Why your business does NOT need an appraisal system…

Small Business Matters: Part 2.

‘Small businesses are in the very refreshing position of being able to break the performance management mould and do things their own, innovative way…’

As a business grows and takes on staff, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is, ‘Do we need to implement an appraisal system?’.  These are usually successful, small businesses who have put in place a good, small team of people.  These people have all been on a journey together to establish the business and so generally the team gets on well, is very enthusiastic and motivated and there are few people issues.  As there are relatively few staff, each staff member feels that they really count and everyone can see how what they do impacts the bottom line (factors that can often get lost in a big, corporate environment). Without layers of structure and bureaucracy, decisions can be made quickly and people have the freedom to be innovative.

Quite rightly, however, the business managers recognise that if they now want to grow the business further they need to make sure that they have strong foundations in place.  Good people management, and therefore some kind of performance management (the means by which a business gauges progress towards the achievement of business goals), is part of this infrastructure in order to ensure that people continue to feel motivated and focused on the right things as the business evolves, teams grow and good communication becomes more challenging.

My key concern is always how they can do this without changing the positive, innovative culture of the business and an open-minded and agile workforce.

In addition, there is now a growing trend to question and challenge the value of the traditional, annual appraisal – in large businesses as well as small.  Many HR professionals have been seeing for years ineffective, hugely time-consuming systems which, in the worst cases, actually manage to disengage and demotivate staff.  It is possible to ‘fix’ a failing appraisal system or replace with a much better one, but given current thinking and research on the limited benefits of appraisals, you need to think very carefully about why you might want to implement one in the first place.  Small businesses are in the very refreshing position of being able to break the performance management mould and do things their own, innovative way.

So the HR question becomes ‘How can we strike a balance between remaining flexible and innovative and putting some structure in place to support growth?’.  Increasingly, my clients and I are finding the answer lies not in an appraisal system, but in some simple and cost effective alternatives – that add value to all aspects of the business.  These alternatives include:

1)Replacing annual ‘evaluation’ with ongoing conversation:

  • Ensure that all employees have someone that they can talk to on a regular basis about their performance, goals, personal development, problems, concerns and achievements.
  • This might be a line manager and/or a mentor – someone with experience relevant to their mentee’s role who can act as a wise sounding board and help them to deliver.
  • Provide guidance so that people understand how this relationship works, the boundaries (eg what is and isn’t appropriate, confidentiality, etc) and the frequency of meetings.
  • Provide training to the line manager or mentor so that both they and their mentee can get the most from this relationship.  In the case of a micro-business this role might necessarily fall to the business owner, but whether you are part of a large business or a very small one, regular conversation – with the aim of providing motivation, guidance and personal development – is hugely important both to the individual and the growth of the business.
  • An important part of the ongoing conversation with line managers should be the agreeing and regular review of an individual’s personal work objectives to make sure that everything they do supports the business’ goals.  You can read more about setting SMART objectives in ‘What’s holding you back from achieving your goals?’.
  • Keeping reams of paperwork isn’t necessary.  An email summarising key points and actions following a conversation should suffice.  (Serious performance and capability issues should be dealt with through a more formal performance management or disciplinary process.)

2) Creating a feedback culture where learning from successes and failures is the norm:

  • Lead by example by giving people timely feedback on their work – the positive and the negative – as close as possible to the action occurring.  This maximises the learning to be taken from the feedback as it is fresh in people’s minds (who can remember exactly the details of an action, event or project a week after it took place, let alone months later!).
  • Importantly, make it clear that this is a two way street by asking for feedback on your own performance and putting in place mechanisms for sharing feedback constructively across the business, for example:
    • always holding a ‘take the learning’ meeting after an event or completing a project – where everyone involved meets to share feedback and decide how they will do things differently next time;
    • using 360 degree feedback (collated feedback from everyone who works with an individual – bosses, colleagues, direct reports, clients, etc – to get an all round view of performance) to support people’s personal development plans and career aspirations.
  • If you’re going to encourage a feedback culture to foster continuous improvement then it is essential that you train your employees in how to give and receive feedback constructively.  For more food for thought on feedback do read:  The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback

3) Adopt a coaching approach to people management:

  • According to Weintraub and Hunt in their 2015 Harvard Review article ‘4 Reasons Managers Should Spend more Time on Coaching’, managers who coach “…are not coaching their people because they are nice — they see personal involvement in the development of talent as an essential activity for business success”.  Based on their extensive research into effective management (and therefore performance management) coaching is a ‘must have’, not a ‘nice to have’ skill, and will help a business to attract, retain and develop the most talented people.
  • If you agree with this line of thinking, then investing in coaching training for your line managers is essential.  To find out a little more about coaching, you might like to take a look at our article ‘Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.’

