To appraise or apprize?


appraise [15th century. Alteration of apprize, after praise]

“But 37% of staff thought their annual appraisal was a waste of time”  from CIPD report on PwC Performance Management Research, 30 July 2015

These days doing the annual appraisal is pretty widely criticised and more and more condemned outright.  But, whether you like it or not, it is still with us in many organisations and will remain for some time to come.

Much of the criticism is levied at poor practice. For there are those appraisers who forget the origin of the word, embarking solely upon a ruthless dissection of just what is wrong with the individuals they assess. If they ever get around to conducting them, there are others who just treat the process as an annoying, time-consuming distraction from “real work”. Either way, the result can be dysfunctional to job, personal improvement, and motivation.

From the archive of “appraisal systems we have known (but not loved)”, here are three observations to help them go better…assuming they are still with you.

Not scoring the ‘own goal’   Let’s start with a modest assertion of opinion. Any appraisal system that has a detailed method of scoring people performance (one to 5, one to 10, one to 100 etc.) is probably doomed to failure. No doubt someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to put numbers on it, to make this touchy-feely stuff more concrete, to have a ‘real’ basis for salary or bonus awards etc. In practice, all it does is highlight the essential subjectivity of people assessing other people – in a way that can be fundamentally divisive (“Why did she get 3.5 and I only got 3? I’m much better than her at it!”).

No specifics   Nowadays, firms have their competency frameworks that appear to highlight the issues to be covered; except that participants can then fall prey to the phenomenon known as Woolly Aims.   To succeed, any development aim must at least be specific and measurable enough. It’s the difference between these two: 

“Attend more seminars and networking events” 

“Attend at least six networking events over the next six months to generate at least nine new meaningful contacts”   

Remember…it’s apprize   It is what happens after praise that is as important as the appraisal itself – maybe more so. Too many appraisers can treat appraisals like the drawing up of business or marketing plans – once a year phenomena that are left to gather dust until the ‘season’ comes round again. Even if your system contains review stages built in, they are ignored. The best appraisers can see (or are shown!) the consequences of their inaction in this respect, and build in an interest in their staff and what specific aims they have been set on a frequent, regular basis.

James Newberry is a coach and trainer who helps professionals lead and manage better and do more business.  Have a look at to know more.

Three rules for networking excellence


If there is one subject guaranteed to get the business development discussion juices flowing, then that is networking. Given that much of a typical firm’s promotional focus can be devoted to this activity, we are not surprised. Unfortunately, it remains a source of frustration to many. If only they could do it better, then we might gain more new clients. If only the professionals wouldn’t see it as a peripheral activity not worthy of much effort. If only, we could even get them all to turn up on time!  Here are three simple questions to ask/things to remember that can help develop your excellence.

Why am I here?  An existential question related to networking. Sadly, many professionals we come across never feel any of its angst – and that’s the problem. If they did, they might think harder about the time they waste at expensively-staged seminars catching up on office gossip or just looking vacant or lost. Good networkers know why they are there (nine times out of 10 to make contact with prospective clients or contacts) and act upon it; good networking firms drum this into their professionals, train them, and give them measurable aims to achieve.

Do they know about us?  One of the biggest barriers to excellence in a room full of people you don’t know is your knowledge – or rather the lack of it – about your own organisation!  As firms get more and more specialised, so diminishes the ability of their people to talk (and show an interest in things) outside of their own specialist box. So choose two types for your front-line networking teams: those with a broad enough knowledge of what you do to talk credibly (without being an in-depth expert), and/or those with enough knowledge of “the man or woman who can” to allow them easily to refer a prospect.

Trust me, I’m an…, lawyer, surveyor, consultant, attorney, engineer whatever. And we wonder why no-one finds us interesting!  The best networkers that we have met put real thought into how they are going to make a vital first impression, before they get in the room. They make what they do sound interesting, even intriguing, because they know that they have only a few seconds in which to make an impact.

James Newberry is a coach and trainer who helps professionals do more business.  Have a look at to know more.

Three “becauses” that stifle selling


“We’ve got all these services…why can’t we sell more of them?”

This continues to be the ‘cri de coeur’ of many senior partners or directors in professional firms (and indeed much more widely).  Instead of being a revenue and profit multiplier, the inability of their professionals to spot and capitalise on opportunities to gain more work for colleagues – even from satisfied existing clients – has ruined the reasonable pretensions of many a good business plan.

Why?  Well, it comes down to some fundamental ‘becauses’ that can win the day if not addressed.  Here are three of the big ones and some food for thought and action if they are to be overcome successfully.

Because they don’t ask  This is a classic manifestation at networking events.  Professionals talk to (or rather at) prospects or contacts, seemingly unable to move outside their own narrow specialism – because they don’t feel confident or equipped to ask the right questions.

To get them client-curious usually requires a three-pillared approach: “upknowledging” so that they understand enough about what other departments do; “upskilling” to give them the selling tools to engage contacts without boring or being a put-off; and “upmotivating” to provide the encouragement and stimulus that helps overcome reticence: which leads us directly to…

Because they aren’t rewarded  “It was my contact, I had done all the ground work, but the partner just muscled in at the end, took it over…..and claimed it!”

Yes, this sort of thing should not happen….but it does and is corrosive because it stifles exploitation of the huge contact base and pool of work available to firms from the managers, associates and others who operate below senior level.

Fundamentally, it’s a leadership issue for partners and directors who have to accept that their job is to facilitate the growth of their business through others as much as themselves: no egos or personal fiefdoms.  That means encouraging and publicly praising the selling efforts and achievements of the people they manage.  It is also a firm-wide issue to ensure that the reward systems for cross selling at all levels are in place, work effectively for everyone, and are not exploited detrimentally: which leads us in turn to……

Because it’s not on the agenda ….systemic issues.  Cross selling success (or the lack of it) is one of the best measures of how open your firm’s culture really is.  It requires trust in colleagues and more leadership at all levels of seniority – both to support best practice and be uncompromising when it comes to addressing negative or self-seeking behaviours.

Without such bravery, the “becauses” will be victorious.  Do they succeed in your firm?