The challenge of being a more productive lawyer

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We have been exploring working with Lancaster University – we completed three projects with them in 2015 – and I was in recent discussion with them on productivity.  It is an area that I suspect some of our law firm clients could work with the university on the research they are currently conducting.  I read over a brief that was sent to me and was immediately struck by how useful productivity is as a lens for lawyers – particularly the partners that we tend to work with.  A simple definition of productivity within the brief is

a measure of the amount of output (goods and services) obtained from a certain amount of input (labour, materials, energy, etc.), or how well various resources or inputs in the organization are used to achieve the planned or desired results (outputs). At the simplest level, improvements are engineered by either increasing the numerator (output) or decreasing the denominator (input).

When working with partners who need to become ‘more productive’ the general tendency is to work harder and so increase the input.  The focus is actually on producing more rather than being more productive.  This can be culturally bred into the partner after years of being measure on input (hours billed).  It can be a quantum leap of effort to look to reduce the input and instead focus on delivering improved results from a more sustainable effort level.  Client demand, organisational measurement processes, personal characteristics, office norms all conspire against a focus on productivity and instead condition a response to work harder and longer.

The well publicised UK productivity gap indicates this is a wider malaise.  Our 360 debrief discussions with partners and other senior members of organisations often indicate that personal and organisational productivity is a key focus.  It is certainly something we will be exploring further.

 

Brendan

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3 key trends in performance appraisal

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In a recent meeting, John and I were asked what we saw as the key trends in 360 degree feedback / performance appraisal.   We came up with two ‘off-the-cuff’ and I would add a third below.

The first is a desire for continuous feedback to be included within the performance management cycle.  Often attached to millenials brought up on social media and feedback sites such as tripadvisor this is our most common current discussion point.  Perhaps not too separate from the age old mantra that discussing performance is ongoing rather than an annual event the challenge for Bowland and others is to reflect this drive in a considered manner that improves feedback as well as making it more frequent.

The second is 360 feedback being integrated into the appraisal process.  Many, if not all, of our clients now include some element of “feedback from others” into the appraisal cycle.  We see this driven by team structures that no longer have the line manager able to review/comment on all performance and a desire to bring the “how” of behavioural feedback into the standard “what” of performance objectives.  At Bowland we have long had the technical capability to support this.  The interesting area for us over the coming years is retaining a developmental 360 as a distinct exercise from an appraisal from a range of sources.  The two conversations tend to be different and the process should be.

The third and final trend we are seeing is a welcome focus on the conversation.  Our meaningful conversations model that looks to assist all managers deliver on the purpose of their conversations while building up trust within the relationship has reflected this focus.  Clients are seeing with absolute clarity that whatever the process, however frequent it may be, the best managers hold the best conversations with their team.  Accordingly we should focus on supporting that meaningful conversation as much as on the process that leads to it.

 

Brendan

 

 

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The power of a positive, encouraging conversation over 60 years later…

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It was my Dad’s 80th birthday last week.  At a family meal in a local pub near where my parents live my wife Liz said (as you do) “Well done, Mike”.  Now, for my Dad there is a bit more of an achievement in that he was diagnosed with diabetes before he was 10.  The British Diabetic Society (he supports Ireland, is very Irish, but will take things off the Brits!) recently sent him a John McLeod medal to celebrate living over 70 years with diabetes.

Dad then told a very simple story of when he first came to England in the 50s.  His older brother took him to a hospital hoping in a wonderfuly naive way that they might have a cure for diabetes in England.  He met a consultant who had this advice for Dad … “Live your life, keep working and stay fit, do everything everyone else does and don’t let this stop you from doing anything”.  That was over 60 years ago.  And in response to Liz’s “Well done, Mike” he told this story (first time I’d heard it) and said “And, I have done”.

For someone who has had more than their fair share of health issues, my Dad is the most positive person I have ever met.  Always ready with a smile and able to bounce back from anything.

Now, this might not all be traceable back to that consultant’s positive message but it is interesting that Dad has held that conversation for all that time.   A positive, encouraging conversation will always have a better effect than a critical one.  At times we need a balance but positive, encouraging wins overall.

