Performance Appraisals; without follow through, it’s just not tennis!

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I know that should be cricket, but Wimbledon is here again and a sporting analogy between tennis and performance appraisals is always good inspiration!

In fact, any racquet sport will do, as the principle holds that a successful shot, bat, stroke or whatever is strongly influenced by the way the player follows through on that shot – He or she doesn’t merely get in the right position, step back, keep their eye on the ball, draw their arm back and swing towards the ball to make the shot….once they connect with the ball, they follow through…their arm swinging upwards and away from them.

In a recent article I read about how a company successfully implemented their performance appraisals;  the underlying theme that appeared to create their success, was the way they followed through on the outcomes of the appraisals – for example, they reacted quickly to the training needs that arose from the appraisals, published a clear training plan for all to see, and immediately began booking people onto training courses that were highlighted for them.

Their focus was clearly on ensuring that performance appraisals were genuinely an opportunity for reflection, learning, and in this case, development, rather than just an evaluation of performance without consideration of the potential.

Without this follow through, any good work could come undone, as employees would see the exercise as simply ‘ticking the box’ rather than actually delivering on a promise to have appraisals which serve the needs of both the organisation and the individual.

And that is what separates the top flight players from the rest, their ability to see something through correctly, every step of the way!


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5 tips on 360 degree feedback questionnaire design

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The work we  often now do before any 360 degree feedback system is delivered to our clients, is designing the competency framework from which the 360 feedback questionnaire will be derived.

We will work from first principles to ensure that the competencies against which the individuals are to be assessed by adhere to some key criteria; here are 5 suggested considerations:

Tailored to the organisation in question

Although many common themes may run through a competency framework, we believe it is far better to create the behavioural statements from scratch, rather than simply lift them from a generic framework.

Derived from the business strategy

The starting point must be to understand the organisational aims and goals – the strategy highlights those competencies which will be important to the organisation going forward.

In the design process we simply ask ‘What is the organisation’s Vision/Mission/Strategy?’ and ‘What behaviours does this suggest we require of our leaders?’.

Culturally congruent

Similarly, the competency framework should reflect the desired culture of the organisation; it must be informed by the values too – the behavioural statements illustrating those values in action.

Relevant to the role

A final set of questions should be asked in this design process which dig into the role of the 360 degree feedback recipient themselves, to ensure that the questionnaire is truly relevant to both the organisation and the individual.

We would enquire ‘What should this person be doing and how should they conduct themselves?’, ‘What observable behaviours distinguish individuals in this role?’, ‘What does ‘great’ look like?’.


There is often a lot of information to be collated at this stage, but carefully collected and analysed, the framework will start to appear quite organically.

It’s good to then have any draft framework validated by a sensible cross-representative sample of people within the organisation; ideally, some of the proposed recipients should have an opportunity to feed into the design process too.

Over the years we have realised that this stage is probably more important than the technical implementation – you have to get ‘buy-in’ and for that to happen people have to see the relevance of what is being asked of them.




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Fear of failure versus drive to win

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Prior to the England game against Uruguay (not somethin we need to linger over), Steven Gerrard addressed the players and according to media reports delivered a wake up call on the pain of losing at a tournament.

Prior to the tournament he – and others – had commented on the benefits of having younger players who had not experienced the pain of losing and so could play with a freedom lacking in the older players.

At the start of the game against Uruguay (I really won’t linger over the game) I noticed that Uruguay were agressively determined and yet England looked hesitant and nervous.  It is too great a leap to link Gerrard’s speech with this start to the game but I do wonder at the wisdom of painting out clearly the consequences of losing as a means of motivating the team.

When debriefing 360 feedback many managers and leaders let you see some of their inner fears.  John has written with wry observation on the difficulty of getting people to not focus on the negative feedback in a 360 report.  A British mentality rarely needs encouragement to spot what can go wrong.

When working with managers and leaders we find it more often a requirement to highlight strengths and look positively at what is a desired outcome and then tackle anything that is getting in the way of the positive outcome.  Strong leaders get us to look forward and upward – not endlessly looking over our shoulders for problems.  Being aware of barriers to success is much different to fearing the consequences of failure.

While the consequences of underperformance may need to be clear at work, I would encourage the majority of conversations to be around how we are going to be successful.



