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4 Reasons Your Performance Reviews Are Failing (And What You Can Do About It)

If you’re running a team, no matter how small, you’ve probably conducted a performance review. They’re fairly simple on the surface – a periodic meeting between manager and direct report to assess performance and suggest improvements. We’re finding they are increasingly the subject of much debate, with many people questioning their effectiveness in the workplace. Done right – the reviews can be incredibly useful for everyone involved, but mishandled, they can be a waste of time and energy for all concerned. Today we wanted to share with you 4 of the most common reasons performance reviews fail to deliver the results managers want, and how you can change that for the better.

All The Wrong Focus At The Wrong Times

Let’s start with an easy one. Many businesses are conducting performance reviews once a year. This means that managers end up storing store up all the things employees may have done wrong (and right), and rather than addressing them at the time, pour them all out in one go. This could be months after they actually happen. In our experience, performance reviews are most effective when they are done weekly or monthly. This doesn’t have to be a big formal meeting – just a 15 – 30 minute catch up weekly or monthly with each employee, to address issues and suggest improvements that are relevant at the time. This means they can be acted upon quickly, and so the opportunity to make changes stick increases.

That brings us to our next point. Performance reviews/appraisals are supposed to give an in-depth look at how individual employees are contributing to the overall direction and goals of the team. So that’s what the constructive feedback should be about. Yet we find many managers struggle with creating outcomes that leave employees feeling charged and ready to perform better, and instead focus too heavily on the weaknesses of individuals rather than on what’s needed to drive better performance and what the employee can do about it. While highlighting negatives and planning improvement is important, it can de-motivate if there’s too strong a bias or it lacks context. Great managers identify what didn’t work and find ways to recognise and praise what they want to see more of. Focus on what an employee’s strengths look like and how they can be used to enhance performance, and there is a much better basis for improving performance in the long run. To create a really clear and aligned focus, mutually agree goals and then agree what the key activities are that will achieve it. So, for example, if there is a need to increase sales next quarter, what activities need to happen to achieve that goal? This way you can synergise your differences, capture ideas and be clear about expectations about how something is achieved, not just what needs to be achieved.

One Size Fits All

Every person is unique. Everyone’s perceptions are different, which means we will interpret information and respond to news differently to one another. So taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to performance reviews limits success. A little time planning each review individually will reap big dividends. Think about that specific person – what you want to say, how you want them to feel when they leave the meeting – and tailor your messages to achieve that goal. And don’t stop there – provide direction for that person based on what they need, and make sure you give them the chance to contribute to their own goal setting and review process. Then you’re more likely to get ownership of the activity that follows from the people delivering it. Finally, remember to consider personal circumstances. Don’t tolerate excuses, but if there’s a new baby in the household or a sick parent to care for, make sure you’re fair and considerate about your expectations and approach. Consistent care for individuals counts as recognition, often far more than a small percentage salary increase could ever achieve over the long term.

Too Much Listening, Not Enough Hearing

When two people have a conversation, they are listening to each other, but they’re not always hearing what the other is saying. In performance reviews this becomes really obvious – particularly where someone is trying to give difficult feedback or deliver uncomfortable news. Inviting perspective about the issue before giving your view as the manager is essential before embarking on this type of conversation. It’s also worth considering whether it should form part of the appraisal discussion or be dealt with separately. When we tiptoe instead of saying what we mean clearly, it’s all too easy to think we’ve made ourselves clear, when in actual fact the person you’re speaking to hasn’t really heard and understood you at all. Equally, being too direct can have the same effect, because we haven’t given the other person the opportunity to absorb the message and ask questions of it for their own sense of clarity. This leads to mismatched expectations, and means managers and employees become upset when they can’t see a change they were expecting. When we deliver training around this we encourage the following question – ‘What did you hear?’ – The response can be surprising and very useful in making sure a point has hit home in the right balance, not too hard and not to soft and such a way that it compels the individual to want to take positive action.

Expecting Instant Results

Human beings are creatures of habit. There are no two ways about that. But it’s no bad thing – it simply means that if you want something to change, you need to give it two things. Time and repetition. Far too often I have seen managers suggest some behaviour changes and then be disappointed when those changes haven’t manifested according to their timescale. Research suggests that it takes 21 – 28 days to accept and implement a new habit, and much longer for it to become a permanent change in behaviour. That’s because people develop organically, based on what they relate to and understand – at that time – in their world as they know it – for themselves. Change is a process, not an event. So instead of expecting change right away, allow time for evolution and a few mishaps after your reviews. Let the learning and change happen in layers, as an iterative process. And through the process – understanding to action, mistakes, review and new understanding – change will happen. As a manager, it’s important to notice and recognise the incremental changes throughout this cycle, and guide your employees accordingly. Then you’ll really get some traction towards the results you’re looking for, your employees will feel recognised and they’ll appreciate your support too.