So, in conclusion, yes – you do need to invest in actively managing the performance of your people in order to put in place the foundations for business growth.  However, it can be done with a light touch more suitable to your agile, small business.  Instead of investing in a traditional appraisal system, my advice would be to invest directly in your people through providing them with quality training in good communication, giving and receiving feedback and coaching.


Arbre Consulting can provide affordable advice and bespoke training in a range of soft skills, including managing people,  communication skills, giving and receiving feedback, coaching and SMART objective setting.  We can also help you put in place essential HR policies and procedures to ensure you are well grounded for business growth and protected from an employment law perspective.  Please do contact us for a free consultation 

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Coaching for Success.  What is coaching and how can it help you?

As a coach, I love this quote from the great tennis player, Arthur Ashe.  It’s de-mystifies the ‘journey’ to success and reminds us how accessible our everyday hopes and dreams really are.  Sometimes we just need a reminder and perhaps a helping hand.   Most of us already have the tools we need to achieve our goals at our disposal, but in reality seeing this clearly and taking the right steps can be difficult.  A good coach will help you identify where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.

All of us at points in our life will have a goal or ambition that we’d like to achieve or a realisation that we need to make a change in our life in order to improve it.  This may be personal or professional, but whatever it is we may also realise that we need some support to help us get there.  Coaching can provide that support and enable you to achieve your goals more quickly.

Coaching as a professional practice has evolved in response to the need for people to talk through the issues and challenges they face and their journey to achieve their goals.  It is different to advising, therapy or counselling as it is very much about looking and moving forward – helping you to identify exactly what it is you want to achieve and understand how you’re going to get there.  A good coach can help you find the motivation and inspiration that you are looking for.

Examples of the kind of projects or circumstances that a coach can help you with professionally include setting up/growing a business, role changes, managing your time, reducing stress, improving your work life balance and managing a tricky professional relationship.

Performance Coaching

Performance coaching aims to help individuals unlock and fulfil their potential in order to maximise their own performance.  Performance coaching can make a huge difference to individuals at all levels within the business struggling in their role, adapting to promotion or a role change and to employees identified as high performers wanting to maximise their delivery.  It can also be a very effective tool to support new recruits settle into to a business and employees new to management. Coaching is a valuable every-day people management technique for line managers, which is why businesses are increasingly opting to train their people managers in coaching skills.

Small Business Coaching

Small business coaching is performance coaching specifically tailored to provide development support to small business owners and entrepreneurs – both at the concept stage (eg defining business goals, developing marketing strategies, writing a business plan) and in helping them to overcome challenges, grow or re-structure.



With 20 years’ experience in Human Resources and Learning and Development, both as an in-house practitioner and as a consultant to small businesses, Kate Wright has extensive experience in coaching corporate leaders, managers, teams and small businesses.

Contact kate@arbre.je for a free and informal chat about how coaching might be able to help you unlock your potential and achieve your goals.


What’s holding you back from achieving your goals?

Why is that we sometimes find it so hard to turn a goal into reality?  For many of us, even the most burning ambition remains forever an idea that we seem unable to make happen. In my experience, turning vague goals into SMART goals can be the key to unlocking success.  And the good news is that it’s really not rocket science if you are prepared to invest a little time into smart planning.

Back in 1981, George Doran first published his article ‘There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives’ and it has been used by HR and business leaders as a goal setting tool ever since for good reason: it is simple to use and effective because it eliminates ambiguity and holds the goal-setter accountable.  This article sets out how we can all use SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) to plan for success, whether our goals be personal or work-related.  You’ll also find a goal-planning template at the end of the article that you may find helpful to set you on your way.

SMART versus vague goals.

Specific: An unclear goal will lead to unclear results.  Therefore, you need to start with a description of your goal that includes the details of not just what you want to achieve, but how and when you want to achieve it too.

Vague:  I will write my book about coaching in my spare time.

Specific:   I will write my book about coaching over the next two years.  In order to achieve this, I will set my alarm at 6am on weekdays, so that I can work on my book for 90 minutes before work.  I will also set aside 3 Saturday afternoons a month, between 3pm and 6pm, for reviewing and editing.

