Performance appraisal in a coffee shop?

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It is rare that my wife and I discuss performance appraisals.  It wouldn’t be a great foundation for a marriage!  However, she came in yesterday evening and told a story of sitting in the coffee shop in her gym and getting to hear a performance appraisal conversation.  I immediately asked “sales rep?” and she confirmed my suspicions.  I don’t know the practical answer for people ‘on the road’ but the answer can’t be a coffee shop can it?  Amongst other things, Liz got to hear about the sickness issues that this person had faced.  Surely that’s not right?

Our advice is that you find a private place free from distraction.  There are many practical constraints for this – meeting room availability, infrequency of meetings, etc.  But a quick 2 minute Google search reveals that you could hire a meeting room at the nearby Premier Inn for £48 for the half day which suggests not a great deal of effort had gone into finding the location.

The broader point here is valuing that conversation.  Whether it is an annual review or an ongoing monthly conversation there has to be value in it or it would be better left.  And if it is valuable and you are open to a range of topics then it shouldn’t be held in the middle of a coffee shop.



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Leveraging the real power of 360 degree feedback – Webinar Recording

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“Creating the partner & firm of the future”

Co-hosted by:


To listen to the webinar, simply copy & paste the link below:



360° feedback is a tried and tested methodology for allowing individual lawyers to get extensive feedback on how they are perceived , for HR and L & D to generate data which will support firm-wide development interventions, and which if correctly implemented, will enable the firm to understand a true “the state of the nation” insight into how it’s structure, processes and culture drive behaviour.

In this one-hour webinar John Rice of Bowland Solutions and Jamie Pennington of Pennington-Hennessy, explore the history, process, and benefits of 360° feedback. The webinar will include real examples of what firms have done to make 360° feedback successful, and what to do to maximise return on investment.


By the end of this webinar we will answer these questions:

  • What is 360° feedback and how does it connect to performance appraisal?
  • Why should you use 360° feedback? What are the benefits to individuals & the firm?
  • When should you use 360° feedback? Timing is everything.
  • What are the common concerns raised when implementing 360° feedback in a law firm? And how should you handle them effectively?
  • How should you implement 360° feedback? What are the 4 key steps to follow?
  • Which law firms have successfully implemented 360° feedback? What can you learn from them?

Whether you’re considering 360 degree feedback for the first time, or if you wish to make your next 360° feedback programme more effective, you’ll find this webinar interesting.

To listen to the webinar, simply copy & paste the link below:

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The cost of cultural failure – or – the value of values at HSBC

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Many of us will have seen HSBC’s advert in the papers this weekend which gave their version of the current problems surrounding their Swiss private bank in the past.  I am a former employee of HSBC and it is sad to see an organisation that in so many parts had such high standards and values dragged down in this way.  Within the information in the advert was the staggering statement that the group now employeed 7,000 people in compliance.  7,000 people solely employed to make sure the other people are doing things right (or doing the right things?).  Now I know that people in compliance would argue they have a positive role to play but 7,000!

I read around the subject a little, and here is a statement from HSBC that shows what they see as the underlying cause….

“Prior to the acquisition in 1999 of Republic National Bank of New York and Safra Republic Holdings SA, a US private bank, HSBC had a small private banking activity focused mainly on Group clients. The Swiss private bank was largely acquired through this transaction. The Republic/Safra business focused on a very different client base and had a significantly different culture to HSBC. The business acquired was not fully integrated into HSBC, allowing different cultures and standards to persist.”

Telling isn’t it.  (If you want to learn your HSBC history, have a read around their acquisition of Household in the US … a similar story of cultural clash that cost them even more than this one).

Sometimes culture, values, behaviours come across as woolly, soft, ill-defined.  It can be hard to explain how beneficial they are when they are embedded and a natural part of a firm.  But when we see governance failures (banking, NHS, politicians) they are often pointed to as cultural failures.  Within the senior and high ranking layers of organisations the culture and values demonstrated and acted upon have been proven again and again to be critical to the success (or failure avoidance) of an organisation.  All organisations should attend to this.  They should talk about it.  They should be open about it.  And they should hold each other accountable.  And finally, they should be supportive of each other – particularly when short term pressures place executives under strain to break the values.