Organic Top Tips

Finally, let’s round up by sharing some of our own tips for conducting successful performance reviews and appraisals gathered through observation of achievements and learning opportunities of our own over the years:

  • Be specific about expectations in both directions. What do you expect from the employee, and what do they expect from you as their manager?
  • Be honest. Don’t undo the feedback you’re giving by generalising (or saying everything is OK when it’s really not, which we’ve seen too many times!)
  • Balance responsibilities and feedback fairly. Don’t give one employee a goal that the whole team will need to contribute to, or give a negative review if a flawed task, or other team members were involved in a failure. 
  • Focus on the activity, not just the goal, if you want to see results.
  • Allow time for change to happen naturally – don’t demand it instantly. 
  • Encourage ownership of performance by demonstrating it yourself. Set an example to your employees about how to be active in your own improvement.

At Organic P&O Solutions, we specialise in helping managers understand the review process, and learn how to adapt their leadership style to get the best results from their teams. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help with your leadership style, approaches to performance processes, or training and development programmes for you and your teams, please get in touch today. We’d love to hear from you.

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How Do You Make Decisions?

Do you find it difficult to make important business decisions? Or perhaps you find yourself putting off making an important decision? We make decisions every day. From what to wear or what to eat for breakfast, to who to hire or what to achieve next. Decisions can be made both consciously and unconsciously and can vary significantly depending on the situation. But when we actively make decisions, it’s important to consider the impact our choice will make. This blog is about choosing methods that help us make informed decisions, which can take us towards more of the results we want and move us away from situations that no longer serve our purpose. So, what does a good decision really look like? And how can we make sure we’re making a decision that delivers the results we want?

Perspective And Timing Are Crucial

As a business leader, you may find yourself having to wrestle with big decisions. Decisions like re-structuring teams, recruiting for a brand new role or dismissing a member of the team can be tough, and sometimes the instinct is to get them over with quickly. But when I work with people in these situations, I find I need to provide reassurance that, whilst momentum and action are important, so are periods of pause.

This is particularly important when there are emotions attached to the decision being made. The person making the difficult decision may want to move swiftly to action because they have now finished their analysis phase, and need to make things happen. However, the person on the receiving end may need a little time to allow the news to ‘land’ before they are able to respond. It’s important for everyone to allow clarity to emerge – and that can only happen with time.

Different Styles, Used Well, Are Helpful

No two people are the same. Fact! We each have our own unique perspectives which start forming when we’re in the womb, and this means that no two people experience anything the same way. So, when working with leaders and teams, we find the teams that are most effective are the ones who make good use of the different perspectives available to them. This includes understanding the strengths and limitations of the team and knowing when to engage external support. For example, if there is be a gap in knowledge, skills or awareness, an external specialist may be able to fill that space and support better decision making.

There are many problem solving and team decision making models, and we help teams to find processes and models that work well for their circumstances. However, we find a few ruling principles to be fundamental to effective decision making, regardless of the process used to include:

  • Respecting the need to stay focused on the purpose of the decision from all the team members.
  • Creating a shared understanding continuously and particularly where there are evolving situations.
  • Exercising empathy for the people affected by the decision without judgement.
  • Ownership of the decision by the nominated decision makers

One of my favourite methods for helping teams appreciate different perspectives (and one of the first I came across early in my career), is Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’. I absolutely love this model, as it simply demonstrates differing perspectives, and in doing so encourages people to assess their problem in ways outside of their own usual thinking. You can find out more about it here.

Uncertainty Disables Effectiveness

The strongest decision makers understand that 100% certainty of an outcome to a decision is not possible. So instead they find a way of becoming clear enough about the options available, by exploring as much as is necessary for those circumstances, to become comfortable enough to move forward.

Our philosophy is if no plan ‘survives contact with the enemy’ then no decision can ‘create definitive results’. Perfect prediction is the enemy of actionable results and to be avoided. That doesn’t mean we should continue in the absence of key information, or exclude the ‘what ifs’. It’s more that we are clear about what is needed in order to be confident about the decision we make, and then to make it without the unnecessary confusion caused by over analysis and delays.

