This April, we have spotlighted mental health concerns and reflections on wellbeing centred around the topic of Performance appraisals at work.
And today, we are going to spotlight the top 4 initiatives implemented at Equilibrio Advisory LLP (EA) to support wellbeing goals as an organisation while working with associate evaluations.
At Equilibrio Advisory LLP, management extends support to the team throughout the associate’s journey with the firm and brings special focus to times when the team may display vulnerability/ a need for support.
1) Encouraging Self Care, focus on Wellbeing:
All through the associate lifecycle, management at EA brings a focus to encouraging self-care practice, for both associates and managers too. At EA there is an acknowledgement and effort to highlight the emotional impact stemming from specific high intensity roles and especially the impact to leaders, when in the face of challenging decisions. Encouraging self-care is enshrined in EA policies through the leave policies including parental leave / wellness leave and additional annual mandatory mental health week off, as well as in mental health policy which supports and encourages access to therapeutic support for all associates.
” I really appreciate that I have always been asked what interests me and that I have never been forced to do something other than that, rather there has always been a check in with what I want to do in the firm and this let me focus on things I wanted to go on with. There is always appreciation for what is done well, trying to help and grow those talents that I identify within myself – they have kept that in mind and come back to me giving me opportunities to do more with that. That has helped “
– Pallavi Poswal, Associate, 4 years with the Firm
Rosanna, an associate with EA for nearly 3 years, talks about her experience saying,
” When the partners introduced the mandatory Mental Health Week off in 2021, it was largely in response to being on pulse with the impact of the Pandemic, and the emerging emotions, feelings and experiences of the team members – encouraging each of us to spend that time on ourselves, taking a step back from work and the identity of being associates with the firm, to nurture and invest time in other aspects of who we were as individuals. Not only was that an uplifting reminder to have from one’s founding partners, but it is really heartening that they have been able to sustain these reminders and check ins, and create space for an annual mental health week off sustainably. “
“There is one thing that I want to isolate, specifically because that’s something that I’ve experienced with Shivangi is that every time there is a bad review or in any kind of review, to be honest, there is always a check in there is always like, “Hey, do you want time? Do you want a break for the day do you want? Do you want to just sort of take time for yourself and process this?” Every time there is a shift I there is always a check in there is always cool down.”
2) Working to build a culture of psychological safety:
The Partners of the firm value openness, flexibility and trust, and have worked to develop and implement systems of support that promote a climate of psychological safety at work.
- Open door policies / access to management, wherein the management team at the firm create space for people within the firm to reach out and connect with them should there be any concerns emerging impacting work. Prerana Saraf on being asked aspects of the appraisals and performance evaluations process have supported you and helped you grow, she responded “I think what has helped for me is the constant communication I could have with my supervisor, Sana Hakim who is a partner at EA. In most big organisations what happens is that there is a detailed appraisal but you aren’t sure if those shortcomings that may have been pointed out have been resolved. So, it helps to have constant communication to understand that expectations have been met.”
This again is a practice that has resonated with other associates as well. For instance, Pallavi Poswal, Associate with the Firm for 4 years, notes, “Generally if there is something I am confused or concerned about which might not align with my understanding of the firms’ policies or expectations of the firm, I have been able to reach out to the partners and spoke to them freely. I have always been given that space where they have heard me with an open mind and re-aligned / reaffirmed what was okay / not okay or even go back and look at how things can be done better”
- Confidentiality is valued and held on to, throughout the associate life cycle.
- Mentorship systems are in place to support people from the time of induction into the firm.
3) Regular reviews with all associates:
The firm has adopted a multi-level appraisal / evaluation format to support associates’ performance throughout their journey with the firm. This support is particularly provided during vulnerable / significant moments of an associate’s life cycle which may see the need for the same, like:
- When joining the firm
- When there has been a change in role
- When any requirement for a behaviour change may be apparent
Moreover, the firm creates space for self-review and reflection prior to the appraisal itself, creating a structured process to support the associate to look over the last year and identify goals, wins and collaborations.
And this is a strategy that seems to work for most of the associates, supporting wellbeing, and building trust.
Pallavi says, “I always had space to talk openly and candidly with the partners and I have always received feedback that has been positively constructed. There has always been conversation about how things can get better, what I can do, and how I can progress in the next term… or feedback focussed on how can my current talents be developed in the future, that conversation has always happened“
Prerana also shares, “ I think the detailed feedback that we get along with specific pointers with regards expectations makes things clear. What makes it better is the constant engagement with the partner through the year in ensuring that the employee knows their progress. This itself helps the employees mentally I feel as the communication channels are always open and you are aware of to our progress.”
The reviews are meant to provide formal spaces to talk about progress, challenges and even access support.
“One of the biggest things is that I gained more confidence through the appraisal/ feedback conversations, and I gained / realised that the partners have the trust in me to reach the potential that they see in me as they gave me this huge role. And this fuelled the perception that I had that Okay I am doing good work, and that’s why they are giving me these responsibilities”.
– Sanjla Perumal, associate, 2 years with the firm
At the time of joining the firm, reviews are conducted at intervals of 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and then annually. For those who are tenured associates reviews officially occur twice a year, unless there is a need felt by the associate or the immediate manager.
Regular checkins and review of progress in addition to these reviews have also supported the associates. Vatsal also shares “In terms of existing tasks while please between Shivangi and I, we used to discuss consistently- how my day looks or how my tasks look or how my tasks are going. Good and bad reviews were informed to me every once in a while and it was a great point for me to find my hidden things that I wasn’t noticing were problems. I also found out how much progress there was and what was lacking in terms of the way I approached my progress.”
4) Management position regards associates’ performance and evaluations:
Samriti Makkar Midha, co-founder and partner, of EA and clinical psychologist gave us some insight into the firm’s practices and perspectives regards the interpersonal stance on appraisals and mental health of the associates.
For starters, there’s the underlying intention held on to by the firm when addressing and performance related concerns / processes: retain talent, and provide associates with a platform for experiencing growth and success while meeting business needs.
“Recognizing what I’m good at, and what I’m not good at and sort of encouraging the parts that I’m good at and sort of overcoming the other parts for the coming years. I was given space to demand some kinds of work and certain kinds of positions or kinds of accommodations. And a lot of them were incorporated in terms of the way I work in terms of the way I operate and there was a certain growth for me that I sensed was envisioned and was actively put into action. So yeah, those things worked for me both years in the sense that immediately after the appraisal, I saw a shift in the way I was growing within the company and within my personal contribution to the firm.”.
~ Vatsal Chorera, Associate, 3 years with the Firm
This intention has been felt by the team. Sanjla, associate with the firm for 2 years shares “This formal process is very new to me, so I think the biggest thing is that in my last appraisal, I hadn’t thought of my growth as a very large thing. I thought of my growth with EA as something smaller, limited and rigid to the confines of ‘business practices’. When they said – why are you asking for this when we want to offer you this creative freedom in a vertical where you can start building your ideas around these themes that are important.
I don’t think in my past work, anyone has made any creative freedom important, as it was here. I have so much more room to play”
The focus on growth and development permeates through all conversations and discussions held at the firm, as an intention held by the Firm for it’s associates.
Sanjla further reminisces, “In a meeting I witnessed the manager, Samriti, talking to a teammate about their work, and the conversation was about team growth and development and the manager said to them “I want you to grow in your field and craft.” This attitude of wanting to invest in the people that they work with to achieve their potential but have the space to branch out and try new things – I realised that this is just their mindset, a fixture in their personhood that they want to see people grow, that translates to everybody.”
But, how does this intention translate into during day to day interactions that circle around performance, goals and strengths?
Here are a few practical solutions and strategies to keep in mind when having those challenging team conversations, especially when considering a smaller team or a start up initiative set up:
- If a person doesn’t seem to be doing well, the first impulse has never been to make those ground as separation from the firm, rather look to identify gaps, and training needs.
- If the issue seems to be about a role fit, is it possible to lean on the value of flexibility and hold space for a discussion around change in role / vertical? This would require prior thinking through and reshuffling also on the part of the management to ensure there is space and scope within business needs for a new role /vertical as well.
- Hold on to, revisit and recommit regularly to the intention to recognise potential in each individual and give them a platform to grow and experience success.
- It’s also important to create space to recognise emerging needs of overwhelm and respond accordingly.
- Create systems and channels that allow you to stay on pulse with the team needs and where they are at in terms of emotions, needs, and required support.
- Holding space to ensure that there is openness to receive feedback and respond to it appropriately.
- Acknowledge and create space for your own Emotions. These journeys of evaluation are long, and can be draining, often even testing relationships and impacting the team, requiring skilful responses from the management to manage expectations and reduce load on others when certain resources under perform. It is important to allow for emotions, frustration and even grief at the loss of certain relationships or when the role calls for making the tough decisions.
- Even for associates who joined the firm and had yet to complete a year, the option of a sabbatical had been provided to respond to mental health or other concerns.
- For certain associates, as exceptions, financial support was offered, in case a sense of strain was coming in from these anxieties.
- At the firm level, flexibility is valued and to support performance and work life balance, part time or flexi-time working options were provided to associates to support them with life changes and other concerns, and even a break provided when required urgently. This value ha also supported creating space for location changes for certain associates while retaining the same role.
- The firm has also provided leave above and beyond sanctioned leave and mental health mandatory week off, to associates and teams post a period of high demand.
- It has been a constant effort to ensure that EA and the management is being supportive, even in the case that people do need to move on even though this may be challenging within a smaller niche firm where talent loss may impact larger initiatives, and verticals themselves.
- When people move on, ensure that the message is one of goodwill, that the decision taken is not something personal against them, and that each person has been important to the journey and team.
Written by MHAW team, collaborating with Samriti Makkar Midha, Rosanna Rodrigues, Prerana Saraf, Pallavi Poswal, Sanjla Perumal and Vatsal Chorera.