Bowland Consulting – [Video] What distinguishes Bowland?

Share Button

Share Button

Motivating Millennials through Meaningful Conversations

Share Button

A short article in Smart Company magazine caught my eye recently regarding a report that highlighted how millennials were more likely to show loyalty to an organisation where there was a good frequency and high quality of meaningful conversations with their Line Managers.

Such conversations were having a motivating effect as they demonstrated a genuine interest on the part of the Line Manager in the individual both within the scope of their work and beyond.

We find ourselves increasingly working with organisations where managers are finding themselves with individuals for whom their current style of management is not working as it might have before – the lament is ‘How do I motivate them?’ - part of the answer from this report would seem to be to simply show interest and foster more, meaningful two-way conversations; the other part of the answer would probably follow from the thinking popularised by Dan Pink’s book, ‘Drive’, which suggested offering people a sense of purpose, the opportunity to act autonomously, and develop mastery in their role/career, would fire up individuals to perform to the best of their ability.

All of these intrinsic motivating factors can be tapped into through having regular meaningful conversations with your team.





Share Button

Is this a new era of Performance Appraisals?

Share Button

We have touched upon this topic many, many times, and rightly so; because each new article trumpeting the end/death/demise (tick favourite to suit) of performance appraisals has a more nuanced message behind the attention grabbing headline.

Take this latest article in Forbes, about IBM very dramatically ‘blowing Up’ it’s performance review process.

The IBM story is particularly interesting because as you read through, you realise that ‘enhancing’ might be a better description than ‘blowing up’; they will still set objectives, albeit these will be shorter-term in nature; they will still assess at year-end against a number of ‘dimensions’ rather than a singular grade; they will dispense with performance ranking (which has been a trend for some time), and they will encourage a process of continuous feedback & coaching throughout the year.

What is being described is Performance Management.

Realising that a once-a-year conversation/evaluation doesn’t actually work when it comes to getting the best out of people, is not a revelation – it is sensible conclusion borne out of experience, where greater levels of communication and open, transparent relationships between a Line Manager and their team members, is more likely to deliver sustainable results.

The performance appraisal projects we work on with clients, are rarely just about implementing an effective performance appraisal system; invariably, we are deep down into revising their approach to performance management:

- understanding the purpose of performance management

- designing appraisal forms and processes which are ‘fit for purpose’ and include the input of employees

- creating an easy-to-use on-line appraisal system, which allows for capturing continuous feedback and feedback from others (360 degree feedback),

- and ‘Meaningful Conversations‘ training for Line Managers for every aspect of performance management i.e. Setting objectives, giving feedback, coaching and appraisals


If you would like to talk us to us about ‘blowing up’ your performance appraisals, then feel free to contact us, but I suspect you might find we do a better job of ‘building on’ what you are already doing.





Share Button

Webinar – The Art of Meaningful Conversations

Share Button


We are running our next webinar on the above topic on January 26th at 1pm in conjunction with Shorebird RPO.

Meaningful Conversations is a framework which enables Line Managers at any level to conduct effective Performance Management conversations whatever their purpose; be that setting objectives, giving feedback, coaching, appraisals or 360 feedback debriefs.

At the end of this webinar, you will:

  • Understand what Performance Management really is and why it’s so important.
  • Be introduced to the ‘Meaningful Conversations’ framework as a guide to conducting effective Performance Management conversations.
  • Appreciate what is the mindset and the core communication skills required to conduct a Meaningful Conversation.
  • Have reflected on your own style of Performance Management conversations and considered some changes you could make immediately to improve.

This webinar is aimed at anyone who has to conduct Performance Management conversations with team members in their organisation and will appeal to all those in a management or senior positions.

Please go to the registration page here for more details.

If the event is fully booked, a waiting list will be opened up, so you can still register your interest to attend and/or be invited to a re-run of the session at a later date.

We hope you can join us for this or a future event.


