Archive for the ‘Performance improvement’ Category

Turning Critic into Champions

It may seem counter-intuitive to invite your most difficult colleagues to be part of a steering committee or pilot group. But there are some excellent reasons for doing just that.



We learned this from a very wise client – by making sure that he had some challenging colleagues working alongside him he ensured that the final result met all their expectations.



Including them in the ‘how’, ’when’ and ‘who’ decisions means that they get to be part of the project decisions. It’s always harder to criticise when you’ve been partly responsible for the final result.



A few things to consider:

  • Try to get people from other disciplines or departments – this helps avoid silo-mentality.

  • Think about whether there are any key groups in the organisation where the project will have major impact – make sure they are represented.

  • In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the need for
    • Connectors (people who know lots of people),
    • Mavens (people who know lots of stuff about their subject) and,
    • Salesmen (people who can persuade other people).

If you want to create champions for your project – aside from getting them inspired by being involved – do you need your team members to be Connectors, Mavens or Salesmen?


  • But, be very careful not to make any group too big. No elaboration required, I’m sure.


In many cases, once they have been involved in the early phases, these challenging colleagues can often become the project’s biggest assets – the champions within the organisation.

Helping organisations focus on areas of maximum value and impact

We’ve made good progress on the project we announced last year which aims to provide charities with free 360 feedback services this year. We’ve now got 4 charities signed up for the project and our first completed project was a great success.

Here’s our official press release about it:


MSA Interactive CEO Vandy Massey announced today that the company, in partnership with Performance First, will offer free staff development services to the UK charity Sporting Equals. “As part of our charity initiative this year, MSA are offering a 360 Review and a one-to-one feedback session for senior executives at Sporting Equals, all at no cost to them,” Massey said. The Cambridge-based company is working with a number of charities that support education and training in the UK and abroad in 2007.

Sporting Equals works to promote racial equality in sports throughout England, and it is the first charity to benefit from this initiative.

“We’re all sports enthusiasts at heart, and we know that training is essential to success – that’s why Sporting Equals was delighted to respond to MSA and Performance First’s invitation to participate in L360 and coaching development. PF and MSA have helped us to target specifics and focus on these areas for maximum value and impact.” said Sporting Equals Director Lorraine Deschamps.

MSA helps organisations make fast, positive improvements in staff performance using online assessment tools. Performance First is a specialist consultancy based in London that focuses on delivering performance improvements to its clients. Together, the companies look forward to helping Sporting Equals maximise its performance as an organisation, and ultimately, the clubs that the charity benefits across England.

Massey explained, “MSA is thrilled to be working with Sporting Equals. Their work with governing bodies of sporting agencies is making great strides to promote racial equality, and we think that our online tools and support can help them build on their impressive results.” MSA will announce further charity partnerships in the weeks and months ahead.

There is still time to benefit from one month of free online utilities and support services offered by MSA and its training associates. Charities wishing to take part in MSA Interactive’s 2007 Initiative are encouraged to contact Vandy Massey, either by email, on, or by post, at MSA Interactive, PO Box 972, Whittlesford, Cambridge CB2 4WQ.


Do let us know if you would like to take part in this project.

The Gift of Effective Feedback Part 2

Recently, I wrote about how seasonal ‘giving’ relates to an important gift that that we can make part of our day-to-day lives – effective feedback – and invited you to share your experiences. I’d like to thank everyone who sent in responses, and pass on some tips.

The first reply that caught my eye was from Shamus Doherty, who gives us all a reminder that feedback is a two-way street: "When giving feedback make sure the other party is willing to listen, otherwise there could be tears at bedtime." Good point, Shamus! Even feedback delivered with the best intentions can be counterproductive if given at the wrong time. But remember that uncomfortable, or even unwanted, feedback can be some of the most useful. As Binh Zientek writes: "Painful as feedback can be at times, I have always tried to listen to constructive ones and have always improved personally and professionally because of them. I also thank the other person for their feedback."

