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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.

Totem Gummi Bears

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.

Jelly Bean Diversity

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.

Totem Lollipops

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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Critical Role Analysis

critical-roleTrust us, it’s more exciting than it sounds!

Critical Role Analysis is a tool to find out what the most important roles in a business are, so businesses can plan for people leaving.

When it comes to succession planning and the development of top talent, we need to know which roles are so important to success, that they are essentially business risks that need to be managed.  What if the person in our most critical role went off sick tomorrow for six months?

Traditionally all development has pointed to the top – we prepare top talent to become the future CEO, but as organisations flatten out and specialist roles are given as much emphasis as managers, we need to flex that approach.  Arguably, an organisation can survive without a CEO, but can it survive without the people who uphold its technical infrastructure, customer services and other critical operations?  Who buys the biscuits?

Knowing what these roles are, means you can effectively succession plan for them and develop your talent or high-flyers to move into those roles when required.  This is classic risk management – by planning for a critical role, you will save your business time and money, by avoiding the need for reactively hiring an expensive, inexperienced new starter.

Totem Lollipops

One simple way to do this is using a critical role grid (draw yourself and X and Y axis and you’re all done…) and then plot the greatest risks based on two measures:

Impact – on the success of the business – essentially, the value of a role’s contribution

Expertise – level of specialist skill or experience required to do the job well, which affects recruitment

Where it gets a little more complicated is in establishing the context and criteria for each role.  The CEO of a large multinational is arguably far easier to replace than a Founder.  Steve Jobs for example, has left a legacy that will stretch far beyond a generations worth of Apple executives.

On the flip side, the caretaker with 50 years of experience and possible the lowest salary in the building – is quite often the key to a business successfully operating on a day to day basis.  That context needs to be built into your assessment criteria.

Strategy Alignment

In many ways Critical Role Analysis is a business planning process, and the companies that have the most success are those that hand responsibility for the analysis to line managers and senior management teams.

It’s these management teams that are responsible for strategy execution and are subsequently best placed to view each role in the context of the wider business ambitions.  We would really encourage anyone who is critically evaluating roles within their business to seek buy in and engagement from those effected by the role they’re assessing.

We often see the needs of the business as an ambition some point off in the distance, or from today’s ‘need it now’ context.  There is a grey area in between called the unexpected.

Starting the analysis conversation early will certainly prepare you for the future, but it may also prepare you for what tomorrow unexpectedly brings.

Superman Logo courtesy of DC Comics.   Getting in touch with Totem about Critical Role Analysis, or indeed any of our Recruitment services couldn’t be easier.  Simply click me or have fun with the links below!

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Recruitment and a Positive Mindset

Totem Recruit HappyDoes your mindset make you more employable?

Traditionally we have been brought up to believe that if we work hard, we achieve more and then we might get the things we want and be happy.  But research over the past 12 years into the life habits and thinking of people who are successful, happy and fulfilled in all aspects of their lives reveals that we have this the wrong way round.

This research shows very clearly that the happiest people, or those that live fulfilled lives and have achieved consistently – they worked on being happy first.

How on earth does this apply to recruitment or even job hunting?  Here we take a closer look at the impact that bringing a positive mindset to your job hunting could have on your employment prospects.

Guess what happens if you click the image…?





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Ability Tests

Ability tests measure a specific aptitude – an inherent talent.

If we are using ability tests to screen candidates for a role, we need to be really sure that we are screening for the right thing. Is a verbal reasoning test score really the measure of a great manager?

What are Ability Tests?

Tests are carefully and robustly designed to measure abilities objectively, and they must be completed under exam-like conditions to ensure the environment is as consistent as possible for all users.

Remember that ability tests only predict one small aspect of job performance – so you’ll need to have a clear idea of what else is critical to success in the role

What value do they add?

When the right test is used for the right reason, the validity can be greatly improved. This means that a correctly chosen ability test can measure how effective a person might be in a role better than any other single selection method. The key is in selecting the right test, and in recognising that the test only predicts one small aspect of overall performance.

For example, verbal reasoning test scores have been found to link strongly with job performance in management roles. This is hardly surprising given the demands on a manager’s communication skills. That said, verbal reasoning is only one part of overall management skill. Knowing a management candidate has strong verbal reasoning skill is a great start. What else do they have?

