Performance management in the professions - Performance Leader system

I caught up with Paul Lemon, previously of the Professional Marketing Forum and now Managing Director of Performance Leader, on one of his many trips to the UK since relocating to Perth, Western Australia (which he tells me is just a 17hr non-stop flight from London!). Paul spends around 30% of his time in the UK, and has a UK team supporting a growing list of clients. Performance Leader provides cloud-based software designed to support and enable continuous performance management in the professions.

It’s a mighty powerful but easy to use system that allows a firm to find the right combination of four key modules:

  • Reviews for formal elements of the performance management process;
  • Feedback enabling everything from real-time peer feedback “anytime, anywhere” through to more structured 360 and developmental feedback;
  • Objectives that link individual goals to firm, group or client objectives plus encourage collaboration by sharing activity and opportunity updates across the firm; and finally
  • Projects that drive just-in-time project and matter debriefs that promote innovation and continuous improvement amongst project teams, whilst providing on-the-job feedback from clients (NPS etc.) and project managers on team member contributions.

The intuitive design means it’s a great aid to help busy lawyers, accountants, architects, surveyors, engineers, actuaries, PR practitioners and management consultants keep track of their people’s goals, careers, ideas and contribution. The continuously generated data and feedback is an invaluable tool for leaders, coaches and mentors. 

The missing link for performance management

The most innovative and exciting opportunity that the system presents professional firms is a collaborative and continuous improvement-based approach to client work.

Research by Performance Leader in 2016 showed accountants leading the way when it came to project-based feedback – the ‘Deloitte model’ a phrase coined by some – invariably driven by the audit function for whom a job ‘post mortem’ is a regular fixture on their project plan. The worst performing PSF sector for debriefing completed work, or at key milestones, is the legal sector. The team at Performance Leader sees this is a great opportunity for innovation for law firms.

As a more general observation about observed barriers to After Action Reviews (AARs) in all PSF sectors, one comment kept recurring in their research: time pressures simply prevent project feedback becoming a routine business activity. While this is undoubtedly an accurate observation of the status quo, in last 18 months firms have begun to accept the logic for AARs, but now face the more challenging question of how to implement them. “That’s where we come in” Paul says. “It’s not just doing debriefs; the secret is a creating a culture of debriefing – a way of thinking. The software has to work with the firm’s process and culture, not the other way around”.

Transaction based client feedback

 Short, intuitive project debriefs with clients aren’t designed to replace a firm’s key account management (KAM), client listening and client satisfaction programmes. These relationship-based methods provide a rich source of data and insight into what’s going on at key clients.

The project review client interface is designed to prompt clients to provide in-the-moment feedback (i.e. Net Promoter Score based on last piece of work and/or rating on key pillars of client service etc) together with short qualitative comments that may help uncover revenue at risk or opportunities for further work.

Project-based feedback therefore can be the ideal accompaniment to the more formal – yet infrequent – client review meeting, especially as it can surface insight from across the breadth and depth of the team at the client organisation, rather than just the CFO, GC or CEO. What’s more, the system makes the collection of comments and quotes for client testimonials and case studies painless.

Smart firms can take ‘After Action Reviews’ further and be truly collaborative with clients if the project team are able to give feedback to each other regardless of what side of the fence they may sit. What CEO or General Counsel wouldn’t want to know how their team could continuously improve and work better with external advisors?

The end of ‘difficult conversations’

“They’ve been called ‘difficult conversations’ for a reason, but we think it’s largely due to the wrong frequency setting for dealing with performance issues” says Paul. Instead, more regular, structured debriefs, with private feedback from project leaders to team members can help nip in the bud any ‘difficult conversations’ that could be brewing.

Ongoing feedback around the work and employee’s contribution also makes it easier for project leaders and managers to give timely, specific and developmental feedback in the moment. “It’s a sure-fire way to improve performance at the individual and team level, but more importantly the debrief ensures strengths are highlighted and accentuated, plus team success is celebrated.”

Systematic Reflection…the key to Innovation and continuous improvement

As it is a highly collaborative tool, the system enables management reporting to identify trends and recurrent issues from across the firm so that profitability, quality and pricing issues can be identified early, and appropriate action taken.

In essence Performance Leader has created an organisational learning tool, which creates continuous improvement for a firm’s people and its clients. “With much talk about marginal gains, and finding more innovative ways of working or servicing clients, not having a system to harness the power of insights from your people (and clients) working together at the coal face seems crazy.”

As Paul concluded after a comprehensive demonstration: “The system brings information and feedback from a variety of sources into one place where it can then be easily used to support training, development, periodic reviews, project management and efficiency projects. It supports both firm and individual performance improvement. Clients really like the ease and immediacy of the system. Generally, the accountancy and audit firms are used to this sort of holistic and collaborative approach – as exemplified by Deloitte – and law firms are now starting to catch up”.

Further information

Further details of the system are available from the web site: where you can also request a short demo.

Whilst Performance Leader was born in Australia ten years ago and has many clients in Asia Pacific, under Paul’s energetic leadership the UK business is growing fast and the consulting-led approach to client problems is proving popular. “Clients tell us it’s evident we have fallen in love with their problems, not our solution – which in the software world is very refreshing!”

It’s fully compliant with SRA (Solicitors Regulatory Authority) rules and includes the ability to capture reflection statements (What happened? What did it mean to you? What did you learn? What will you do differently?) and SRA declarations by users for reporting purposes. Accountancy clients also use Performance Leader to capture FCA and other compliance requirements (CPD etc.)

Privacy settings can be altered across the various modules and functions to permit or restrict access to inputs and feedback from supervisors, colleagues and clients. The system can also be tailored to use a firm’s own terms and language plus upload competency frameworks, HR data and financials.

There are two fully GDPR compliant data centres for the desktop cloud-based system and 24-hour support coverage.

A phone-based app is scheduled for the end of 2018.