 

Brendan

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The hot water that softens a carrot will harden an egg

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On a recommendation, I am currently reading “How will you measure your life” by Clayton Christensen.  Yesterday evening I came across these words of wisdom – the context was how you may have two children and they may respond very differently to your parenting.  Something I think most of us with more than one child will recognise as the “how have we raised such different kids?” moment!  But it immediately struck me as a wonderful summary of the blind spot we see in leaders/managers who struggle to manage a team as they apply one management style and communication to all team members.

I’m not sure the metaphor will stand up to much stretching but thinking of your team members as very different individuals who are looking for different things from you and requiring different styles of support and guidance is useful. And frankly, its a great metaphor so I’m going to use it anyway!

 

Brendan

 

 

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Should we call it something other than 360?

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One of the major trends for us over the past few years has been the inclusion of feedback from a range of people as part of the performance appraisal process.  From a software perspective we have an integrated system so it may be that we see more of this because competitor’s don’t have the same capability but it does look to be a broader trend in the market.

If we look back 10 years, 360 feedback was something quite specific.  There were strong arguments in research and practice that it worked best when it was developmental.  It was built around competencies and behaviours and was something quite different from appraisal.  We continue to consult, debrief, and provide the software for “360″ but is it the same as the performance appraisal activity?

Often, as short hand, 360 feedback is used to mean any feedback that is received from a range of people.  So, we too will refer to a client’s appraisal system making use of 360 feedback.  But, I wonder did we lose something in the merger?

Gaining input into the performance review process from a range of people often makes sense.  Organisational structures, geographical locations, team-based and project based working all mitigate against the manager having the full picture.  Yet, the feedback has a different context when it is linked to appraisal and particularly when it is linked directly or indirectly to remuneration.

There is something attractive in the idea of receiving developmental feedback – that you have asked for, wish to receive, understand the purpose of and all intend to be developmental.  You can set up systems, processes, people all geared to the leader/manager being well positioned to receive the feedback, accept it, and draw out actions and commit to them.  You can consider all of the recent neuroscience research on feedback and set the process up accordingly.

Appraisal/performance review is a valid process considering performance at work against goals, targets, business values, etc.  It is often structure to suit the organisation.  As I’ve said, gathering feedback from others on that performance makes sense but it is not what 360 feedback is in its most effective form.

The answer … do them both!  Gain feedback on performance annually however you see fit and in whatever way works best.  Gain developmental feedback for leaders separately at a different time of the year.  That way you have two conversations at different times of the year with a different focus.  Of course there will be overlap but better to have two highly meaningful conversations with overlap than miss out on the real benefits of 360 feedback.

 

Brendan

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How to turn off the flashing notification light on your phone

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For Android users the simplest method is to select Settings->My Device->LED indicator and untick Notification.  On the most recent Android update you can do cleverer options, but this will work.

For Blackberry users the suggested route is Profiles->Select the active profile and Edit->Select Messages>Turn off the repeat LED notification

The best route for most phones is to type into Google “Turn off LED notification on [your phone]….” .

Why have we suddenly delved into phone advice?  Because it is very difficult to be attentive to the current person in front of you, focus on the current task, set aside your phone during family time and so on when an electronic device is saying “read me, read me” in the corner of your eye.  As managers and leaders we have to be attentive.  We should all be working on difficult important stuff and we will find that difficult if we are endlessly distracted.

The flashing notification light is telling you nothing – nothing at all.

Let’s assume you receive 100 emails per day (I know you receive more, but let’s go with this) over the course of a 10 hour day.  You are receiving 10 emails an hour or one every 6 minutes.  So, what is that flashing red light telling you?  There is always something unread.  There is always something in your inbox.  Turn it off and take control of when you review email (and texts).

Be attentive to the person or task at hand.

 

Brendan

 

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The power of a target – Nat’s swimming a mile in Lake Windermere

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This weekend one of our team, Nat, will be swimming a mile in Lake Windermere in “The Great North Swim, Lake Windermere”.  From what she’s been telling us, she will be swimming front crawl the whole way.  Up until the middle of March Nat would have described herself as a “breast stroke, head out of the water” swimmer.  But, she had signed up to this swim.  From that target, she has taken lessons in the full front crawl stroke, learnt about open water swimming, got the right kit, practiced in local reservoirs, and is ready for the challenge.  When we were all together on Monday she was quietly confident.

