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Making ‘No Ratings’ Work

handcuffs-brokenHow to make the transition to no more performance ratings – successfully.

If you’re considering saying bye bye to the classic performance rating system, you are not alone.  You can read here about the findings of many companies who have already made the same move.

It’s not surprising that this has been a popular move because who has ever really enjoyed rating or being rated?  At some point it becomes an awkward conversation.

Congratulations – you don’t have to go through that anymore!  But what do you do instead?  And how does that make things better – for you, your team and your business?  Here are some top tips from our experience with helping managers make this transition, backed up by neuroscience and research from the CEB and NLI.

Explain the change

We know that change can be difficult, particularly when we can’t see why change is happening.  Our brains like certainty, predictability and safety in knowledge, so not knowing what’s happening, what that means for me, what might happen next – and all the other usual hallmarks or organisational change, can lead us to unrest and panic.  Explore for you personally and the business overall why you are moving away from performance ratings.

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You could even remind people how awkward these conversations have been in the past, so it is a good thing to remove a painful and potentially unhelpful process.  Have you and your team been more effective and produced better results in the lead up to and just after that rating conversation?  If not then surely this is a good reason for change.

This leads us on to the future focus.  If we understand why what we had before is not so good, then we ask, “What is better then?  What will we do from now on?”  You need to be ready for this question and have some good ideas.

Or if you want to be truly collaborative, you could ask your team: “We think there must be something better than this awkward ratings conversation, but we’re all involved in this process, so what do you think could work better?”  Being involved in shaping the future process increases engagement in both business and neurological terms – we both feel good about our employer and feel valued in ourselves, all having a positive impact on the way we feel and our productivity.

If you don’t have the option to be so collaborative, perhaps because your HR or Executive Leadership team have already agreed what will happen instead, then explain the new process.  Make sure you explore with the team why this new process is considered to be better and ideally still ask them to define part of it.

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Even a small amount of consultation and empowerment to make decisions keeps our brains happy, so this as an example could get you a more positive outcome than having no consultation at all: “We know we need to have more frequent performance check-in conversations and these need to happen every other month.  Which months would you prefer these occur in?  And when in the month would be best for you?”

Have the conversation more often

The increased frequency of conversations has been found to correlate with organisations seeing success from this transition, as found in the NLI’s research.  It stands to reason that the removal of a past-focused once or twice a year rating process, if replaced with nothing, could just mean that performance goes nowhere.

Getting rid of hours spent justifying a rating is best seen as an opportunity to have more frequent ‘check-ins’ – shorter, sharper conversations about an individual’s results and behaviours.  This means as managers we need to be putting time aside for these conversations, whether face-to-face or remotely over the phone / skype etc.  As I often say on workshops, this is not about finding more time for conversations, it’s about taking the time you already spend in conversations – and making that more effective.

General chit chats about how things are going, moaning about systems, politics and red tape, are not a good use of our time.  So instead make sure you have 1:1s booked in with the specific purpose of reviewing what is going well, what needs working on and how the individual will be working on that over the next few weeks.

Give more specific feedback and coaching

Of course all of that means you need to be confident and skills with feedback and coaching.  Here’s a starting point suggestion for a good conversation or performance check-in:

The purpose of this conversation is for us to both be clear on what’s going well, what needs improving and what each of us will do over the next few weeks to make those improvements.  That means we should be ending this meeting with agreed actions and timescales for review

  • How are things going for you?
  • What’s going well?

Add your specific feedback on what you have seen them do well – both in terms of results and the behaviours that got them there.

  • What needs further improvement?

Add your specific feedback on what you have seen them do not so well – both in terms of results and behaviours.

  • What could you do over the next few weeks to make more of what’s going well and improve on the other areas?
  • Where will you start?
  • What support would you like from me?
  • When we next meet to review progress on [date], what will you be telling me then – as an indicator of success?

Use statements and questions like these to keep the conversation focused and make sure it is the individual planning their future success, rather than justifying their past performance.

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This level of coaching or empowering someone to come up with their own feedback and solutions, is shown in our brains to make us feel good about ourselves and help us commit to the plans agreed.  Being told what to do and how to do it just doesn’t cut it, so sense-check you’re doing this well by reviewing who did most of the talking during your meeting: it should not be the manager!

