We are delighted to share a guest post this week from Jamie Pennington of Pennington Hennessy, a behavioural change consultancy working within the Professional Services sector; always thought-provoking, here Jamie challenges law firms to re-think performance appraisals.
Think about the feedback you got at your last appraisal. Would you have been willing to pay £1000 of your own money for the valuable career-feedback you received? How about £100? £10? Or would you have been willing to pay a large sum to have avoided the meeting and associated paperwork?
In investigating this question I have found very few lawyers who would have paid for their appraisal. So why is it so universally unappreciated? Why, in a society which craves feedback and a profession in which the “jury of ones’ peers” is taken seriously, is feedback not lapped up voraciously?
Let’s be clear, it’s not the appraisal process. Even though some firm’s forms and associated procedures may be cumbersome there are few complaints about the areas that are covered. Most firms ask the appraise to reflect on their own performance before the meeting,
The problems come because:
- Lawyers don’t like giving feedback.
- Lawyers don’t like confrontation.
- Lawyers (on both sides of the appraisal) are unclear on the usefulness of the appraisal.
- The outcome is usually indistinct.
- Nothing seems to change.
Meanwhile at HR Central the team is usually too occupied counting how many performance appraisals have been completed to wonder about their quality.
So what should be happening?
Your appraisals are supposed to be a measure of how suitably skilled and motivated your firm’s personnel are to deliver the firm’s business plan. A plan that cannot be delivered by your firm is no use, regardless of how great the plan might be.
A proper performance appraisal process is therefore the underpinning of the training programme; it indicates where we currently are, and where we need to be. Coupled with a competency framework (go on – ask your HR team if you’ve got one. Many of you will find out that you have ) the appraisals should provide the evidence-base for the investment in the systematic development of the workforce.
I know this sounds a bit like management-speak, but it answers the question “How do I know if the money we spend on training is worthwhile?” Without proper appraisals, you don’t. If people aren’t doing more of what the business plan requires them to do, the training is wasted, and performance appraisals are the systematic way to find out.
So don’t think of your appraisals – whether you are the appraiser or the appraised – as individual pieces of nonsense. Since you are a people-business the combined appraisals indicate how fit you are to deliver the plan.
So this is a call for honesty, transparency and simplicity in appraisals. What do you think of our chances of success?
Jamie Pennington, Director, Pennington Hennessy