Share Button

Busting Urban Myths – The Key to Meaningful Conversations

Share Button

Share Button

The neuroscience of Meaningful Conversations

Share Button

We recently held a webinar on ‘The Art of Meaningful Conversations’…well, here is the neuroscience of Meaningful Conversations in a snippet from David Rock’s recent presentation to the CIPD HR Leaders Network.

He talks of mindset as being critical to successful performance reviews, namely a growth mindset over a fixed one; the simple belief that one can improve and is not limited solely by talent but by effort.

We see the beliefs and assumptions that one takes into a performance management conversation are key to the ability to make it more likely one can conduct a meaningful conversation; one where the purpose of the conversation is delivered upon and where the dynamic is adult, 2-way, constructive and respectful.

You must believe the person in front of you is capable of change and improvement; if not, why persist with performance management?




Share Button

Recording & Slides available – The Art of Meaningful Conversations

Share Button

We were delighted to host our latest webinar this week with Shorebird RPO on ‘The Art of Meaningful Conversations’ – all seats were filled, so a second session is planned on January 26th 2016 – if you would like to attend, please feel free to email me at if you would like to add your name to the notification list.

Both the recording and slides from this week’s session are available below – the recording is useful in that you can see some of the great insights that came from the attendees during the interactive exercises; it was a vibrant session with a lot of participation!

Meaningful Conversations is a framework which enables Line Managers at any level to conduct effective Performance Management conversations whatever their purpose; be that setting objectives, giving feedback, coaching, appraisals or 360 feedback debriefs.

At the end of this webinar, you will:

  • Understand what Performance Management really is and why it’s so important.
  • Be introduced to the ‘Meaningful Conversations’ framework as a guide to conducting effective Performance Management conversations.
  • Appreciate what is the mindset and the core communication skills required to conduct a Meaningful Conversation.
  • Have reflected on your own style of Performance Management conversations and considered some changes you could make immediately to improve.

This webinar is aimed at anyone who has to conduct Performance Management conversations with team members in their organisation and will appeal to all those in a management or senior positions.

Listen to the webinar

View the slides


Hope you can join us for the next webinar!


Share Button

Busting Urban Myths – Creating quality 1-2-1 time

Share Button

Share Button

Another one bites the dust…the collapse of Performance Appraisals?

Share Button

Another week, another article, or in fact another series of articles, sounding the death knell of the performance appraisal – Accenture, National Australia Bank, and Deloitte – all deciding to stop the annual performance review process, whilst moving to a more regular series of feedback conversations throughout the year.

However, if you look more closely, what is actually being scrapped is a practice of forced ranking and distribution, which was a key feature of their review processes.

We have long debated the relative merits and pitfalls of ranking individuals and/or reducing their performance over a year to a singular grade or number – but of course, performance reviews don’t have to work this way, and many organisations approach reviews with the idea that it is an opportunity to reflect on what has happened over the previous 12 months as a means to learn and improve performance in the future.

With this purpose in mind, removing a conversation at the end of the year which offers a chance for a Line Manager and team member to come together and discuss past performance in a meaningful way, seems somewhat shortsighted.

Moving to a process whereby there are regular, ongoing feedback conversations throughout the year, is certainly to be advocated and applauded – but these timely, in-the-moment, conversations are often quite tactical in nature; they are helping people track progress and keeping tacking back and forth towards their goals.

Such conversations need to be supported by a more reflective, strategic type discussion, which allows a summing up at the end of a year, and critically, prompts a conversation about learning & their development.

Performance Management is simply a series of two-way conversations, each with a specific purpose – if you don’t like the Performance Review conversation and find it meaningless, don’t scrap it, change it’s purpose to one you do like and is meaningful.








Share Button

Busting Urban Myths – Empathy is a state of mind

Share Button

Share Button

Free Webinar – Building Resilience in Individuals & Organisations

Share Button

Friday 26th June@1pm BST


The word resilience has shifted from being a scientific term to describe the ability of materials to withstand shock, to a skill required of individuals and organisations if they are to deal with the demands of pressure and change.

Organisations in all sectors are now looking to build resilience in individuals, in order that the organisation can continue to adapt and thrive.

