Archive for December, 2015

Don’t (automatically) blame the performance appraisal

“We’re thinking about ditching performance appraisals” said Bill.  He was the CEO, I was sitting down with him and Theo his GM of HR.  “Or at least revamping the whole thing.”

“Run me through it” I prompted.  “What are you seeing that makes you think they aren’t working?”

Theo answered; “Formal feedback and anecdotal evidence.  We put out some simple questions, namely, to each employee; ‘I find the performance appraisal process to be useful to me in my work’, and to each manager ‘I find the performance appraisal process helps me to make my people more valuable’.  Both with the usual 5-point system between ‘not at all’ and ‘absolutely’.”

“What did you get?”

Bill jumped in; “We struggled to get to 3….which meant ‘somewhat’.  Mostly got 1s and 2s which means ‘not at all’ or ‘barely’ some value.”

“So as you can see…” Theo continued…”the system that my area leads isn’t too flash!”

“Maybe not” I answered. “But there’s a fair chance you’re looking at a symptom here, not a cause.”

“How can perform appraisals not working be a symptom?” asked Theo.  “A symptom of what?”

“Ineffective organisational design.” Read more…

Are you doing real OD work?

Maria was GM People & Culture and we were discussing the organisational development work her area was delivering over the next three years.

“OK, I’ll bite.  So what is ‘the organisation’ Maria asked.

“Try this on for size” I answered.  “The organisation is made up of the principles and practices in play that determine who gets to work here, and how they are expected to work together'”.

Maria was silent for some time.  After a while she looked up:

“I’m not sure what you mean”.

“Another angle” I replied.  “The organisation is the internal rules of the game on how people are supposed to work together, whether explicit or otherwise.”

“What sort of rules” Maria asked.

“Things like how you determine how many organisational layers are needed, who gets to make decisions about what, how processes are run, what minimal practices are expected from every manager and/or team, how people are expected to work out issues of priority, and so on.  But what we’re talking about fundamentally is your concept of what needs to be in place in a healthy organisation such that anyone who has the capability, is willing to learn and can get along with others will be able to deliver results.”

“My concept?”

“Yep, your concept, your underlying theory of your organisation, your basis for comparison should any organisational issues arise.” I said.

“And not the people themselves?”

“The organisation that the people are effectively dropped into”.

“Sounds impersonal to me.  Taking the ‘H’ out of ‘HR'”

“You’re seeing ‘impersonal’ and ‘caring’ as opposites, but that’s not the case.  Adjusting the temperature of a room to make it comfortable is not a ‘personal’ act, but it looks after people.  The same applies to working on the internal ‘rules of the game’ to make sure that they are allowing people use their capability in the direction of the organisation.   OD needs to stop doing the equivalent of teaching people how to not shiver in a cold room, when the real issue is a broken heater”.


The fundamental (missing) OD question….

“Run me through what you’ve asked Adrian to do.”  I was grabbing lunch with Maria, GM of People & Culture.  Adrian was her Senior Manager Organisational Development.

“I’m asking quite a bit” said Maria.  “I need him to roll-out a number of programs to get our people better across the board”.

“Give me the top three” I asked.

Maria laughed; “I knew you were going to make me focus on priorities.  OK, the top three are….

One, all managers will be going through difficult conversations training,

Two, all staff will undergo workshops to design to improve resilience…”

I must have raised my eyebrows or some other ‘tell’, as Maria paused for a second.  Then she went on…

“and thirdly, we’re going to do targeted productivity workshops to lift the amount of work we can do in certain areas”.

I nodded.  “Sounds like a fair bit, as you said.”

“But……” Maria asked.

“But…Adrian is your Senior Manager of OD right?”


“And the ‘O’ stands for Organisational”

“Yep”.  Maria frowned.

“So what are you going to ask Adrian to deliver that will actually develop the organisation?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what do you consider to be ‘the organisation’.”

“The people” she replied quickly.

“I know what you mean, but I can’t get past the fact that people come into the organisation, people leave the organisation, yet the work mostly just keeps going.  So we can’t just say ‘the people’.”

Maria started to answer then stopped.  She stared at me, not moving, then after a few seconds started slowly stirring her coffee.

“You know” she said, “after more than 20 years of working in this field, I’ve never actually considered what ‘the organisation’ is.  What I’m actually asking Adrian to help ‘develop’.  Is that bad?”

“Maybe.  But I know one thing for sure.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re not alone.”


Why managers exist (really!)

The group of Senior Managers had their heads down, writing.  I’d asked them to put down, in a sentence, the purpose of management, why it exists.

“One more minute” I called out, going over to the whiteboard and checking that the marker I had picked up wasn’t permanent, a holdover from a workshop some seven years earlier that will never leave me!

“OK, what have we got?  Let’s call out some of the key words.”

After a brief silence, the more talkative in the group spoke up, then gradually everyone.  I wrote furiously on the board:

  • Provide direction
  • Inspire
  • Set context
  • Ensure performance
  • Deliver results
  • Create teamwork
  • Reward performance
  • Hard conversations

A stepped back, and moved into the group so we could view the board together.

“Not a bad list” I offered.

I let the silence hang, then asked; “But what is this actually a list of?”

Again, silence.  Then Kuldip, who had gone first earlier called out; “it’s what you asked for – why management exists”.

“Thank you for speaking up” I said smiling.  “To me, however, it’s this….” and I went over to the whiteboard and wrote the word ‘ACTIVITIES’ on the top of the list.  I continued…

“It’s a list of things managers do.  And they all make perfect sense!.  Who could disagree?”

I looked around the room.  Some nods, some slight frowns, and a little bit of intrigue.

“But let’s go back to the question.  What’s the point of it?  What is the purpose of management, why does it exist?  Why do this stuff?”

More silence.  I’ve never been natural at what these days they call ‘holding the space’, but have learned over years of workshops.  I stayed still, then slowly went to the board and wrote


I stood back and surveyed the room.  Nods, some smiles.


This time Kuldip nailed it: