The dreaded Annual Appraisal. Is the writing finally on the wall?

At last!  Could the end finally be in sight for that annual ritual dreaded by both managers and staff:  the Annual Appraisal?

"You're a 4" "Oh no I'm not!"

“You’re a 4” “Oh no I’m not!”

You know the one:  the meeting you both hope will be over quickly, in which the manager loads up her gun with lots of surprise feedback ready to fire at the victim when they start arguing over what the performance rating for the year will be.

And the appraisee’s only two questions are “How much are you going to pay me next year?” and “Can I go now?”

I read today that companies like Accenture and  GE are moving towards a more ongoing approach towards performance management which is being called Agile Performance Management.  Here’s what the article’s author Pamela Harding wrote about it:

“Human Capital Institute has just launched a new two day certification course – Agile Performance Management (APM). The course provides a framework for a new process that includes setting goals; helping managers coach individuals; providing more continuous feedback, support and growth or change; and bringing more collaboration that is social and faster-moving.”

You can read the full LinkedIn article here.

According to recent research by Deloitte, 89% of companies plan to change their appraisal process in the next 18 months.

I can’t help raising a wry smile. Think about the irony of this.  Some of the largest organisations on the planet have concluded (at last – what took them so long?) that having a formal annual discussion with employees about their performance and objectives is not effective.  So instead they are going to “performance manage” through ongoing coaching and feedback.

Correct me if I’m wrong.  AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO DO BOTH?  Isn’t performance management something you do all the time, through regular reviews, feedback, coaching, revision of objectives, reprioritisation and so on?  And then every year one of these reviews happens to be more formal, with a record of the discussion being made and kept on file.  It’s called an Appraisal, but it’s no big deal, and there are no surprises.

The fact that “Agile Performance Management” is being positioned as “HR’s next big move” seems to me to be an indictment of the way managers have managed people in the past.  Oh, and maybe, just maybe, it’s an excuse for consultancies to make a shedload of new money in offering certification in the art of managing people using leading edge tools called coaching and feedback.

Let’s be more constructive just for a moment.  Whatever this says about the way people have been managed in the past, it can surely only be a good thing?  If it works, and if this becomes the latest buzzword in the corporate world, it will make a difference and individuals will benefit.  If it does lead to more quality one on one time between managers and their staff, with a more meaningful dialogue and decent feedback and support, it will improve morale and engagement and maybe even make the relentless strain of being at work more sustainable.

There is nothing new here, only what should have always been in place.

Is your organisation planning to move in this direction, or is it one of the few that is doing it right already?

Let’s finish on a lighter note on this one.  Here’s an abbreviated take on the dreaded annual appraisal featuring myself and an unsuspecting colleague, Spencer Holmes.  Enjoy!



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Can’t write, can’t spell, can’t count. (My gadget does it for me.)

Last week I learnt that yet another nail has been banged into the coffin of human society as we currently know it.  The thin end of a very big wedge has just been inserted into the way we communicate.  Old farts such as myself fear this one will bring us a step closer to utter dysfunctionality as human beings.

writingThe Finns have just decided to drop learning how to write from the school curriculum (The Week, August 13th).  No doubt this will be replaced with touch typing skills, and the extra talented 7 year olds will be given additional extra curricular texting skills to equip them for even more effective communication.


This decision is the equivalent of giving up walking because you have learnt to drive.

I presume the next logical step after this will be to stop teaching them how to spell.  No doubt our gadgets will soon be taking predictive texting to a new level and we will only need to insert the first letter of a word for our device to fill in the rest.  Some pretty much do that now anyway.

These kids won’t be taught how to hold a pen, and a signature will not be required for anything (you’ll just flash an eyeball towards the item in question and it will do the rest).  The love letter, the hand written thank you letter, the Christmas card with the personal greeting: all are headed for the dustbin of extinct communication vehicles.  Some would argue they are already in it.  As The Independent comments:  “It takes a little effort, but writing is the nearest most of us get to an artistic gesture.”  Now we can forget artistic, think austistic.

This makes me a little gloomy.  In my own lifetime I have seen computers emerge from the mist and start to dominate our lives, and I reckon that by the time I expire they will have started to exercise a truly malign influence on human relationships.  We are already seeing it, and the pace of the takeover is going to accelerate inexorably.