Without the target of the event, if Nat had said “I’m going to learn to swim in open water”, I wonder if she would have got there.  The aim would have lacked a specificity and some timeliness (this isn’t a lesson in SMART but it does apply sometimes!).  It wouldn’t have nagged away at her and focused the mind when training wasn’t high on the list of desirable activities.

On Monday, Nat added to the target with a time she wanted to swim the mile in.  This was treated with some amusement from others in the team who recognised the slippery slope of finding yourself having to repeat events in order to achieve an arbitrary time or beat a previous best.  But it was interesting that in such a short time she’d gone from wondering if she could do it to wondering how fast she could do it.

To the non-swimmers among us, swimming a mile sounds incredible, swimming it front crawl sounds unbearable, and swimming it in open water sounds fanciful.  But I think we were all a little inspired on Monday at how Nat had in a matter of weeks gone to describing breaststroke as her “rest stroke” and confidently anticipating swimming an open water front-crawl mile in Lake Windermere.

Targets are powerful.

Good luck Nat!

 

Brendan

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Build on what is already working in your performance appraisal process

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Another day, another article saying we should scrap performance appraisals…. It’s time to kill the performance review .  The article actually focusses on problems with performance grades but that wouldn’t be as interesting a title I guess!  Anyway, here’s my point.  When working with individuals who are struggling with some aspect of their role or performance we build from their strengths.  We certainly don’t suggest they just give up.  The same applies to performance reviews and other organisational processes.  Endlessly scrapping initiatives and replacing them with something else leads to cynicism.

Is it a good idea to discuss how things are going, set some goals/plans for the future, discuss training or other support that may achieve those goals, look at where the company is going and the broader themes for the coming period?  Yes, it is…well that is a performance review.  Now, you may or not believe in performance related pay.  Not for me to say – if you do want to use it then you’ll need some measures of success.  Your organisational culture might like numbers/grades etc.  OK, fine – it can be problematic but people have made it work.  Let’s see how we can make it work for you.

Before we throw away performance management or even the annual review, let’s write down what is good, what does work, what we want to retain.  Then look at the parts that are less useful or problematic – do we need them, can we improve them.  Is it the system or the skills of the people involved that is causing the problem – and so on.  Having an annual review doesn’t stop you from discussing how things are going on a regular, informal basis … in fact you’re going to find the annual review difficult if you haven’t been doing that.

Our clients often approach us through some disillusionment with their performance appraisal process … it may be they want an improved system, it may be completion rates are dropping, or it may be people are overwhelmed with the process.  When we meet the people involved…the appraisees…they rarely if ever want the process to be scrapped.  What they do want is for it to be real, for there to a meaningful conversation about their aspirations, current performance, and goals, and for it to be a simple and fair process.

Brendan

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Future England cricket captain – work on your strengths

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Focus on your strengths – they’re what got you where you are.  Easily said, harder to do.  When debriefing 360 feedback the majority of executives will “hunt the negative”.  Finding the criticism in the report and either moving defensively against it or wrestling with it to see how they can improve.  But you didn’t get to be the senior leader because of your weaknesses, you got there because of your strengths.  Building from your strengths rather than over-focusing on your weaknesses makes sense.

I was reminded of this in a BBC article on Joe Root – the upcoming star of England cricket.  Here is a quote from him

“When I came back from Australia, I realised a lot of the time out there I was trying to work on things I wasn’t too good at – and putting all my energy into that, rather than spending more time strengthening the stuff I am good at.”

Now, I’m sure he didn’t stop tackling weaknesses but if you’ve made the England team as a cricketer playing a certain way then there is an awful danger that a coach has you focus on your weaknesses and those weaknesses invade your thoughts and confidence.  His coach at the time (the now sacked Peter Moores) instead led him to build from his strengths.

Here is a quote from the Managing Director of an advertising agency who used us for debriefing 360 degree feedback

“I’ve been privy to several 360 experiences during my 30-year career, and this one topped them all by a long shot.

