Three tips for good performance feedback

dreamstime_m_37755817Many are considering abolition of the dreaded annual appraisal – what could possibly go wrong?

Microsoft, Adobe, Accenture and now a host of professional firms have decided to embrace the brave new world of continuous feedback – and not before time.  Too much has been vested in slow, cumbersome, infrequent, and often poorly implemented annual appraisal systems that leave a significant population of participants feeling less than motivated.

However, it is often easier to state an intention than it is to implement such a new ‘way of working’ successfully. Why? Because providing more communication requires more of everybody if it is to be effective – a fact that we need to recognise and act upon.

Here are three observations that can help guide all performance conversations – whether you are giving or receiving them.

Do the 3is.  These are some of the new ‘asks’ if you are engaged in continuous feedback.

  • Interest – for some, annual appraisal meant being able to ignore people (as opposed to task) dialogue until absolutely necessary, usually when the paperwork arrived.  The new expectation involves demonstrating ongoing interest in your staff, what/how they do, and acting upon it in real time – e.g. providing immediate recognition for a job well done, without waiting for a “scheduled” discussion.
  • Invest – so explicitly, leaders need to invest more time and effort in the conduct of performance management – talking regularly with staff and providing coaching-style inputs for which some may need skills development help. Hoisting the “I’m too busy” flag will not wash.  Nor will exhibiting “Why are we doing this? – I didn’t need to be told” attitudes.
  • Inspire – team members will expect their leaders to prepare and provide positive developmental inputs that motivate them.  “Employees appreciate the conversation when it’s done right…where it is rushed and formulaic and is in quick messages that haven’t been thought-through, that doesn’t work.  But where there’s preparation, thought and intent behind it, it’s really positive”**.

Share ownership.. for the process and its outcomes with team members, making the new nature of what happens clear to them – and that they need to be thinking about and contributing actively to the dialogue and actions that you agree together going forward.

Don’t ignore metrics.  Measurables are still important to any organisation, appraisal or no appraisal.  But these are only part of the equation which should focus on the specifics of how the individual can develop and improve their performance.

** 2015 Performance Management Research, PwC

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three ways to start making simple sense

 

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We all want to make a good impression – so why can we end up achieving the exact opposite?

For example, I get to watch a lot of business presentations by professional people.  Good, knowledgeable folk who clearly want to show they can be of use to their clients, customers, or colleagues.  But they don’t.  Why?  because they forget the very simple things that help us start making sense to others.  Here are three ways that the good ‘uns do it.

Stop doing “big content”  ‘Big data’ might be a topically-thrilling concept in some IT-related circles..but not here. I have watched many lawyers who love to use big content – for example, the finer points of legal employment cases. Many tens of Powerpoint slides giving the blow-by-blow of it all.  “Look how much I know!” they seem to be saying. Meanwhile the audience slowly sags visibly under the weight of it all – usually before five minutes are up.

Think about them not you  Building on this first point, people are simple organisms when it comes to making sense to them.  Often, they just want to hear three basic things:

  • What is the point or essence that I need to know?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • As a result, what should I do and how?

The rest is dangerously large amounts of fluff that will clog up everyone’s neural pathways if we don’t keep their needs in mind.

Tell your stories  Quite a lot of professionals also struggle with a question they feel they must answer: “How do I sell me and/or the firm?”.  This can make them feel very uncomfortable – after all they are rarely specialist sales people who, it is assumed, should know this sort of thing.

But the solution is again simple and does not require specialist knowledge: “Don’t”.  Just show them how you have helped others to achieve or solve things – tell your stories.  They will do a far better job of marketing you than a million glossy brochures and websites or bucket loads of self-promoting blather.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three more plan tips

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There are indeed a lot of cunning planners out there.  So for you, and having written or reviewed a lot of these docs (the good, bad and the ugly), here are three more guide points to help make them work to the max.  This is important.  Well-written ones get read and have a far better chance of being acted upon.  Bad and ugly ones get condemned to the (digital) closet.

SWOTs that (again)?  Last time, I looked at how distilling key issues from SWOT content is crucial (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  But what if the content itself is less than perfect, ambiguous, or even confusing?  Ever read one in which the same issue or factor appears more than once e.g. it is both a Strength and i) a Weakness or even ii) an Opportunity?

For i), you must make a judgement call – decide which it is on the weight of evidence and impact and stick with it.  In ii), the most frequent reason for such a mix-up is unclear understanding of the differences between SW and OT.  SWs are intrinsic issues that fall largely under your or the firm’s control or ability to influence; OTs are extrinsic issues largely beyond your control/influence.

