How to be Honest in Performance Reviews and Performance Appraisals

Alan Mulally – the Chief Executive at Ford has turned the company round. But when he first took over they were losing £17bn a year.

He was faced with a group of people who were not working together and ways of working that were not helping.

He had some very ambitious plans to get the company back on track. He needed everyone to sign up to them and work with everyone else to achieve them.

He held management meetings every week. At each meeting he asked his managers to identify where they were on the plan using a simple green, red and yellow (some people call this RAG: red, amber, green) coding system. For several months everyone turned up with all green signals on everything.

Tape measure illustrating the need for clear measures in SMART objectives and SMART goals

You need to use a transparent measure of achievement

One day he stopped the meeting and asked if anything wasn’t going well, pointing out that they were going to lose $17bn. No one responded.

The next week the manager in charge of a launch in Canada showed all reds on his chart.

Alan applauded him. The other managers started offering help and suggestions on the problems he had brought to the table.

It was the start of the major improvements. The next week the charts were covered with red and yellow. And that meant that people started being honest about what was going on and, even more importantly, helping each other. They started to succeed.

The Real Purpose of Performance Reviews and Performance Appraisals

This is to put people in the best possible position to achieve the objectives over the next year. It’s to find a way to get things working, to help people solve their problems and to achieve the organisational goals and objectives.

When you have a system that penalises people for not achieving a tough objective it encourages exactly the kind of behaviour Alan Mulally witnessed at Ford.

It’s Counterproductive

All this does is sweep it under the carpet. People don’t want to admit there are problems. They do their utmost to deny any problems exist. So you have a system that, instead of supporting your organisation and making it successful, leads to a lack of trust at best, and failure at worst.

If you focus on what needs to be achieved and how to help people achieve it, you will find it much easier to tackle problems and issues. (In other words, have very clear SMART Objectives or SMART goals.) The next step is to put people in charge of their own feedback – more on that next time.

How to Structure a Performance Review or Performance Appraisal

This may be a bit controversial – I have found this works so much better than what I used to do.

  1. Agree the goals and objectives for the next year (SMART Goals and SMART objectives, of course).
  2. What was achieved last year, in the light of what needs to be achieved this year.
  3. What needs to be done differently (by both of you) in order to achieve the goals and objectives.

For more on this get my booklet “Praise and the Appraisal”

People who have used this structure find it much more motivating than some of the other structures they have become familiar with. They leave excited about what they are going to do. It also makes giving and getting feedback much easier.

More on that next week when I’ll show you they key to getting feedback really easily and without any of that awkwardness you may be familiar with.

Photos © Rob Whyard 2011

Two Motivation Mistakes You Must Avoid

There are some motivation techniques that you must avoid. This is because they are expensive and don’t generally have a lasting effect.

The two I am talking about are:

•    Motivational Speakers
•    Team Events

Now you may not agree with me, but let me explain.

Wasting Money on Motivational Speakers

I remember our CEO talking about this years ago. He said that, whilst it was great to see the speaker on the day and he felt really motivated while he was there, the effect wore off very quickly.

I’ve got nothing against motivational speakers. The problem is you need to keep the motivation up when you are back in the office.  So if you are going to see motivational speakers, make sure you do this and plan out how to keep it going – otherwise you will have wasted your money.

Motivational Team Events

I remember a client telling me about a team event he was included in. It involved all kinds of great activities in a forest: trust exercises and cooking over a campfire. He really enjoyed it. But then, not a week later, his manager behaved in a completely shocking way, shouting at members of the team, blaming them for his own mistakes and generally doing all the kinds of things to make a self-respecting HR manager weep.

“Cynical” hardly begins to describe my client’s response. I won’t repeat the language.

Great Team Events That Really Work

Let’s compare that with the team events of one of the best managers I have ever had the pleasure to work with, Ajit. He ran a team of software developers. Every year there would be a team event. “Event” probably isn’t a good enough word to describe what he did and the trouble he went to.

Get Motivated to Fly High

Get Motivated to Fly High

Members of his team consistently did well and were promoted. But he didn’t just do the team event, like the other manager. He took his job managing his team very seriously and put a great deal of effort into it all year round. The team event was just the pinnacle.

I coached him over a couple of years. Each time we met he would have a list of issues and a clear objective for each. Then, when we met the next time, he had invariably carried out everything he had agreed to.

He was once given a very “difficult” member of staff, Evan. Within a matter of weeks, Evan was a model employee. Ajit said that he couldn’t really see what the problem with Mark was. The truth was that he had just been badly managed in the past.