Not only did I walk away embracing a few key actions to help ensure our agency continues to flourish, but also I thoroughly enjoyed the debrief conversation, appreciated the perspective, and valued your insights.

I especially respected the concept of going from one’s strengths – as I’ve seen how 360’s can derail easily on a side-item or so.  Indeed,  you and your process have a wonderful way of focusing on the important stuff!”

Not often you can link a future England captain’s development to that of a US marketing agency director!

 

Brendan

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3 steps to getting the software right…

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The software industry is riddled with implementation failures – some public such as the NHS IT system and others that we will have experienced quietly (or not so quietly) in our internal work place systems. What makes it so difficult? After 24 years (gulp) in and around software I’ve come to conclude that it is the challenge of the mix of big picture and small detail. Let me see if I can explain how Bowland, after many years, has settled on a way of working that we feel works well.

When thinking about a system, initially we all have a picture of what we want. Usually, quite quickly, the IT people want the detail. They want to know what happens when every button is pressed, what should happen in a certain field. As a layperson it is easy to immediately feel overwhelmed and inadequate and unable to communicate what you want. In providing IT with the detail required you can somehow feel the point of the system can be lost. I’ve spent a lot of my career on both sides of that debate – I’ve been a coder frustrated with the lack of clarity of the requirement and I’ve been a user frustrated with a technically clever solution that doesn’t quite do what I want.

The IT industry has recognised this – trying to move from rigid, long, detailed functional specifications to a more “agile” approach that produces the minimum required and then iteratively builds upon it. In Bowland we have tried many things – some succesful, some less so.

Over time we have finally settled on a process that we find works brilliantly with our HR audience and the wider user base. We draw the requirement, we mock-up the requirement, and then we build.

So, first we draw the screens, This is easy and cheap to do and it gives a visual big picture. It allows us to see whether we have a shared picture of what we are trying to achieve. We heep drawing it until we are all happy. This may be as simple as seeing a new appraisal form laid out but by seeing it everyone gets to understand what is going to happen. The drawings can be shared amongst key users and feedback gathered widely.

Then we mock-up the system. Technically we create the HTML. The screens are built and will look exactly as they will when finished…we also storyboard it a little so that you can interact a little and see how each bit hangs together. It gives everyone a feel for how the system will be. It is a little more expensive than drawing but we are still pretty flexible on changes. The detail starts to come out naturally as we discuss what is on screen, what needs to happen, which words should be changed, etc.

And then finally we build the code. Because of the infrastructure we have in place this is often a small task for us – a bit of tailoring of the existing functionality. But we have the ability to do something new to reflect the unique nature of this particular client.

We then test – by this stage there is no question on whether this is what was wanted as over each iteration nothing significant has changed … it just evolved.

Essentially we are iteratating, each stage building on the other. By seeing the solution early and feeling the solution at an early stage the big picture is built in and the details emerge as we go.

You’d think this would take longer but it doesn’t – it’s quicker because fewer mistakes are made, there are no nasty surprises, and the iterating is done in tools (drawing) that are meant for the task.

We have recently implemented a surge of performance review/360 systems in this way and we are very pleased with the results.

Often when writing we talk about best practice in performance review or 360, or discuss the wider context of performance appraisal and development. Software plays a big role in ensuring the process is quiet and simple and its probably worth reminding everyone that we do have software underneath our consulting support!

Brendan

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Whose conversation is it anyway?

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If you wanted to know how the performance appraisal process was working – who would you ask? Would you ask the appraisers whether they felt they’d got their key messages across, set clear goals, fairly assessed performance, identified training needs, and given a nice bolt of motivation? Or would you ask the appraisees whether they were clear on their goals, understood how their performance was seen, how they viewed the last year, had a chance to discuss the coming year, their ambitions and the development they were looking for over the coming months and years?

I’d ask the appraisees. I would be much more interested in what message was received and what experience was had than on what message was sent and how the appraiser felt things had gone. I guess that is why we send out employee engagement surveys that ask questions in this area.

