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Be honest and improve the way you review business performance

We all know that honesty really is the best policy – especially when it comes to the business review process. But for many companies, being completely transparent is easier said than done. IIP practitioner Sue Long shares her insight into the dos and don’ts of approaching a general review and shows how an open policy can reap many benefits for your business.

Do really ask yourself “What keeps me awake at night?”

When it comes to the review process, organisations can only progress if they’re completely honest with themselves. As an IIP Specialist, it’s my job to help businesses really get an understanding of what the barriers are to achieving their business goals. But leaders and managers can do this themselves by being realistic and asking “what are we trying to do” and “what’s stopping us"?

Occasionally leaders and CEOs genuinely don't recognise that there is a problem. Or they’re turning a blind eye. It’s of vital importance that management and leaders recognise issues that arise, especially in the review stage, so they can tackle them head on. When this sort of situation occurs, a review process is a good way of approaching any issues that are holding your business back.


Do tap into your employees' true feelings  

Employee wide surveys as well as team/manager surveys are really valuable, as they’re often a company’s first step into having dialogue with their people. What’s more, the results you get are often the first type of feedback management get about whether they're any good.

Surveys are great at revealing holes where management might not normally look. For example, some companies can be too focused on old ideas, such as what motivates people, the work environment, wages, pensions and benefits. These are all important, but sometimes you need to raise their awareness of improving other things they might not have thought of, like thought progression or sharing your vision. Surveys are a great way of bridging that employee gap.  


Don't play the blame game

Organisation-wide review processes tend to bring a lot of anxiety on a selected few. Surprisingly MDs and CEOs are often more relaxed about the whole endeavour than the people on the ground, because they’re usually not the ones who’ll have to answer for a negative outcome.

Most of the time, it’s the middle management that’ll be having sleepless nights, concerned that poor review results will directly impact on their department’s progress. If this is the case, then there’s little chance that they’ll be comfortable to open up about the concerns and management gaps that could be making a difference to your bottom line.

If you feel like your organisation has fallen into this pattern of making certain individuals solely responsible for the outcome of the general or departmental review process, then you need to readdress how you’re approaching it altogether.


Do share in all round honesty

Feedback 360s go a long way towards opening up opportunities for honest views about how everyone is performing in an organisation in a more democratic way.

And while 360s might not work for all employees, for management or directors they’re really useful. Usually, it’s the higher management who may not be getting upward feedback for their performance, or even peer-to-peer feedback. I’m currently doing a 360 for a private sector company, and I’m aware that one of the managers does have some interpersonal gaps in his skills. One of his reportees is clearly very anxious about how to address it. In this case a 360 is a great way for everyone to input into the feedback process – and gain some understanding of the impact of their behaviour and management style.


Don't assume you can see it all from where you’re standing

Consultants are usually brought in to tell a business what an insider can't. For example, if you've got an organisation that’s been through a lot of change, then an external sounding board is a useful one to have.

I was working with a third sector organisation which had been through a lot of changes with funding and personnel, where a lot of difficult decisions had been made. Interestingly the CEO and other trustees were part of the problem, due to simply not engaging with the workforce while they’d been making these harsh decisions. They’d taken the view that it was easier to distance themselves from the employees rather than have too many awkward conversations. They weren’t walking the floor, sitting at the end of desks and having a chat. With my objective viewpoint, I was able to give the operations manager a huge sense of relief – she then had an objective message that she could take back to the CEO and the board. It was feedback that she could never have produced herself.


Don't rely on the middle man

It’s funny isn't it, but sometimes employees are happier talking to the guys at the top than their line manager. When this is the case, employee representative groups are a great way of airing issues, as is involving the top man or woman and taking out the middle-management.

A company I’ve worked with in the financial services sector – which of course has been hit hard over the past couple of years – has introduced an employee recognition group, and a separate employee engagement group. Both of these have the ear of the CEO at bi-monthly meetings. To have a platform where employees are able to be completely open with the CEO present is immensely valuable. This gives another opportunity for staff concerns to circumnavigate immediate line management and go right up to the top.


Do mix things up

Often opening up dialogue starts when you bring in some really new and challenging ideas. When businesses start by saying, “Let’s be open, let’s be honest, let’s really look at self-knowledge here as our first step to improving”, then introducing something different at board or management level is a good idea. And it’s quite fun.

I’ve introduced Johari’s Window to a couple of businesses. It’s a technique created by two American psychologists to help people better understand their relationships with others. It can be really useful when getting to the heart of what’s causing problems in management.

This worked particularly well with a third sector company’s interim review I was working on. They recognised they weren’t very good at understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and through Johari’s Window – which helps clarify individual’s experiences, views, attitudes, skills and intentions etc. and then relates them to back to the rest of the wider group – they’ve started using the positive and critical feedback with some of their teams and managers.

But of course my main piece of advice would be to let us in there. Allow us to come in, talk to people and provide you with some honest and valuable feedback. It will really help you move forward in the right way.


Find out more about how better reviews can improve your business or talk to an IIP practitioner about your specific business needs.