But Ajit did not depend on his team events for motivating his team. He worked at it all the time. Consequently he got the results.

Motivating Your Team – Summary

Whilst seeing motivational speakers and holding team events can be valuable, they are only worthwhile if you do the work for the rest of the year. If you aren’t going to do that, don’t waste your money on these “quick fixes” because they will probably backfire and make things worse.

For more help motivating your team

Get the recording of my teleseminar:
“How To Motivate Your Team”

Get “How To Motivate Your Team” Now

You will discover

  • A way of understanding what motivation is that will make it easy to motivate anyone. This information will be some of the most valuable you ever get.
  • You’ll get a really easy way to discover what motivates the people you need to motivate. It’s quick, costs nothing and extremely powerful.
  • You’ll discover how to motivate ‘negative’ people. You know them: the ones who tell you that your ideas won’t work, things are impossible and we are all doomed.  But, when you know how to motivate them, it’s really easy.
  • A fantastic question that works like a dream and will spark the people who just aren’t making an effort back into life. It’s one of the most useful questions I have ever come across (and it will work with your children too).
  • Three key tools for keeping yourself motivated. It can be very hard sometimes when times are tough – as they are now – and you must do things you don’t like or even hate doing. You’ll find out what to do about that, how to get them done quickly and without fuss.
  • Here’s one that you may be struggling with. Do you work with people who don’t like change? Well, if you do, I’ll tell you how to get them to accept change. The worst bit is, you’ll discover what you are doing to make them resist change and what you need to do instead.  You’ll be amazed at the difference.
  • A great tool to keep people motivated and working on a task, without extra effort from you. It’s hard to believe that you can get more out with less effort, but if you do it right – you can.

The recording is packed full of tools you can use straight away and real life examples from our guest who has many years of experience putting all these tools into practice.

Get “How to Motivate Your Team” Now

Photos  © Rob Whyard 2010

Should Objectives Be Achievable? A Problem with SMART Objectives and SMART Goals

Here’s a major problem with SMART objectives, Goals and Outcomes.
For most people SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant/Realistic
  • Time-Bounded

If you focus on making sure that all your goals and objectives are achievable this can discourage you from going for tough goals in case you fail. Often at work you will be penalised in your performance review or appraisal if that happens. So, as a result, you can become less ambitious.

Objectives are there to tell you what you need to achieve, not whether it’s achievable or not.

It’s your job to work that out. It’s your job to go back to your manager and tell him or her if there’s a problem with achieving the objective or if you will need to divert resources from other objectives to achieve that one.

Setting Tough Objectives

Me with the Apollo 13 Astronauts at Universal Studios

You may have seen the film “Apollo 13” (staring Tom Hanks). In it the people on the ground do their best to get the three astronauts back alive after a problem with the mission. It’s a true story. You may remember when it happened.

At one stage, the astronauts are running out of air because the filters in the capsule are not working properly.

So the guy in charge tells his team to work out how to make a filter that will do the job and be the right shape to fit into the hole. They assemble a team and in comes the man with all the bits that the astronauts have available to them.

The Objective

He tips them out onto the table and tells them that they have to find a way of making a filter that will fit into a specific shaped hole using just the components on the table.

All the members of the team know that the astronauts, their colleagues and friends, are depending on them, and will die if they fail. It’s pretty specific and there’s a very clear measure. The time constraints are also very clear. It’s highly relevant. So we have the “S”, the “M”, “R” and the “T”.

Not one of them says “I don’t want that objective, it might not be achievable.” Or “That’s impossible, we can’t do it.”

I think many companies have unintentionally built up performance management systems that actively discourage people from setting themselves tough goals in case their performance ends up being categorised as ‘unmet’, ‘partially met’, ‘below standard’ or some other unsatisfactory rating and they have to suffer the penalties.

For products to help you with your objectives and goals go here.

You Can Set Unachievable Objectives – People Do

A good friend of mine recently recommended a fascinating book: “Complications”. Not one to read if you are about to go into hospital or planning to be ill.

In it, Atul Gawande, the author, describes the difficulties of carrying out a successful hernia operation and the average failure rate (where the hernia returns). For most hospitals it’s between 10% and 15%. The operation takes about 90 minutes. Yet, according to Gawande, there is a hospital in Canada where the failure rate is 1%. Not only that, but it takes half the time to carry out the operation.

It’s not an accident that they have this amazing success. They have worked at it.

I expect the doctors at the Shouldice Hospital set themselves the goal of achieving 100% success. And I also suspect that some people thought this was not achievable.

