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Managing Staff

Setting Up a Staff Appraisal System

By setting clear standards and involving employees in the review process, your entire company can benefit from formal appraisals.





Increasingly, entrepreneurial companies are implementing formal employee evaluation tools. Both in the short and long term, if properly administered, this process will be extremely effective and motivating. Some of the common benefits are increased revenue, creativity, productivity, employee satisfaction and career path clarity. Why? Because employers and employees can clearly understand and chart employee value and potential to the company.

Career specialist and author David Campbell once said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else!” When management and non-management can work together to improve performance and outcomes, everyone wins.

Generally, the three areas you need to comment on are quite similar. They refer to what the person is doing now; how well he or she is doing it; what needs to be changed, improved or learned now and in the future; and their career path – where the individual is or can be headed in the short and long term at your company. Employers and employees have the opportunity to share their current and individual assessment of the employee, plus discuss plans for growth into future positions, knowledge and skill bases. I specifically added the word “employee” to the previous statement. I firmly believe that if the employee can provide input into the performance appraisal interview prior to the evaluator’s providing comments, the employee will feel he or she has had an opportunity to evaluate self-performance.

Clear, action-oriented, positive and negative statements and steps need to be expressed here by both parties. In that way, the employee can learn what skills need to be improved or acquired in order maintain employment or continue to move ahead on the career path. The employer can learn the employee’s goals and, if interested, assist the employee in gaining the desired position or responsibilities.

Specifically, as a leader, you can address the particular actions and knowledge sources where the employee achieves or is deficient. Hopefully, these comments and interventions will be made throughout the year, as opposed to the more common practice of a once-a-year formal or informal assessment. Take this occasion seriously as an opportunity to praise and therefore further motivate the individual.

Also, use this time to identify key deficiencies and opportunities for growth in the employee. Many evaluators either understate or overstate the negatives or positives. The usual result is that the employee is overwhelmed by the number or intensity of negative statements, or is disappointed by the lack of positive ones.

I strongly urge that these statements be balanced to point out that employee performance is never all effective or all ineffective. Rely on these key questions to guide your comments: “How can the employee grow, improve and build on his or her current set of successes to contribute a maximum to the company’s success?”; “What can I as the leader do to point out or provide resources, guidance and opportunities, while minimising the obstacles for the individual to grow, change and achieve?”; and “What does the individual need to do on his or her own to continue to grow and succeed?” Once both you and the employee seriously and objectively assess the employee’s current and future resources, interests, knowledge, skills and abilities, you, the employee and your company will benefit.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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Managing Staff

Your Performance Reviews Are (Probably) Biased

We’re all biased. It’s how our brains are wired. If we want to make the most of our careers and employees, we need to learn how to counter these unconscious biases.

Rob Jardine




A performance review is one of the most significant conversations you can have in your career, whether you’re the receiver or giver of feedback. The outcomes can have far-reaching effects on the individual regarding career advance and development. Depending on the effectiveness of the conversation, business outcomes can be significantly affected to improve or hinder overall performance. One would hope that, of all things you could be in a performance conversation, you are not biased.

When we hear the term bias we often think of prejudice and discrimination (overt acts of bias) and most of us like to claim that we are anything but biased. However, by the sheer virtue of having an efficiency-driven brain, wef are biased. It’s a scientific fact. Biases are mental shortcuts that help us make sense of information in a way that drives efficiency, helps us go faster and feels good. The challenge is that biases are unconscious and often at the root of overt acts such as prejudice and discrimination.

The Biology of Bias

Neuroscience tells us that our brains are actually hardwired to be biased — a result of mental shortcuts our brain takes, so it can avoid being overwhelmed. These shortcuts help us make decisions quickly and with less effort so the brain doesn’t waste its limited capacity to make decisions. For example, if we are hijacked at a particular intersection, then our Experience Bias will lead us to make an unconscious decision to avoid that area. This Experience Bias proves useful here as it protects us. But this bias can also serve us negatively; for instance, if someone performs poorly at work, our Experience Bias will cause us to think that this person is most likely not to perform in the future, even if it only happened once.