Any change is going to feel uncomfortable, because we’re not used to it yet.  Even the best things we’ve ever done feel unnatural at first as we get used to them.  Clear communication about why we’re changing, what we’re changing to and how that’s better, following by more frequent check-ins with good feedback and coaching – all of this can help you instil a great performance culture – minus the ratings!

If you would like support working out how to implement a no-ratings approach, we can help with on-the-job quick reference guides, workshops and online learning tools – just give us a call for a chat about how we can help you.

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The Value Add of Executive Coaching

value-totemHow We Go About Improving the Value Add of Executive Coaching

Whether we’re coaching one senior executive in a firm or a whole leadership team and whether we are the sole coaching provider or one of many, there are some consistent ways of working that help.

We’ve put together this useful little guide to help you understand some of the key steps to successful executive coaching.

Click on the image and the magic will happen.

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Brexit: Resilience through Uncertainty

breixt2Continuing to assess the impact from the referendum

The past few weeks have brought new meaning to leading through uncertainty.  With changes in government, low confidence in the UK economy, fluctuating share prices and the appearance that we are talking ourselves into a recession, how can any of us cope and perform at our best?

Recent research carried out by Credit Suisse suggests 49% of FTSE 350 boards in the FT–ICSA Boardroom Bellwether survey did not put a plan in place to cope with a Brexit outcome.  So what can we do to help?

In this article we’ll explore the ways different businesses are responding to the current situation, offer some tips from the research on resilience and leave you with the reminder that your mindset is critical for your success and mental health.

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Many anecdotal stories emerged from the last two economic contractions, indicating that the strongest surviving companies were those who maintained focus and continued to invest in advertising and people development.

In a Harvard Business School study of three recessions, it was found that “firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish. They have the lowest probability—21%—of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better.”  “Companies that master the delicate balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow do well after a recession.”  You can read the whole study here.

If you’re not in a position to make or influence decisions about the direction the business takes post-Brexit, what can you do?  Developing your resilience or ‘bouncebackability’ can be critical for staying effective and focused no matter what life throws at you.

One of the critical aspects of resilience is self-belief – slightly different to self-confidence, self-belief is the sense that you can cope, you will survive and life goes on.  Why is self-belief important for resilience?  Without self-belief we can feel helpless in the face of difficult and challenging situations that occur.  We can be afraid of the future, worry that things will be impossible to overcome and feel frozen into inaction.

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However, if we believe that we have the skills and resources to deal with these situations, we will be willing to tackle the challenge head-on, focus on the outcomes we want and persist towards that outcome even when things get difficult.  So how can people develop self-belief?

Remember where you have coped before

We have all faced challenging situations before – and we’re still here, still breathing, still getting on with things.  Think back to the difficult things in life you have overcome.  When has life been hard and you have managed to survive and maybe even thrive afterwards?  Remembering that we have coped before can boost our confidence that we can cope again – building that belief in our ability.

Set goals and achieve them

A key way to develop self-belief is through ‘mastery’ experiences, ie setting yourself goals and achieving them.  In relation to resilience this means learning you can cope with unexpected situations.  By putting yourself in situations where you have to use your coping resources, you will learn that you are capable of dealing with these situations.

Identify and observe role models

Identify people who are able to cope with challenging and difficult situations easily.  What do they do and what can you learn from them?

Find a supportive coach or mentor

A key element of building self-belief is being encouraged by others and having them acknowledge your achievements.  Identify someone who can support you and mentor you.

Challenge your own limiting beliefs

Our belief in our ability to cope is often limited by our beliefs about ourselves and our own capabilities.  It is important to challenge and question these beliefs, as it is often only these beliefs that hold us back. The first step is identifying them: what statements do you tell yourself over and over?  Things like “I could never cope with…,” “I’m not good enough for this job,” “I can’t do this” and “I could never do this job if…” are common limiting beliefs.  We state them in our minds like they are facts.

Make a list of the most common things you tell yourself that fit into this category of sounding like facts, yet are really more beliefs about your ability.

The second step is to challenge these statements.  Are they facts?  For each one, ask yourself whether this is true, false or cannot say.  What evidence do you have that this statement might be false?  When we say things like “I always fail” or “I never do well at…” the fact is that we will have evidence to the contrary.  We will of course sometimes fail, but we sometimes succeed too.  Challenging these limiting beliefs and creating new beliefs for ourselves can be critical to our self-belief.

What if we changed “I always fail” to “Sometimes I do well and I want to do everything I can to make sure this time I do well too.”

