Thursday, 11 September 2008

Performance management - more trouble than it's worth?

I was chatting with a client recently, who was new to management. We had previously discussed a performance management plan to implement in his team ( a plan that we had been rolled out throughout the company very successfully). However, this manager had yet to implement the process.

So why was this manager not implementing the review process? During our initial conversations he came up with some common objections:

The team works well and we raise problems when they come up

Its too formal for our department – we work differently

I use a more relaxed management style – it will be damaging if my staff think that I am assessing them all the time.

When introducing a performance management scheme such objections are common. Performance management can be seen by staff and managers as a stick to beat people with, a way of regularly pointing out shortcomings or a methodology that will introduce distrust within the team and the manager.

However, if we look at the above objections in more detail we begin to see how these statements can be applied to a more lassiez – faire approach:

Raising problems when they come up – this is always good practice – issues shouldn’t be held over until review. However, without regular monthly meetings the danger is that ONLY problems are raised. What happens to excellent performance? When does the team member get an opportunity to raise their profile, ask for training or support or plan for their future and development?

Regular performance reviews support staff to develop their skills, excel in their roles communicate their thoughts and ideas to the management team and tackle any issues head on. Raising problems as and when will give reward on the latter only – and only then if you are very, very lucky!

It’s too formal – yes it is formal in that you and your team can set goals to improve performance, raise the bar and tackle any underlying issues. Without a formal structure staff do not have the opportunity for input or a forum to discuss problems and plan for support. Issues stack up until the annual appraisal and staff are then surprised with outcomes.

By introducing a monthly meeting you can support staff to overcome difficulties, formally record the successes and help your team present a true and evidenced picture at appraisal time.

They will feel that they are constantly being assessed – now this is down to you, the manager! Building a culture of open and effective feedback will overcome this. That means that you need to be prepared to receive and indeed actively elicit feedback on your performance from your team. Performance reviews are not just about them – they are about your performance too. Build and instil a culture of openness and two-way feedback and your staff will see the reviews as a positive experience. Start with “Well we have to, so….” attitude and you will devalue the experience for your staff and introduce concern and worry.

So, how did we proceed with our reluctant manager? We asked the team! When we discussed the benefits of regular review, outlined what they could expect from the process and described how the review would be run they agreed to implement the process. The first thing we asked the team to do in their one-to-ones was give honest feedback to their manager and leverage that great team relationship to excel in the coming year.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Camping - the Agile Approach

I’ve long been mulling the benefits of applying Agile and Scrum techniques beyond the software environment and indeed arguing for the uptake of non-technical skills within software teams to underpin Agile development and XP. Thanks to Kelly Waters’ fantastic blog,, in which he has recently posted Jeff Sutherland’s presentation of his Google retrospective, combined with a rather “Agile” holiday (more on that later…) this is now off the backburner once more.

The Agile Holiday…..

When we first mooted our holiday plans to friends and colleagues we were met with either excitement or horror (depending on their personal experiences). So what was this epic holiday that was splitting the group I hear you ponder….

Well, we were going camping, in France – oh yes that biggie – forget climbing mountains, trekking the Andes, even going up Snowdonia – no we were off to France – in a tent! The talk before we left ranged from bets as to how long we would last before finding a hotel to musings on the divorce that would inevitably follow from such folly.

So, why the fuss – well in retrospect (good practice even extends to holidays!) I think it was our Agile approach to the proposition that spooked people. We took to heart Joseph Perlrine’s mantra of Apply, Inspect, Adapt

Although we had never been camping before we knew that between us we had the skills to put up a tent (and the ability to explain to our French neighbours that we couldn’t if it all went wrong).

We had a tent. However, before our trip we had to “stop the line” on its initial trial erection due to the size of our garden. We had instructions…and so we applied!

Ensuring that a few simple requirements were met (namely we could get a flight to France and then use public transport to get around – we don’t drive) off we went! It is probably worth mentioning at this point that camping isn’t something that comes naturally to either of us (mutterings at the airport along the lines of “what have we done??” confirmed this).

On arrival, it became clear that our chosen piece of the Atlantic coastline had closed down for August – no hotels, restaurants or bars were open – everyone had left to find a different piece of the Atlantic coastline to admire.

Our chosen site was lovely, the area incredibly warm and hospitable and breathtakingly beautiful.

The local transport stopped at 6pm every evening

There were some gales. The tent remained resolutely standing

All plans for eating out were cancelled due to well, lack of options! We upgraded to two ring cooking and bought fantastic local produce and wine.

Lacking bars and cafes, our itinerary took on a more active tone – days were spent walking along coastline and through forests. Evenings were spent under canvas admiring the sky and the occasional rainstorm.

Well the holiday was a success, very different to what we initially imagined, but fantastic none-the –less. No divorce is on the cards and we are already planning our next excursion, building on the learning from this trip. If we had all of the information up front we wouldn’t have done it, our requirements changed very quickly into our trip and we were able to include these. The final product surpassed all of our expectations .

As Pelrine points out you need to Apply in order to know what you are talking about! Happy camping!