Importantly, biases are completely unconscious, so we do not experience ourselves being biased. It’s this unconscious bias that can lead us to inaccurately assess someone’s performance, purely because we are unaware of the mental shortcuts our brain is taking to reach that skewed opinion. More importantly, this unconscious bias is similar to a natural biological function, such as our pancreas regulating our insulin levels.

In the same way that we cannot regulate our pancreas by just being aware of its functioning, we cannot reduce bias by just being aware of this bias. This is where traditional bias awareness training has failed, as it often stops at this level — awareness.

That’s why it’s important to accept that we all have biases, then to develop a language to label and talk about these biases, and finally to address them by following a set process.

Related: Goodbye Performance Reviews, Hello Leadership Conversations

The SEEDS Model®

A lot of unconscious bias training in workplace settings focuses on generating awareness of bias, or to ‘catch yourself in the act’ of being biased. But this is not sufficient to effect any real change and is the reason that, empirically, unconscious bias training has not generated unbiased behaviour.

Further, there are over 150 different biases that one needs to be aware of. Dr David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, developed a model to address bias that includes processes rather than simply awareness. This strategy, known as The SEEDS Model®, identifies processes that can redirect the five broad categories of bias, along with ways of mitigating them. Here are examples of the three most common biases in performance reviews, and how to address them.

1. Similarity bias

People similar to me are better than others

As human beings, we have a natural and instinctual need to belong and feel part of a group. As a result, we intuitively prefer people similar to us, and undervalue those who we see as not being in our group. The challenge is that we sometimes use superficial markers such as skin colour or gender to decide who’s ’one of us’ and who’s not.

Example: If you are a male manager, you are unconsciously more likely to favour other male colleagues, while female employees often have to work harder to get noticed by you. Similarly, if you are devoutly religious, you would tend to give more attention to employees who are of the same faith than to employees who are agnostic or atheist.

How to counter it: When starting a conversation, find common ground with everyone you assess so that you see each individual as being part of a group you also belong to. This will ensure your employees are all on equal footing at the start of the performance review process. They can bring their best selves to the process and you can make an accurate assessment.

Related: Re-engineer Your Performance Culture To Avoid Disruption

2. Expedience bias

It’s obvious, so it must be true

It is estimated that we make around 35 000 decisions a day. Luckily, our brain takes mental shortcuts to help us reach most of these decisions quickly and efficiently. The downside is that, in making these hasty decisions, we often neglect to consider details that may be more relevant or useful, rather than just the information that comes to mind first. Since the information that is the easiest to access is the information that feels relevant, we often focus on this and ignore other valuable information.

Example: When assessing someone’s performance, you focus on the most obvious signs of success or failure, such as revenue targets not reached, or numbers attained.

How to counter it: Try to paint a complete picture of each employee by looking for achievements that are not immediately apparent, such as their ability to work well with other team members and help them perform at their best. You could also include the quality of client relationships in sales assessment and not only revenue. Ask for the perspectives of other people who work with the person being evaluated to gather more information. Avoid rushing the review process and making hasty conclusions.

3. Distance bias

What’s nearer is better than what’s far

Our brain likes to categorise things. And, because of the proximity network of our brain, we automatically tend to prefer what is closer to us, whether it be in terms of distance or time.

Example: You are most likely to remember an employee’s most recent actions, achievements, and shortcomings. In a June performance review, the accomplishments and challenges of January, February and March pale in significance to those of April, May and June. This is because it’s easier to remember what happened recently than what happened a while ago. Further, we tend to favour people who we see more often in the office than those that we don’t. This bias is becoming far more common in the new flexible-time work economy,

How to counter it: Regularly record details of the employee’s performance each month, so you get a full, six-month picture when you need to assess their performance. Make sure that you use the same evaluation metrics for individuals who are in your office and those who are in remote locations.