Are we powerless in the face of this threat?  I think not.  We need to fight our own corner, encouraging a microclimate of real life human interactions wherever we can.  We should heed the words of poet Dylan Thomas, and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

A few months ago I felt a need to tell the CEO of a huge American technical company what I had learnt about his company’s culture from working with his people for 15 years.  I thought long and hard about how best to get his attention, and make my message to him more memorable and impactful.  Eventually I wrote him a letter, using a fountain pen, on some high quality writing paper.  It took me several goes to write neatly enough from him to read it, and to not have any “typos”.  It’s funny how quickly our basic skills erode when we don’t use them.  He didn’t reply (a month later he announced he was stepping down as CEO, so maybe he had other things on his mind), so I don’t know whether he ever got to read it.  But at least I felt I had given it my best shot.

So pick up your pen and do your bit to fight this off, people!  Our kids deserve better than this.



Posted in Communication, Life Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Greek debt negotiations: how not to do it?

The Greek government has until Wednesday night to approve a set of measures which appear to this simple non-financier outsider to be wholly unreasonable and unworkable, otherwise it gets shown the Grexit door and European unity is a thing of the past.

Millions of words have been written about this whole sorry process, mainly from an economic or political perspective.  I’d like to look at it through a negotiations lens to see what can be learnt from it.  It seems to me to have been an exercise in Trust, and a great example of what happens when this is missing.

The reason I say this is that whenever you listen to a comment made by someone at the recent talks the recurrent theme is Trust.  Angela Merkel said only yesterday:

“The most important currency has been lost and that is trust.

I’ve written before about Trust, and how it is the first and most important thing to establish in negotiations in which a long term relationship is involved and we are seeking a collaborative outcome both parties can feel good about.

apple-coreSo let’s have a quick look at why Trust has not been established in these talks.  I use the CORE model as a way of breaking it down into parts. Trust is built on demonstrating:

Competence, Openness, Reliability, Equity.

Good negotiators plan how to do this as part of their overall planning, and will work hard in the early stages to ensure these four factors are in place before moving onto the detail of any long term and important negotiation.  Let’s see how these negotiations hold up against this model.

Competence:  are Greece’s negotiators the right people at the table? Do they have the mandate to make decisions and commitments on behalf of the rest of the party, and indeed the people who elected them on an anti austerity mandate?  Do they have a track record in dealing with macro economic issues of this kind?  Have the negotiators done their preparation so they can make constructive proposals at the negotiating table?  Do they understand the importance of trust, and use the right approach to producing a  collaborative outcome?

As an outsider looking in there appear to be some problems in this area, to say the least.  Remember the reaction when Greece turned up last week without a proposal to put on the table, just a sheaf of handwritten notes?

Openness:  are Greece’s negotiators open with information, sharing the detail, opening up on the inside story?  Do they reveal their emotions and use open behaviours at the table?

TspirasNot easy to say, other than I have noticed my own irritation at Mr Tsipras’s permanently cheerful grins.  Having a negotiator with a reputation for being expert in game theory (former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis) might not help.  If I think you see this as a game, my first reaction is to become more competitive, and I will start by becoming less open with you.

Reliability:  Doing what you say you are going to do is a key element of Trust.

As I understand it Greece is seen to have not delivered on the commitments it made to introduce austerity measures when taking on the original funding, and I suspect this is a major barrier to success in these negotiations.  Failing to meet its debt repayment commitment last week was also a massive failure in reliability from which it will be hard to recover.

Not quite so cheery after 20 hours of negotiations

Not quite so cheery after 20 hours of negotiations

Equity:  Trust is built on fairness – give and take if you like.  Does Greece think it is fair for its lenders to impose austerity measures which will make it hard to rebuild the economy and cause real hardship for its citizens?

Judging by last week’s overwhelming referendum vote in favour of rejecting the proposal, the answer to that is no.  Conversely does Europe, and most importantly Germany, feel it is fair to be asked to write off Greek debt when the country is seen by others as having been slow to impose austerity measures and is unproductive and overmanned in the public sector in comparison with other countries?

Building Trust takes time, which is one thing they are really short of.  These negotiations have been an arm wrestle in which both parties have the power to do significant damage to the other.  The result is that Greece is now being forced by Germany to “prostrate herself in an act of doglike self-abasement”, to quote Boris Johnson. In order to stay in the euro she will have to sell off state assets and in effect hand over the running of the economy to the Germans.  Either this or face a “time-out” from the eurozone for at least 5 years – in other words get kicked out.

A sorry state of affairs for such a proud country.  Not trusted by others, and quite possibly not trusting itself to run its own affairs and make its own currency work – hence why so many Greeks want to stay in the euro.  The result of this lack of trust will be a series of compromises or fudges at best, with an ongoing set of rules and deadlines to be broken and continued brinkmanship no doubt by both parties.  It’s a result no one wants, and will be the start of years of bitter conflict, sorry to say.