Measurable: It’s really important to be able to assess how well you are progressing towards your goal and also to know when you have achieved it (particularly if your performance at work will be measured against it!).  If you can’t measure your success, you can’t manage your progress and know when to make changes or adjustments to your plan to keep you on track.

Vague: The book will be substantial.

Specific: The book will be at least 10 chapters long.  I will complete an overview of the structure of the book and what each chapter will contain next week.  Once I have this overview, I will designate a specific number of chapters to be completed each week in order to complete my book by the deadline.

Achievable: It’s a good thing to stretch ourselves with challenging goals, but a goal that has a high chance of being unattainable will soon become demotivating.  The aim is to set challenging, but achievable goals.

Vague: I’m going to write a bestseller!

Specific: I will approach some publishing houses with my book, but will also self-publish online and submit articles to the relevant trade press and social media to garner interest in my book.

Relevant:  It’s important that your goal is realistic and supportive of your overall aims, whether personal or work-related – otherwise what is the point?

Vague:  I’ll become known as a business expert!

Specific:  The success of my book will help me to grow my independent consulting business (I will aim to increase my coaching clients by 50%) and also have more time to write.

Timebound: A clear deadline will help you to avoid procrastination and maintain momentum.  No firm deadline, and you may well find yourself distracted or drifting away from your aims.

Vague:  I’m going to complete the book asap.

Specific:  I’m going to complete the book within two years, by the end of June 2019.

A few extra tips for setting SMART goals:

– Anticipate potential problems or obstacles that might get in the way of you achieving your goals and plan in advance how you will mitigate them.

– Review regularly and adjust your plan if you need to.  Unforeseen circumstances (otherwise known as life!) can get in the way of our best intentions so, instead of feeling stressed or frustrated by these, revisit the plan.

– Use a tool to help you consider and scope out your plan, and to ensure that it is SMART.  I have used the following simple format successfully with many clients over the years (it’s also useful for work-related goal setting in the context of appraisals and performance management):

(click on template to enlarge)


If you are struggling to work on your own towards a goal that is important to you, engaging a coach can really help you to identify your goal, maintain momentum, problem-solve and make real progress.   Please do contact me at kate@arbre.je for more information about performance coaching and/or our free, one hour coaching taster.   

The Rise and Fall of Work Life Balance

The Rise and Fall of ‘Work Life Balance’.   A Potted History….

‘Sun up to sun down’ working

In the Industrial Revolution factory owners maximised their output by forcing long working hours (10 to 18 hours a day) on their workers who, by being paid a pittance, accepted that they must work as many hours as possible simply to survive.   Survival was so tough for the uneducated, working class masses that their children had to work too and all in appalling working conditions.  The notion of ‘work life balance’ (as we perceive it) wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of even the most progressive of thinkers and reformers.

Thankfully this slowly began to change in the 19th Century when British socialists, such as Robert Owen, first proposed the notion of an 8 hour day for workers  – ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest’.  Although this started to prompt some improvements for workers through the instigation of various Factories Workers Acts, the notion of an 8 hours working day didn’t really take hold in Britain until 1884, when the Trade Union Congress (TUC)  finally made the 8 hour working day one of its primary goals.

The US followed a similar pattern of progress and change and, in 1914, the Ford Motor Company was one of the first businesses to adopt an 8 hour day of its own accord.  Interestingly, and to the surprise of many in industry and the establishment, the impact of this reduction in working hours was huge and positively so.  Productivity increased and profit margins doubled within two years of implementing the new working hours.  What better proof that ‘work life balance’ makes excellent business sense?

‘Work Ethic’ and the Information Age

Skip to the 20th Century and how then had ‘work ethic’  become established so firmly in our working psyche as the best, perhaps the only way to really get on at work?   The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘work ethic’ as “The principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward”.  Ask workers today for an every day definition and most will say something along the lines of ‘burning the midnight oil’; slaving away in the office, showing the boss you’re prepared to put in the long hours and making sacrifices.   Thanks to the dawn of the Information Age in the 1980s, and propagated by government rhetoric and policy in support of big businesses, suddenly the 8 hour day became an old-fashioned notion.  Work ethic was no longer about making sacrifices for a moral principal – it was about making sacrifices to find self-fulfilment and success.   Workers were valued for their willingness to burn the midnight oil, as much as the quality of their output.

