Friday, 29 July 2011

Nurturing the Talent Within Your Business

by Lucy Cadman @ Developing People

I have been with Developing People for a year and a half now, and it is sad to admit that at 35 years old, this is fast approaching the record for the longest time I have ever remained in one job. My role has changed probably 80% from what I first came here to do, but those changes have taken into account both the growth and development of the business, and the skills and abilities that I have brought to the role. As a result, the business has acquired vital and useful resources, and I feel as an employee that my ability is recognised and my talent is being nurtured, which makes for a win-win situation all round.

Today’s businesses, organisations and markets are constantly changing, developing and evolving. With this comes the fact that it is not possible to simply find someone who has potential and leave them to get on with a job. If you want a high quality performance from a high flying manager who is going to stay committed to your organisation for the long term, then you need a programme of Talent Management and Leadership Development firmly rooted into the very core of your company. Your people and your business need to be able to move constantly with the times.

As an employer, how should you tackle this? Here is a guide to making the most out of your talent.

• Make talent management and development and issue at Board level. The Board should be able to clearly articulate the strategy of the business and where it is going, and therefore define the types of skills, behaviours and people the business will need in the future.

• Identify who the potential leaders of the business are in the next 5, 10 and 15 years. Does the business have a mechanism in place to identify the leaders of tomorrow? What are the key criteria that the business is looking for? How will the criteria be measured and assessed?

• Make sure that your talent is aware of the fact that they are ‘talent’, and continually cross-check their expectations and desires alongside yours. At the age of 27, an aspiring manager may be willing to travel the world. At 37 and with a young family, their priorities have probably changed.

• Be open and clear with your high potentials about what it is they need to learn. What is it that will add the greatest value to their performance and careers?

• Don’t assume that management training is the answer to all your talent development needs. Ask yourself what development activities will they benefit most from - coaching, mentoring, project work or a secondment?

• Provide ‘on and off the job’ opportunities for your talent to flourish. Could they perhaps lead a local community or charity project? Generally people will raise their performance to what is being requested of them. If you never ask someone to step outside their comfort zone you will never find out!

• Make sure that you are focussing on the individual’s ‘development’, and therefore provide opportunities for self-direction and self-learning as well.

Ultimately the competitive edge of your business and its long term success resides with the abilities of your future key managers and leaders. Surely the nurturing and development of your talent is far too an important business issue to be left to chance?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Performance Appraisal - Common Pitfalls to Avoid

My own view of appraisal processes is that they are extremely useful but only if set up properly and used in the right way. The purpose of an appraisal process should be to optimise the success and contribution of each employee. If this is achieved, then improved performance from the majority of employees will ultimately positively impact the performance of the business. While this theory is fine, in practice appraisal systems too often don’t’ delver on their promises and end up with a bad name. Too often I have seen a business that did not get the full benefits from their appraisal processes mainly because managers make one or more basic mistakes.

Here are just a few of the most common pitfalls to avoid.

1) The board and other senior managers think that appraisal is ‘for everyone else’. For appraisals to be successful, they must be lead from the top and clearly linked to the business’ strategies and goals. My own view here is that leading by example is key – if you are a senior manager and don’t take appraisals seriously, then why should your managers?

2) Nobody is accountable for implementing the appraisal process properly in the first place. When implementing an appraisal process, appoint a project manager to implement the new process. Use the project manager to monitor progress and report completions to the board. In this way everyone wit understand what progress has been achieved and what else needs to be done.

3) Implementing a highly complex/comprehensive system. I have seen incredibly comprehensive and complex systems that in theory might be great but in practice turn off managers and staff, so they don’t use it. Therefore start with the basics first - use a simple paperwork system to record targets/objectives and an annual (or biannual) review of achievement. As managers and staff recognize the value of the process, more ‘features’ can be added in such as a 360° appraisal.

