Strategic 360s

360s for more than just development

Posts Tagged ‘multisource feedback

Big Data and Multisource Feedback

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Here’s another NYTimes Corner Office offering, featuring Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/business/in-head-hunting-big-data-may-not-be-such-a-big-deal.html?pagewanted=1).  The first half is about hiring with some interesting observations (especially if you have responsibilities in that area).  The second half describes their Upward Feedback process, along with other HR systems. And, no, they are not a client.

I offer these observations for your consideration:

  • Big Data is the new fad, but many of us have been using large data bases to understand the impact of our change processes for a long time, whether at the organizational level (employee surveys) or the individual level (360 Feedback).
  • Your organization is not using “Big Data” (at least in the way Laszlo is describing) if you are using external norms.  Note that Google is using internal norms very aggressively, tracking progress in moving the norm over time AND giving percentile rankings for each leader.
  • The challenges he describes regarding hiring practices are very interesting, and it appears they are making some progress in implementing processes that are more predictive and more consistent. That said, hiring is always a challenge, and emphasizes the importance of using processes such as multisource (360) feedback to identify and either improve or weed out poor managers.
  • He speaks to the importance of consistency in leaders.  360 Feedback promotes consistency in a number of ways.  First, it defines the behaviors that describe successful leaders, a form of alignment. One of the behaviors can relate to consistency itself, i.e., providing feedback to the leader about whether he/she is consistent.  In addition, an organization-wide 360 process that is administered and used in a consistent manner can only help in reinforcing the views of employees that decisions are being made on a fair basis. Organization-wide implementation is the key to success in creating change, acceptance and sustainability.
  • Back to the percentile rankings.  I have found organizations strangely averse to this practice of letting the leader know where he/she ranks against peers.  As Laszlo notes, the challenge is to give the leader a realistic view of how he/she is perceived, and to create some motivation to change.  By the way, these rankings are one “solution” to leniency trends, that is, saying to the leader, “You may think you are hot stuff because you got a 4.0 rating (out of 5)  on that behavior, but you are still lower than 80% of your peers.”  That scenario is common in areas such as Integrity where we expect high scores from our leaders.
  • I am a little surprised that he believes that the managers can “self-motivate” in the way he describes. I am usually skeptical that leaders will change without accountability. I would like to know more about that.  I have already noted the use of percentile rankings that most organizations dismiss, and are seen are powerful motivators in this process.  Laszlo also describes a dialog of sorts with the leader at the 8th percentile. Who is that conversation with? If it is with another person (boss, coach, HR manager), that alone creates a form of accountability and an implied consequence if improvement isn’t seen. If the conversation is just in the leader’s head, it speaks to the power of the information provided by the percentile score.  Creating awareness is one thing. Awareness with context (e.g., comparison to others) is much more powerful.  (Maybe like, “That’s a nice pair of pants!  If it were the 60’s.”)
  • Lastly, Laszlo  speaks to the uniqueness of his and other organizations regarding what the organization needs from its leaders and how an individual employee might fit in and contribute. This clearly speaks to the need for custom designed content for hiring practices and then internal assessments once an employee is onboard.

Google is doing some very interesting research regarding leadership.  Go back and look at their work on leadership competencies that they publicized a couple years ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html?pagewanted=all

Beyond the research, Google is actually using their Big Data to create a culture, define the leaders they require, and putting some teeth into the theory with upward feedback at the forefront.  Yet, at the end, he notes that all the measurement must be viewed through the lens of human insight.  The context is deeper than just organization; it is also moderated by the current version of strategy, the team requirements, the job requirements, and the personal situation, all of which are in a constant state of flux.

©2013 David W. Bracken

What Is a “Decision”?

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My good friend and collaborator, Dale Rose, dropped me a note regarding his plans to do another benchmarking study on 360 Feedback processes. His company, The 3D Group, has done a couple of these studies before and Dale has been generous in sharing his results with me, which I have cited in some of my workshops and webinars. The studies are conducted by interviewing coordinators of active 360 systems.  Given that they are verbal, some of the results have appeared somewhat internally inconsistent and difficult to reconcile, though the general trends are useful and informative.

Many of the topics are useful for practitioners to gauge their program design, such as the type of instrument, number of items, rating scales, rater selection, and so on. For me, the most interesting data relates to the various uses of 360 results.

Respondents in the 2004 and 2009 studies report many uses. In both studies, “development” is the most frequent response, and that’s how it should be.  In fact, I’m amazed that the responses weren’t 100% since a 360 process should be about development. The fact that in 2004 only 72% of answers included development as a purpose is troubling whether we take the answers as factual or if they didn’t understand the question. The issue at hand here is not whether 360’s should be used for development; it is what else they should, can, and are used for in addition to “development.”