But somehow they have striven towards this goal relentlessly and are very close to achieving it.

Which Objective Gives the Best Results?

Look at these two objectives:

  • Achieve a 90% success rate in the hernia operation.
  • Achieve a 100% success rate in the hernia operation.

Image You Have a Choice Between Two Surgeons:

  • The surgeon who has worked for years with the first objective and achieved it.
  • The surgeon who has failed the second goal by 1% (and possibly scored “partially met” for his/her objectives).

What would you choose?

Be Brave

I think we need to be braver in our objectives and at least go for gold. You may need to look at the system you are in and make some changes to allow that to happen.

Remember the system should be there to help you, not to lower your standards, aspirations and achievements.

Get Help With Your Objectives Now

Get my booklet “How to Write Objectives That Work”

Photos  © Rob Whyard 2010

How to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Stick

Have you made a New Year’s Resolution? Are you going to keep it? According to some research most people have already broken theirs by now.

I was talking to a client this week and he told me his was going to be ‘not to say “yes” to things so often’.

Do you recognise this person? He’s someone who is eager to help everyone and gets very excited about new ideas and so often ends up over-committing himself and this can mean that:

  • He ends up working very long hours
  • Things get left late
  • People get let down

So how on earth is he going to keep this resolution?

“There is no try only do”

System Changes

To really make a difference in this kind of situation you need to change the system. It’s no good just suddenly thinking you won’t say “yes” as often, because you are likely to fall at the first fence.

It’s a bit like when you decide not to eat chocolate for a few weeks. Then a friend brings in a wonderful cake for her birthday. You have a ‘small’ slice because it’s her birthday and you didn’t want to offend her.

The next day brings a similar excuse and soon you are eating just as much chocolate as you were. Perhaps more.

You need to have a process that makes it easy to achieve your goal, so that it happens almost by itself.

Saying “No”

If you want to say “No” more often to more things, you need to work out what you will say “No” to and what you will say “Yes” to. This means having a clear objective and a clear set of criteria for making the decision. And that’s the key.

Once you have a clear goal, it’s much easier. Because all you have to do then is ask yourself “Will this help me achieve my goal?” If it will, you do it, if not, you don’t do it.

Saying “No” Is Difficult

Of course, it’s not quite that easy – there’s the problem of how you say “No”.
I spend years teaching people on assertiveness courses how to say “No”, but I knew they never did it once they had finished the course. So I spent a long time working out another way.

Here is my special technique for doing that.

How to Say “No” Without Saying “No”

When someone asks you to do something, you say: “Let me check my diary”.
This gives you time to think instead of just agreeing on the spot. It’s not rude and it also has the added benefit of making you look like the organised, popular person you are.

Then you check your diary and see when you could realistically carry out the task without messing up everything else you are working on and have agreed to. You give them that date or time, even if it is several weeks away.

“I have some time on the 25th – would that work for you?”
Very often you will find that either they will go elsewhere or will fit around your arrangements.

Keep Your Diary Up To Date

This means that you must book in time for all the things you have already agreed to and are planning. It can be a bit frightening to see how little time you have left for other things.

Clear Goals

You also need to make sure that your diary is filled with tasks that are helping you to achieve your goals, not just “fillers” to make this work. And you need to make sure that your goals are SMART goals.

The System Change

So the system change my client needs to implement is to have his goals really clear and at the front of his mind all the time. This is particularly difficult when you are an ideas person (which he is).
And he needs just to have a very small number of those goals, so that they are achievable within the time he has available – leaving a little bit of extra time to enjoy himself every now and then.

Check Your Systems

Now is a great time to check your systems along with your New Year’s Resolutions to make sure that your systems are really going to support you and make it easy to achieve your goals.
For more help with clear goals, SMART Objectives and SMART Goals and Targets, get my booklet:
How to Write Objectives That Work

Photos  © Rob Whyard 2010

Should Measures in Goals and Objectives Be Separate?

One of the best ways to really make it hard for people to write their objectives badly is to have a separate column for the ‘measures’. This makes it really hard for people to have SMART goals or objectives.

There, I’ve said it. And you may well be sitting there thinking; “But we have a separate column in our form.”

So why is it a problem? The reason is that this encourages people to think that the objective and the measure are two separate things. They then start writing lists of tasks instead of objectives.

Example of a Bad Measure

The truth is that a well-written objective needs no separate measure. Here’s an example:


Travel to Manchester


  • Drove to Manchester
  • Got there by 3pm

How to Put the Measure in Your Objective or Goal

So why not just write this as your objective:
Get to Manchester by 3pm.