In this one-hour webinar, John Rice of Bowland Solutions, and Dr. Carole Pemberton, author of a newly published book on resilience, share insights on this crucial topic which you will be able to apply in your own context based on research and practical experience.


Find out what Carole’s new book ‘Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches’ is all about. from Geoff Stevens on Vimeo.


Eventbrite - Building resilience in individuals and organisations


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

  • What is resilience? How far is it genetic or acquired?
  • How do you distinguish resilience from ‘burnout’?
  • How do you rate against the key qualities of resilience?
  • What is link between individual and organisational resilience?
  • What actually works in resilience training?


Who is this webinar for?

This webinar is designed for HR and L & D professionals who need to consider how best resilience needs can be met at an individual and organisational level.


Join the webinar if:

  • Resilience is a topic on your organisation’s agenda.
  • There is a need to continue delivering under pressure
  • Staff, at any level, are struggling to adapt quickly enough to change
  • You are wanting to provide resilience support but are unsure how best to address the need


Dr Carole Pemberton

Dr Carole Pemberton is an executive coach with a particular interest in resilience based on her experience of working with senior leaders, and discovering that no one is immune from losing resilience, regardless of their mental toughness. The challenge is to help people recover quickly so that they continue to perform.

Carole is Visiting Professor at Ulster University Business School, a Fellow of the CIPD and the Career Development Institute.

She is the author of the newly published Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches (McGraw Hill).


Eventbrite - Building resilience in individuals and organisations

We hope you can join us on Friday 26th June at 1pm BST.

John Rice & Dr. Carole Pemberton

Share Button

Build on what is already working in your performance appraisal process

Share Button


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.


Share Button

Busting Urban Myths – Meaningful Conversations

Share Button

Share Button

How to improve performance appraisals; what the research tells us

Share Button

A recent article on the effectiveness of Performance Appraisals, cited research conducted by Rice University (hence the reason it caught my eye!) – the study points to some inherent problems with the traditional annual review process and suggests what steps organisations can take to improve it.

The key message is that frequent feedback, be that formal or informal, is a better way to bring about performance improvement and behavioural change in individuals

Furthermore the research draws out the benefits of such regular feedback as impacting on the wider performance management process  - “The more employers can create a culture that facilitates ongoing communication and feedback among employees, the more productive and beneficial the performance-appraisal process will be, according to the research.”

In our work with clients, this connection between implementing performance appraisals successfully, whilst creating a more effective feedback culture, is becoming ever more intricately linked – our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ training modules extend beyond Line Managers to employees too, as the need for everyone to be adept at writing or giving feedback to others, becomes increasingly paramount.

Our next webinar on Friday 22nd May@1pm BST will be a taster of one of our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ modules, ‘Giving Feedback’ – register below to join us.

John (Rice)


Share Button

Guest post – The neuroscience of meaningful conversations

Share Button


It really is a pleasure to share this guest post, written especially for us by Jan Hills at Head Heart + Brain, and which delves into what neuroscience has to offer in respect of deepening our understanding of, and capability to have, meaningful conversations:

Meaningful conversations

Of course we should all have them. Meaningful conversations I mean. But how do you make sure you do? Frequently, conversations linked to performance are anything but meaningful. Either too stiff and staccato, following some set piece format HR have provided and you being too worried to go ‘off track’ in case it gets out of control or a bit meandering where half of what you wanted to say never gets said.

We think there are a number of elements to ensuring conversations are meaningful. On the surface the formula is simple ensure there is a clear purpose and high trust. Oh great that’s sorted then! But how do you ensure that? The ideas below use our understanding of the brain, yours and the person’s you are trying to have the conversation with. Both brains need to be engaged and in the right stage to make the conversation meaningful.

The other person’s brain

You need to consider how the employee or colleague is going to feel: imagine where they are on the subject and how they will react. Whether that’s getting the results of their 360, reviewing their annual performance or just agreeing goals.