Lack Of Empathy And Communication Erodes Support For Decisions

Reaching a decision is important. And for the decision maker, it’s often a freeing experience – particularly after a period of wrestling with conscience, logic and emotion. But a decision communicated without empathy to those affected, regardless of how clear the rationale, will at best dilute commitment and engagement, and at worst could create resistance and distraction at a time when unity is key.

This is one of the things we find is often overlooked. Let’s take a tough situation as an example:

A manager needs to make 2 employees in their department redundant. Employee A is a 42-year-old with a newborn at home and a high mortgage to pay. Employee B is a 20-year-old living with parents. The rationale for the business means the decision to make both redundant is fair and logical. But let’s look at their personal challenges. They are so different, even at this surface level, that it’s impossible to treat them the same. A consistent process is important for fairness, and the manager will need the same outcome from each meeting. But the way they discuss the news will be different for each employee, based on their life stages, personalities and circumstances.

I am often asked ‘why someone is being so difficult?’ when on the receiving end of a seemingly fair decision that has been consistently managed. In many cases, it’s a lack of awareness and/or understanding that’s causing the problem. So clarity is another important element to get right. When delivering information, decision-makers need to make sure that the receiver will understand the decision, by navigating the dialogue through clear expectations and discussions. Clarity and transparency ensure your conscience remains intact, so even the most difficult news can be accepted and transitions can be smooth.

Decisions Are All About Choice

Overall, it’s about making the best decision you can, with the information available at that time, having taken into account perspectives outside of your own and with other people in mind. Our measure of a good decision is not so much about whether it feels good (although we love that too) but more about reaching a clear way forward and communicating it with good conscience.

At Organic P&O Solutions, we work with business leaders and teams who need to make decisions about their people, at any stage of their growth. We then help bridge the gaps between education, performance and talent, to help you make the next right move and the next, so people and organisations can achieve their goals. To find out more about how we might be able to help you, get in touch!

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5 ways you’re wasting your training time and what to do about it

So you’re booked onto a training session, how will you make sure you get the most out of it? We’ve answered five key questions that we encourage people to consider so they may make best use of their training investment. So, let’s get started:

Why are you attending?

Are you there because you have to be or because you want to be? This is more than simply mandatory versus voluntary attendance (although this will have an impact on its own). I mean, do you really want to be there and do you really have a clear purpose for what you will do with your new knowledge, skills or behaviours once you’ve received the training? If the answer to both questions is no, then perhaps this isn’t the right time for this training for you. Could you offer your place to someone who is in a better position to benefit? True, you will always get something from attending and it’s not always what you might have planned, but fundamentally, is this a good use of your time or will your investment be diluted because you won’t apply what you have learned?

Who are you listening to and how well are you doing it?

A shared learning experience is beneficial because you can learn so much from the other people in the room over and above what is available from the trainer. A good facilitator will make sure that happens as part of their delivery style. Yet so often I witness people miss out on so much because they do one or some of the following:

  • they listen selectively to content and not different perspectives from the discussion
  • they speak to the person next to them during group discussion time. This dilutes not only their own experience but that of the person they are speaking to
  • they don’t take any notes and so have nothing to reflect on later

Aside from manners, any of the above assume what’s in your head is more important at that time than what’s being said in the room. Equally, you may have something to add to the discussion that could benefit everyone else. So make a commitment to both you and your fellow delegates to focus on the time you have, for the topic you have and everyone will benefit.

If you have something burning that you feel you must say, write it down and asterisk or highlight it in some way. If at the end of the discussion your point hasn’t been addressed, you can introduce it in the group or discuss it informally in a break. This affords the person you would have said it to, to do the same, and not be distracted by your current thoughts at that time.

Are you clear about why you’re there?

In our experience, and if we’ve worked together already, you’ll probably have heard me say this a lot. Learning happens in layers. We learn incrementally from wherever we are in relation to the topic and we learn only what we are ready for. So do you know what your current knowledge/skill level is so you can make sure you focus on what you can apply after you’ve attending your training session? The more specific you are about your learning objectives, the more likely you are to take in what you need from the session. This works on both a conscious and subconscious level with both direct and indirect learning outcomes. Think about a blue car then go for a drive and you’ll spot lots of blue cars on the road. There aren’t any more than usual, you’re just tuned into to spotting them. The same applies to your learning. It’s called RAS and if you’re interested to know more about how that works, you can find out more about it here.

