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.

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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.

 

To appraise or apprize?

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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 http://www.peoplescope.com to know more.