Work Life Balance and The Rise of the Millennials

Of course, as the eighties and nineties progressed, more and more evidence emerged of just how damaging to your health (and business) being over worked and stressed could be.  EU Legislation was created to protect workers from unhealthily long hours and ‘working smarter not harder’ became the mantra for HR professionals.  Supported by progressive workers’ rights, rapidly advancing technology and forward-thinking corporates and dot.coms, flexible working started to be seen as so much more than simply part-time hours for working mums.

And so to the noughties and the emerging and increasingly influential rise of the Millennials – the children of Baby Boomers and older Generation X-ers.  The kids with a social conscience.  The kids who don’t believe in hierarchy, but do believe in their right to a work life balance.  In 2010, in the US where a huge amount of academic study into the impact of Millennials on Corporate life has been carried out, a study by Hershetter and Epstein showed that nearly one-third of students’ top priority is to “balance personal and professional life” and that nearly 9 out of 10 Millennials placed an importance on work-life balance.  This is in contrast to the ‘work ethics’ of their Baby-Boomer parents and grand-parents.

Technology and Work-Life Integration

To many of the workers who experienced ‘Work-Life balance’ taking shape as a work concept in the eighties and nineties, it has remained just that – a concept that has never really became reality.  With the devastating effect of the global economic crisis on employment, indeed many feel they have been forced to increase their working hours.

But there has been another shift too and perhaps one that will have a far lasting impact on the way we work. According to Dean Douglas, writing for ‘Fast Company’, “the most productive leaders in business aren’t gunning for a work-life balance–that was the myth touted years ago that caused professionals to overbook their calendars and make efforts “to have it all”.”  He argues that with technology being available to everyone, 24/7, and the attitude and energy of Millennials becoming a driving force within the workplace there is a new way forward: Work Life Integration.

‘Work Life Integration’ first emerged as a term alongside ‘Work Life Balance’ in the late eighties/early nineties, particularly in the US.  At the time, the two terms pretty much meant the same thing – properly prioritising work and life outside of work. More recently, with the perceived very limited success of ‘balancing’ work and life, and especially due to rapid advancements in technology enabling most of us to work anywhere, any time, a Millennial’s version of ‘work life integration’ is now being seen by a growing number of business leaders as the solution to happy workers and high productivity.

David Solomon, the global co-head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs said in a recent New Yorker article, “Technology means that we’re all available 24/7. And, because everyone demands instant gratification and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks.”  Using technology to integrate work into your life – the complete opposite of trying to create an equal balance between work and life outside of work –  gives us a way to manage to the nonstop work cycle and 24 hour society.  Technology means that you can dial into a conference call from the golf course or respond to emails whilst waiting at the school gate.

‘The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback’

This is an excellent Harvard Review article, by Robert C Poven, about how careful you need to be when giving feedback to employees.  https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-delicate-art-of-giving-fee

It’s a cliche, but feedback is a gift – when given constructively and with positive intent. And especially, it seems, when it is positive feedback.   It’s not difficult to give positive praise, although I agree with the author that it is not given often enough.  Giving negative feedback can also be a gift, but when given badly or unnecessarily it can often achieve the exact opposite of what the feedback-giver is hoping to accomplish – de-motivation, resentment, low morale and lower productivity.

What I enjoyed about this article is that it frees us from the increasingly common notion in my experience that we must always give the negative feedback and more of it! The author refers to a study, carried out several years ago at the University of Minnesota, that showed that employees reacted to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they reacted to a positive interaction with their boss (in the same way that we would react far more strongly emotionally to losing £100 than winning £100).

What this tells us is that managers really need to understand how and when to give negative feedback.  As Poven says:

  •  Managers need to, firstly, avoid inadvertently criticising an employee’s work if what they have done is good.  They should make clear that their revisions are suggestions only and not criticisms.
  • Secondly, and very importantly, managers need to ‘weigh the trade-offs involved in making negative feedback’.  You will undoubtedly be making some correct points in your feedback, but it will reduce your employee’s morale.  As such, if the issue in hand is actually pretty unimportant in the scale of things, is it really worth making those points?  Does the corrective value of the feedback outweigh the negative impact of giving it on your employee’s mood?  If the answer is probably not, Pozen’s simple message is to keep the feedback to yourself.

This, of course, doesn’t give us licence to avoid giving all negative feedback!  The message to managers still remains that if you have feedback to give that will genuinely improve an employee’s performance (and so the business’) then do give it, but it in an effective way.  And that is a blog for another day…



Do contact us at kate@arbre.je if you would like some help with learning how and when to give employee feedback.  We offer group and one to one training in this and many other essential management skills.