In order to better understand bias, we need to first accept that if we have a brain, we are biased. We then need to focus on labelling bias with a common language and mitigating it in teams by creating a change in process, not simply trying to remind ourselves not to be biased.

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Managing Staff

3 Ways You Can Help Your New Hires To Succeed

Filling a vacant position is expensive, and unless you do these three things, it’s liable to be an expensive waste of time.

Tiffany Delmore




Let’s face it – the hiring process is painful, and not just because you have to look through reams of résumés. From posting job listings to conducting several rounds of candidate interviews to ultimately making a selection and then training a new employee, the time and money required to fill a vacant role add up quickly. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it costs an average of $4,129 to hire a new employee. Considering this process takes an average of 42 days, it’s clear that you want to get it right the first time.

And just because you’ve made a candidate an offer and he or she has accepted it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In fact, Tinypulse reports that 22 percent of turnovers occur within the first 45 days of an employee starting a new job. Without an effective onboarding process, you’re setting your business – and your new hire – up for failure. On the other hand, an effective and engaging onboarding programme allows companies to retain 91 percent of new hires for at least a year, according to the same research.

Successful training makes for successful employees, which in turn makes for a successful organisation. If your new employee onboarding and training programme is strong, your confused newbies are more likely to turn into productive contributors, and this transformation will take less time.

Don’t overlook these three key areas when training your new hire.

1. Teach trainees to identify basic cyber security threats

Cyber attacks are increasingly common, and they’re a threat to businesses of all shapes and sizes. While some hackers are conducting extremely sophisticated attacks, research by Cofense revealed that 91 percent of security breaches still stem from basic phishing emails. Because they’re unaware of their new company’s common practices, new hires are particularly susceptible to social engineering attacks. The most successful scammers start by gaining access to an executive’s actual email account; after all, who’s going to say no to a request from the CEO?

As David Wagner, president and CEO of email security firm Zix, explains, “Any messages then sent out automatically bypass authentication tools, making unsuspecting recipients the last line of defense.” If you’ve trained your employees on what they should and shouldn’t send over email – and can and can’t expect to receive via email – your organisation has a decent shot at escaping unscathed. If not, the oversight could cost you a fortune. Make sure your training materials show your new hires examples of phishing emails and provide a list of the types of company information that should never be shared via email.

Related: 3 Pragmatic Tips For Start-Ups Making Those Critical Initial Hires

2. Help them to buddy up

Relationships are an important part of employee engagement. Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report found that workplace friendships drive employee engagement and performance. In fact, the report determined that organisations can better engage customers and increase profits by increasing the number of their employees who feel they have a close friend at work. So include your new employees in the social circle at work and provide get-to-know-you opportunities so they can quickly feel like they’re part of the team.

Encouraging new employee assimilation could be as simple as making sure newcomers have someone to eat lunch with for the first few weeks. An even more effective way to promote engagement involves pairing up a new employee with a peer mentor for the first few months on the job. Mentorship programmes have seen great success, and they’re utilised by around 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to the Association of Talent Development.

Ask the veterans on your team to sign up as mentors and set clear parameters for what that entails. Will they be an as-needed resource for new employees, check in on them weekly, or be integrally involved in their training? Decide what works best for your team.

3. Give your training materials a makeover

Nothing causes employees to tune out faster than sitting them down in front of a computer screen with an employee manual and training videos that clearly should have been left back in the ’90s. If your onboarding materials quote Ferris Bueller or reference the original “MacGyver,” it’s probably time to freshen things up. When you upgrade your training materials, incorporate interactive elements that encourage active participation.

