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 tips for keeping in touch

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Thanks to social media, everybody is “in touch” these days….aren’t they? Well, sort of.

Certainly there is now a burgeoning mass of communication – but it is conducted largely in one-way, remote broadcast mode. It is no substitute for meaningful dialogue and actual contact: this remains the best way to keep front-of-mind with clients and prospects so that business has a real chance to flow. So what to do – once you’ve “done” lunch or entertainment? Here are three ideas to help you keep properly engaged.

Get out there!  It is difficult enough to uproot many professionals from their offices to visit clients. But, if this can be done, why not go a step further and get them to spend this time on the shop floor, experiencing what it is really like to be at the sharp end of the business?  It is a point of policy for many service-orientated businesses that senior managers do this on a regular basis.  Asking to go along for the day with them could prove an especially powerful relationship and knowledge-building pursuit.

Come and tell us like it is  “We’re all so focused on assignments and delivering to deadlines that we rarely give ourselves the chance to look wider”.  For professionals this can mean understanding what it is like to be in the client’s shoes.  One walk for this particular talk is to get good clients to come and speak with the team about what it is like to be on the receiving end of your things.  The results can be very productive: like the startling revelation that a one page board report is all that is required, rather than the 100 page ‘whopper’ which regularly hits their desk!

Matchmaking for bench marking  This is about applying a bit of lateral thinking: looking beyond the narrowness of transactions at the key professional/technical or business processes that underpin the operations of client organisations.  Clever professionals are always on the look-out for clients in these important areas who display excellence and those who are experiencing issues or problems.  Why?  Because if they are non-competing, one party can learn from the other – and as the matchmaker for this bench marking exercise you are positioned strongly as a trusted professional for both parties.

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 improve feedback

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“I don’t think partners are as good as they should be in giving praise and recognition”*

There seems to be more trending than ever for the giving of proper feedback and recognition to staff: as an important plank in the edifice of employee engagement and a strategy to retain and grow better the Y Generation that is reaching maturity in the workforce.  Sadly, the picture is far from rosy when it comes to best practice.

Talking to an experienced colleague recently, she concluded that “probably no more than 20% of senior management professionals I have come across seem to really get and do it well” – despite feedback’s increasing visibility on the organisational agenda of many firms.  Part of this can be attributed to the “clinical, detached, analytical attitude”* that some of these people managers bring to it: small wonder perhaps then that 40% of UK senior associate lawyers in a recent survey regretted their choice of profession.  It isn’t all just down to the long hours.

Things need to change: here is a modest start, with three tips that can oil the wheels of better feedback.

It’s meant to be nourishment not target practice  Traditionally, the annual appraisal is the preferred and sometimes only forum for feedback.  In many cases, our detached brethren simply pull out the ‘rap sheet’ and apply forensic analysis to what the accused has done wrong.   This concept and its philosophy needs to move on and the clue is in the name.  Feeding is a process of nourishment, precious little of which occurs in many appraisal conversations.  It is time to really feed back to our employees rather than just point the critical gun at them.

Immediate, regular, committed  Contextually, once or even twice a year appraisals are not the ideal feedback medium, which is why more and more firms are abandoning such infrequent formality.  One of the reasons for this is that recognition has most impact on the receiver when it occurs as close to the event as possible.  If you manage people, when did you last tell a member of your team what specifically they had done well at or near the time it occurred? The best deliverers also build into their schedule regular ‘sit downs’ with staff to talk, two way, about work and performance – and they stick to them despite the heavy pressures applied by clients, work, and other organisational commitments.

Be clear and supportive  If you are serious about providing good feedback, then communicate to your team that you are and what your expectations are when it comes to their performance and the process of development. From experience, too many senior professionals never have such meta-conversations, often because they are not committed to performance management and development in the first place.  Staff are left in the dark and have to learn (sometimes painfully) on the job what the minimal contact rules of the game are.

And of course not all feedback is about a job well done.  But having the ‘difficult’ conversation about something that could have gone better – assuming it happens at all – should be about supporting the individual’s development rather than just telling them what to do next time: make it a chance for them to reflect on what they could have done differently.  This is about both mind-set and learnable skill/ability.

* Legal Week “Best Legal Employers” 2015

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

 

Three ways to use the proper power of persuasion

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“I don’t need to persuade anyone.  The quality of what I do is self-evident”

So runs the mantra for a number of professional specialists we have met. Somehow, the world (which includes clients and prospects who may not be able to experience the intangibility of what they offer) will see the light. Of course, most often they don’t.

Either this, or they associate persuasion with a stereotypical vision of the “pushy” sales man or woman – and may then try to “sell” by talking endlessly about themselves or their firm. Neither attitude works or is representative of the proper power of persuasion. This is an art that can be learnt, and which has some underlying basic principles: here are three of them.