Friday, 11 July 2008

The business case for soft skills development in IT

Further evidence was published today supporting the business case for developing appropriate soft skills in IT teams. Bob Jones (IDG) states that without developing appropriate communication and networking skills departments will struggle with staff retention and succession planning (see when soft becomes hard for IT - Fiona Bates).

However, implementing change and upskilling staff to develop, implement and review skills sets requires a thorough understanding of what the business needs, what is currently in place and a plan to ensure that implementation becomes entrenched in the culture of the department.

Plan, audit, implement, review - by following each stage and spending time developing an appropriate strategy for your staff will ensure that skills are used, changes implemented and informal learning becomes ingrained in the departmental culture.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Focus on people training.....

Advice from Paul Coby speaking last week at the IT Forum EMEA. Paul, CIO at British Airways was speaking about the importance of people in large scale projects such at T5.

"When you launch a project of the scale of T5, focus on people training. Train everyone to where you think they should be then triple it."

He identifies the need for people to have the skills to pull off the projects and highlights the importance of embedding those skills.

The move towards "business technology" as opposed to Information Technology will require a shift in the skills but also the attitudes within IT departments and their staff. A move, that, if it is to be successful, will require a process that supports change as well as delivering training on new skills.

Much of the requirement will not be technical - it will require technical staff to think and act from a strongly business centered focus. Developing these skills will require more than a training course in communication.

The learning and change process will need to become part and parcel of the departmental culture, supporting individuals to adopt new methods and to deploy them successfully will require a blended approach to ensure success.

CIOs will need to become champions of change, be open to and willing to face the challenges of change and to gain buy-in and to support their teams. They will need effective and appropriate methods to develop those skills and implement then successfully.

In short, get the buy in, train them, triple it and then follow up and support the implementation process, evaluate and support at each stage, tackle blocks head on and celebrate success.

Building the IT department of the future will require commitment at all levels but the effort will ensure success and implementation in the long term.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Forget the credit crunch.....

IT is facing an equally worrying talent crunch over the next 3 years. A recent study sponsored by SAP has again identified the two trends of the moment in terms of IT Management:

  • staff are getting harder to find and keep
  • organisations are struggling to find the soft skills they require such as communication and managerial skills - rather than the technical skill sets.

This combined with an ongoing need to meet customer expectations and align IT strategy to business goals (as discussed here previously) demonstrates that departments must now focus on developing their existing talent for the future, and furnishing both the skills and the departmental culture for success.

A closer examination of the process of development can be found at .

Further details of the research are available at

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The IT department v.2...

will have a human face, according to Carl Bate (Chief Technology Officer - Cap Gemini). Bates, speaking to Compiter Weekly will need to change dramatically over the coming years to meet the new ways in which technology will be used by customers.

Bate cites three maim trends fuelling this change:
  • A move towards software as a service
  • Increased connectivity
  • Blending of people and technology

Bate further argues that it will be the human or soft skills that will be most important for the technical expert of the future. In short, IT departments will need to develop leadership, communication and team skills to stay ahead of the game.

The full podcast can be found at Computer Weekly

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Working Longer, Working Smarter?

The TUC recently announced that 5 million employees are working unpaid over time in the UK; this is an increase on the 2006 figures of 103,000. The average overtime worked each week is 7 hours 6 minutes, rising to 7 hours and 54 minutes in London. According to Brendan Barber (TUC General Secretary) “Britain’s long hours culture is enjoying a renaissance”. (1)

So is this good news for business? Employees are working longer for no extra cash – at first glance it may seem quite a good deal. However, a look at some of the costs of the long hours culture suggests otherwise.

As mentioned in a previous article the number of days lost through sickness absence as a direct result of stress stood at 13.8 million in 2006/7 – this equates to approximately 30.2 days lost per stress related absence. (2)

Added to days lost through illness are a range of other findings that demonstrate that overworked, stressed out staff do not perform effectively, lose motivation and commitment, have a negative perception of their organisation and indeed leave! Previous research findings include:

  • 61% of employees reported a negative consequence in their personal life as a direct result of working longer hours (Mental Health Trust, 2003) (3)

  • Correlations have been identified between working long hours and the amount of time spent worrying about work related issues in personal time. (Mental Health Trust, 2003) (3)

  • 80% of workers feel that they cannot cope with the demands placed on them at times (24-7 Survey, 2007) (4)

  • Workers who are stressed are nine times more likely to make a mistake than those that are not. (24-7 Survey, 2007) (4)

  • Working long hours is not helping productivity – the UK still has lower productivity levels than Germany, France and the United States (5)

So in all it would seem that if we are to be effective, productive and well we may need to find different ways of working – both as organisations and individuals. The future will require us to work smarter rather than harder!

1. Figures from TUC research. Available at:>
2. Health and Safety Executive. Available at:
3. Whose life is it anyway? Report on the findings of the Mental Health Foundation. Available at:
.Whose life is it anyway?>
4. Working Flat out and Feeling Fed Up - Summary results for the 24-7 Survey 2007.
Available at:
5. Policy Analysis – UK productivity during the Blair Era. – Available at:


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