Ability tests add value to your selection process by telling you very quickly whether a candidate holds the inherent talents that are critical to success in the role. A common and valuable use of ability tests is in high volume recruitment, where it is great to use ability tests as a sifting tool.

What’s the downside?

Candidates tend to really dislike taking these tests, but then, those that are successful tend to consider that they have really ‘earned’ their place in the next stage of your process.

The major risk with these tests is that choosing the wrong test could mean that you are selecting against the wrong criteria.

How to gain maximum value

  • Complete a thorough job analysis before choosing test
  • Use tests as one part of your selection process, as they only measure one aspect of performance
  • Improve candidate perception by ensuring they know how the test relates to the requirements of the role and by giving them feedback
  • The BPS (British Psychological Society) ensures robustness in the design, publishing and use of ability tests – so make sure you use BPS approved tests, administered by BPS qualified users
  • Constantly review the process – are the tests providing you with strong candidates for the next stage of your process?
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Tools To Assess Potential

How do you assess for Potential and what tools we should use?

Here we give our take on using some wonderful products from YSC and Korn Ferry.  Big names in our industry that have two different approaches to assessing potential, both at an organisational and individual level.

Once again, the fabulous Helen Frewin introduces us to their models, gives us the highlights and just for good fun – introduces a few concepts of our own.

If you’d like to find out any more information on mapping potential you can follow me.

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Magic Moments

child_wow 400x265We thought our community would appreciate a different view on some of the hot topics in our industry.

As values have been a bit of theme this year, we knew who to go to!  So drum roll please… We’d like to introduce Jackie Le Fevre, Director at Magma Effect

We asked Jackie to contribute some fresh thinking into how values affect the way we work.  This blog explores how our values filter what we notice about the world around us, which then creates a bias for how we extract meaning from any moment.  You can connect with Jackie here!

So without further ado…

Magic moments

When two hearts are caring

Magic moments,

Memories we’ve been sharing

A reflective note from the 1957 song written by Bacharach and David and the biggest UK hit for Perry Como. I don’t know about you but I often find when comparing memories with other people who were there at the time that our recollections differ: sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

For instance I remember Christmas lunch last year as a relaxed, leisurely affair with plenty of laughter and far too much good food. My youngest daughter (then 13) remembers it being a drawn out affair that went on too long and simply got in the way of being able to open the presents under the tree.

How is it possible for groups of people with close relationships – be that within, family, friendship or workplace groups – to make such different meanings out of essentially the same experiences?

Prof Peter Sells of the University of York says “the interaction of message, mind and context creates meaning”. This makes sense really as we are dynamic beings that are aware of past, present and future and are interested in drawing on those perspectives to achieve better outcomes for ourselves and others. What interests me is that ‘mind’ component.

Daniel Goleman says  “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

So what determines what we notice and what we fail to notice?

Well for one thing we are only human. Every moment of every day there is more information coming at us in terms of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch for us to be able to make sense of it all so we have to filter some stuff out. Thing is most of that filtering is done at an unconscious level by structures in our limbic system hence that fact that as Daniel says ‘we fail to notice that we fail to notice’.

Our personal values play a powerful role in the filtering activity of the limbic brain. For example I have a very strong ‘play’ value which determined what I noticed about Christmas dinner whereas Victoria with a weak ‘patience’ value combined with a strong ‘status/image’ value was just desperate to know whether she did or did not have a new iPod.

If you want to stop failing to notice and thereby increase your options of what to think and do I thoroughly recommend getting to grips with your personal values. One of the many wonderful things about values is that you can’t have the ‘wrong’ ones and that if you want different ones you can effect that change.

Let’s go back to the ideas of magic and moments.

Magic has long been thought of as a power that invisibly (or supernaturally) influences the outcome of events.

A moment (in physics) is the turning force that acts upon the fixed point of an object (such as the hinge of a door or axle of a wheel) and then causes it to turn.

Your values are invisibly influencing the outcomes you seek and providing the driving force of intention that acts in key moments to put you on one path as opposed to another.

Maybe 2014 has been so full of magic moments that you would happily live through a rerun in 2015: but if not it may be time for a different approach.

Why not lift your eyes, open your mind and consciously harness your values for a 2015 filled with meaningful moments and magical insights? That’s my plan.

