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!

Ditching appraisals – Step 5 – A new performance management system

You’re now at the fifth step in your program to move away from annual appraisals and start to build a system that replaces out-dated performance management systems.

You’ve been through the first four steps outlined in my original post, and have examined what you and your organisation know about your existing system and its history in step 4.  Now it is time to start to craft a new performance managemen system.  But, before you start, you really need to make sure that everyone in the team understands what you are trying to achieve.

Performance management

Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is critical at this point to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve.  You need to take time to review what you have learned in the previous steps, making sure that you understand what ‘must be’ part of the new system.  Write a definitive statement that your team agrees defines what it is you are trying to achieve with performance management in the new system.  This would be a good thing to run past your sponsor, to make sure that they’re still engaged.

Finally, how will you know that this new approach will actually be an improvement on what went before?  This may sound like a strange question, but you have to remember that one of your predecessors in your company designed the existing system, thinking that it would be better than what you had before!  Think long and hard about unintended consequences of your new system.  Many systems have been put in place with good intentions, and the people that have used those systems have done their best to look good simply by playing the game!

This statement that describes your new performance management system’s aims and intentions needs to clear for all to see.  Refer back to it whenever you meet; whenever you add things to your new system, make sure that they fit with your statement.

Good luck!

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!