Each business is reacting differently to the changes the UK is experiencing at the moment and that uncertainty will continue.  Looking at building resilience and self-belief – for yourself and your people, is a critical step towards surviving and thriving today and tomorrow.

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Mindset

mindset3The Idea: Intelligence isn’t fixed.

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea-the power of our mindset.

New research shows that rather than intelligence being fixed, the more you challenge your mind to learn, the more the brain grows and gets stronger. Adopting a ‘growth mindset’ – believing your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts – has been found in studies to help children build resilience and achieve better results at school, as well as adults to reach their own personal and professional goals.

It is therefore beneficial for us all, at any age, to believe we and others can learn and get better at things. This changes the way we learn ourselves, teach others, lead others and support our children.

The Action

Next time you set yourself a goal, try moving your mindset from fixed to growth. This means actively embracing challenges as opportunities to learn and viewing any setbacks- or /lack of success as ‘not yet’ rather than failure.

This is like the classic story of Edison making 1000 attempts to create a light bulb. He did not say “I’ve failed,” he said “I’ve not got it right yet.” Use “I’m not there yet,” in your setbacks to help you focus on learning and growing from every experience. This will help you achieve better results in the end.

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Learned Optimism

optimism1The Idea: Thinking Habits and how to change them.

Known as the father of the new science of positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it.

Habits of thinking, although learned in childhood and adolescence, need not be forever. Whilst mild pessimism has its uses, pessimistic prophecies are in general self-fulfilling. As we believe that life will be hard and we will never succeed, so we see that starting to come true.

Although life imposes the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as the pessimist, the optimist weathers them better, which leads to greater achievement at work, better physical health and even prolonged life.

The Action

Choose the way you think: optimism can be learned, taught and measured. By learning to speak to yourself about setbacks from a more encouraging viewpoint, you will build your resilience and ultimately improve the quality of both your work and home life. The tool for this is the three Ps – Personal, Permanent, Pervasive.

When you face a setback or something difficult, a pessimistic and confidence-damaging way of thinking is that it’s all your fault (personal), it will always be this bad (permanent) and actually this just proves that everything you do is a failure (pervasive to other areas of your life). Switch this round to “it’s not all my fault, I can learn from this and do better / avoid this in future and just because this went wrong here, it doesn’t mean it affects everything else – I can still be successful in other areas of my life.”

This is a more encouraging way of thinking that will help you focus on learning and feel better about the situation.

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What are the Implications of Best?

implicationsWhat do we do with this new found information?

Having set out to explore the shared meaning of being at one’s best at work* and developed a confident framework to describe it, let’s consider the implications of the this new understanding.

We’ll take a look at a number of workplace applications we can put this framework to work in.  Knowing that being at one’s best involves both positive subjective states and positive behavioural patterns, the workplace environment needs to acknowledge and address both of these aspects of the individual.

Our research* into positive workplaces identified a range of characteristics that are linked to the framework and are reflected in the frameworks themes yet there was no clear definition of a positive workplace.  So perhaps the framework could help to provide some structure to that definition?

One where people feel positive about their job, themselves and their colleagues and they are demonstrating behaviours related to achieving, supporting and interacting?

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Organisations wishing to develop a positive workplace will therefore need to attend to the structure of the work and the relationships surrounding it.  They will need to ensure that the work is structured in a way that provides opportunity for individuals to demonstrate the positive behavioural patterns of the framework.

Whilst achieving the goals of the work and organisation are often the rationale for the workplace structures, in order to develop a positive workplace there also needs to be more interaction between individuals and opportunities for them to be able to support each other in developing the goals.

Creating interaction with ‘customers’ is perhaps more difficult in back office environments however even in these circumstances internal colleagues are benefiting from the work completed so could be seen as internal customers.  There’s a clear rationale for greater interaction and communication within teams and between teams.

There are also implications for people management practices.  The framework highlights the importance of both behaviours and subjective states.  People management practices often focus on the output of the individual – their achievements.   Competency assessments of individuals focus on the achievements through behaviours.  Whilst achieving behaviours are a key element of being at one’s best in work they remain just a single part of the framework.

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Acknowledging the importance of supporting and interacting behaviours are also vital alongside attending to the personal subjective states of individuals.  If these become part of the recognised and prioritised actions of the workforce then there is likely to be less silo working and more collaboration.   The additional focus on attending to individual’s subjective states is likely to demand even more interpersonal skill from managers.