Trust can take years to build and one reckless moment to break.  It will be some time before Greece can consider itself a trusted partner at the European table.  That is no good for any of us.


Posted in Leadership Skills, Negotiations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why performing open heart surgery on yourself can be a good idea.

Reader reassurance:  this article is NOT about IT or any other technical issue.  There are several other people on the planet better placed to write about that than I.  I know my limits.

Dysfunctional meetings.  Tool 2.  Knowing what we're talking about and why.On Friday I fired up my laptop and it froze at “Starting Windows”.  I waited in silent prayer for a few minutes, then remembered I don’t have an IT department to go and bleat to when my stuff goes wrong.  With a heavy week of training delivery coming up and materials to write, I had better get on with sorting this out myself.

I spent about an hour trying to research the solution via my iPhone, and found myself learning a whole new language, including “kernels” and “grubs”, and joined some learning forum about something called Linux.  Ahem.  Think I may be getting out of my depth here.

I decided I needed to be a bit more courageous.  The laptop, from its state of hypnosis, managed to offer me one option I had not yet dared to consider:

“Restore factory settings.  Note:  all files and installed software will be removed.”  

Gulp.  You are inviting me to perform open heart surgery on myself.  All of my business sits on this laptop:  my clients, my content, my finances, my network.  What if it all goes wrong?  Million of concerns, such as:  “I keep all my download activation codes and other gubbins in a folder in Outlook.  If I can’t get into Outlook because I haven’t reinstalled it yet, how will I be able to reinstall any of my software?”

I weighed it up.  If I restore factory settings will I pass a point of no return, and make things worse?  Conversely, it is at least something to try, and I can’t end up much worse than currently, surely?

I decided to take the plunge.  My heart thumping, I hit the Enter key.

Fast forward one day, 165 Windows updates,  and a lot of reinstalling, and my laptop is like new.  It has belched out all the rubbish, runs much quicker (and I hope virus free), and best of all I now know what to do to recover if and when this happens again.  I have learnt a lot, and best of all I have reminded myself of something important.

When you’re in a hole no one else knows even exists, the best person to get you out is you.

This was firmly impressed on my when I was about 25, on a leadership course in Devon.  We were down an hole, funnily enough, this time a pothole.  There were about 10 of us.  I was second from last in the group, with a course instructor at the back.  Until he disappeared.  The reassuring light from his helmet vanished, and I suddenly realised I was on my own.  I was x hundred feet below ground, I couldn’t hear any other human, the only light was from a weak lamp on my helmet, and the tunnel had just narrowed down so you had to crawl on your belly.  I felt ahead with my hand and realised the next challenge was to put my head underwater, without knowing how long for.

Thought about calling out, realised it was pointless, and paused to think for a moment.  Two choices:  wait until they realised I was missing (hopefully), or keep going.  I chose to keep going.

Fear of the unknown often holds us back, and makes us reliant on others.  Sometimes the best way to grow is to take the risk.  Maybe you have more potential than you realise?  This is something I keep telling the people I work with in training rooms.  It’s not something I practice enough on myself.

What might you be telling yourself you could never do?  How about suspending that thought, just this once?  Go on, I dare you!

Posted in Life Skills, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why were you born? And what if you haven’t worked that out yet?

“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Thank you Mark Twain, that has to be the best quote I have heard this year.

Looking back at my professional life, I can see that I spent much of it drifting, waiting for something to happen, and feeling mildly bemused at the question at the back of my mind:  “What’s the point?”  I managed to survive 14 years in corporate land in a range of reasonably well paid jobs in sales and marketing, without ever getting round to considering what the point was. What difference did I make, and why should anyone care?

Thank goodness they laid me off in my mid thirties before it was too late, and I woke up with a jolt.  I got lucky and moved into the learning and development world, where I discovered I could genuinely help people to cope with the stresses and strains of professional life, and that it made a tangible and in some cases immediate difference.  I started to discover that most people have far more potential than they realise, and that helping them to unlock it is a fulfilling and worthwhile thing to do.

I have an answer, at least, to the question of why I was born.  To help others fulfil their potential.

It won’t change the course of history, but for some people my help is significant.  I know because they tell me.  For me that’s enough.

Many of the people I work with have not worked out the answer to their “Why”.  They work long days, often feeling overwhelmed with what is asked of them.  They have increasingly fragile relationships at home because of the intrusion of work into their private lives.  And all for what?  I recently heard a Director telling a group: “We no longer have a work-life balance to manage.  We need to manage our work-life integration.”  Gulp.