Jackie Le Fevre

Director at Magma Effect

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Personality Profiling & Gaining Buy-In

Jelly Beans TotemWhen you recognise the value personality profiling can add, how do you sell it in?

At first glance, you’re trying to offer a process that adds time and money to recruitment. How could you possibly sell that idea?  Unless you are talking to someone who has previously used and found great value from personality profiles, these tools are at best a mystery, at worst, a waste of time.

Most people will at some point in their career have had contact with a personality questionnaire. To know what you are dealing with, it is therefore useful to ask the individual what experience they have had of these tools before.

The difficulty here is not that the tool is no good: It is all in the execution. Personality profiles are extremely useful when applied correctly, but through lack of time or experience, this is often not the case.

Make sure you are clear about the profiling service you are offering, how it adds value, how it works and what each party will receive. Then you can sell the benefits.

Benefits to the business

  • Find out information about candidates’ working preferences quicker and more efficiently than through hours of interviewing
  • The candidate receives feedback, providing a positive image of the business
  • Receive a report about candidates’ likely areas of fit to the role and tips on areas to question further at interview
  • Feedback from a business psychologist can reveal factors about the candidate that an interview wouldn’t necessarily provide. For example, their anxiety levels, social confidence, team approach and leadership style

Benefits to the candidate

  • Complete an online questionnaire and receive feedback on working preferences, providing useful insight into personal fit with the company and role
  • The feedback is a real two-way process and provides an opportunity to add “flesh on the bones” of the profile and explain responses
  • As the feedback is with an external business psychologist, there is the added benefit of gaining their insights based on a range of organisations and industries
  • As the recruiting manager is looking for someone that really fits with the company, the successful candidate will therefore be much more likely to enjoy the work and environment

Starting a conversation about profiling

This may be a helpful start…

“We now offer a personality profiling service, which allows you to learn more about a candidate in less time.”

If you would like more guidance on asking the right interview questions to really get under the skin of the candidate, we provide a service that can help with that.


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Situational Judgement Tests

“Organisation can never replace good judgement” – Louis D. Brandeis

What is managerial judgement? Is there really a right answer to the question of how to deal with critical incidents at work such as an underperforming team?

What are Situational Judgement Tests?

Known as SJTs, these tests measure managerial judgement, looking at how individuals would respond to certain scenarios. This can be further broken down to: Managing objectives, people management and reputation or corporate management.

You can buy off-the-shelf SJTs that will measure candidates’ responses against a set of pre-determined ‘best practice’ answers. Quite often though, companies require something more specifically designed to their own context and ways of working.

What value do they add?

Management of budgets, people and performance is a challenge to all new managers. We know that five years’ management experience does not necessarily make a good manager. SJTs allow you to test how someone would deal with the kind of issues common to business management. Or if you create a bespoke test, you can measure directly how someone would deal with your specific issues.

As with all psychometric tests, the value-add is in saving time. By using an off-the-shelf or investing in a bespoke SJT, you find out quickly how someone would deal with issues, rather than having to go through lengthy interviews. It is how we deal with these critical incidents that defines our success as managers, so you could do with knowing how well a candidate will match your needs – before it’s too late.

It’s not the only thing that matters, but most businesses face those times when management judgement makes all the difference. Are you recruiting people that shine at those critical moments?

What’s the downside?

SJTs can be expensive to design for an organisation, as they need to be tested for psychometric fairness with a pilot group – involving time and money. If you are therefore more likely to use an off-the-shelf SJT, it is wise for you to check that the scenarios used in the test are relevant for the role you are recruiting for. Make sure you get the right test to measure the right thing.

As with all psychometric tests, the main risk involved is that recruiting managers focus only on one aspect of success. Every psychometric test should be used as part of a wider process to ensure all priority aspects of a role are tested in recruitment.

How to gain maximum value

  • Analyse the needs of the role to fully understand what needs to be measured
  • If judgement and decision-making are key to success in the role, gather information on the kinds of decisions that make a difference and the contexts and scenarios managers deal with
  • Based on this information, review the off-the-shelf SJTs available for suitability – and if nothing is right, speak to a business psychologist about having a test designed for you (and if this turns out to be too costly, ask their advice on how else you might measure what you need)
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