The support they will require in being able to handle the complexities of emotions in the workplace also becomes important.  The framework however could act as a diagnostic for when individuals are not at their best and this will help to prioritise appropriate interventions.

Whilst the organisation and managers need to encourage a positive workplace by attending to both subjective states and behavioural patterns, the responsibility for being at one’s best however must also lie with the individuals.

Personal awareness and development needs to attend to both subjective states and behaviours.   By structuring learning and development interventions to provide insight and development in terms of the subjective states and the behavioural patterns of the framework, greater improvements to the workplace and to performance are likely to be seen.

How organisations plan and recruit for future needs is also impacted.  Traditional competency assessments purely focus upon the achievements whereas the supporting and interacting behaviours are also necessary to evidence.  Investigating the subjective states of individuals will also give an indication of how likely one is to see the individual at their best.

The understanding of being at one’s best that the  framework provides has clear implications for individuals and organisations.  Understanding is the starting point, what is done with that understanding is likely to make the difference between simply being “OK” at work and being at one’s best in work.

 

(*Addicott 2015)

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The Coaching Question

Far from a nice chat, coaching can be extremely valuable to business.

But how do we measure this? How can you know you are getting value for money?  The value is in the time and space to think, facilitated to ensure clear progress is made. We rarely take time to step back, stop and think. We face a challenge, we find a solution and we run with it.

It’s no wonder with this pattern of working that we often end up realising months have gone by and we have not thought about overall performance, strategic direction, personal goals etc.

By taking that time to think with a facilitator, we become more effective, find ways around our fears and areas where we might lack confidence. It’s a difficult one to quantify – but think of a manager suddenly having the confidence to manage a poor performing team. Imagine you, at your best, performing with greater efficiency and focus. It’s all extremely valuable.

How can we measure the value of coaching?

As with any activity where it is difficult to quantify impact or benefit, the key is in the original objectives. It is only when we know what impact we are aiming for that we can measure whether any activity has been successful. It is for this reason that coaching objectives need to be aligned to business needs.

Consider exactly what you want to see happen and how you would know if it had happened.

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Let’s take a classic example of a manager who was promoted due to their ability as a great technical specialist/sales person/engineer/customer advisor. This manager now has a team and they are not sure whether they should be aiming to be friends with the team or exert authority. They are not sure how to performance manage people that used to be peers.

This scenario is a perfect opportunity for coaching. Training in this instance would provide knowledge about what a manager should do, but coaching will more rapidly get to the heart of what is holding the manager back.

To measure whether coaching has been effective in this scenario, we could define some clear objectives. For example, “by the end of a six month coaching programme, this manager will have:

  • Set a performance improvement plan for team member X who has been lagging behind on targets for months
  • Improved overall team performance by at least 5%, moving up to 20% in the following 12 months
  • Contributed to team meetings and strategy days – the manager currently says very little. This should move up to at least three ideas contributed or developed with others per meeting”

Maximising your coaching session

So as long as you set clear objectives and measure the business benefit of these throughout your coaching programme, you can be clear on the ROI of the coach. To maximise the value you gain:

  • Define your objectives
  • Start with an open mind, then give your coach prompts on what is working well for you
  • Keep evaluating what you are gaining from the time and money invested
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The Personal MBA

mba2The Idea: Educate yourself…

An MBA at a top school is an enormous investment in time, effort and cold, hard cash. And if you don’t want to work for a consulting firm or an investment bank, the chances are it simply isn’t worth it.

Josh Kaufman is the rogue professor of modern business education. Feted by everyone from the business media to Seth Godin and David Allen, he’s torn up the rulebook and given thousands of people worldwide the tools to teach themselves everything they need to know.

Instead of spending thousands of pounds and a lot of time completing an MBA, which may be run by academics and be frankly out of touch with what really works in business – read books and articles which give you the insights you need to actually be successful.

This book summarises the critical things you need to know to start, lead and grow a successful business – in easy to understand language.

The Action

Demystify business strategy and expertise so that everyone can understand what we’re talking about. It needn’t be complex to talk about why we do what we do as a business, what we sell, to whom, why they buy it and how we make money.

From there you can explore ways to improve things, choose where to focus your attention and clarify what that means you need to stop doing as well. Read this book for a clear outline of the critical things you need to know about business.