Most people assume this kind of empathy requires them to feel the same feelings as the employee. This is known as emotional empathy,” meaning an instantaneous body-to-body connection with the other person’s feelings. It involves tuning in to another person’s emotions and requires the ability to read facial, vocal and other non-verbal signs of how another person feels, moment by moment.

Research shows this type of empathy depends on our tuning in to our own body’s emotional signals, which automatically mirror the other person’s feelings. Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls the brain areas that create this type of empathy the “we” circuitry. This is the mentalising system which helps us think about and understand others’ motivations, goals and feelings.

Not that kind of empathy

In our view is this is not the kind of empathy to activate when you are planning or engaged in a meaningful conversation unless it’s with your lover or someone you hope will become your lover! Its not terribly helpful in business and especially when there are some difficult messages you need to deliver.

This is what sets off the panic alarm. Feeling the feelings of the other person triggers a classic threat response: “Don’t want to go there!” Which puts you into avoidance mode, or calls for a lot of mental energy to override it in your limbic brain.

Redirecting that energy takes resources away from your prefrontal cortex, your rational planning and goal focused part of the brian. Which is why even the best-organised person can end up having a muddled conversation, with evidence being forgotten and a generally chaotic result.

The right kind of empathy

Instead, what’s more helpful is for you is to take on the other person’s perspective. You need to engage your curiosity, rather than your emotions, with the other person’s reality.

This has been called “cognitive empathy,” or perspective-taking, and is what we typically describe as being able to see the world through other people’s eyes, or “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Cognitive empathy is mind-to-mind, rather than body-to-body, and gives us a mental sense of how another person’s thinking works.

This way of thinking about another person’s perspective gives an understanding of their view – it can tell us how best to communicate with that person: what matters most to them, their models of the world, and even what words to use – or avoid – when talking with them. Using similar expressions and words builds rapport and avoids misunderstandings.

And that pays off in many ways, including reducing your uncertainty about how the conversation will go: a major factor that can get in the way in a meaningful conversation and trigger your colleague’s or employee’s threat response because they unconsciously read your uncertainty as incongruent with your words.

And there is another type of empathy which can usefully be deployed.

“Empathic concern” taps into the brain’s circuitry for parental love, and helps people get in touch with their feelings of compassion, and express their care for the other person. Best deployed once any difficult part of the discussion is complete and the next steps have been agreed: this is when you let your employee or colleague know that you’ll support them.


The other person to focus on is, of course, you.

We’ve covered some of the ways in which the right kind of empathetic preparation can help people manage their threat response in our CORE video.

As a starting point you need to understand, and possibly challenge, your own mind-set. If you have a fixed mind-set, you basically believe “someone can either do it, or they can’t,” you are never going to find it worthwhile conducting a difficult performance review or 360 feedback session. “What’s the point – they’ll never change” will be what you are thinking.

You may also need help in challenging the common business belief that a good manager will keep emotion out of this process. But science has shown suppressing your emotions is likely to make things worse rather that better. It increases the response of the amygdala the brain’s emotional centre.

One way of managing emotions rather than suppressing them is to learn reappraisal skills. We find that with a little practice, you can reappraise why the conversation needs to happen and why it needs to go well. The insights from perspective taking preparation can help in this.

Giving a poor performer a warning may seem cruel, but leaving them to lose more confidence as they struggle on in a role that’s not suited to them is even harsher. Giving tough messages about 360 feedback is hard, but letting the newly appointed team leader flounder puts the whole team in jeopardy.

And lastly, learn to tap into the mental and physical state that’s going to work best for you in the conversation, and learn to monitor this state in the moment. Taking a few seconds to think about the state of mind which will serve you best; remembering a time when you were fully in that state and re-experiencing it is all it takes.

You’re not going to be able to introduce an instant yogic understanding if you are not used to being attuned to your body. But very simple exercises like power poses or relaxing the shoulders can be instantly helpful, and you can use these simple techniques in everyday situations and not just the conversations you know are important or which you’ve been dreading the most.

