Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Appraisals: "Surplus" or "Deficit"?

The “Annual Review” (or Appraisal or Performance Review) is something that many (both appraisers and appraisees) dread.  I have met few organisations where people feel that the appraisal system really works for the benefit of individuals, teams and the business.

This is usually because it’s poorly managed, administered, understood and (at times) not fit for purpose.  I worked for one organisation that changed their appraisal method 3 times during my time there.  Clearly people felt it wasn’t doing what it should.

One refreshing development is that people are now beginning to realise that everyone has both strengths as well as weaknesses (or “areas for development/improvement”, to give them their politically correct description).  They’re also realising that different cultures view the appraisal process in different ways.  As a simple example, whilst the West may see them as a critical part of development, others view “criticism” (which, let’s face it, is what they are) as a bad thing that shouldn't be done to an individual’s face, even in private, let alone in writing.  Thus, a crudely managed, Western-biased system, may not go down well in certain countries. 

That said, we all (presumably) want to get the best out of our employees and to develop them as much as we can.   Good employees will also want to know how they can do better.  The question is really one of how we get them to realise, accept and take responsibility for what they need to do.

Many appraisal systems I’ve seen operate on the “deficit model”, that is, they point up negative areas of the appraisee.  When receiving criticism, our basic instinct is to go into “fight or flight” mode (even if we know what’s going on).  Humans don't respond well to criticism, and all this stuff about “Tell them something nice, then the improvement, then something nice again” (or the “sandwich method” as I call it) doesn't work well with today’s well-educated workers. 

The answer?  Ask people what they think went well and what could have gone better.  Explore with them what could have gone better and develop action plans around it.  If they’re reluctant to talk about what could go better, lead them there with a discussion about overall performance and individual elements.  Never present things in black and white terms (however “difficult” the appraisee may be) and, if necessary, call a break to regroup.  It’s unlikely that we’ll get many “difficult” cases (and that we can probably even forecast who they’ll be).   

The other thing to remember is not to wait until the annual review to do it.  These days, people (especially younger ones) prefer feedback as soon as possible.  How do they prefer it? Praise generally goes down well if given in pubic and if it’s specific (i.e. “I like the way you handled that customer.  You showed patience, respect, etc…”).  Not only does it encourage the right behaviour in the individual, but also in those near enough to listen. 

Another tip I’ve learnt the hard way is to catch people doing right as much as (if not more than) doing wrong.  We tend to react better to praise and if that’s what we mainly get, we’ll be more inclined to accept well-intentioned “corrections” (especially given in private) when they come.  Equally, we tend to remember criticism more than praise (even if we receive more praise than criticism).  Again, the knack is to be specific and describe the behaviour, rather than making it a part of the individual.

It all takes practice – something I’m still learning!



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Different Strokes Suit Different Folks

I’ve been in communication with Apple over an issue I have with what they call “Two-Factor Authentication”.  The issue itself isn’t important here, what interests me more is how Apple choose to communicate with customers.

In this case, Apple communicate by phone (the idea presumably being that they solve your issue for you immediately).  This is great – provided that (a) there’s a phone number for your region (and (b) that you’re happy to spend a long time on the phone…

Not all of us are like that or actually need our issue sorted right away.  We’re happy to send an email describing the problem and waiting for the recipient to sort it out.  I think it’s great that Apple want to sort us out personally, and I’m sure that in at least 95% of cases, they can.  In my case, there wasn’t a simple fix, and I was asked to stay on the line whilst they referred to a supervisor.  I had already been on the phone for 24 minutes at this stage and asked if they could just email me a response once they had spoken to the supervisor but was told that they couldn’t escalate if I wasn’t on the phone…

I had already spent 24 minutes of my time on the phone and now needed to stay on?  They had all the information they needed, so why was it necessary to keep me “hanging on the telephone”?  If they’d offered to call me back, that would have been fine, but I saw no reason to wait.  My view was that I’d done my duty by reporting the problem, it was up to Apple to fix it and I wasn’t in a tearing hurry, so they could take their time to work out a quality solution.  Surely this is the stuff dreams are made of?  A cooperative customer saying, “take your (not my) time to find a solution and get back to me when you have”?

We have a choice of communication method when dealing with problems.  In order of speed, I’d rank them as:
  • Face to face meeting
  • Phone call
  • Email/company website feedback form
  • Letter sent through post

The last two (email and letter) are for where time isn’t critical (especially letter) and are what are known as “asynchronous communication” (i.e. when you write the email/letter, it isn't read at the same time by the recipient).  Face to face meetings are fine if the person can meet straight away and you're in their office/store or work place, but most of us will use a phone call for highly urgent matters and email/company website feedback form for the rest. 

The advantage of having at least one “time sensitive” and one not-so time sensitive method of communication is that it helps to prioritise.  If we get a phone call, it would be fair to assume the matter’s urgent (to the other party, at least).    This doesn’t mean that we ignore an email or letter – both are important and should be handled professionally, but a phone calls’ “here and now”.

In short, if I want to report a problem and have it looked at over time and am not too worried about how quickly the other side gets back to me, I’ll use email.  If it’s urgent, I use the phone.

It’s great to see businesses insist on only using the phone but why not give your customers the choice?  It could save time and money.



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Don't Ignore Unhappy Customers

It’s a lucky organisation that can afford to ignore unhappy customers.  The only entities that may be able to do this are either government organisations (we have no choice but to deal with them) and monopolies.

A 2013 survey by Accenture found out that:
  • 71% of customers rely on word-of-mouth communications (just looks at the requests on Facebook if you need an example);
  • 43% use official review websites;
  • 25% use reviews and comments from social media websites.

 Looking at the above figures, I can relate to all of them. I’ll read customer reviews on Amazon or other sites before I buy and I live in a country which has a Facebook expat group page that is usually filled with requests for recommendations. 

One of my favourite themes is “online unhappiness”.  Unhappy customers can spread negative views online, on social media and by word-of-mouth.  They can reach an awful lot of people, and it’s not just other customers who see these reviews, it’s our competition as well!  Imagine the value of this free market insight to them!

Negative reviews mean lost business mean no sales…

We’ll never avoid unhappy or angry customers – something will always happen according to the law of averages when humans are involved to make someone upset.  What we can control, however, is our reaction.  My personal experience in handling angry customers is that they want to be:
  1. Heard
  2. Respected
  3. Handled

My own approach in these situations is:
  • Don’t fight back (difficult, especially if you know the customer’s “wrong”!);
  • Remain under control (again, difficult in the face of what can be extreme provocation);
  • Don't take it personally – they’re upset with my organisation, not necessarily me personally (unless I’m the one that messed up);
  • Listen and ask questions to make sure I’ve really understood what’s going on (again, can be tricky);
  • Show I’m actively listening, that I empathise and understand the issue;
  • Apologise that they’ve had this experience (not necessarily that the company has made a mistake unless it’s clear that this is the case);
  • Find a solution – use any resources necessary (shows that we’re serious) – and tell the customer when it has been found.
  • Review what happened – what can we do to ensure it doesn't happen again?
  • Finally - make sure everyone in the organisation knows that they are part of the solution, not just the "Customer Service Reps".

I’m not going to come up with trite quotes on “The customer is always right” – we know that often they're not, but they have a right to expect to be respected, taken seriously and handled professionally.  They’re the reason we have a job and why our businesses make money.  Their complaints are a great source of free information on how we can improve.

Finally, if we “get it right”, they’ll act as “free advertising” to others as well as continuing to do business with us.  What’s that worth?

  

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

Labels: , , , ,