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The skills of a 360 Degree Feedback Debriefer

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Our last post you may have noticed, poked a little fun at the nature of 360 degree feedback debriefs; that being that no matter how wonderful someone’s feedback, human nature often dictates that they will always focus in like a laser beam on the ‘negative’ comments.

This means the debriefer has to, amongst many other skills, be able to help an individual see the balance in their 360 degree feedback report.

We have posted before about what the role of a ‘debriefer’ is – a debriefer being the person who sits down with a recipient of a 360 degree feedback cycle and shares the results with them face-to-face.

We suggested that the role of such a debriefer was to act as an intermediary between the recipient and their feedback report – with this in mind, we considered what the key skills of such a person should be.

Before the session begins, a debriefer should prepare adequately for the session itself – they require the ability to analyse the report in isolation and begin to assess what the themes are that are emerging, patterns that repeat, ratings and comments that differ between different relationship groups, e.g. do the peers believe something very different to the direct reports or boss?

Once into the debriefing session, the debriefer needs to be able to place the recipient at ease sufficiently such that they feel free to express themselves – We find this no different in many respects to any 1-2-1 interaction, but the key difference we feel is that the recipient understands the nature of the session i.e. what YOU are there to do, and that the conversation is confidential – if it isn’t you must say this though.

Establishing some position of trustworthiness is critical to being able to support the recipient through the process.

Not unsuprisingly, listening is an essential skill – actively listening to the recipient and gauging what it is they are really saying will provide you all you need to move constructively through the session.

A temptation is to think about what you are going to say next; how to solve the issue, offer advice, move to action or simply to ask another question…..resist all of these! Listen and you will know what it is the next step..


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Busting Urban Myths – 360 Degree Feedback

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Levels of Difficulty

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Do we want a great performance from England or just a win?

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Anyone else surprised by the reasonable reaction of the media to England’s loss to Italy?  We lost in case you hadn’t noticed.  But, for the first time that I can remember, the reaction was to see the performance as encouraging for the future both short term and long term.  This was similar to the reaction from the regulars in the pub I was in for the game.

If England fans and media can work out that performance matters as well as results – perhaps managers in organisations can?!

Now, on to Thursday … the result matters a little bit more and most of us would accept a drop in performance if the desired result was achieved.

Just goes to show that assessment of performance and results requires both judgment and context.

Now, “come on England”.



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5 beliefs for every Line Manager to hold which improve coaching conversations

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There was an unexpectedly good response to our last post about Coaching for Line Managers, which suggests to us just how important a topic this is for organisations.

Consequently, we wanted to follow this up with some thoughts about what beliefs can help a Line Manager improve their coaching conversations with their team members.

The power of beliefs

Firstly, we should consider just how powerful the beliefs we hold are; whether they are ‘right’, ‘partially right’ or ‘wrong’, they drive how we think,  how we behave, and consequently the results we enjoy or endure.

Much is said about ‘Confirmation Bias’ which is the tendency of people to favour information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses; sometimes we even seek it out, purposefully looking for supporting ‘evidence’ to ensure our beliefs stand up to our own scrutiny and disregarding other perspectives which may challenge these beliefs.

An advertisement for ‘The Guardian’ newspaper from nearly 30 years ago, was to my mind, a powerful example of how beliefs dictated thoughts; the image of a ‘Skinhead’ running towards a city commuter conjured up thoughts which suggested the man was about to get mugged; but he isn’t – my beliefs or assumptions didn’t allow me to consider alternative outcomes.

Limiting beliefs in coaching

Now take this into the realms of coaching; if I am a Line Manager who holds certain beliefs about my team members, it will affect the outcome of the conversation.

If for example, I believe that ‘Tom’ is work-shy, has a poor attitude to work and doesn’t give of his best; how might these beliefs manifest themselves in the coaching conversation?

One might imagine thoughts such as ‘Oh, here we go again, another excuse’ or ‘I don’t think he is up to the job here’ or ‘He is never going to understand this, I will just tell him how to do it, it will be easier’, popping into my head.

Suddenly, the opportunity to have a productive coaching conversation is diminished; I am failing to coach properly and I am robbing the other person of the opportunity to develop and improve.

Liberating beliefs in coaching

What then if we could ‘try on’ some new beliefs; liberating beliefs which held open the possibility of change, improvement and development?