SFA your options   Once the plan has generated a number of real strategic options, choosing which is best to pursue becomes critical. The one that seems to deliver most financial ‘bang’? Or that you are personally most vested in? Here, the three classic strategic SFA option criteria* and appropriate analysis tools for them need to be used:

  • Suitability (would it work?): whether a strategy addresses the key issues identified in the plan
  • Feasibility (can it be made to work?): whether the resources required to implement the strategy successfully can be made available, developed or obtained.  These include funding, people, time and information.
  • Acceptability (will they work it?): whether the expectations of the various stakeholders will be met so that they buy in and better ensure success.

Monitor, review and update  I have jested about plans never seeing the light of day because they are too long.  But even if they are OK as a ‘product’, they can still not be used once formal acceptance has occurred: so into the dark recesses of the cupboard they also go.  This tends to occur in organisations where there is no real buy-in to the need for planning and thus no real importance attaches to its achievement.  It is just a “paper exercise”.

Good firms ensure such importance by adopting the maxim: “what gets measured and rewarded gets done”.  Performance against plan is tracked and monitored rigorously by senior management; partners and teams are held directly accountable for what happens (or does not happen) and what is (not) achieved.  As a result, funnily enough, plans tend to get reviewed and updated regularly by their originators and users.

* ‘Exploring Strategy: Text & Cases’ (2013) Johnson, Whittington & Scholes

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

 

Three tips to help your plans work

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It seems that everybody is doing it now: from big ol’ firm, departmental or sector business plans all the way to personal business development ones.  More or less formal planning has become popular with professionals.

But, as the saying goes, popularity does not equal success.

Getting your plan right – by avoiding the major pitfalls – can make all the difference between achievement and under-performance.  From experience, here are three things that can help.

Beware the missing – or illusion of – choice.   Having analysed thoroughly, a good plan needs to properly assess more than one way to achieve its aims.  Many do not.

Either such options are absent altogether – having started from a desired end-point (“that is what I/we must do”) and worked backwards – or they are perfunctory inclusions to create the illusion of choice.  Almost inevitably, the result compromises the quality of what will happen because these end-point assumptions remain un-examined.

SWOTs that?  SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) are a staple of nearly every planning process.  They are meant to be the encapsulated result of all your hard-grafted digging and examining.

But there are a number of things that can lessen the value of doing them.  One being that the analysis presented is simply a long, not very useful listing of factors – and nothing else.  Effective SWOTs must also identify the (maximum six) key issues that your plan has to address. This sets up what follows clearly and purposefully.

Big is not beautiful – aka plans that are measured by the pound or kilo.  Much as though you may have enjoyed detailing and crafting your beautiful vision of what should happen, sadly, not everyone who has to read the multi-page tome that results will necessarily share your delight.

Of course, there has to be evidence for the chosen direction, but the essence of a good plan is something readable in no more than two pages…..presented at the beginning.  The rest is what appendices are for.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three tips to get that net working

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So you are making connections in the firm to tap into the potential of its wider client base. What next? Unfortunately, some cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to helping dig out more work for others. This may be down to issues of recognition and reward. But for many, it appears to be about having the confidence in colleagues and in their own ability to ‘do it’ well. Here are three straightforward tactics that can help your cross selling and referral efforts.

Assess quality and gauge potential  First, focus on the best. Identify well-established client relationships with a track record of good work and mutual respect. These will be the most ‘open doors’ for your efforts and the ones most likely to succeed. Be wary of relationships that are relatively new or where there have been recent operational/other issues (unless these have been resolved to the client’s unequivocal satisfaction). Then assess the capability to gain or do more work with the client. Here is where a well-rounded knowledge of the client’s business, issues, and plans – beyond the limitations of an area or specialisation – becomes crucial.

Build confidence in you  To some, introducing others to their prized clients appears risky. What if you mess up? Combat these natural insecurities by demonstrating your competence, showing them what you do, how well you do it and what you achieve for clients. Then reassure your referrer and involve them in as many stages of the client dialogue as they wish – meetings, asking for their advice, copying correspondence, sharing proposals for input etc. And, if you are successful, make sure you put opportunities their way.

Use the 3Ps   And then we come to the deed itself.  Asking for a referral becomes about using what you know in the 3Ps of Cross Selling

  • Make the Preface (e.g. “I noticed that the company is looking at…”)
  • Pose a relevant question (“Is that proving to be an issue?”; “Do you know if they have xxxx advisers?”); and finally
  • Propose an action (“I and my colleagues in xxxx have a lot experience in this area that could help, would you mind putting us in touch?”).