Related: Team Resolutions: 11 Tips To Uncover Passion And Potential In New Hires

Fun activities like a scavenger hunt will help new employees learn their way around the office, and interviews with other members of the company will help familiarise them with their colleagues. Before you plan training for your new hires, make sure you understand their learning styles and offer training activities that best meet their needs. You could even have them fill out a learning styles questionnaire and use that information to personalise aspects of their training. If your new hires learn best by doing, include opportunities for them to jump into a task. Or if your new employees are visual learners, focus more written materials than oral presentations or in-person chats to ensure the information sticks.

It takes time to get a new employee up to speed, but there are steps you can take to accelerate their training. If your onboarding process hasn’t changed in years, be sure to prioritise these three things in your next update. They’ll protect your organisation, improve engagement and put new hires on the fast track to success.

This article was originally posted here on

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Managing Staff

Why Small Teams Get It Done Better, Faster And Under Budget

How is a project delivered four months ahead of schedule and R2 million under budget? Because small teams deliver work within significantly shorter time frames and with smaller budgets. Here’s how.





The challenge

We will focus on teams that are given tasks that must be completed within a specific time frame, for instance a set number of items by close of business or objectives to be reached by a specific date, and we will also investigate the difference in performance between larger and smaller teams. Our case studies are based on client interventions by a management consulting company that co-author Anton Burger worked for. During these client interventions he worked with and managed teams ranging from two to 110 people across various industries.

An interesting truth was revealed during two such client interventions several years apart when two teams, one large and one small, had to deliver the same type of solution. The smaller team delivered the work within a significantly shorter time frame and with a smaller budget.

Over the 19-year period that our co-author Anton Burger worked with and managed teams, the question was often asked, why are smaller teams able to achieve so much more? Let’s look at the following example.

A big life insurance company wanted to computerise their business processes to improve operational efficiencies. This would not only bring down operational cost but also improve customer experience.

Related: Why Small Businesses Are Unable To Pay Staff Salaries

The management team of the organisation approached Victor Pereira (pseudonym), a management consultant, to assist with the selection of suitable software to computerise the business and to put a team together to implement the system. A system was soon selected and a seven-member team was established.

The team consisted of a team leader, a two-man development team, an IT expert and a three-man business analysis (to determine the needs of the business) and testing team. The members of the team were all specialists in their fields and had much experience.

Besides the normal challenges that go with a project of this nature, there was one additional challenge — the version of the software in question had never before been implemented anywhere in the world. The client would be the first.

Adding to this challenge was the fact that, should any software code issues come up, they could only be resolved by the software provider based in the United States. This meant the team needed to be flexible and had to work after hours in South Africa to coincide with the working hours of the software provider.

However, the project team took ownership of the challenges and was determined to solve the issues and implement the system. The relatively small size of the team made communication and decision-making easier.

Large teams heighten complexity

Each team member was adaptable, committed to the project goals, and took ownership. This insured effective and high-quality deliverables. A combination of factors, such as the size of the team, the right people with the right skills and their commitment to the goals, ensured that the project was delivered four months ahead of schedule and R2 million under budget.

After the successful completion of the project, Victor was approached by the life insurance company to salvage a project to replace their outdated and disparate transactional systems (that had already been computerised) with a single modern system. The company had already spent some time and money trying to implement a new transactional system but little progress had been made. As project director, Victor was confronted with the challenge to restart the project and complete it within the original time frame with a smaller budget.

Given the time pressure, the company believed throwing a big team at the problem would help solve it. Up until this point in his career, Victor had predominantly worked with smaller teams and had never experienced the challenges surrounding teamwork in a team of this size.

A mixture of existing and new teams was assigned to the project. This overall team, totalling 110, was made up of multiple sub-teams ranging between four and 12, each with their own team leader. Multiple vendors supplied software components, which had to be integrated with each other and existing interfaces.

The multiple teams and vendors, combined with a highly regulated financial services environment, created an extremely complex project. The size of the greater team posed a significant challenge in terms of communication and co-ordination. Teams started planning their respective deliverables, sometimes without consulting or planning with other teams that were involved. Some team leaders excluded team members from the planning process, which meant that team members could not commit to time frames. This led to a lack of commitment with team members not taking ownership.