Cracking Recruitment!

Recruitment can seem like hard work.  After hours of interviewing candidates it can be demoralising to find that you are still no closer to finding the right person for the job.  Or, when finally you do, they slip through your grasp and chose another company.   The good news is, there are ways for all small businesses to make the process much more positive and efficient, attract strong candidates and make it much more likely that they will chose you.

Clarity….Spend time writing a detailed and easy to understand job description.  Be really clear on the role that you need to fill and the kind of person you need before you start recruiting.   Don’t limit your candidate pool further by including skills and experience that really aren’t necessary for the role.  Can the role, for example, really only be performed by a graduate or someone with perfect English (common defacto requirements in many job specs these days, but often probably far from necessary)?

This detail and clarity will avoid confusion and a potentially costly recruitment mistake later on.  If this is not something you feel you have the skills to put together well yourself, then engage someone else to draft it for you.  It’s the best investment you will make in the recruitment process.

Route to the best candidates….The best people are often not actively looking for another job. Advertise in professional journals/websites and networking groups and directly approach good people that you meet.

Consider if your role can be worked part-time, as a job share or flexibly (eg from home, term time only, school hours, etc) and, if it can, make a beeline for the fantastic and huge pool of parents who are keen to go back to work, but prevented from doing so by a lack the lack of flexibility on offer from many employers.

If you’re going to use an Executive Search or recruitment agency, use one that can show you that they really understand your business, its people, values and ethos as well as the industry.  People are not commodities and a recruitment agent that puts quantity of candidates over quality are far less likely to find you the right person.

An insightful selection process… Consider the role you are recruiting for and the skills it requires. How can you test these skills in the recruitment process, other than in an interview (which, if not competency based, is statistically as effective as palm reading!)?

Consider asking candidates to prepare a presentation or submit relevant examples of their work.  Be specific to the business and be fun.  For example, if you are looking for a social media/digital marketing whizz, why not ask them to prepare a Vlog on the subject of your choice or submit their initial application in the form of a tweet…?

There are a growing number of businesses, often IT firms or those with very analytical roles, who are actively seeking out employees on the autism spectrum – a huge pool of untapped talent – as they are often ideally suited to these technical roles and hugely dedicated workers.  If you think broadening your neurodiversity will work for you it is very important that you adapt the recruitment process to help bring out the best in the candidates.  Perhaps forget the traditional interview altogether and replace it with a technical test or, as I understand one tech firm in the US has done, provide an activity such as building rockets out of lego that will really enable a candidate to demonstrate their technical ability.

Above all else, make sure that your recruitment and selection process (and your working culture as there is no point bringing in a brilliant candidate only for them to quickly leave) does not discriminate in any way, either directly or indirectly.  As well as helping you to avoid any costly claims for discrimination, it will truly help you to find and bring on board the best candidates.   Again, this is an area well worth seeking some help in if you are concerned that unconscious (or conscious!) bias is a risk in your staff involved in the process, or if any of your selection tools may put up barriers to some people getting through (for example, it is surprising how many companies still use ‘intelligence tests’ that, aside from often being founded on weak science, make it very difficult for people with dyslexia to pass).

Pay well for your industry… Some people truly believe you can hook good candidates ‘on the cheap’, but it is undoubtedly a false economy.  You may strike it lucky and catch a strong candidate willing to accept a salary less than they are worth, but they will likely join you feeling demoralised and you may not retain them in the long term.

Be a brilliant employer and let it be known…Make your business attractive to employees and shout about it in your industry circles! Put in place the best benefits that you can afford and genuinely engage with flexible working and employee well-being.  Create a warm and inclusive working culture where people really want to be.

Recruit for the future…. Map out your recruitment pool before you need to recruit. Do not be complacent and allow yourself to be taken by surprise when a key person leaves. Build people’s skills internally so that they can move into vacant positions.  Consider how you can strengthen your business’s creativity, agility and decision making through developing a more diverse workforce.  Develop good relationships with professional industry groups, local colleges and business schools and executive search firms.  If you can, set up a good, paid summer internship, work experience or apprenticeship scheme and start to develop your future workforce now…


If you are struggling to recruit and would like some help to find the best candidates to join your team, then please do get in touch with Kate at kate@arbre.je to arrange a time to talk through how we can help you.