The Widget Story:

Changing Organizations and Working Relationships
Using RAP Based Performance Managment


What is the fuss about anyway?

So what is the solution? When does it get more difficult?

In 1997, Fred Nichols of Distance Consulting, published a now famous article entitled "Don't Redesign Your Company's Performance Appraisal, Scrap It!" in which he solidly critiqued the way that performance appraisal works in most organizations. Most of what he said is right on. However, I don't think that he has got to the root causes of the problem.

First and foremost, a performance appraisal meeting is a difficult conversation to carry out effectively. It is not an everyday work place conversation. Compared to the normal task dialouge that occurs in the work place, the stakes in a performance appraisal conversation are unusually high for both participants. From time to time, they can be devasting, especially when the person being reviewed has performed in an unsatisfactory way.

Yet companies continue to ask managers to handle these difficult "conversations" with day to day communication skills. It simply does not work. People need "better than day to day conversation skills" for dealing with difficult, emotionally charged work place tasks like performance appraisal.

The most enduring myth in the modern work place is that we acquire the skills to do these difficult things easily. Take a course lasting a day or two; complete a simple work book or two; and you will have the conversation skills to handle difficult, tense, potentially devasting, work place exchanges.

Fred's solution - have more frequent, task driven (using lists) conversations gets around this problem. It does not solve it. These conversations should be happening anyway. They are essential to day to day performance management - getting the work done - conversations. They are not performance appraisal appraisal conversations - providing feedback that improves the ability of the person to get the work done, and feedback that helps the person handle progressively more difficult work.

Fred is also right on frequency. Performance apprasial converations need to happen more frequently - say once a quarter, not once a year. They need to well structured. They take preparation, and perhaps even rehearsal. Take care in doing them for people who manage or supervise other people. If these folks are not engaged in effective performance appraisal exchanges by their bosses, they have little hope of having similar exchanges with the folks who work for them.



First and foremost, I believe that companies need to invest in a set of core interpersonal skills for every person who manages or supervises others. I wrote the Competency Styles™ workbooks based on this belief.

I still don't see many companies doing it. Even worse, many of the ones who do make such investments make very poor ones. They use training vendors that teach concepts (know that), but do not deliver skill upgrade (know how). It's just common sense that we do not improve sport skills in the classroom, through lectures. But we continue to believe all the vendors who claim that they can do this for interpersonal skills.

Second, people need training in preparing for and carrying out performance appraisal conversations in the context of the organization for which they work . They need to role play a variety of them - straight forward, difficult low performer, arrogant high performer, unself aware moderate performer and so on. These role plays need to be videotaped and reviewed with a "competent" coach, who knows how to do this work.

The role plays need to be customized to the work environment of the folks on the training program - to maximize their ability to take the things they learn how to do back to the job. That is a 3 to 4 day training program with a top of the line trainer. Not cheap, but think of what you are leveraging - the annual salaries of all of the people who work for each person who is trained in this way - for a significant number of years to come.

WCI (our consulting firm) has been doing this kind of training for a number of years for some of its clients.. It pays off.

If the task is changing the organization, then things get even more difficult. Performance management is an essential tool for changing the day to day culture of an organization, especially at the senior levels of the organization. This kind of change takes real skill. I wrote the "The Widget Story: Performance Management as a Change Tool" based on real experiences at change in a variety of sized organizations. Click the pdf link below and download it if you need to know more about this.

The Widget Story

When you read the Widget Story, do not let the formal framework in the first part get in the way. Go right to the second part, and read about what happened at Widget. It is based on real events experienced by real people.

The Widget Story is at one level an extreme - a company which had to change or disappear. But extremes have things to teach us about our more normal day to day working worlds.


© Roelf Woldring 2003-2014 Ontario, Canada
All Rights Reserved, except as noted on the various web pages.