Which suggests to me that the conversation(s) around appraisal – whether the annual event, or the regular sessions – should be viewed as the appraisee’s conversation. This mindset would have the appraiser consider the individual appraisee. How do I best set the scene for the conversation? How do I ensure the appraisee has a voice, and that I listen? How do I deliver on my purpose within the session in a way that ensures the messages are received positively and deliver the intended outcomes?

As a manager it is important that you deliver on your intended purpose in the appraisal process but it isn’t you who decides whether you delivered or not. And your appraisee may have a different agenda that also must be met for the appraisal meetings to be successful. Makes it a bit harder knowing that.

Brendan

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My son’s school report

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No, I’m not going to actually tell you the content of my son’s school report! It was fine and other than him feeling it was ok to open it before sharing it with us the process was all good.

For those of you without children at school, school reports now contain a lot of numbers. After many years of confusion, my wife and I recently got the hang of whether a 4a was better than a 4b and then they changed the system to something called APS … no idea what it stands for. So, Euan (my son) has been targeted for the year with moving up at least 5 APS points in each subject.

So, let’s say in Maths he was 28 last year, then his target would be at least 33. And in this report we are told his current level – let’s say it is 32.
And we get a grade for Effort and a grade for Organisation. No words.

We have a lot of data in the school report. We get 3 of these reports a year and we get one parents evening where we have 5 minute appointments with each of his teachers.

5 minutes after reading his report I could give you the gist of it but I couldn’t remember one number. I know roughly the grades for effort and organisation but couldn’t remember which ones applied to which subject. Its not that I don’t care it is that there was an overwhelming amount of data.

But I remember the conversations with most of the teachers (the ones I can’t remember are the ones where the teacher concentrated on the scores/grades and national averages for those scores) from his last parents evening two months ago.

If you ask most parents what they hope for for their children at school it is that they enjoy it. Yes, we hope our children do well and we support them in getting the best out of themselves but every parent went to school once and so all of us want to know “do they have friends, are they engaged, do they contribute, are they happy”. If a teacher told me “Euan is doing really well; he tries his hardest, works well with his school friends, and always engages with every lesson” then I can’t ask for much more. I can then review the data in that context and it could suggest to us areas he needs help with. But the data alone tells me very little.

What interested me most in our conversation with Euan is that he is engaged with the number. He wants to be a “33″. I do wonder whether the system is starting to train children (future employees) to go for the target rather than focus on the actions that lead to success.

Brendan

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The problems with feedback without context

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I am a fairly keen cyclist (a MAMIL – middle aged man in lycra). Like many cyclists I use www.strava.com to record my rides. Strava has rather taken over that world and provides you with a massive amount of data after your ride. Essentially it gives you feedback on the ride you did. As well as telling you general stuff like the average speed for the ride and how long you rode for, it will take sections of the ride (segments) and tell you how fast you rode it, how that compares to other times you rode that segment, and how it compares to others (everyone and your friends) performance on the same segment.

Anyone who uses Strava will tell you that this feedback can become obsessive. And it certainly motivates you at times to ride harder than you otherwise would have done. I’ll leave the question of whether it makes the ride more enjoyable for another time.

What really interests me is that sometimes the feedback Strava gives isn’t helpful at all. Sometimes you under-perform against your peers or your own previous efforts and sometimes you over-perform without any relation to the effort that you made. The issue is that Strava doesn’t have anything to tell you the context for your ride. At a simple level it doesn’t tell you

  • What the wind was like, for you or the others
  • Whether you were riding in a group or alone
  • Whether this was your focus for the ride

If you were a coach discussing the data from Strava with a rider then, before you leapt in to give your opinion, you would need to get this context. You may need to ensure the rider wasn’t overly critical of themselves, or you may need to ensure they weren’t complacent with a seemingly good performance. You would need to listen to how the rider felt during the ride, what they were looking to achieve, any obstacles they hit along the road. Only when this was complete would a real assessment be complete and some goals or targets for the future be based on useful feedback.

We receive a lot of data now. Our appraisal processes and feedback systems are full of feedback. But context is everything. And the person who knows the context best is the person themselves – although they may need a coach or trusted person to help them look at the data objectively.

Brendan

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Deloitte’s 4 question performance review

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There has been noise in the performance review writings around Deloitte’s 4 question performance review reported in the Harvard Business review. I’ll leave you to read the article which is quite detailed with some excellent content.