Have you created the right environment for your learning?

When I’m delivering a training session, I arrive early. I allow time to focus on what I’m delivering, shut off any other distractions and focus purely on my clients for that day. However, there have been many times where I’ve arrived ‘in time’ for a training session when I’m the delegate. Whoever is paying for the training itself, remember you are the client and recipient investing your time. That’s a currency that deserves respect in addition to the other expenses incurred. So when you attend a training session, allocate some time beforehand to make sure you have a way of dealing with any interruptions and have everything you need to be ready for the session. If there’s pre-work, do it!

Before you attend, know where you’re going and how to get there, so you can arrive in plenty of time, with your head in the right place at the right time. For example, if there’s an 8:30 for a 9:00am start, turn up closer to 8:30 than 9:00am. Allow time to find the meeting room, find your seat, get a coffee maybe. Be sure to eat breakfast that morning and you’ll get into the session quicker and make best use of all the features we’ve already mentioned.

What follow-up do you need to do?

This is often the bit that gets the least attention, and even if all other points are in place, if this is missing, it will deplete the return on investment made.

What does good follow-up look like? Here are some minimums from our perspective:

  • Book some time in the diary within 24 hours of the event to capture your own observations. Think logically about what you covered and what your own learning highlights were.
  • Book some time in the diary to review your learning and its application the following week too.
  • If you took good notes, these will prove really useful here. If you didn’t, use the agenda to prompt your thinking and make a note to take better notes next time!
  • Identify at minimum, one immediate and one longer term action that can be put into place straightaway, that can be practised. This could be in the form of a new habit, a new process, or some follow up reading. Whatever it is, it must have resonance for you, otherwise it won’t be something you’ll stick to.
  • Identify at minimum, one person to share your learning with. If you’re really good at this, you’ll identify who this is before you attend the training. Regardless, remember that when we commit to telling someone else, we’re more likely to learn more.

These are highlights of how to make the best use of your session. Everybody learns differently and gets different levels of learning from different phases of the event. Find out what works best for you and create your own process for getting the best out of any training event. Our overall premise is ‘less is more’. Focus on what you need and can implement and you will be more likely to take part in the right training for you and be able to apply your learning from any event you attend to best effect.

If you could use our help with your leaders and teams for creating short or longer term talent development programmes, we’d love to hear from you. To find out more about what we do and how we can help visit our Leadership Development page.

You can also receive information, hints and tips direct to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.

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Engaging People

6 Ideas for Engaging Your People all Year Round

It’s amazing how many employers focus on employment legislation when it comes to making people decisions. I haven’t met anyone yet that expects to grow customer loyalty by explaining the consumer protection regulations first.

‘People buy people’ as the saying goes and this translates directly to why people work with people.

Here are six ideas for creating healthier working relationships that will bring benefits all year round:

  1. Focus on what’s important – if you’re too busy to solve why Sarah didn’t present as well as you expected, or why Charlie didn’t get back to you when you agreed, you’re going to stay busy dealing with poor presentations and missed deadlines.
  2. Converse, in person, on purpose – pick up the phone, walk to another part of the building. Invite someone for a coffee. Check-in with the team every day.
  3. Have you read your employee handbook recently? – I’ve read a few and I continually wince as I move past the welcome page into an almost never ending list of what I must not do. Rules are important, so are boundaries, clear expectations and consequences. Set up and maintain a balanced two-way dialogue with your people and you’re more likely to stay ahead of the legal requirements.
  4. Look at how you use your HR resource? Whether in-house or outsourced, how do they spend their time? Are they equipped to identify how your people can best serve your customers now and in the future? Do they actively engage and inspire, or are they overly focused on procedure, policy and performance frameworks?
  5. Don’t wait for your next employee survey. A great barometer is to ask whether your people would recommend working with you to their close family and friends, and why? If you’re not comfortable asking the questions, then you probably already know at least some of the answers.
  6. Notice and nurture your leaders. These are your business advocates. The ‘go to’ people that others gravitate towards when there’s a problem to solve or a challenge to chase. Guess what? They’re not always the ones in the decision-making roles.

In summary

Successful businesses have a clear strategy, based on a clear purpose, delivered by people who are connected to their vision through their values, and who have both the competence and confidence to deliver. They also make sure they follow the statutory regulations.

For more information about how we work with people and organisations visit our Organisation Design and Leadership & Development pages.

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