4) Have a system that ranks staff. Ranking your staff will kill an appraisal system. I have seen sales staff not pass on leads to their colleagues because they want to top the league table. It is often easier for an individual to improve their ranking by undermining the performance of others than it is to improve their own performance. The result of this is destructive and divisive ways of working, which will not improve business performance (remember the purpose of appraisal?)

5) Setting vague or inappropriate targets. It is vital to set clear and realistic performance targets, and not simply tell you staff to ‘do your best’. How will you or they objectively measure whether they have ‘done their best’? It is a recipe for disaster.

6) Having conflicting targets and measures. It is important to have congruent targets and measures across the organisation. I once worked for an business whose supply chain manager had a target to reduce purchasing spend, and the production managers had targets to maximise productivity. Guess what happened? The supply chain manager complained bitterly that deliveries were frequently late and the production managers blamed the supply chain manager for buying cheap paper that slowed the printing presses down!

7) Reviewing performance inadequately, for example by focusing on one specific incident rather than reviewing the entire period which the review covers. Also avoid the "halo" and "horns" effects. Just because an employee performs badly in one area does not make his/her overall appraisal bad. The same goes for good appraisal. The key to successful reviews is to gather factual data about an individual’s performance and then assess it objectively.

8) Not providing adequate development support for staff. One key aspect of the appraisal process is the development of staff to provide them with the capabilities to achieve their targets. People can only improve their performance if they are given the right opportunities to learn and develop. This may be in the form of on the job guided learning or on a formal management training course. Businesses that ignore this step do so at their peril.

As I mentioned at the beginning, my belief is the purpose of an appraisal process is to optimise the success of each employee and ultimately the business. By taking steps to avoid pitfalls I have highlighted managers should have every opportunity to realise this goal.

Friday, 15 July 2011

How to give constructive criticism

by Lucy Cadman @ Developing People

I had a dance lesson last night, and danced with a new partner for the first time. I have always been used to being the more experienced member of my previous partnership, and as a result have been used to being the one who has had to lead, remember, and generally be in charge. However, my new partner has infinitely more experience than me, and as a result I found myself in a completely new situation where I was struggling to keep up with what I was learning rather than being the one doing the coaxing, the supporting and the teaching.

When I succeeded in fluffing the same set of Foxtrot steps twice in a row, it led to an almighty angry outburst from my partner. “It isn’t like that!” he literally shouted at me. “You’re not doing the right steps!” And with that, he walked away.

I am not averse to being corrected if I am wrong, but there were a million things wrong with the way he approached this situation. Here are five simple steps that would have helped him to provide clear and constructive feedback:

Plan – have a clear idea of what topic(s) you need to discuss, exactly what you want to say, and most importantly of all, how you are going to say it. Make sure that you leave scope for discussion. The key is to be flexible, whilst still getting your points across. Always make sure that you give feedback whilst it is still fresh in your mind, and always make sure that you give feedback in private.

Praise – Focus on the positives first. Help the person to feel valued and a worthwhile part of the team, even though you are about to offer some feedback on what they can improve on. Feedback should not just be about negative things.

Clear constructive feedback – be clear. Be concise. You will need to tailor your approach according to the person you are speaking to. Some will prefer you to be blunt and to the point – some will prefer you to be more gentle. As a Leader or Manager, it is up to you to know your staff well enough to understand which people will require which approach. Specific details are infinitely preferable and easier to approach.

Praise again – move the focus towards solutions. Build the employee back up again by giving them the confidence that they can solve any situations that have arisen, and by showing them that they have your support to do this.

Follow up – always agree the actions that are required as a result of the meeting, and schedule another meeting with the employee to follow up on how things have gone as a result of the feedback. This is your opportunity to be able to hopefully praise the employee on how well they have handled the situation, and on the changes that have been made since the discussion.

Had my partner followed these rules, I would not have been left feeling two inches tall in front of the rest of our class, and I would probably have left with some idea of what the steps actually should have been, instead of still completely none the wiser. I may print out a copy of this blog in good time for next week … just in case!!