Consequently, the project struggled to gain momentum. A project of this scale requires careful planning and coordination between the different teams involved. Teams depended on deliverables from other teams to meet deadlines. For example, the development team could not start development unless the business analysis team had completed their business needs specifications.

The problems were exacerbated by the fact that team leaders did not have the right authority levels to make decisions on the spot and this also hampered progress. One of the key teams started missing critical deliverables, which had a negative impact on all the other teams.

The moment non-delivery becomes a reality, pressure mounts for all parties involved. At times like these the level of trust among team members is the glue that holds things together. However, in this case there was a breakdown in trust among some members of the overall leadership team.

At this point Victor realised that at the current rate of progress the team would not reach the project goals. An intervention was needed. He red-flagged it with the managing director of the company and it was decided that a different approach to coordination was urgently needed.

The project was stopped and the approach reevaluated. The entire project was re-planned but this time with all the team leaders and team members involved. Victor was astounded by the complete about-turn in the team morale. This resulted in more realistic timelines and commitment from all team members, which fostered a sense of ownership.

The project made good progress but sadly, due to the significant delays, the original launch dates could not be achieved and the project was over budget. Surprisingly (or not), the small team that was incorporated into the bigger team made excellent progress and delivered on their scope of work, on time.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

Small teams achieve better teamwork

The value of teamwork, the importance of managing teams well and even the effectiveness of smaller teams have been well documented and developed over the past 70 years. In the 1950s a more scientific approach was introduced to the concept of teamwork when two American engineers, Joseph M. Juran and W. Edwards Deming, took their philosophy on quality to Japan. They were invited by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers to do something about the perceived poor quality of Japanese products.

Their thinking gave birth to the concept of Quality Circles — a system in which small teams of employees voluntarily come together to define and solve a quality or performance-related problem. Secondly, it led to Total Quality Management — a system of managerial, statistical and technological concepts and techniques aimed at achieving quality objectives throughout an organisation.

This system expanded into teams with the relevant authority (at low levels) to make decisions. During the late 1980s and early 1990s organisations across the globe were dominated by self-managing teams,  relatively small and highly autonomous work teams that take responsibility for a product, project or service, and self-directed teams,  small groups of employees who have day-to-day responsibility for managing themselves and their work.

Another type of team that is often used to improve organisational performance is a mission-directed work team. The aim of mission-directed work teams is to provide leaders and their teams with the skills to:

  • Achieve high and continually improving levels of quality, speed and cost effectiveness
  • Establish goal alignment and business focus
  • Benchmark themselves against best leadership and workplace practices to identify and address high leverage areas for improvement in a systematic manner
  • Create a visual workplace (the use of pictures, graphics and other images to convey information and meaning quickly and simply) to simplify the management
  • of objectives
  • Achieve teamwork, participation and continuous learning.
  • Work teams have gained worldwide acceptance in organisations. However, while teamwork is essential to organisational performance, effective teamwork is often elusive.

A decline in effectiveness is often caused by teams that are too big, teams that do not have a clear purpose or a structured plan or are made up of the wrong members. Teams that are not trusted with great responsibility and are not allowed much freedom to make their own decisions may also fail. Conflict, mistrust and poor leadership are often the leading causes of poor performance by a team.

Professors Martin Hoegl, head of the Institute of Leadership and Organisation at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Hans Georg Gemuenden, of BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo and K. Praveen Parboteeah of University of Wisconsin–Whitewater investigated the effects of team size on teamwork quality among 58 software development projects. They found that the top five teams, in terms of teamwork quality, ranged in size from three to six members and the bottom five from seven to nine members. More significantly, on average, teams of three members achieved 63% of the teamwork quality of the best team, which is in stark contrast to teams of nine members which only achieved 28%.

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