Jan Hills

Jan set up Head Heart + Brain to change the way leadership and capability development is designed and delivered. With a Masters in the Neuroscience of Leadership she’s the driving force behind our brain-savvy approach.

Before Head Heart + Brain Jan ran her own successful consulting business and was COO at an investment bank, so brings a huge amount of experience to the table in leadership and dealing with practical business issues.

Jan is author of Brain-savvy HR: a neuroscience evidence base and Brain-savvy Leading: neuroscience tips and tools

Share Button

Free Webinar – Meaningful Conversations – Giving Feedback

Share Button


Friday 22nd May 2015@1pm (BST)


Join us for the second of our series of ‘Meaningful Conversations’ webinars which will cover all of the key performance management conversations which Line Managers have to conduct with their team from setting objectives through to the performance appraisal.


Eventbrite - Complimentary Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - Giving Feedback


Following the first webinar which looked how to set objectives, we now move onto the key step of giving feedback to individuals; it is not only critical that you give feedback, but also how you give that feedback which makes the difference.

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 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.

This one hour webinar explores the key elements which ensure a feedback conversation is successful:

  • Takeaway our ‘Meaningful Conversations’ model which is fundamental to any successful performance management conversation
  • Learn how to give praise and encourage productive behaviours
  • Takeaway a 4 step process in how to give feedback when performance or behaviour is below expectations.
Previous attendees comments:
  • I like the way in which these webinars are facilitated, they are structured with ease and clarity, and personable The interactive and engaging way it involves the audience even though they are remote is great.
  • Really clear. Good presenter, excellent use of interactions
  • In depth and the work on meaningful conversations was good. Well structured, lots of interaction and group participation.

Eventbrite - Complimentary Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - Giving Feedback


We hope you can join us on Friday 22nd May.



Share Button

Annual appraisal & continuous feedback

Share Button

We are again in the midst of a popular time for annual appraisals at the moment; we see a sudden uplift in interest in creating efficient on-line performance appraisal processes.

As ever, we advise and guide clients as to what good practice looks like when conducting the annual appraisals, but increasingly we are having discussions around what should happen in-between the annual reviews….i.e. those 12 months from one review to the next…!

Not unsuprisingly, we suggest that there should be more frequent reviews over the course of the year, coupled with more forward looking conversations about what needs to happen in order for performance to improve.

Invariably for performance to improve, there has to be feedback; there has to be comment on how someone is performing in the moment, in order to raise their self-awareness and enable them to decide to do things differently.

If someone you were coaching was running a marathon and they wanted to achieve their best possible time, how often would you give this feedback? At the end of the race or as they ran?


Share Button

5 top trends in performance appraisal

Share Button

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.



Share Button

Free Webinar@Friday 30th January@1pm Setting Objectives

Share Button

Friday 30th January@1pm GMT

It’s that time of year for many of us again!

Get this first conversation right and performance management becomes a whole lot simpler and more effective by the time you come to conduct appraisals.

Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - Setting effective SMART objectives

This interactive one hour webinar explores the key elements which will help Line Managers successfully conduct a conversation to set objectives:

  • The importance of holding trust during the conversation
  • Why SMART is an effective template for creating objectives
  • Shaping, challenging and committing; the stages to effective objective setting
  • What questions to ask that will help you facilitate SMART objective setting
Whether you are a Line Manager looking to refresh your skills before these conversations, or HR/L & D professionals wishing to better support your Line Managers through this phase of the Performance Management cycle, join us for a session which will give you practical help you can apply immediately.


Previous attendees comments:
“Bowland’s webinars are extremely interactive and well structured. They focus on the core aspects of the subject and the tips/guidance are applicable in the business.”

“Excellent content delivered clearly and professionally. A great opportunity to interact with the subject and other participants.”

“John delivered the session on meaningful conversations 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 - Setting effective SMART objectives


I hope you can join me this Friday 30th January@1pm GMT
John Rice
Director, Bowland Solutions
Share Button

Busting Urban Myths – The new world of work or holiday?

Share Button

Share Button