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Sunday, 27 May 2018

Annual Appraisals Time? Ditch Them for Great One-to-Ones!

I have been banging on for years in Ivan’s Blog about the use and indeed the value of the annual appraisal.  An excellent presentation this week to my Vistage Key Executive peer group by speaker, David Smith (www.davidsmith.uk.com)  brought this to mind again.

Although the ostensible topic was Performance Management, David made the point that on the face of it, this does sound rather negative and he prefers to refer to it as managing performance which is far more anodyne and less threatening.  

To generalise, most people want to know two things:

  • How am I doing? and 
  • Where are we going?

To analyse, both of these questions imply that people need some reassurance in an uncertain environment.  One is essentially personal and the second is there to reassure members of the team that there are plans in the future for the business which will include them.

Most importantly, when and how should these questions be addressed?  In the past the annual appraisal has been the preferred vehicle but things are really changing, thank goodness.

I have always compared the annual appraisal to the year-end accounts of the business. In any well run organisation management accounts are produced monthly, ideally within a week of month end, to give the leadership a regular snapshot of the financial position if the business.

I recall the dreadful example of a CEO who never enjoyed the arrival of the accountants to do the annual audit and always arranged his skiing holiday to cover his getaway.

On his return from one of these breaks, the accountant suggested that he come into the office and sit down quietly as they have some news for him. The news was of course that the business was insolvent and he didn’t know simply because he thought that he didn’t need monthly management accounts.  

If we formally monitor the performance of our biggest and most unpredictable resource, the people, only annually then what does it say about how we manage them?  At the most basic level it ignores any possibility and consequent effects of significant changes in performance during a year. Sickness, family issues, poor line management and much else can contribute to a sometimes unnoticed decline.

The fact is that the very thought of having to go through the annual appraisal for both parties is frequently viewed as an unpleasant chore to be completed as quickly and painlessly as possible.  You will note that I didn’t say accurately.

Even worse the management can cop-out by imposing online appraisals using what is laughingly called artificial intelligence. Where is the human interaction there to make a realistic assessment of a real individual's performance and  potential?

Even worse using a rating system with only three alternatives reduces the whole practice to,a nonsense.

The much vaunted 360 appraisal system where the line manager, peers and subordinates all contribute opinions has its flaws. The top down is binary and can suffer from prejudice, peers can do mutual deals of support so in the main the most valuable input is the upwards one.

All of this however assumes an annual event that is very undesirable. We need to be in regular and formal interaction so that even minor changes are noticed and, if needs be, fixed.

By far the best solution is a regular and diarised one-to-one meeting. Yes, I know that we talk to people every day but this is different.

It is sacrosanct to the leader who should not on any account except dire emergency cancel or change. The team member can miss the occasional date but only the occasional one.  Regular cancellations can result in the leader making negative decisions.

A great one-to-one is a great experience for both participants. It needs to be open, honest, well thought out and above all, non-confrontational.

Actions?  Ditch the annual appraisal, replace with one-to-ones and take a look at www.davidsmith.uk.com.

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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Living in the Present? But What If ‘Now’ Doesn’t Exist?

  • Learn from the past
  • Live in the present
  • Plan for the future
Pretty well every leadership and motivational speaker knows this mantra and uses it ad nauseam and rightly so because it makes a great deal of sense.

At least it does on a superficial level and indeed it stands some interesting examination and analysis.

The concept of time is very complex simply because it is an intangible measured in an arbitrary manner.

If we examine the implication of time then the past is self-evident.  It started 13.5 billion years ago and...when did it stop?

On face of it the past ends in the present and that is where the future starts.  The question is, precisely when does the past end and the future start? In other words, when is the present?

Newtonian physics postulates that time is like a river, flowing from the past, through the present and on into the future and that implies that the present is definable.

But is it?  Whenever we make a decision it immediately moves into the past and whenever we take action in the future it also instantaneously reverts to the past.  

This implies that “now” is a very interesting concept because we can define everything that we do in terms of the past and the future but not the “now”.

Indeed mathematically “now” is an infinitely small space of time between the past and the future and that means that in practical terms it does not exist.

We talk about the present, live in the present, think in the present, don’t concern ourselves with the past and the future but it is the present that matters.

What then if it doesn’t exist to any significant extent?

We measure time in an arbitrary way loosely linked to the phases of the sun and the moon and amazingly in a manner that has been universally adopted throughout the world.

Almost the last vestige of being different was North Korea who awkwardly decided to have a time that differed from the South by half an hour.

Last month the decision was taken to regularise so what does that mean about time?

Time becomes a philosophical experience rather than a tangible actuality and that means that we need to give it some sort of form so that we can understand it and use it more effectively.

Time matters when we go for a train or more so when we miss a train but those events are controlled by our measurement of time in seconds, minutes, days, years, millenia and so on.

We use phrases like “I don’t have the time” or “how long will it take?”when we all have exactly the same amount of time as everyone else.

The Book of Ecclesiastes puts it cogently::

There is a time for everything
and a season for everything under the sun
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to reap,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh etc. etc.

We can’t “make time” to do anything but we can allocate the time we have in the most effective ways.

Time wasted in something that we enjoy or even doing nothing is not time wasted.  We tend to need to fill every waking hour with activity when what perhaps is needed is to spend more time thinking  and meditating positively.

Above all the greatest waste of time is concentrating on what might have been, to live in the past and live a life of “what if?