A formal feedback exercise can help take some of the pressure out the exercise, but it still requires some thought to get the most out of it. If you’ve been invited to give feedback, either in person or as part of a formal process (for example an appraisal or a 360 review), here are a few tips:

  • Give clear, honest feedback – comment on aspects of specific behaviour. Often the person requesting feedback is not aware of how their behaviour affects others. You may be able to highlight and reinforce certain positive and helpful characteristics. Equally, your feedback may clarify the reasons why it would be a good idea for them to make some changes.
  • Be constructive – it isn’t helpful to comment on things they cannot change, or to write feedback in a thoughtless way. If carelessly worded, at best, your comments could be dismissed – at worst, they may be damaging.
  • Think informally – be respectful, but not deferential; rather than focusing on your relative positions within the organisation, concentrate instead on the impact of the recipient’s actions.
  • Treat the request responsibly – don’t let personal quibbles or a bad day have an impact on the feedback you give. Give yourself time to do the review properly. If you want to have a look at the questions first and think about them before responding, log in to the questionnaire, but log out without submitting a response (once the review has been submitted, it cannot be re-done). When you are ready to complete the review, give the task your full attention.
  • Finally, remember that by giving good feedback, you are helping a colleague improve their performance. Ultimately, this benefits all members of the team.

I’ll leave you with a great response from Steve Pendray of ProCustomer, a Reputation Marketing company. When talking about his experience of 360 degree feedback, Steve’s comment was: " I realised that I now had a solid foundation on which to base my personal development. I would say that it was the most useful development tool I have ever used." He goes on to say, "Feedback for a business is a bit like going to the gym – you know it can be painful, but it’s also good for you. You pay the subscription with eagerness but, having joined, you can find 1001 excuses for not actually going."

Well said, Steve. The message here is if you take the task seriously and follow through with the exercise, then you reap the rewards!

Can Christmas last a whole year? We’re going to give it a try

As the seasonal Christmas frenzy sets in, our thoughts can turn to those less fortunate than ourselves – especially as charities enter their busiest season of the year to draw attention, and much-needed cash, to their causes. But what about the charity organisations themselves? It’s a crowded and competitive marketplace out there, and attracting support is getting more and more difficult.

At MSA, we’re trying something new in order to help charities improve the performance of their organisation. We’re offering our services free of charge to 12 different charities, one for every month of 2007 (see our official press release here). We’ll provide a 360 Review and one-to-one feedback session for senior executives at each charity we work with, all at no cost, and no obligation to work with us beyond that month. We’re inviting charities that work in education and training to get in touch with us at .

I’ve been interested in finding new ways for the non-profit sector to benefit from staff development for some time now – and at this time of year, entering into the spirit of the season seemed like the right way to do it. So if you know of any education or training-related charity that might benefit from our offer, please let us know about them, so we can help make next Christmas their best ever!

The Gift of Effective Feedback

As Christmas gets nearer, we tend to think more and more about ‘giving’: High Street shops and online emporiums seduce us into buying more gifts to give to friends and family; we give generously to charities; and we give Christmas greetings to business colleagues, friends and acquaintances we like in the form of cards, calls, and even emails.

Most people find these forms of giving fairly easy and pleasant, especially in the holiday season. But when we think about giving feedback in our day-to-day lives, suddenly the concept of giving becomes onerous, tedious, and in some cases, downright scary! Yet with the right motivation and strategies, feedback can be one of the most valuable forms of giving that we have to offer.

Without feedback, it can be difficult to measure our own effectiveness or the impact that we have on those around us. Effective feedback helps us judge where our strengths lie, which can help prioritise the ways we use them. With the right sort of feedback, we can examine our development needs and decide what actions we should take to improve our performance in the workplace.

Feedback is a natural part of life – we give it all the time, in all sorts of contexts – and in the workplace, it is one of our most important tools.So it’s essential for us to use it effectively to improve our working lives.

Do you have any tips or tricks for giving and receiving effective feedback?Do you have any positive or negative examples of how feedback changed your workplace? If so, please share, I’d love to hear them.

Workplace Stress: Dangerous, Expensive, and…Manageable?

Like many people, I was surprised to hear that we still need such a thing as an International Stress Awareness Day – isn’t every day stress awareness day?

But of course, the TUC’s data about the extent to which stress affects UK businesses is no laughing matter. In fact, as reports, sources agree that it is the biggest issue currently facing UK business. One surprising fact is that the larger the organisation, the greater the impact of workplace stress on both its employees’, and its financial, health. In organisations with under 50 staff, 58% of safety reps listed stress as their top concern; in organisations with more than 1,000 employees, however, that number jumps to 67%. That’s a potential concern for our clients, who are large companies, often with thousands of employees.