Give before you get  A tough one this, in that it involves unravelling years of conditioning for those who have had it drummed into them that hours and minutes are ALWAYS TO BE CHARGED FOR. Most people want to return a favour, so if you give them something they will usually want to give something back. We have heard many variations on this theme when trying to attract new clients. “For the trial piece of work, deliberately, we gave them more than we were paid for; they recognised it, liked our attitude, and they are now a significant and very profitable client 10 years on!”.

Three more Ps  This is about Positive Peer Pressure. Those who do business with the public sector see the power of this one. Some people (in fact, many professionals) are better convinced to do something if others are seen doing it. The more local authorities that you work or have worked for, the more powerful appears your case. And in the private sector, if the firm’s name is associated with successful industry authorities (e.g. market leaders), then you can get a double whammy.

Seek out common ground  People do more business with those they feel they like. A large part of such liking is about the amount of common ground that is established between them. Successful professionals know this: which is why golf, cricket, rugby, football etc. are such common pursuits. Sadly, many do not venture outside of these, their own obvious likes. Successful networkers know that it is possible to establish common ground with just about anyone. But it needs this realisation and then practice to achieve.

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

Ditch those delegation dilemmas

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Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate…..in theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy for many of us. Those who can’t or won’t delegate because “it’s quicker to do it myself”; or who enjoy doing the work so much, and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

If allowed to flourish, the results of these behaviours tend not to be impressive. Overburdened, stressed-out task ‘junkies’. Wrongly leveraged and unprofitable work flows. Frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop and who leave. And in the worst cases, clients or customers who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.

The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable. But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, staff, or business ‘health’. Here are three principles that can help delegation work properly.

You can delegate authority but not responsibility*  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge. Doing it is the second. Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether it was a success or not. If it’s a success, we hand out the plaudits; if not, we take the rap.  But whisper this quietly – there are many who have made careers out of passing or avoiding the buck.   They are usually the ones that none of the rest of us like to work with or for.

Don’t sit on it!   One of the biggest sins in the people management canon is to incubate a piece of work, chicken-style (perhaps for days or weeks), only delegating at the last moment. This presents the poor recipient with a double challenge – coping with the work being delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.

Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action if “it’s an emergency!”. It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be specific..and the rest   Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough. Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure that you are Specific (it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted); that the task is Measurable (defining clearly what successful performance will look like and result in); Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is ‘agreed’ rather than being just ‘told’); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success – and it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally, Time-bound (with clear, specific deadlines and milestones).

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

* From ‘A Good Lawyer: Secrets Good Lawyers (And Their Best Clients) Already Know’ (2010) by Stephen W. Comiskey

 

 

Business tales from the festive fireside

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Instead of sending Christmas cards (or offering  a sanctimonious declaration of charity to which card money has been despatched), here are some  business anecdotes culled from the canon of ‘happenings’  experienced or heard about that may bring a Yuletide smile.  No names, no pack drill so the guilty or unfortunate remain warmly protected under the trench coat of anonymity.

I am a TIGER (grrr)!  Fans of comedian Steve Coogan – and, in particular, his 90s “Dearth of a Salesman” persona Gareth Cheeseman – will especially appreciate this one.  As preparation for a beauty parade, a group of ‘pitchers’ were asked to think of a personal mantra to say to themselves before they went in, to help them focus and calm their nerves.  Allegedly, for the next few days, staff at the firm could hear “I am the dog’s bollocks!” booming from the bowels of one participant’s office.  Another decided to try out different mantras on the cows at a farm and let them decide the best one (a moo-ving experience for the livestock, no doubt, ho ho ).

Professional sensitivity rules (not)!  In a negotiation training scenario, participants were presented with a disgruntled client who had been badly treated by the firm.  Time for a bit of judicious bowing and scraping and then sorting out the problem to save our bacon, you might think?  Not a bit of it.  One sensitive soul decided to give the client the full-on arrogant treatment – time to “play hardball”, as he put it.  “It’s not our fault…of course these things do happen from time to time…it would appear that you are largely to blame Mr Client” etc. etc. then followed, and not even the whiff of an apology.   Just the sound of a fictional client walking out the door.  Let’s hope as a result that he won’t try this on his real clients.

Conflict …what conflict?  Back in the really good old days of prosperity and deal mania, client conflicts of interest were quite a big thing.  And now they might almost be back in fashion.

Faced with one, good professionals communicate clearly and honestly with the client.  Bad ones don’t.  Like the firm promising absolutely that there was “no question” of a conflict if they acted for the potential client.   Sad for them then that the client got to know about a direct and clearly conflictual relationship the firm already had – by reading about it in the professional trade press!  Telling porkies just doesn’t work.

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