I learnt a lesson years ago from a great friend of mine who, when I told him my sad tale, advised me to go home, draw a line in the sand and get on with living my life.  

It was the best and wisest advice I have ever had.

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Sunday, 13 May 2018

Looking For Quality Assurance? We Need to Pursue Excellence!

In my very early days as an aeronautical engineer apprentice we were placed in virtually every department of the factory for short term (6 weeks to 6 months) familiarisation.

One of the coveted placements was Inspection because we had to wear a brown dust coat instead of blue overalls. Ah, the lure of prestige!

In addition we were placed at a surface table on the shop floor where mysterious metrological (thee science of measurement) equipment was used to check that components complied with the specification on the blueprint.

Some due to large quantities were sampled and some were inspected 100% but we were the final arbiter of whether a component or a batch could be built into an aircraft.

Looking back it was a very responsible job and I learnt a great deal about the depth of detail that was needed in order to produce a satisfactory outcome.

The process later became far more sophisticated using statistical methods such as 3-Sigma but in those early days we merely checked against specification.

All this derived from the very early days of, wouldn’t you believe, armament manufacture in the USA. At that time each gun was made individually and if a component failed then the whole thing failed.

In the 1860s some bright spark realised that this was a very inefficient method of manufacture and suggested that it would be better if components were all made the same and then if one failed it could be replaced.

This revolutionised large scale production systems because components were now interchangeable and the final product could be maintained and repaired, a significant cost saving.

In the process Inspection grew up and became Quality Control still in the hands of the customer to make sure that products were received as required.

Change became inevitable and eventually people realised that there would be more cost savings if suppliers guaranteed to supply compliant components rather than have to check them. This was the birth or evolution of Quality Assurance.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the UK manufacturer who ordered a large batch of components from a Japanese manufacturer and specified the level of specification compliance at 99.8%.  When the shipment arrived there was a bag with a small quantity of components that seemed to be extra.

When the customer queried the supplier they were told that “we only supply to specification but as you appeared to want some that didn’t comply we had to make them specially for you”.

Modern machining centres nowadays can be programmed to ensure that they produce only compliant components and that, for obvious reasons, makes the life of a high quality supplier much easier if rather more capital expensive.

However, quality is not merely a matter of the product.  It covers everything about the business and I mean everything from the way that the telephone is answered, how many rings, the speed of action, the way that queries are handled and so on.  Everything about the business.

Indeed there is a case for dropping the very word “quality” altogether and building a culture dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of the business.

I have posted recently about the brilliant way that Sainsbury’s home delivery drivers interact with the people to whom they deliver.

The quality of the product should be self evident and the customer always has the option of rejection if appropriate.  The way that the drivers behave is a choice on the part of the company and the drivers and it is excellent.

A speaker at my Vistage CEO peer group once said:

Aim to give service that builds a wall around the customer making it very difficult for them to move away from you”.

That encompasses the concept of total excellence.

It is a big picture that needs to be the top line of the business values and culture definition.  Then the spectre of price competition fades into the background.

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Sunday, 6 May 2018

Someone Has Made a Bad Error? Firing is Not Always The Solution!

The media was awash recently about the problems encountered by TSB and their implementation of a new package of ERM software that went vastly awry.  How often have we heard that sad tale. 

It seems to be a truism that whenever we install new software especially ERM that it takes probably twice as long as the most pessimistic estimate.

This is not to complain about the software; it is much easier to moan and complain about the inability of the CEO to run the company properly and look what I have suffered as a consequence etc, etc, etc.

Accordingly the media launches into a great campaign and frankly by building some mob excitement to attach blame to someone who is directly innocent but in overall charge of the business.

The rights and wrongs of the matters are not a subject for this blog, but the underlying ethos of blame is very much at the forefront of my thinking.

It is consistent in BBC programmes like Today, PM and other news programmes that when “investigating” a perceived wrong, the interviewer always want to know who is to blame and what punishment would be appropriate.

It was equally refreshing to hear a learned Professor today saying that blame followed by firing the perceived miscreant does nothing to solve the problem but merely satisfies the human need for revenge.

If something serious happens, as it did at TSB , sacking the CEO and replacing him with a new incumbent means that the newcomer has to go through a learning process which may or may not be successful.

Far better to keep the people in place and monitor how they address the processes and procedures which led to the problem; in other words addressing the root cause and not the effect.
Add to this always make sure that everyone is kept in the loop and are made well aware of the progress being made to solve the issue.

In the case of TSB they made a perfectly valid statement of acceptance of problem and immediately announced that the bank would indemnify anyone who had a serious problem and would offer compensation in any case.

It is only by that sort of initiative that changes can be made effectively to minimise at least the likelihood of a repeat.  By the way, if changes are not implemented and nothing improves, then at that stage it would right and proper to start the disciplinary process.

If changes like that can happen then it might reduce the hypocritical, stomach-churning, “holier than thou” preaching of the media that latches on to subjects “in the public interest” when the real rationale is to sell more papers.

I remember the story of the team member who made a serious error and caused the business to experience a loss of $250K.  He immediately very honestly offered his resignation.

The CEO rejected the offer and pointed out that as he had made the error the best person to solve the problem was him.  Anyone else would not have the experience.

That was a very sensible and far-sighted decision and is to be celebrated.  Perhaps the owners of a few football clubs could take notice.

Rant over – I hope that you are having a happy, sunny and warm Bank Holiday weekend!

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