Companies are waking up to the fact that stress affects their bottom line, and indeed, that they have legal obligations under health and safety laws to consider in relation to workplace stress. Each new case of stress leads to an average of 29 days off work, and according to government figures workplace stress costs UK business an estimated £3.7 billion a year. That’s 10 per cent of the UK’s GNP. And surprisingly, as Mind reports, fewer than 10% of companies have an official policy to address the problem. However, smart companies are doing something about it. Stress is a preventable problem. Companies are recognising that the solution is to improve management skills and communication techniques in order to reduce stress levels and maximise productivity.

In most cases, we’ve found that managers who seek feedback on their performance reduce stress in the workplace more effectively than those who don’t. Our most successful clients embed a culture of continuous, constructive feedback in their management training, which leads to a sense of shared responsibility between staff and management.

The link between investing in people and increased growth can be quantified as I mentioned when I discussed the concept of joined-up performance management. When organisations implement development programmes, there is a double hit on the positive side: the tools that fight stress also maximise profits and reduce absenteeism – but they also deliver less tangible results, like a healthier, happier workforce. These benefits help managers create greater clarity and manage expectations in their communications processes, which fosters a more robust, ‘can-do’ culture in the organisation as a whole. Our clients find that the benefits far outweigh the price tag of the development programme – and help them be less stressed-out by Stress Awareness Day!

Planning – the payoff

Walk down any high street today, and the signs of impending Christmas retail madness are starting to appear. Initially, like everyone, I was irritated about being reminded of something I’d just as soon put off. But then I thought back to last year’s expensive last-minute panic and thought, hang on – do I really want to repeat that experience? I had to smile, given that in my professional career, this is what we help people do all of the time. In any training and development process, setting clear objectives and firm deadlines can make all the difference to success.

Sir John Harvey Jones says that “Planning is an unnatural process; it is more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by worry and depression.” This is a real problem for organisations, where there is often pressure to be seen to be doing something at all times. At MSA we emphasise that a ‘can do’ organisational culture fosters an effective blend of both planning and action.

Recently, we worked with a major manufacturer who showed us what clear goal-setting and effective planning could achieve. We were conducting a performance assessment using a 360 degree feedback tool for 150 managers. The project sponsor communicated clearly right from the start, and set up a realistic timescale for each phase of the review process. This made a real difference, but what helped us achieve such excellent results was the positive company culture. Everyone really bought into the process and wanted it to succeed.

This was our dream scenario. However, companies can often run into the nightmare situation. Sir John’s warning about poor planning rings true in these cases: managers often don’t ask for advice early on to establish exactly what the company needs; workers see the review process as a chore rather than a process that can help their careers; and companies look upon the planning of performance appraisal initiatives like early Christmas shopping: a daunting rather than liberating experience!

Our advice to companies is to give themselves an early Christmas present by concentrating on accurate, timely, and responsive communications processes. We help our clients plan their 360 review and team appraisals effectively to make these procedures less intimidating. If planned and well executed, performance reviews can help create a positive, forward looking organisational culture. In fact, clients are now asking us to help them with scheduling and pre-review briefing material in order to achieve optimised results so they can focus on other things – planning the company Christmas party, for example!

A Joined-Up Approach to Performance Measurement

We were absolutely over the moon a couple of months ago when two of our clients made it into the “Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For” list. So what makes these companies different?

Amongst other things, they both have consistent ongoing development programmes for staff, including leadership and other soft-skills measurements and training. It is significant that companies who join the ranks of the 100 Best Companies to Work For generally have two things in common – they invest in their people and they reap the rewards by outperforming share indices over time. Historically, as a group, these companies have had up to 18% higher growth in share and dividend return over a 5 year period. There is a real business case for the investment in people.

But the investment must also take the form of a mixed portfolio. It is unrealistic to expect a narrow training and development perspective to make enough difference. There should be measurement of current performance to show where development is required, training across teams and for individuals at all levels of the organisation, and a company-wide perspective showing the bigger picture of where the skills gap lie. Only this sort of joined-up approach will deliver the organisation-wide abilities that enable the company to achieve its strategic goals consistently.

The current view is that the only competitive edge possible in today’s business climate is innovation. But innovation requires a solid base to build upon. The first step must be to build that solid base through sound management programmes and team performance initiatives. Once that has been embedded, the organisation can take advantage of the innovations conceived by a diverse work force to gain the lead in the market.

Team performance is a key element in this sort of organisational growth. Critical success factors in building a high performance team are openness and trust, followed by communication.

Case studies
show that measuring these factors and others enables organisations to pinpoint areas for development to enable teams to operate at peak.