In 2004, the next most frequent use was “career development;” that makes sense. In 2009, the next most frequent was “performance management,” and career development dropped way down. Other substantial uses include high potential identification, direct link to performance measurement, succession planning, and direct link to pay.

But when asked whether the feedback is used “for decision making or just for development”, about 2/3 of the respondents indicated “development only” and only 1/3 for “decision making.” I believe these numbers understate the actual use of 360 for “decision making” (perhaps by a wide margin), though (as I will propose), it can depend on how we define what a “decision” is.

To “decide” is “to select as a course of action,” according to Miriam Webster (in this context). I would build on that definition that one course of action is to do nothing, i.e., don’t change the status quo or don’t let someone do something. It is impossible to know what goes on in person’s mind when he/she speaks of development, but it seems reasonable to suppose that it involves doing something beyond just leaving the person alone, i.e., maintaining the status quo.  But doing nothing is a decision. So almost any developmental use is making a decision as to what needs to be done, what personal (time) and organizational (money) resources are to be devoted to that person. Conversely, denying an employee access to developmental resources that another employee does get access to is a decision, with results that are clearly impactful but difficult to measure.

To further complicate the issues, it is one thing to say your process is for “development only,” and another to know how it is actually used.  Every time my clients have looked behind the curtain of actual use of 360 data, they unfailingly find that managers are using it for purposes that are not supported. For example, in one client of mine, anecdotal evidence repeatedly surfaced that the “development only” participants were often asked to bring their reports with them to internal interviews for new jobs within the organization. The bad news was that this was outside of policy; the good news was that leaders saw the data as useful in making decisions, though (back to bad news) they may have been untrained to correctly interpret the reports.

Which brings us to why this is an important issue. There are legitimate “development only” 360 processes where the participant has no accountability for using the results and, in fact, is often actively discouraged from sharing the results with anyone else. Since there are not consequences, there are few, if any, consequential actions or decisions required. But most 360 processes (despite the benchmark results suggesting otherwise) do result in some decisions being made, which might include doing nothing by denying an employee access to certain types of development.

The Appendix of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback is titled, “Guidelines for Multisource Feedback When Used for Decision Making.”  My sense is many designers and implementers of 360 (multisource) processes feel that these Guidelines don’t apply because their system isn’t used for decision making. Most of them are wrong about that. Their systems are being used for decision making, and, even if not, why would we design an invalid process? And any system that involves the manager of the participant (which it should) is creating the expectation of direct or indirect decision making to result.

So Dale’s question to me (remember Dale?) is how would I suggest wording a question in his new benchmarking study that would satisfy my curiosity regarding the use of 360 results. I proposed this wording:

“If we define a personnel decision as something that affects an employee’s access to development, training, jobs, promotions or rewards, is your 360 process used for personnel decisions?” 

Dale hasn’t committed to using this question in his study. What do you think?

©2012 David W. Bracken

I Need an Exorcism

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Being the 360 Feedback nerd I am, I love it when some new folks get active on the LinkedIn 360 discussion group. One discussion emerged recently that caught my eye, and I have been watching it with interest, mulling over the perspectives and knowing I had to get my two cents in at some point.

Here is the question:

How many raters are too many raters?

We normally recommend 20 as a soft limit. With too many, we find the feedback gets diluted and you have too many people that don’t work closely enough with you to provide good feedback. I’d be curious if there are any suggestions for exceptions.

This is an important decision amongst the dozens that need to be made in the course of designing and implementing 360 processes. The question motivated me to pull out The Handbook of Multisource Feedback and find the excellent chapter on this topic by James Farr and Daniel Newman (2001), which reminded me of the complexity of this decision. Let me also reiterate that this is another decision that has different implications for “N=1” 360 processes (i.e., feedback for a single leader on an ad hoc basis) versus “N>1” systems (i.e., feedback for a group of participants); this blog and discussion is focused on the latter.

Usually people argue that too many surveys will cause disruption in the organization and unnecessary “soft costs” (i.e., time). The author of this question poses a different argument for limiting the rater population, which he calls “dilution” due to inviting unknowledgeable raters.  For me, one of the givens of any 360 system is that the raters must have sufficient experience with the ratee to give reliable feedback. One operationalization of that concept is to require that an employee must have worked with/for the ratee for some minimum amount of time (e.g., 6 months or even 1 year), even if he/she is a direct report. Having the ratee select the raters (with manager approval) is another practice that is designed to help get quality raters that then also facilitate the acceptance of the feedback by the ratee. So “dilution” due to unfamiliarity can be combated with that requirement, at least to some extent.

One respondent to this question offers this perspective:

The number of raters depends on the number of people that deal with this individual through important business interactions and can pass valuable feedback based on real experience. There is no one set answer.