It’s going to be pretty obvious whether you achieved it or not. You might want to put the specific address, but I think you get the picture.

If you don’t have a clear measure in your objective it’s quite hard to know what you really need to achieve and what the standards are.

Another Example of a Bad Objective

Become a high performing team.


  • The team works really well together
  • The team is effective

This is complete rubbish, isn’t it? Yet I have seen virtually this with these hopeless measures far too often. How would you know if the team was working really well together? Or if the team was ‘effective’?

Here’s how. Really effective teams do these things:

  • The produce more output
  • They use few resources
  • They use less effort than ineffective teams
  • They do things in less time than ineffective teams

How to Measure Team Performance

The first time I went to a football match was to see Watford playing against some other team in the 1970s. They couldn’t even pass the ball from one member of the team to the other.

Often the ball would end up with the other side. They missed passes, they hardly made any attempts to score a goal and missed the attempts they did make. Even I, as someone who had never really watched much football, could tell they were useless.

All gold with rust

Make Sure Your Objectives Can Be Easily Measured

However, over the next five years they moved from Division 4 to Division 1.  It was easy to tell. That was the measure.

Imagine a really good football team.  The ball passes smoothly from one member of the team to the next and then goes into the goal. Members of the other side are easily bypassed. They do not have the chance to score a goal.

Your measure for a ‘high performing football team’ is that they win the league or some other championship. You don’t say, “I want to support a ‘high performing football team’ “ or “I wish Watford was a ‘high performing team’. You say, “I want Watford to win the Premiership”.

That’s your measure.
So use the same in your objective:

  • The SYZ team will produce 300 units a month within normal working hours and with no more than four members.
  • The ABC team will find a way to double the sales of the Milky Marvel Biscuit by the end of July.

Can you measure that? Of course you can. And it’s so much easier to be clear about what you need to do now.

Photos  © Rob Whyard 2010

Are Your Objectives The Same As Last Year?

Is this a problem that you have? Trying to write objectives that hardly change? Then wondering why you bother?

Every year I get questions about this issue – so here are some answers for you.


To get specialist help with your objectives and take advantage of our very special January offer use these links:


Admin People With The Same Objectives Every Year

Here’s an example from a client. They are responsible for helping companies in a particular sector meet government standards.

They thought the secretarial and administrative staff should have the same objectives they had had ten years ago. So they could not see the point in looking at their objectives or even doing an appraisal or performance review.

I started asking some questions.

  • Did they still work with the same technology that they had worked with ten years ago?
  • Did they still have to answer the same number of phone calls each day?
  • Have the standards that you expected the staff to achieve changed?

As I’m sure you can imagine, the answer to the first one was “No.” It’s very rare for anyone to be working with the same technology as they were ten years ago.

The answer to the second question was also “No.” Interestingly this number of calls has gone down, but that is because so many enquiries now come via email. The number of emails is over ten times the original number of phone calls.

And the answer to the third question was “Yes.” The standards now are completely different to what they were.

The Jobs Are Not The Same

In fact, as they looked at these particular jobs it was clear that they were nothing like what they had been even two years before.

The individuals were expected to deal with many more customers and questions from them than they ever had been. Not only that but they were expected to handle the enquiries themselves where they could, rather than passing them on.

They also had to manage the filing system, which had changed completely from being a paper-based system to a software system.

From Paper Files to a Database

Where before they filed documents, now they were expected to maintain a database.

As we looked at the overall objectives of the organisation, there were many ways in which these people could help to achieve them. One of them was by identifying improvements to the document management system and implementing them.

Hundreds of clients emailed on a monthly basis asking about the latest government policy. So another objective for this group was to develop a series of standard email responses to the common questions.

Another Different Objective

As they thought about it, the managers then realised that another objective would be to develop a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) area on the website with that information in to save people having to email.

After a few minutes they started to see that the objectives were not the same. They were similar in that they were dealing with similar areas, but these people were expected to achieve much more than in previous years and also to make all kinds of improvements using the technology that had not been available before.

Does Anyone Still Have the Same Objectives?

In all the people who have come to me claiming that their objectives are the same, I have never found one where it was true.

If you think you are one of those people – email me – I’d love to hear from you.

More Than SMART

Good objectives are about much more than just being SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound). They are vital in helping you achieve your goals.

If you would like us to help you, your team or your organisation with your objectives just use these links or email me with details of what you are looking for. We provide materials and packages for:

Currently these are all HALF PRICE but places are going fast, so book now if you want to take advantage of this offer.