I frankly have no idea whether Deloitte should have a 4 question performance review. What is more interesting within the article is that they feel the need to recommend/insist that team leaders have weekly check-ins. I suspect that will have the most positive impact!

Two key things spring to mind. First – the four questions will matter in that they will direct the conversation somewhat. Their’s are

1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus [measures overall performance and unique value to the organization on a five-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”].

2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team [measures ability to work well with others on the same five-point scale].

3. This person is at risk for low performance [identifies problems that might harm the customer or the team on a yes-or-no basis].

4. This person is ready for promotion today [measures potential on a yes-or-no basis].

I’d bet money that Deloitte will change this within 2 years. The first two items are ratings (and they argue carefully why they don’t work within the article). The answers to the questions are interesting but I wouldn’t base my performance management on them. Repeatedly asking the latter two appears unnecessary to me.

Second, there is often a focus on “the form” and so the questions that are asked. While these are of course relevant – and they will direct conversation – great managers make any form work and poor managers can’t be helped just by a good form. There may be a large scale training intervention at the back of this and, if there is, I hope they concentrate on how to handle the conversations (the weekly check-ins) rather than how to fill this form in.

The latter paragraph of the article discusses the challenges we face when we boil an individuals performance down to a single number. The annual grade is rightly facing strong challenge in many areas. Earlier in the article the authors dispense with 360 feedback as they argue that the rating discrepancies mean the truth is not revealed. If you are looking for a single number from 360 feedback then I would agree that this truth will be elusive. But if you take 360 feedback for what it is – a collection of feedback from a range of people, all of it subjective and all if it subject to a range of biases then it becomes richer for that variety. Reporting that variety and holding meaningful conversations around that variety allows individuals to explore the real world of performance, management and relationships rather than the simple world of a rating.

When designing an performance management process/annual appraisal form the key question that should be asked is “will this form or process lead to meaningful conversations taking place”. I’m not sure that Deloitte’s four questions will achieve that. But I hope they update HBR with the results in as careful and thorough an article as the one they introduced it with.

Brendan

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360 degree feedback in Barbados

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I wish this article was going to be an announcement of a new client (or even business venture) of ours that I was about to lead. Unfortunately it is a reference to a google alert I received announcing that the Barbadian civil service is about to introduce 360 feedback.
Other than a wry smile at what Google thinks I’m interested in (perhaps it was Barbados rather than 360 feedback!) I scanned the article and found that “It will present opportunities for officers to be counselled and to be provided with any relevant feedback and in worst case scenarios for performance improvement plans to be implemented to address issues of poor performance”. Now in an article of barely 500 words, with just two quotes, the focus from the 360 introduction is on the potential of performance improvement plans.
If I were involved in that 360, I would be hesitant. I would be slightly suspicious. I would alter my feedback on others, and I would approach my own 360 with caution. It may be just the way it is reported but rather than suggest recognition, learning, training and development plans that may follow the 360 we select a negative outcome. That some people through a performance management process may require “improvement plans” is fine and a likely outcome in a large organisation. But I wouldn’t introduce a method of gaining feedback from colleagues with that as the backdrop or main commentary.
Now, if only the civil service of Barbados would read this and invite me over to consult on a better way!

Brendan

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Bowland goes back to its roots – Lancaster University students come up trumps

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Both John and I are alumni of Lancaster University … Bowland college to be precise.  And so, we have been delighted to have been working with some of their MA in HR and Consulting students over the last few months. 

The students have looked at our 360 best practice; including surveying some of our clients, reviewing our processes, and looking at the latest theories around 360 to give us advice on where we can improve.  It has been a great experience both in terms of having a fresh look at Bowland but also to work with students with such a keen interest in delivering a great service.  We are still digesting the 126 page(!) report that they have provided us with.  But here is a public thanks from Bowland to Wes, Mabel, Alexis, Sebastian, Ying, and Maeve for all of their efforts.  We will be updating our own practice and advice based on what they found.

Brendan

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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.

 

Brendan

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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.

Brendan

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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.

 

Brendan

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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.

 

Brendan

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