The 3Ps can be applied in a wide range of contexts. But wherever they are used, you have to stick to the golden rule: the client’s interests must always come first. Doing this, we maintain credibility by avoiding random attempts to sell other services of the firm that do not make a real contribution to the client’s lot.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three tips to boost your internal network

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Traditionally, a lot of attention has been given to encouraging professionals at all levels to “get out there” and make contacts in the market place – and why not? – but with a lesser focus on the internal side of such activity. No doubt, many assume that this will happen anyway: but often it doesn’t….or at least not enough of the right stuff.

It has always been important to connect with colleagues in other departments or practices to generate more opportunities to do business with clients. This is even more the case now with renewed activity for mergers, acquisitions, team hires and the like, and firms getting bigger and more complex all the time. But whatever the situation, the whole firm has to add up to more than the sum of its parts to be successful. Here are three things that can help.

WHO do I need to know (more)?  Good internal networking is a planned approach. For some, the temptation can be to just launch themselves everywhere with everyone….quickly to run out of steam when nothing is immediately achieved. Decide where co-operation for your expertise and skill areas will bear most fruit and prioritise the individuals and teams that matter most. This is usually a long game, so stay positive and persevere if nothing instant occurs: and don’t be distracted by those who are most welcoming if they do not fit this bill, unless they are connected to those that do.

Let’s get visible!  From who, now focus on planning and doing the WHAT. You are undertaking an internal marketing campaign that should include as many relevant opportunities as possible to achieve exposure and face time – so stuff like:

  • Presentations: look for relevant slots (e.g. departmental or team meetings) to deliver short, punchy content – what I/we do, how we do it, who we do it with, what we can do together and offer you – or address relevant, topical issues for your audience and their clients.
  • Social gatherings: these could be informal or formal events, lunches (coffee/tea for those who are busy), one-to-ones etc.
  • Client marketing: take those topical issues above and volunteer content for the firm’s blog, newsletters, events, and other external promotional activity, making sure that your efforts are broadcast internally as well.

Give (as well as take)  Digging out new chances to serve clients of the firm through colleagues must not be a one-way street if you want to succeed. The two related essences of any good networking are reciprocity and trust: demonstrate that you are happy to share your knowledge and contacts so that others trust you with theirs. You will soon find out who shares this philosophy and are deserving of your efforts…..and who doesn’t.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three ways to make more time for Business Development

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Tougher times have created a bigger impetus and desire for business development in many firms – both in the pro-active targeting of new clients and defensive hard yards to “protect what we’ve got”.  However, the ability of some professionals to re-frame and re-orientate their time and efforts from an overweening ‘production’ or fee-earning emphasis can still be lacking.

Holding pattern, treading water, rabbit in the headlights – call it what you will, but change has to happen for these individuals.  Here are three areas of exploration to help answer the question: “What should I be doing?”…and a free resource to help you generate ideas for implementation.

Plan your approach.  Rather than bluff (and often worthless) exhortations to “get out there and sell”, a simple taking stock and priority-making is the most useful start-point for productive activity.  This should focus on the three trusty planning precepts:

  • Where Are You Now? (the current revenue/work position, constituents and health of your contact base, areas of strength, market-focused activities etc.)
  • Where Do You Want To Be? (set targets for contact and business-generation, client type, internal/external mix etc.)
  • How Will You Get There? (make a short-term action and achievement plan, with time frames, assistance/support required etc.).

A smart and varied mix.  Part of your action plan should involve a range of marketing and business development activities focused on the key areas for development (e.g. external business sectors, key internal personnel).

At this stage, many professionals can have a quite narrow definition of what constitutes productive activity: basically lunch/entertainment and networking events. Whilst these are very useful, they are not the full story. From observation of best practice, we have totted up over 50 other (mostly external) contact marketing activities that work. If you would like to receive a free copy of this encyclopaedia, email eureka@peoplescope.com.

Small chunks to make big ones.  Proper planning and implementation is about realism and the avoidance of feast or famine.  The latter can be typified by professionals who embark upon a furious campaign of business development activity that grinds to a halt the moment they become in any way “busy” with doing work.

What is usually required comprises a drip-feed of activities that does not, in itself, require large amounts of time but that adds up to a significant whole, so that even “busy” professionals can maintain it.

These are the so-called 1 per cents that sports coaches often tout as the main difference between success and failure.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.