Our philosophy when training Line Managers is to focus as much on what mindset will be most productive, as to what is a useful model or technique to follow; holding a positive set of beliefs will spark off far bigger improvements than any polished process.

5 liberating beliefs for Line Managers

We offer these five liberating beliefs as a starting point for any Line Manager who wishes to improve the quality of their coaching conversations:

1. People want to do a good job

Yes, they may be some people who are ‘swinging the lead’; but they are in a very, very large minority – People do want to do well in their roles, they do wish to contribute and make a difference.

Hold them in positive regard and help them make that difference.

2. Everyone has their own frame of reference

We all operate with our own world view, with ourselves very often at the centre; it’s subjective, it’s different to everyone else, but it’s valid.

Appreciate their view of the world, validate it and seek to understand it.

3. People have choice and make decisions based on the options they see

This follows from the points above; given their valid world view, experience and desire to do a good job, people are taking decisions which they believe are right for them and for the organisation.

Understand what options they see, how they make their decisions and help them broaden the options they see next time.

4. People are resourceful, are capable of change and have the their own solutions

This is absolutely fundamental; we have to believe in the capacity of an individual to find their own way, that they have experience and knowledge which can be drawn upon and applied to whatever new situation they find themselves in.

Step back, don’t rush to solution, simply ask the questions they might not yet have asked of themselves.

5. Performance = Potential – Interference (and Potential is always 100%!)

As offered by one of the key influencers within this field, Timothy Gallwey, this formula is a glue for the other beliefs; individuals have the potential to perform to the best of their ability, you as a Line Manager just have to minimise interference.

Identify the sources of interference, help them remove the barriers, be they internal or external.

These liberating beliefs will help underpin successful coaching conversations for Line Managers; this isn’t to say that they will be exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, a shift towards incorporating these beliefs and being mindful in the moment when having coaching conversations that they are being observed, will yield enormous dividends for both parties.

If you would like to comment on this or contribute your own thoughts during our free live webinar on ‘Coaching for Line Managers’ at the end of this month, then we would welcome your insight.



Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - Coaching for Line Managers



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Free Webinar – “Meaningful Conversations – Coaching for Line Managers”

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Friday 27th June 2014@1pm (BST)

Join us for the third in our series of webinars which will cover all of the key performance management conversations which Line Managers have to conduct with their team.

Following the first two webinars which looked how to set objectives and giving feedback, we now move onto how to coach individuals; helping them focus on goals, improve performance and to develop.


Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - Coaching for Line Managers


Our series of ‘Meaningful Conversations’ webinars and classroom-based training modules build the capability and confidence of Line Managers, so that they can not only follow a process that works, but This one hour webinar explores the key elements which ensure a coaching conversation is successful:critically they can approach these performance management conversations in a way which builds and preserves the trust in the relationships they have with their direct reports.

    • Takeaway our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ model which is fundamental to any successful performance management conversation
    • Understand the context for coaching; how & when to best use this approach
    • Learn the GROW model of coaching; simple, clear and pragmatic
    • Takeaway a template of practical coaching questions to get you started
Some participant feedback from our last webinar on ‘Giving Feedback’:
“Excellent webinar with tips on giving feedback.”
“Clear, concise, stimulating and interesting”
John delivered the session on meaningful conversation with great clarity and in an engaging manner. The audience engagement was heightened with great interactive tools of inputs and polls. Thank you”

Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - Coaching for Line Managers

We hope you can join us on Friday 27th June.
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When performance appraisals go bad…

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I read the following article on Federal News Radio website from ‘across the pond’ regarding a serious derailment of a Performance Appraisal process within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The performance ratings affected reward and there was significant distortion of ratings between those employees of different races, ages, by location, and payscale; in short, in wasn’t a fair and transparent system.

It’s worth reading through as a cautionary tale, which although representing an extreme case, does highlight a real challenge with performance appraisal processes which focus on ratings and reward.

The interesting thing for me was to note the comment which stated that “the focus for the revamped system will be on performance improvement and career development, “rather than some number rating”.”

This is the crux of the matter; when a number or rating, becomes the focus of the performance appraisal process, the ability to hold a meaningful conversation about learning, development, aspiration and improvement becomes seriously compromised.


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