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Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

By all means ditch the Annual Appraisal, but please let’s not stop reviewing performance!

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Like a House of cards

Lately I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting it’s time to abandon performance reviews, claiming they’re a tired relic of 20thcentury manual-work that has no relevance to today’s knowledge-work environments.

There are certainly some obvious problems: how to ensure managers’ views of Excellent, Average,etc are the same; how to link the outcomes to pay without destroying motivation and how to stop staff and managers bending the system to suit themselves. (I worked with a company a couple of years back where someone told me that the staff pooled their Force Ranked bonuses and then redistributed them evenly amongst themselves!)

It’s also true that many managers and leaders can lack the skill or the inclination to conduct effective review conversations, as beautifully captured in the classic “Keith’s Appraisal” scene in The Office https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkYUDQCYGHA

According to an article I found on Forbes from Jan 18 some 35 out of 37 managers would happily give up performance reviews and this is what makes me nervous, because I wonder what they’ll do instead.

Whilst I whole heartedly agree that formalised Annual Appraisal type systems are largely outdated and pretty ineffective, I cannot agree that it is not a useful business process to review performance in an effort to understand what’s going well and what’s going less well.

In my experience, people need five key questions answered as they consider their work performance:

  • What is my job?
  • How well do I have to do it?
  • How am I doing?
  • How have I done?
  • What’s next?

But answering these does not require endless forms (or their electronic equivalent), hours of time in meeting rooms, or complex consistency checks by senior management.

In fact, an annual appraisal is simple if we’ve held regular one to ones, which are easy if we coach regularly, which we can do readily if we talk to our teams often, which we can do if we’re out of our cubicles and engaging regularly around the five questions above.

In that way, even if we do have to follow some kind of organisational process, we can get through it quickly knowing that the valuable stuff has already happened.

I’d be really keen to hear from anyone who’s swapped a formal appraisal system from an informal review approach and seen great results.

Can I have that disciplinary meeting now please?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Tagged:

A friend of mine is in sales. He sells high-end financial services products and is finding it hard going in the current market. The company’s main product has changed, making it much harder to sell and he has been given a new territory with very few of the affluent prospective clients he needs.

Whilst he’s a very experienced seller with a terrific track-record, his results and declining and his bosses are getting uptight. Knowing I have coached around such issues previously he got in contact looking for help.

I wanted to understand what would happen if things didn’t improve. My friend said, “Oh, they’ve told me in no uncertain terms that I’ll have to attend a disciplinary interview where we’ll examine ways my performance could improve; with a timetable and methods for tracking improvement.”

“And what did you say?” I asked.

“I said that sounds like it could be really helpful and could we do it now please!!”

I can see the point of a disciplinary interview for problems of willingness.By this I mean, recurring lateness, continual dubious sickness, being rude to colleagues or customers, etc.

But to discipline someone regarding their ability– struggling to use their knowledge, skills, experience and resources, seems to me to be daft.

In fairness, my friend works for a company that has grown very fast and which lacks a seasoned HR function and this could well be part of the problem, but the story also highlights a couple of crucial coaching principles:

  • Telling someone to be do something does not enable them to be able to do it

and

  • Waving sticks (or withdrawing carrots) may work a treat in motivating donkeys but it doesn’t do much for professional adults in a work situation

I’m reminded of the old saw of the company director who announced,

“Unless morale improves, sackings will continue”

 What do you think?

Getting ready for coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Getting ready for coachingOver recent posts we’ve seen that in order to turn more potential into high performance we needed to minimise the sources of interference which work against that happening.

But this presupposes that people come to us wanting to produce high performance, and this isn’t necessarily so.

If you’ve been asked or employed to provide some one-to-one coaching to a member of the executive team you can probably assume that they will be motivated to undertake some coaching with you. It follows that they are likely to give honest answers to your questions, to listen to your ideas and suggestions and to act on the things you’ve discussed between meetings and phone calls.

But in trying to bring coaching into general play; to position it as a management approach rather than a discrete intervention, you might find conditions less favourable. In some ways coaching has become a term cheapened by misuse and because of this you may encounter a certain amount of resistance. This can range from the mildly apathetic to the downright hostile. It all seems bizarre, given that we’re simply trying to help people so let’s look at the common reasons for this resistance.

  • Management is up to something
  • Coaching is for poor performers
  • I’m okay where I am

Management is up to something

Okay, it’s a cynical view but is hardly surprising given the way some management teams behave. People have had change initiatives thrown at them for years now and most of them have amounted to very little. If this has been people’s experience then it’s small wonder that coaching is greeted with little enthusiasm. People can tell when you’ve been away on a course and been ‘got at’.  They also know that if they keep their heads down then after a few days you’ll probably go back to ‘normal’.

Coaching is for poor performers

Nobody likes to be thought of as needing special lessons, but all too often coaching is presented this way. A strong desire to improve performance in the organisation gets mutated into ‘I’m being coached, so I must be doing something wrong’ in the mind of the individual.

In my experience this particular worry is most easily countered by pointing to the worlds of entertainment and sport where coaching is a vital ingredient whatever the level of current performance, Great sportspeople and entertainers welcome regular and intensive coaching even though their level of performance is already astonishing by most standards.

By mindful though that sporting analogies and so on can seem a little tiresome for some.

I’m okay where I am

An overzealous approach to coaching can make it seem as if we want everybody to be Superman. Some people resist coaching because they’re quite content where they are and do not want to actively pursue a promotion or a change of role. Great! That’s fine but let’s make sure that people realise that coaching isn’t just about climbing the greasy pole. We can coach to help people feel less threatened by change. We can coach to help people get back to the parts of their job they once really enjoyed. We can coach to help people find a work-life balance. Coaching is a way of taking the next step and as such it has applications throughout working life and, I think, should be made available to all. However, let’s also respect people’s right not to be coached if that is what they would prefer. To do so goes a long way to establishing the credibility of coaching and building the trusting relationships so vital to its success. In time even the most reluctant of people will try coaching when they have something in mind they’d like to achieve.