Tuesday, 18 October 2011

When Mediation Turns Into Coaching

by Dave Marchant

There are times when one type of assignment can turn into something else.
I have been engaged by a client to undertake a mediation exercise with two employees in order to help them improve their working relationship. Having started this work it has become apparent that one or both of the employees is not ready or prepared to take a positive and effective role in the process. Mediation cannot work unless both parties are prepared to let some things go from their past interaction and situation and to look forward to a more positive future. Ideally they should be able to draw a line under the past and to be open minded about the prospect of an improved relationship. They need to want to participate and to give the process a chance of success.

I have experienced participants involved in a mediation process who choose not to engage with the other person and the process and say or do things to antagonise and inflame the situation rather than to move closer to or to seek common ground and a new understanding with the other person. In this circumstance it is not always effective or appropriate to help the person with the inappropriate attitude or behaviours to examine and consider different possibilities or approaches or to vent their pent up feelings in front of the other party.

So a more effective approach can be found in coaching one or both parties individually to think about and consider their options for any change of attitude, approach and behaviours. This coaching approach could give them the time, space, support and challenge to reflect away from the gaze of the other party. If the employee responds to this coaching input then they could be invited back to the mediation process ready to take new attitudes and behaviours into establishing a more appropriate dialogue with the other party.

There could also be a case to do this coaching work with each individual before the start of the mediation process in order to help them prepare themselves for the behavioural changes required of them to make the mediation successful.

The Key Elements of Performance Management

Managing performance effectively is becoming increasing important in today’s service and knowledge based economy. However, many businesses and organisations are still unclear about what performance management is or how it should be used. To try and provide some guidance in this area, I have summarised the key elements of an effective performance management process below.

In my view, the overall purpose of performance management is to maximise the contribution of individuals and their work teams to enable a business or organisation achieve its strategic goals. I also believe that performance management is applicable to all levels of an organisation and not just for front line staff.

My own personal (good!) experiences of having my performance and development managed effectively included the following:

For me to be able to take responsibility for my own performance and maximise it, I needed to know what my boss and organisation expected of me. A number of organisations I worked for were very good at this and set expectations by:
• Describing what needed to be achieved through the setting of personal targets that were linked to the business’ strategic aims.
• Describing how I was expected to behave and deliver my personal targets.

Once the expectations have been set, my boss did not just leave me to ‘get on with it’, but should sat down with me every 6-8 weeks to discuss and review my performance against their expectations ‘continually’ reviewed on a regular basis, for example every 6-8 weeks. In this way any issues were quickly nipped in the bud.

My boss also conducted a formal review of my performance once per year to formally record progress and successes. They reviewed:
• What had been achieved against my targets set at the beginning of the year.
• How the targets had been delivered. This was determined by reviewing my behaviour against the organisation’s competence standards and values. It was not acceptable for me to deliver on my targets at any cost.

Clearly for the performance management process to be effective something needed to happen as a result of it. The outcomes from the continual and annual reviews ranged from a recognition of efforts and achievements, sanctioning of my bonuses as well as the occasional consequential action for non achievement. In addition, I agreed a personal development plan with my boss outlining the learning actions for the coming year.

I valued being set clear expectations and then being empowered to deliver on them. I found the process of having my performance and development proactively managed as a very engaging and rewarding one that helped me to perform to my best and achieve my potential.

If your people and business are not achieving their potential it is probably time to review how the performance and development of people are managed in your organisation.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Why Appraisals Don’t Work

I was reminded the other day of a study undertaken by Investors in People that found that around a third of employees think that appraisals are a complete waste of time. Sadly, for many managers and staff the annual appraisal ranks as one of the most unpleasant aspects of their job, as well as the most pointless.

The same study found that half of those appraised believed that their bosses were being dishonest during the process, a quarter thought that it was just a tick box exercise and a fifth thought that their manager did not put any preparation in before their appraisal. All of these findings are a sad indictment of a process that when used properly is an invaluable performance improvement and development tool.

But why do these issues arise in the first place and what can be done to prevent them from occurring? From my own personal experiences I believe that there are a number of reasons why appraisals don’t work, and get such a bad press.

• I have met and been managed by managers who believe that an appraisal is simply an annual event. Yet, managing an individual’s performance and development is a continual process. We all value continual feedback and support to ensure that that we perform to the best of our ability. Rather than sitting discussing performance once a year, I believe firmly that managers need to formally sit down with each member of their staff on regular (e.g. monthly) basis. This enables both the manager and employee to have full and frank discussions about progress and performance and nip any issues in the bud before they become a serious problem. I have found this approach a far more successful way of managing someone’s performance and development. Following this approach, the annual appraisal is simply a summary of all the discussions that have taken place during the year, and consequently not a surprise to either the employee or their manager.

• I have worked for organisations who dictate that appraisals must be undertaken/completed within a specific time frame, for example, during December, in time for the year end. However, the problem with this approach is that a manager may have 10 or more staff that they have to appraise. This becomes too much of a burden in the time available and so the manager cuts corners to get them completed. This problem is compounded if the manager concerned has staff based in different locations nationally or internationally. To combat this problem, I have seen more enlightened organisations use other approaches such as the date an employee joined as the appraisal anniversary date. In this way the manager’s task becomes spread across the year.

• Finally, too often managers do not have the skills necessary to manage the performance of their staff effectively. I have had managers review conduct my appraisal who clearly did not know or understand the fundamentals and in the process let me very de-motivated and confused. I believe that performance management training should be an integral part of a manager’s recruitment or promotion. The training should include the principles of performance management as well as providing the opportunity for a manager to practice their appraisal interview and feedback skills in a safe environment.

The study that was undertaken by Investors in People highlighted a number of important issues that need to be addressed if performance appraisals are to be seen as valuable to employees and not simply a tick box exercise.

Managing Performance Effectively

by Mark Evenden

I believe that the success of a business depends on the engagement, contributions, and actions of its staff at all levels, whether they are front line staff efficiently running a customer service function, or senior managers making strategic decisions about the direction of the business.

Managing performance therefore is about maximising the engagement and contributions, from each employee, their teams and ultimately the whole business. Performance management is the activity of setting goals and tracking performance against them and identifying opportunities for development and performance improvement. While reviewing past performance is important, the real focus of performance management should be on the future.

I think that the key question to ask is, what is it that my employees need to be able to do and how can they do it better?

To be successful this means that everyone across the business needs to:

• Know what the business is aiming for and trying to achieve.
• Understand how their role and goals fit with the overall aims of the business
• Know what they have to do to meet their goals.
• Recognise how progress against goals is measured.
• Understands the consequences for achievement or non achievement of

Ultimately, performance management is about delivering improved bottom line performance such as better customer service, improved productivity, and increased sales and profitability.

Sadly however, I have experienced many managers and businesses fail to get the most from their employees because they make a number of fundamental mistakes. For example, I have witnessed:

• Businesses developing and implementing a highly ‘comprehensive’ performance management system, which is so complex and takes so long that it fails to be used.
• Businesses confusing performance management with annual appraisal, assuming performance management is a ‘one off’ isolated event.
• Managers faiingl to document performance, follow up or take consequential action with staff who don’t perform.
• Organisations assuming that people will automatically know what is expected of them.
• Managers not being clear with their staff about actual performance and how they can improve.
• Managers ranking their employees, causing others to ‘sabotage’ the performance of their colleagues so that they will appear higher in the rankings.

In my opinion, one of the biggest drivers of team and business performance is the behaviour of the managers who lead them. So, if senior managers fail to set a clear direction and don’t spend the necessary time to develop the performance and capability of their own people, they cannot complain when the performance of their business or organisation doesn’t improve either.