I agree with that statement. Though, while there is no one set answer, some answers are better than others (see below).

In contrast, someone else states:

We have found effective to use minimum 3 and maximum 5 for any one rater category.

The minimum of 3 is standard practice these days as a “necessary but not sufficient” answer to the number of raters. As for the maximum of 5, this is also not uncommon but seems to ignore the science that supports larger numbers.  When clients seek my advice on this question of number of raters, I am swayed by the research published by Greguras and Robie (1998) who collected and researched the question of the reliability of various rater sources (i.e., subordinates, peers and managers). They came to the conclusion that different rater groups provide differing levels of reliable feedback, probably because the number of “agendas” lurking within the various types of raters. The least reliable are the subordinates, followed by the peers, and then the managers, the most reliable rater group.

One way to address rater unreliability is to increase the size of the group (another might be rater training, for example). Usually there is only one manager and best practice is to invite all direct reports (who meet the tenure guidelines), so the main question is the number of peers. This research suggests that 7-9 is where we need to aim, noting also that that is the number of returns needed, so inviting more is probably a good idea if you expect less than a 100% response rate.

Another potential rater group is external customers. Recently I was invited to participate in a forum convened by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) to discuss the use of multisource feedback in physician recertification processes. ABIM is one of 24 member Boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which has directed that some sort of multisource (or 360) feedback be integrated into recertification.

The participants in this forum included many knowledgable, interesting researchers on the use of 360 in the context of medicine (a whole new world for me, which was very energizing). I was invited to represent the industry (“outside) perspective. One of the presenters spoke to the challenge of collecting input from their customers (i.e., patients), a requirement for them. She offered up the number of 25 as the number of patients needed to create a reliable result, using very similar rationale as Greguras and Robie regarding the many individual agendas of raters.

Back to LinkedIn, there was then this opinion:

I agree that having too many raters in any one rater group does dilute the feedback and make it much harder to see subtleties. There is also a risk that too many raters may ‘drown out’ key feedback.

This is when my head started spinning like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.  This perspective is SO contrary to my 25 years of experience in this field that I had to prevent myself from discounting it as my head continued to rotate.  I have often said that a good day for me includes times when I have said, “Gee, I have never thought of (insert topic) in that way.” I really do like hearing new and different views, but it’s difficult when they challenge some foundational belief.

For me, maybe THE most central tenet of 360 Feedback is the reliance on rater anonymity in the expectation (or hope) that it will promote honesty. This goes back to the first book on 360 Feedback by Edwards and Ewen (1996) where 360’s were designed with this need for anonymity being in the forefront. That is why we use the artificial form of communication of using anonymous questionnaires and usually don’t report in groups of less than 3. We know that violations of the anonymity promise result in less honesty and reduced response rates, with the grapevine (and/or social media) spreading violated trust throughout the organization.

The notion that too many raters will “drown out key feedback” seems to me to be a total reversal of this philosophy of protecting anonymity. It also seems to place an incredible amount of emphasis on the report itself where the numbers become the sole source of insight. Other blog entries of mine have proposed that the report is just the conversation starter, and that true insight is achieved in the post-survey discussions with raters and manager.

I recall that in past articles (see Bracken, Timmreck, Fleenor and Summers, 2001) we made the point that every decision requires what should be a conscious value judgment as to who the most important “customer” is for that decision, whether it be the rater, ratee, or the organization. For example, limiting the number of raters to a small number (e.g., 5 per group or not all Direct Reports) indicates that the raters and organization are more important than the ratee, that is, that we believe it is more important to minimize the time required of raters than it is to provide reliable feedback for the ratee. In most cases, my values cause me to lobby on behalf of the ratee as the most important customer in design decisions.  The time that I will rally to the defense of the rater as the most important customer in a decision is when anonymity (again, real or perceived) is threatened. And I see these arguments for creating more “insight” by keeping rater groups small or subdivided are misguided IF these practitioners share the common belief that anonymity is critical.

Finally (yes, it’s time to wrap this up), Larry Cipolla, an extremely experienced and respected practitioner in this field, offers some sage advice with some comments, including the folly of increasing rater group size by combining rater groups. As he says, that is pure folly. But I do take issue with one of his practices:

We recommend including all 10 raters (or whatever the n-count is) and have the participant create two groups–Direct Reports A and Direct Reports B.

This seems to me to be a variation on the theme of breaking out groups and reducing group size with the risk of creating suspicions and problems with perceived (or real) anonymity. Larry, you need to show that doing this kind of subdividing creates higher reliability in a statistical sense that can overcome the threats to reliability created by using smaller N’s.

Someone please stop my head from spinning. Do I just need to get over this fixation with anonymity in 360 processes?