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Goldilocks & Leadership Development

goldilocks1-400x265How do you design a leadership development programme right for you?

Many of our clients are wanting to have a development programme for managers and leaders that is tailored to them – or completely bespoke for each person.  The days of off-the-shelf learning approaches seem to be numbered as recognition grows that traditional classroom learning is simply not effective.

So what can businesses do to make their development programmes for managers and leaders – more appropriately tailored or bespoke?

Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned over the years about how this approach can work best – whether you work with an external provider or not.

Make the vision for development crystal clear.

Let’s start with the intent.  Why on earth are you doing this?  If you want to engage and demonstrate to your organisation the value-add of developing managers and leaders, you’ll need to answer the questions below.

What’s the purpose?   What do you want people to learn through this development?  What might people be doing differently as a result of this?  How does that add value to the business?  How could you measure that behavioural change to monitor the effectiveness of the programme?

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What’s the Development Path?  Where might learners want to take their careers and how does this development support that?  What features might your approach need in order to best support personal, career and business-critical development?  Do you need to add in mentoring from the Exec, buddy systems, external experiences and support?  How does your approach enable people to grow their self-awareness, a critical door-opener to all other development?

We’ll admit that list of questions can be tough to answer, and working through those questions with your stakeholders can often take months.  But in our experience, considering and responding to each of those questions will mean you’ll be able to create a solid and compelling business case for developing your people; and a better programme as result.

So now to the doing.  What activities or interventions could you use?

Below is a little list of things you can use on top of facilitated skills workshops, but we’d always recommend starting with the learning objectives.  What do people need to learn?  Is it knowledge, skill – or about embedding behavioural habits?  Plan interventions or learning activities that best suit that sort of learning.

  • Engage the senior team. When we talk about the 70: 20: 10 model, the difficulty is always working out what to do with the 70%.  The fact is that the 70% of our learning comes from the underlying culture and unconscious observation of how things are done around here.  That can be heavily driven by our managers – so getting them on board with the learning objectives and role modelling the right sort of behaviours is critical.  It doesn’t of course always work that way – but it’s a great starting point to at least get leaders on board.
  • Problem-solving workshops. Reflecting the best practice accelerated learning principles of having learners create their own learning, this approach starts with them.  What is the problem they’re facing linked to your development outcomes?  A common example is both the business and the delegates want to get better at having difficult conversations.  So instead of jumping into traditional classroom training showing people how they should have difficult conversations, ask people to look at it like a problem to solve.  The fact is that in this example, and many others, we all know what we should do, but actually doing it is a different story.  Powerful facilitation of “why is it we don’t do what we know we should, and how might we address that?” can be far more beneficial than yet another training course.  You can read more about this in the article High Performance Conversations.
  • Webinars and self-directed learning. If some of the learning you want to deliver is knowledge-building, then you may as well make use of all the resources available in your documents and systems – and the good old internet.  Giving people knowledge in a workshop can be energy-draining and unhelpful, so use online learning, webinars and workbooks to encourage learners to work at their own pace, reflect and build their knowledge.  The idea with self-directed learning is to encourage the same kind of behaviour as you see when someone is curious about a topic.  We start with a google search and find ourselves going in all sorts of directions from there, clicking on more links and expanding our understanding of something.  You can encourage this by suggesting particular Google searches, giving suggested web links and TED talks and recommending people explore from there.
  • 1:1 coaching and Action Learning Sets. When it comes to embedding behavioural habits, the best option is always to have a manager who supports and challenges us to try out new things, reflect on learning from experience and keep trying things out.  This of course is very rare – and whilst engaging your leaders at the start is wise, it’s always useful if you can give a helping hand to the embedding of habits.  Coaching and action learning give you the chance to challenge people on how they have applied their learning, what they’ve tried and what they could do differently next time.

Own it!

The real jazz hands moment in our work is when individuals take personal accountability for their learning.  This is singularly the most important thing you can encourage when developing people.  If you get this right, and get it in early, learners will be better engaged, more responsive and eager to improve their capabilities.  Starting any learning with it all being focused on people coming up with their own solutions is a great message – and enables you to build from there, the theme of personal accountability.

You could argue that there is nothing in here that stands out as particularly bespoke or different from an off-the-shelf programme – but the key difference is, it all starts with what your business needs to achieve and what your learners offer as solutions.  That’s what makes it work.

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