‘Who does what?’ Someone asked this during a coactive appraisal workshop I was running with Sue Powell last week. Their focus was on roles, responsibilities and systems: ‘Who invites feedback from others?’ ‘Who fills in the form?’ ‘Who follows up any agreed actions afterwards?’ A different set of questions can reframe the conversation entirely: ‘What are we here to do?’ ‘What is the purpose of the appraisal?’ ‘How shall we do this?’ ‘What approach will achieve it best?’
The latter conversation invites the appraisee into the process as an active participant, not as a passive recipient. In fact, it invites all parties into a potentially transformational cultural conversation, not simply a discussion about performance or even development. ‘What is important to us that we (insert various stakeholders here) are trying to achieve?’ It touches on existential beliefs, purpose and values as much as pragmatic goals, actions and other such considerations.
‘What’s your passion?’ ‘How might you/we know what difference your contribution is making?’ ‘What will need to happen for that to happen?’ ‘What are we ready, willing and able to agree on – here and now?’ ‘What responsibility are you willing to take to move this forward?’ ‘What will you need?’ It can turn an oft bureaucratic process into an energising, supportive and challenging conversation where personal, team and organisational aspirations are harmonised and synergised.
In my experience, no system, no matter how well designed or how simple or sophisticated its forms are, can achieve this change. Essential ingredients include: vision and values that resonate with deeper spiritual/existential/social values; leadership and culture that welcome and affirm personal and distributed leadership; relationships that nurture diversity, mutuality and trust. ‘Who does what?’: a good question. ‘What are we here to do?’ ‘How shall we do this?’: great questions!
What am I evoking? What’s my contribution to what I’m experiencing? These can be great questions for coaches, facilitators and leaders. How often have you sat in a meeting, for instance, and thought, ‘I am so bored.’ It’s one of those moments where you can feel so much energy being drained out of you, so much oxygen being sucked out of your lungs, that it almost hurts physically. You’re desperate to get out but can’t think of a polite and convincing enough excuse to exit the room.
Or maybe you’re in conversation with a colleague, with a coach or in a training workshop and thinking, ‘This is such a waste of time. I’m not getting what I need from this.’ Such experiences can create a sense of life, of work, of relationships, of outcomes happening to us. It’s as if we are passive recipients at the mercy of others’ actions and behaviour. It can leave us feeling helpless, powerless and hopeless. And I’m wondering…is there another way of framing and stance-taking in this?
So here goes: ‘What’s your contribution to what you’re experiencing?’ ‘What do you need to receive and give your best?’ I often pose these questions when working with leadership teams. At first, I see puzzled faces but, when the penny drops, the difference can be transformational. It’s about disrupting normal personal and cultural patterns of belief and behaviour. It’s about challenging and supporting proactivity, ownership and influence. It’s about choosing. It’s about waking up.
There’s a skill in learning to engage, negotiate, contract and lean into the experience like this - and it takes practice: ‘I would find this more purposeful and worthwhile if….’ ‘I would like to focus our attention on X…’ ‘How about we do it this way instead…then I could bring something useful to it?’ ‘If we could break for 10 minutes, I could come at this with so much more energy.’ Take the initiative: Seize it. Shape it. Make it happen. What’s your contribution to what you’re experiencing?
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.