performance-appraisal-makeover-nowHello, after some context in this post series about Performance Appraisal, I will start to share the framework and what I did in later years to avoid the unpleasant effects from traditional performance appraisals.

In this post, I will share with you what has worked for me in the past. Maybe I can spark a few ideas from you. A few things to remember:

  • It is not some magical solution that can be fixed all at once. Human systems are complex, so you will surely need to do your part, adapting and tweaking based on your context and approach style. Keep in mind that you could have developers, integrators, directors, managers or VPs reporting to you. However, all of them have something in common, they are human. As humans, we are the most beautiful and most complex system in the world. So, you will have complex humans interacting with each other. It means that you will have a fantastic and complex ecosystem. Always keep that in mind and be nice to yourself if something doesn’t work as you expect in the beginning.
  • It is not a fix or patch for your actual performance appraisal process. It is a full makeover and/or a re-think. You will have to be ready for culture resistance, and a lot of challenges. Maybe you would like to do it at low scale as we normally do for big changes. You will need to decide where you want to start: with your team? With your business unit? With your full organization?
  • That you spend time reading what I have to share, and I really want to hear your feedback. Positive, negative or critical feedback; it is all welcome. It allows me to improve and keeps me motivated to write more.

Please take a few extra seconds to let me know your thoughts/comments/reactions when you have finished. Thank you.

Let’s start with a new process to get better results as an organization. Remember that you can apply this to the full organization, to a team, to a business unit, or to a few teams. My recommendation is starting at the level where you don’t need a lot of “permissions”. If that is your team, let’s start with your team. It will be easier to sell this makeover to others when you have already done it for your team and it has worked fine.

The “ground floor” phase

 Build a strong foundation under your dreams. – Kishore Bansal

What should happen here: Discussions and interactions, common vocabulary, and understanding should be the most important here.

Format: In groups. Yes, that’s what I said, in groups. We need to end the individual evaluation; you should not care too much if a person is not performing well. The group will take care of that for you and your evaluation should be focused on the group’s performance. Believe me; as a group they will provide an honest evaluation of themselves. Approach this in groups, and be creative. I would recommend the discussion/meeting be held in a place, outside of the workplace, that is beneficial to the group and It will also help to create a safe environment to talk and discuss matters within the group However, this is not mandatory.

If you are at the organization level, you need to be sure that somebody from this level has spread the thinking of that group to the lower levels. So, in the end, you need to be sure to have a communication plan for lower levels. Avoid emails, newsletter, or phone calls. Involve one, two, or three people from this level for your communications to the next lower level.

Length: It will depend on what level you are working, and the number of people in the room. For small teams, it could be half a day. If you are working at the organization level, you will work this part with the executive team. It should take a half day for small groups. You should plan a full day for bigger executive team.

Output: Very simple the output, but it is not easy. “What do you want to become in X years?” If you are working at the team level, X could be 1 or 2 years. At the organization level, you should use something between 10 and 20 years. Sometimes, people don’t want to think more than 5 years ahead and that is all right.

At the team level, normally this answer comes from upper management, and depending on the answer there may be some resistance. It is here where you have to think the strategy out in this way: “[…] the organization wants us to become ‘xxx’ to be successful as organization, great, now, we as a team, and with the information we got from upper management, what do you want to become in X years to be successful as an individual / team inside this organization?[…]”. This will present the opportunity for the people to merge personal / team ambitions with the organization’s ambitions. You will get two answers, and you will have a stronger commitment.

Frequency: Something between 6 and 12 months and it probably should be the shorter time frame. The idea of doing this is to validate that what we decided some time ago is valid. If it is not, it should start again. Expect the worst when you deploy this the first time, and where the culture of the company is command and control. In these cases, people need time to understand that the organization has decided to change

Notes:

  • Sometimes, people inside teams tend to think individually during this part of the process. Help them to avoid that trap. They will have the opportunity to define personal goals later. Now, we take care of the team’s ecosystem.
  • If you are working at the organization level or in a business unit with a lot of interaction with people outside of the organization (called customers), you should really consider connecting to this part of your ecosystem as soon as possible. It is extra work, and you may find some things out of your control, but your effort will really pay off fast.
  • An external facilitator is strongly recommended if you are working at the organization level or at the team level. You need to feel comfortable that the person who facilitates will have the right mind set. ‘Facilitators must create the container. Participants must create the content’. Keep that in mind if you decide to start with an internal facilitator.
  • If you already noticed that this part is very similar to the “vision” that every organization should have, you are right. I like to use the term ‘ground-floor’ because of what I learned over the years. One day I got this comment: “Having a vision is nice, but we have more than 10 years in the market without one, and it works”. I will not go in detail about “how good it worked”. But this is to give you an idea of what kind of resistance you might get from the outside. So far, I haven’t got comments like ‘we can start building in the air’ or ‘we can start without a ground-floor’. I did get some resistance when I tried to deploy a vision for a sales team and a developer team. People associate the word “vision” with the organization only. So, to make my life simpler, I use the term ‘ground-floor’. It is easy to explain with a metaphor, and everyone can understand it.
  • Anything that you want to build, you will have to have a solid ground-floor. You will need to create a very solid base for your new process. Please, don’t rush this part. Patience is priceless here.

