the next step in relieving you, your staff and your company of the unnecessary burden of performance appraisals; the first steps towards a new design.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For me, this is the best bit, the part where you can have a bit of fun and take all of the hard work that you and your team have put into reviewing what is currently in place and testing old and new assumptions about the purpose of appraising performance.

One of the major challenges in this phase of the project is to NOT try to construct the whole platform for the future.  Right now, you need to build a framework, a model that lists at least the following

  • The underlying assumptions of the design
  • A clear statement of the purpose of the new system
  • The primary features of the new way of working that will be expanded in the full desgn
  • A flag to the business about which areas of the design may need significant resources

Armed with this high-level view, you can go back to the senior management AND out to the wider community in the organisation.  Remember, you want this new system to work, and work better than the old system, so why not ask for feedback on your proposal.  It is better to do this now, than to spend valuable business resource crafting something that the rank and file in the business don’t like or don’t want.

Listen to the feedback and evaluate it constructively.  It is important that you treat this overview of your design as an experiment.  You might even consider including alternative approaches to aspects of the design, but do so with caution.  Your fellow employees might regard these as a closed ‘either/or’, and that’s not what you’re looking for.

Remember, at this stage of the design, you are trying your best to predict what will happen when you introduce a new system.  You may, for example, predict that training all of the staff with supervisory roles about techniques to give strong, constructive, but non-confrontational feedback will enable the dropping of the annual merry-go-round of appraisal and review.  If this is your prediction, then state it clearly in the design.  Making this bold statement will allow your reviewers to challenge it, provide alternatives or to agree wholeheartedly with you.

Ditching appraisals – Step 6 – New assumptions

You will build a set of new assumptions in the sixth step of your business transformation program. It is critical that you get this part right, so take time to test the new assumptions before you move on.

Remembering what you have written in the statement in step 5, you need to create a set of assumptions that underly the new system.  Back in step 4, you investigated what the assumptions were that led to the previous system(s).  These were the foundation stone of the old process, and you now need to do the same for the new process.

New Assumptions

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

You should review the old assumptions, and use the ones that are still valid, build those that weren’t quite right and scrap those that were downright wrong.  Getting it wrong at this step. will lead to a new system that doesn’t quite perform as you intended.

Remember what you are trying to achieve is not merely a like-for-like replacement performance management system, but a means to change the way that the organisation behaves.  You’re trying to move away from trying to write objectives for individuals towards an environment where the individuals and teams can contribute their best to the business.  As your employees grow, then so can your business.

My advice would be to read widely about how and why our existing assumptions are wrong.  Read the books by Coens & Jenkins, Dan Pink and W Edwards Deming that are shown on my reading list, if you haven’t already.  These books, the basis of my blog, will help you to create a set of new assumptions, that will be the foundation of your businesses new culture.

As an example of the types of assumptions that you may have to change.  In your previous system, you probably had an assumption that read

“Line managers are responsible for providing feedback to improve the performance of their direct reports.”

Does this actually work in your new workplace, where the individual is really empowered?  I know that when I ask for feedback on something that I’ve done, I am then responsible for using it to change the way that I do things.  Would a better assumption be

“Individuals are responsible for gathering feedback ‘in-the-moment’ on their activities and use this to improve their performance”

This does not mean that you cannot provide impromptu feedback to individuals, or that if one person has something negative to say about an individual’s performance, that they must change immediately.  Feedback needs to be considered, discussed and any changes made with thought and in the context of the aims of the business or business unit.

There’ll be a bit of a delay to the next post, which I might write whilst on holiday.

Time again for me to wish you good luck with your business transformation!