I remember having dinner once with a middle manager who was about to hand in her resignation.  “I realise I’ve been burning myself out for the last 5 years trying to improve a customer invoicing process,” she told me.

I’m not dissing the contribution people make at work, many of whose jobs are of course repetitive, mundane, non negotiable and so on.  But if there is no meaning to them, that’s all they are.  Stuff.  A means to a pay cheque.  For those of us in leadership positions, how do you expect to motivate and inspire your people, if you’re not sure what the point is either?

SimonSinek_readSo how do you do about injecting meaning into your professional life?  Have a read of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” for a start, that should prompt some ideas.  Allow yourself to consider for a moment (a problem, I know, you don’t have a moment do you?), the bigger picture.

Where does your contribution fit in?  What happens if you succeed?  What happens if you fail?  And why should anybody care?

Or take it to the next level.  Ask yourself what your legacy is going to be.  What do you want to see engraved on your headstone when you die?

“He delivered the best customer satisfaction results in the south west two years running.”  I think not.

For further thought provoking material on this, I recommend Stephen Covey’s “The 8th Habit: from effectiveness to greatness.”    

You may have heard the story about President Kennedy’s visit to NASA in the 1960’s.  Whether it’s true or not, it makes the point nicely:

Kennedy toured the complex and met a man in overalls. “What do you do here?” he asked. The man replied, “I’m earning a living.” Kennedy nodded and moved on. He met another man in overalls and asked him the same question. “I clean away all the rubbish,” the man said. Kennedy smiled and strode on until he met another man in overalls and put the same question again. This time a big smile came across the face of the man who replied, “Mr President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

At a leadership workshop recently a finance manager spent some time considering his “why”, and came up with this:

“My purpose is to make finance easy”.

Genius.  A reason to get up in the morning and have something to work towards.

I’d love to know what your “Why” is – please share!

Posted in Leadership Skills, Life Skills, Time Management | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why it’s so hard to lead when you’re scared

I was recently working with a group of senior leaders on a leadership programme.  On the first day they came across as on message, did well in the various activities and we had plenty of lively debate.

Bad-smell1But something was missing.  It felt like they were holding me at arm’s length, not really opening up.  Talking a good game, but there was a whiff of something malodorous in the air.

Next morning I decided to see if they would open up on this.  I told them I didn’t think they were playing straight with me.  I was confronting them, but in a nice way.  I use language along the lines of “I have an itch and with your permission would like to scratch it”.

Fortunately they decided to play ball (maybe because I had taken a risk myself in confronting them), and someone said it was because they didn’t trust each other.

When pushed it became clear that part of the problem was that the boss was in the room.

We then did a couple of activities which examine Trust, and saw for ourselves how their mutual lack of trust led to weak results.  They operated in silos, and missed all sorts of opportunities for collaboration and creative win/win.  Their conclusion was that back at work this lack of trust is real, and makes a real difference to results.

Imagine you’re the boss in this situation.  Your top people have revealed that they don’t trust each other and they don’t trust you enough to open up and be real with each other.  Relationships lack authenticity, energy is low and results are weak.  What can you do about it?

To his credit, the boss tried something, and it worked.  He told a story.

He told us about the charity work he used to do in Africa, and how he learnt there that in general people treat the Africans like children.  When they treat them as Adults the results are far more sustainable and rewarding.  He had realised from this leadership workshop that he has been treating his team like children, and that he needs to treat them as Adults, as he used to do in Africa.  He became quite emotional as he told the story, and displayed some vulnerability.

Others in the room then followed suit, and as they did so you could almost see the layers of fakery peeling away, and sense how relationships were immediately becoming more real.  Trust began to develop right before our eyes.

This experience reminded me of two things:

1.  If you’re scared it’s hard to trust other people, and if you don’t trust them it’s hard to be yourself.  If you are not true to yourself, it’s pretty hard to be a convincing leader.

2.  To build trust you need to make the first move.  Take the risk, remove the first layer.  Others may often then reciprocate, and you can jointly work towards more openness.

All the above, by the way, flies in the face of the advice you would be given in you were in the US Military, and quite possibly any military organisation, I guess.  There you are taught to hide your vulnerabilities, which would otherwise be seen as a sign of weakness.  Organisations which have a military-style culture find it hard to develop a coaching culture, because being coached is seen as displaying a vulnerability.

I think this may be part of the explanation as to why Trust was so hard for the people I’m telling you about today – their historical roots which had distinct military-style origins.

Here is  Colin Powell talking about how he was taught to deal with vulnerability.

How vulnerable are you allowed to be in your organisation, and what are the consequences?  What would happen if you were to open up with someone where you want to develop trust?


Posted in Leadership Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments