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Scrap Appraisals for Ongoing Conversations...

In the past 12 months [especially] many of the big consultancies and FTSE 100 organisations have talked about the radical change to scrap annual appraisals completely in favour of introducing a culture of ongoing performance conversations.

We at Thirsty Horses welcome this shift and have been working to this mantra for many years. Indeed, the reason I named my company "Thirsty Horses" is beacuase as my experience tells me, where performance & learning is concerned, you can lead a horse to water but cannot make it drink. The old "top-down" and "manager led" annual appraisal and performance regime has proved year-on-year that it has little or no value in many organisations..... so, yes, a culture change is needed.

However, we all know, this level of culture change is the holy grail of all OD programmes. It is a most difficult journey that happens over years, not months.

So, how do we bridge the "radical-change" this cultural shift requires, so we have solid foundations that mean staff, managers and peers can eventually have ongoing performance conversations as part of their normal working life? Or, do we risk stopping appraisal and hope staff gravitate quickly to having conversations under their own steam?

Hmmmm..... given there is little stopping staff having meaningful ongoing performance conversations right now, I'm not sure this cultural shift will work without some structure and modern technology to support it.

Looking at your own organisation, are you ready / confident simply stopping appraisals will work and you'll suddenly have an organisation of highly engaged staff all driving meaningful ongoing performance conversations?

At Thirsty Horses we look to evolve an organisation to this new way of working rather than taking the risk of throwing babies out with bath water. After all, the current culture means staff at least know what an appraisal is, regardless of if they ever have a meaningful one.... or, worse still...... have one at all.

The approach we have taken is three-fold; called WorkPAL, and is proven to deliver this change from appraisals to ongoing conversations seamlessly.

  1. The appraisal process as a mechanism should be:
    (i) employee led, and
    (ii) tracked/ measured so OD knows which staff/managers are flying/struggling and support accordingly as the truth is revealed.

  2. Once an appraisal is done, and as such a bench-mark for performance against Values, Behaviours, Objectives and Competencies is agreed, that should act as the springboard from which to propel future performance conversations/growth.

  3. Join the 21st century and digitise the whole programme! This means staff and managers can drive future conversations, 121s, feedback, learning, evidence of progression, action learning sets, project groups etc as they go about their daily working life using mobile hand-held technology.

This bridging approach means we step away from the old style appraisal and enter the world of continual conversations in a seamless, painless and fully measured way.

And once the initial digital appraisal is done and the ongoing performance conversation(s) kick-in, you can choose whether to revisit appraisal the following year, or not, confident in the knowledge that ongoing and real-time measures are being gathered through the digital technology throughout the year, are driving real-time data that automatically informs progress, talent programmes, development, learning, objectives etc.

You can also immediately see who is - and who is not - grasping the nettle of ongoing performance conversations and can drill into the details of those if needed.

In short, OD/HR and senior leaders have a real-time "glass-bottomed boat" of what is happening in their organisation and how their leadership messages, vision and direction are actually being played out in the real-world.

So, a Thirsty Horses approach is simple, modern and already working across the many organisations just like yours, and delivers the 'strategy to execution' assurances we as leaders crave. 


Ray Pendleton. FCIPD
Managing Director | Thirsty Horses Ltd
(0)7826 526181


Want to learn more?

After an incredibly successful OD webinar masterclass series in 2016, we've updated and enhanced the programme for the new year following highly positive engagement and feedback from hundreds of delighted attendees.

If you enjoyed this piece and wish to further explore the topics surrounding organisational development, you can join us for some of our new (and free!) webinar sessions, which I'll be hosting personally. We've weaved in a lot of new ideas and the latest OD best practice and whether you missed our original masterclass series, wanted to re-visit it and enjoy the new content then we'd love to see you at one of our all new sessions - You can learn more about the series and book your slot below (spaces are limited):

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Topics: Management and HR