Ditching appraisals – Step 4 – What do you know already?

Your design team’s first job is to understand what they know about the existing process for staff appraisals.

You must conduct a systematic evaluation of the current system, why it is what it is, what came before it and why it was changed.  Creating this review of the system and its underlying principles and assumptions is critical to the success of anything that comes after it.

Image courtesy of sheelamohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sheelamohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every workplace is subtly different, and it is up to you to answer the five questions that will give you the clarity you’ll need to progress.

What are the purposes, aims and objectives of the current appraisal system?

Care must be taken to avoid lengthy and unnecessary discussions about personal experiences of the appraisal process, and you need to keep the team focussed on getting the details of the intention of the process down on paper for all to see.  In doing this, you are allowing them to see the context of the part of the process on which you are focussing.

What does the current system deliver in terms of outcomes and experiences?
What are the features and characteristics of the current appraisal system?

Here, you’re looking for the team’s understanding and experience of the current process.  I feel that by asking these two questions together, you can capture more information than by asking them separately.  Encourage the team to think about this in different ways by changing the question to probe the team’s experiences.

You want to garner as much information about personal experiences in giving appraisals as well as receiving them.  What were the impacts of specific aspects of the current process?  What does the team associate with the current process?

You may get a long list of answers, and that’s good.  You should be able to group these answers into specific themes.  Hopefully, you’ll get a mixture of practical functions, such as ‘appraisal forms provided by HR‘ and ‘there are performance ratings or scales‘ and more feeling-based views like ‘causes apprehension‘, ‘focusses on weaknesses‘ etc.

The final questions address the purpose of the appraisal system.

What are the assumptions underlying the appraisal process and how are they linked to the outcomes and results of the process?

Here you trying to test the conventional wisdom that appraisals deliver what they’re intended to deliver.  You’re looking for the evidence that either supports the assumptions of raises concerns about the validity of the assumptions.

Again, one of the purposes of this step is to help some of the team to unlearn what they believe to be true.  You can use the material gathered here for wider communication when the time comes.

Now you’re well on the way to understanding the whys and wherefores of conventional wisdom on the use of performance appraisals.

Ready to move on to design yet?

Ditching appraisals – Step 3 – Get the team together

So, you’ve used a group of people to help you to sketch out the size of the problem with appraisals, your senior management have agreed to support you and sponsor the program, now you need to assemble a team to design the solution.

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, I know, you already have a team that started on this, but are they the right people to take the project forward?  You must review the team composition, make sure that you have the right people to represent the organisation’s views, as you begin to devise a new way of working.  There’s nothing worse that your team working really hard on a proposal, only to find that Department X, who will be impacted by your proposal, object to the change, or worse still, can’t work in the new way.

The hard part for you is that you can’t have 10s of people in your project team, otherwise you’ll never get anywhere.  You need to make sure that you have conduits for information to all affected areas.  There are numerous tools available to you to manage this.  Don’t forget, you can always add people to the team as you progress, but this comes at a cost: you have to explain everything to them, and you don’t want to do this every day!

So, who should be represented in your team?  Everyone!  Everyone at every level!  As I said in my original post, this is not an opportunity to form a new management committee.  By representing all levels across the organisation, and all functions that are affected, you stand a good chance of successfully delivering the change that you proposed to senior management.  One word of caution, however.  If you work in a large corporation, you need to be careful in building a team including senior managers as well as those on the frontline.  I’d limit the spread of grades to a spread of 2 or 3.  You need the input of the ‘workers’, as it is these people that are at the heart of any business. You need them to participate fully in the discussions; in the presence of the Senior Executive Vice President of Things, you may not get what you’re looking for.

Depending on where your business is, or what type of business you’re working in, there may need to be specific people, or groups of people represented.  Trades Union representation may be mandatory in some cases.

No matter where the people come from, you need to have a team of creative people.  After all, you’re designing something new.  You need to find the right people, with the right skills and personalities to get the job done.

Spend some time on this, get it right first time!  Good luck!

Ditching appraisals – Step 2 – Engage the Management

Your management team have been used to the ritual of annual appraisals, so you’ll need to be well prepared for this.  We’ve all suffered the misery of having a great idea for a project that has been dashed by the lack of enthusiasm of senior management, or by their casual dismissal of our ideas.  You need to know your stuff, be well rehearsed and be able to look at your project from their perspective.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You will need to keep your focus on the key aspect of the project that you identified in Step 1.  Don’t be tempted to try to sell the whole, ditching appraisals idea in one go, but stick to the key aspect, in the context of issues with the current system.  You have some data from the first step; use this data to support your arguments.

You also need to be clear about the purpose of your meeting with the top management.  You need an outcome from this meeting, and that outcome is their support for, even their signatures on a project charter.  Tell them this up front, so that it doesn’t come as a surprise to them.

The project charter should be a single page document that describes the problem, describes the objectives of the design team, the boundaries and scope of your program, resources and timelines for the project and how you intend to get input from others in the organisation.  You also need to record how you’re going to keep them updated with progress from your team.  It is best to do this by requesting one of them to sponsor your program.  You want this person to be accessible to you, but not to interfere with what you’re doing.  You’re asking them to trust you.

You need to leave the room with something concrete.  If you haven’t prepared a written copy of the charter, get that back to the management team as soon as possible, for them to agree, and sign off.

Remember, you’re not asking them for permission to change the world.

Ditching appraisals – Step 1 – Do the groundwork

You’re about to take the first step in the direction of abolishing performance appraisals in your organisation.  Before you go any further, STOP!  Think about this carefully:  is there really a problem with the system that your company uses already?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many people believe that they need performance appraisals to let them know where they stand, how well they’re doing and what they need to do better.  Of course, in the absence of real leadership, this may well be true!

Those people that have not read the books by Dan Pink, Coens and Jenkins and Deming, may still be under the illusion that appraisals are the only way that they can give or receive feedback, work on their personal development and career progression.  They also may link appraisal with fair pay and reward discussions.  Yes, we know that this should all be possible by substituting leadership for annual appraisal, but then we are ‘enlightened’!

What you need to do is to assemble a small group of people and consider the following:

  • Do people look forward to their annual appraisal?
  • Are there particular aspects of the current system that people particularly like or dislike, or don’t they really care?
  • Has the current system been revised and changed regularly?  New forms etc every year?
  • What’s the general coffee table chat when it comes to appraisal time?  Enthusiasm, respect and appreciation or fear, sarcasm and indifference?
  • How does the appraisal feature in employee satisfaction surveys
  • How often is the appraisal document or objectives document used throughout the year?
  • Is the appraisal honest on all sides?  Hard to do this when it is linked to pay, reward and progression!

You may not be able to answer all of the questions yourselves.  It may be that you need to do a quick survey of colleagues to get the full picture.  Be careful not to use such leading questions as I have done.

Once you have done this, try to ascertain where the biggest dissatisfactions lie.  You need to build some energy to get your project off the ground.  At this point, if you were to try to start a project aimed at abolishing the whole process, you’re likely to come up against significant resistance.  Break the project down into manageable pieces, deal with the areas of biggest dissatisfaction.  You can always come back to the other areas once you’ve made an impact in this area.

Once you’ve got a focus for your efforts, the next thing is to engage with the senior management, to get their full support.  This is a key step in your program!

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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ohmmy3d / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!