The “build up” phase

You don’t have to knock anyone off their game to win yours. It doesn’t build you up to tear others down. – Mandy Hale

What should happen here: More talks, discussion, and interactions. The main focus is building the output plan together.
Format: In group. Yeah! You read well again, you need to think in the ecosystem. All things I said in the previous phase about the format are valid here also. I don’t like repeating myself.

Length: It will depend on what level you are working, and the number of people in the room. However, it should not be more than a full day. In a lot of cases a half day is enough.

Output: Now, the output will be more related to an action or a group of actions. The idea here is answer this question: “What do we want to do to xxxxx in the next xx months?” Where ‘xxxxx’ is the output from the ‘ground floor’ phase. Normally here you will get a mixture of things; let the people brainstorm here. In the last part, you could separate between group/unit/organization actions and individual actions.

The last thing here is to prioritize, and get a “hot” list of actions, and a “backup” list of actions. The most frequent question I have gotten here is: How many actions in each list? Let me tell you something: I don’t have the perfect answer. I never look for a perfect answer. It will all depend on the time, the challenge, and the dynamics of the group that you are working with in this phase. My recommendation is:

“What do we want to do to xxxxx in the next 3months?”

  • Group “hot” list: 2-4 items.
  • Personal “hot” list: 1-2 items.
  • Group “backup” list: 6-10 items.
  • Personal “backup” list: 4-6 items.

“What do we want to do to xxxxx in the next 12months?”

  • Group “hot” list: 6-8 items.
  • Personal “hot” list: 1-3 items.
  • Group “backup” list: 10-20 items.
  • Personal “backup” list: 6-10 items.

Frequency: Something between 1 and 3months. It should be the shorter time frame. The idea of doing this is to validate that what we have in our “hot” list is still valid. In the case that some items of the “hot” list are not valid any more, replace it with another one from the “backup” list.

Notes:

  • Before ending this phase, please be sure that everyone is on the same page. What are the group actions and individual actions.
  • You need to agree with the schedule to validate the progress of what will be executed in the time frame you decide to work with your team.
  • If you are working with actions in a “cascade” mode (from top to bottom), you should verify the results with other levels.
  • Be nice and patient here. Four people never experience this kind of collaboration mode, it could be hard. Give them the time to reflect and do the “silence” your best friend routine.

The “maintenance” phase

The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone. – Mitch Albom

What should happen here: You need to create the space to talk about the progress of these actions you just created. In this phase, you will take care of that.

Format: In group. 60 or 90 minute meeting.

Output: Track our actions. Validate if our “hot” list is valid, or should we switch to actions from our “backup” list. In the end, the full group should end the meeting with a clear direction of where they are going, and what they are going to do.

Frequency: Every month. At the beginning it will be a difficult meeting but with the time, the meetings will become easier each month.

Notes:

  • Validate that everyone understand each action.
  • If people don’t have the tools to execute the action, the action should be reviewed. Check to find out if anyone in the group can unblock the action. Don’t leave a blocked action in the “hot” list.
  • Bonus? Yeah, here is the place where you should discuss bonuses. In group, there are few ways to approach this; I will present a few exercises to help you. Stay tuned to my blog and you will begin to see them.
  • Salary increases? Yeah, this is also the place. Scary? Don’t worry, you don’t need to deploy this in one day, you need to plan this change and there is literature to help you. I will share information with you in future posts.

That is the full framework. In the next few weeks, I will go deeper in each phase to share the techniques to approach each phase. As for now, I will share something new every week and occasionally I may be writing something twice a week.

Please remember to send your comments/questions/feedback. It will help me to write more about this subject and create new reflections based on your questions/comments.

Thank you so much!
Omar

READ: Extreme Makeover – Performance Appraisal Edition – full post series

About the author

Omar is an agile practitioner and lover. Certified Scrum master. Agile Coach & Agile Leader. He believes it is important to continually be learning and growing. His dream is to be a lifelong learner; growing each day. He is also passionate about leadership development and seeing people reach their full potential. He is also a good husband & father (his wife says that time to times). He has a wonderful wife and 2 fantastic kids. In his free time, if he does not have any plan ahead, he tries to apply agile methodologies at the family level :). He enjoys a lot to travel with his family and discovers new places for them.