On acquiring Republic National Bank of New York and Safra, HSBC would have been well advised to spend a lot of time and money on culture, values and behaviours (or perhaps audited them before the acquisition).  Whatever the cost of that work it would have been better than billion dollar fines, 7,000 compliance officers and global reputational damage.

Those of us who work in this line should not be pompous or pious but we could perhaps be bolder in our beliefs that values, behaviours, and conversations matter.


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Are you better than the person sitting next to you?

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One of the lovely statistics out there (probably an urban myth) is that 80% of us think that we are better than the average driver.  There is actually a term for this general phenomena : “illusory superiority”.  Here is Wikipedia’s definition

Illusory superiority is a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. This is evident in a variety of areas including intelligence, performance on tasks or tests, and the possession of desirable characteristics or personality traits.

Now, there is a tendency within the 360 feedback market (and performance appraisal for that matter) to want to rank people against each other.  And anyone who has every debriefed a 360 report will know that many recipients want to know “how do I compare to others”.

Put this together and you get a dangerous mix.  The recipient gains information on how they rank (let’s not consider whether this ranking is in any way valid) against their peer group and potentially other individuals known to them.  Now, it is highly unlikely that this will be good news for the majority of people thanks to the illusory superiority.  Not many of us would take well to being told we are a below average driver, let alone that we are a below average manager in our organisation.  We certainly may struggle to be told that we’re worse than Bob or Jane in Accounts!

The only benefit I can see to this ranking is to generate a competitive instinct ‘to prove them wrong’ and to move up the rankings.  Is that desirable behaviour in a team – that we compete with each other?  I can think of very few industries or sectors where this is long term desirable behaviour.

Some things are best left unsaid and best left to pub conversations.  Creating a ranking of people will rarely lead to desired behaviours against an organisation’s espoused values.



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Busting Urban Myths – The joy of open plan offices

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5 top trends in performance appraisal

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With a diverse range of clients it is always interesting to see the changes in the requests made upon us when we are developing a performance appraisal solution for a client.  The requests come from the HR team, the senior leadership team, or from the facilitated sessions we run with appraisers/appraisees.  So, we get industry trends that HR may have picked up on, the business drivers from leaders, as well as the “grass roots” requirements that evolve from practical requirements for appraisers/appraisees.  Here are the top 5 trends in performance appraisal that we have seen in the last few years.

1. A desire to gain feedback from a range of people.

Distinct from traditional developmental 360 feedback around a competency framework we often see appraisal feedback being sought from a range of people.  We have gone from this requirement being rare to it being common.  The changing nature of the workplace, of teams, and of the manager-employee relationship has driven this requirement.  The common aim is to ensure a rounded and accurate picture of performance is gained.

2. A move away from the annual grade.

In the early days of Bowland this was sacrosanct.  Now, we are either asked to remove it or in our consultation sessions we come under great pressure from the appraisers and appraisees to encourage the HR team to drop the grade.  With inevitable conflicts for those organisations who link pay to appraisal, this is a hot topic.

3. Simplify

Letting the system and process get out of the way and allowing the conversation to take pride of place has been a Bowland mantra.  New clients and our existing clients are increasingly looking to simplify the form, particularly around objective setting, to quieten down the appraisal process and leave appraisers and appraisees with the energy to have a great and meaningful conversation.

4. Continuous feedback and continuous recording

The twitter and facebook factor.  While not yet being seen as a mainstream activity we are now regularly implementing the ability to “keep the process” alive throughout the year by providing performance logs, update sections, and other continuous recording methods.

5. Focusing on the future

Appraisals were very backward focused.  What happened? What went well? What did you do wrong? What is your grade?  Increasingly (and its a good thing!) there is a focus on the objective setting, development plan, and the future.  How will we improve? How do we achieve more in the coming year?  This is a particularly positive change that leads to improved conversations.

Carefully implemented I see all of the above as positive trends.  While at Bowland we will always support the culture, requirements, and particular drivers of a client we look to share best practice and ideas to help each client make the best decisions for them.



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