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.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

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?


Coaching – some personal reflections

I managed to go to Trent Bridge over the weekend to watch Nottinghamshire Outlaws play Somerset Sabres in a 40 over cricket competition.  I saw Marcus Trescothick, the Somerset captain, running all over the field, having a quiet word with his players between deliveries and between overs.  As I was sitting there, I started to compare this to the pitchside “coaching” that is given during the weekend’s football matches.  I know that the two sports are different, but the players in both sports are all human beings.

What would it be like if a football coach came to coach your team at work?

I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be acceptable for the coach at work to shout across the office directing their frustration and anger at your team.  I can only imagine one outcome of “coaching” in that style having one impact: low morale, high staff turnover.

Outside of work, I am lucky enough to coach youth rugby and cricket, and have been trained by both the RFU and ECB in how to coach.  I’ve also participated in work-related coaching education, and both types focus on the same thing; observation.  I was never coached to shout from the touchline or boundary!

I do see this behaviour from the touchline, and it never seems to have a positive impact!

The good coach watches and listens!

In the work-related coaching sessions, I’ve been shown several different frameworks for coaching, some goal-based, some based on changing behaviours.  Whatever the case, there’s always one common theme around listening.  Listening with your ears and with your eyes.  I won’t repeat some attempted statistical assessment of the impact of body-language, vs the words that you hear, just suffice to say that, as a coach, you need to look as well as listening.  As an aside, it is just as important to take note of paralinguistic cues, as well as the words that are used.

As a sports coach, my training takes on more of the observational angle.  Watch the players carefully, to make sure that the technical parts of their game are right.  As a cricket coach, I remember being coached to be a coach.  Rather than classroom style teaching, we were encouraged to explore what our role should be in a very interactive setting.  We had all of the technical information on video and in books, and we could learn that ourselves, but what really mattered was how we coached!

Coaching at work

So, if the coach at work can’t behave like a Premier League manager on the touchline on a Saturday afternoon, what should they do?

In general, if you’re coaching someone to achieve something that they want to do, you should not try to solve their problem for them:

  • Help them to understand where they want to get to – Ask questions about their target
  • Help them to understand how close to their target they are right now – It is good to understand whether the target is realistic, or whether setting themselves milestones is a good strategy
  • Help them to explore the possible routes to their target – there’s more than one way to “skin a cat”!
  • Help them to commit themselves on a path to reach their target – how are they going to keep on track?

What you’ll note in all of these steps, is that the coach is there to help, not to do!

The coach is there to listen, to reflect and to ask the questions that might help you to understand yourself better; you will have to commit to your goal, and then you have to do the work too!