References

Bracken, D.W., Timmreck, C.W., and Church, A.H. (2001). The Handbook of Multisource Feedback. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bracken, D.W., Timmreck, C.W., Fleenor, J.W., and Summers, L. (2001). 360 feedback from another angle. Human Resource Management, 1, 3-20.

Edwards, M. R., and Ewen, A.J.  (1996). 360° Feedback: The powerful new model for employee assessment and performance improvement. New York: AMACOM.

Farr, J.L., and Newman, D.A. (2001). Rater selection: Sources of feedback. In Bracken, D.W., Timmreck, C.W., and Church, A.H. (eds.), The Handbook of Multisource Feedback. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Greguras, G.J., and Robie, C. (1998).  A new look at within-source interrater reliability of 360-degree feedback ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 960-968.

©2012 David W. Bracken

What is a “5″ ?

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The Sunday New York Times Business section typically has a feature called “Corner Office” where a CEO is interviewed. These CEO’s seem to often be from small businesses. The one today (October 16, 2011), for example, is the CEO of a 25-person, $6 million consulting firm. The questions are often the same, having to do with the process of becoming a leader, lessons learned, hiring and promotion strategies. I have referenced these in a couple earlier blogs since they touch on topics relative to behavior change, leadership development and culture change that are relevant to aspects of 360 processes.

In today’s column, the CEO was asked about how he hires. He notes that part of the interview often includes asking the applicant to rate him/herself on a five point scale regarding various areas of knowledge and experience from their resume. If the applicant rates themselves as a “5,” he then asks if there is nothing else that they could learn about whatever it is. Of course, they say, “Oh, no, no. There is.” To which the CEO asks, “then why did you rate yourself a five?”  And he goes on to say he has never hired someone who rates themself as a five.

While this CEO’s decision not to hire these high self raters may seem arbitrary, think of the culture he is trying to create by the people he selects and the message this communicates to new hires during the process. He says that he appreciates humbleness and their understanding that they don’t know everything.  (In an earlier column, the CEO asks applicants if they are “nice,” and then explains what “nice” means in their culture, i.e., a good team player.)

(Someone told me of a senior executive who greeted applicants in the lobby and asked them whether they should take the stairs or elevator. If they said elevator, he didn’t hire them. That seems less job related, but is our “5″ CEO doing a similar thing? Food for thought.)

We don’t use 360’s to hire people (though I have heard of multisource reference checks  from  past coworkers that are being positioned as 360’s), but we do have an opportunity with 360’s to create or support a culture when they involve many people. But we also know that 360’s are notorious for having severe leniency, i.e., mostly 4’s and 5’s on a five point scale.

Do all these 5’s that we collect mean that our leaders can’t get any better at what they do? Of course not. But that seems to be the message that we allow and even reward (even if not tangibly).

The vast majority of 360 processes use an Agree/Disagree (Likert) scale where “Strongly Agree” is scored as a “5” (scales that score it as a “1” seem confusing and counterintuitive to me).  The VAST majority of processes also do not include rater training that could be used to help raters (and ratees for that matter) to stop attaching any meaning to “Strongly Agree” that they wish. Which they currently do.

I have used a rating scale where “5” is defined as “role model, in the top 5-10%” that attempts to create a frame of reference for raters (and ratees) that does help reduce leniency effects.

What if we defined “5” as “can’t get any better” or something equivalent to that. I think “role model” implies that this person can be a teacher as well as example to others, and perhaps doesn’t need to get better (i.e., focus on other areas of improvement).  Some raters will undoubtedly ignore those directions, but rater training can help drill in the need for everyone to reconfigure their conceptualization of what optimal behavior is and, by the way, foster the learning and development culture that our CEO seems to be nurturing.

A recalibration of rating scales is badly needed in this field. We need to stop raters from giving all “5’s” and from ratees giving self ratings of all “5’s”.  With our current mentality on rating scales, there is really nothing to stop rating inflation. It should be no surprise that senior leaders find it to be difficult to use and support our 360 programs.

©2011 David W. Bracken

That’s Why We Have Amendments

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I used my last blog (http://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/so-now-what/)  to start LinkedIn discussions in the 360 Feedback and I/O Practitioners group, asking the question: What is a “valid” 360 process?  The response from the 360 group was tepid, maybe because the group has a more general population that might not be that concerned with “classic” validity issues (which is basically why I wrote the blog in the first place).  But the I/O community went nuts (45 entries so far) with comments running the gamut from constructive to dismissive to deconstructive.

Here is a sample of some of the “deconstructive” comments:

…I quickly came to conclusion it was a waste of good money…and only useful for people who could (or wanted to) get a little better.

It is all probably a waste of time and money. Good luck!!

There is nothing “valid” about so-called 360 degree feedback. Technically speaking, it isn’t even feedback. It is a thinly veiled means of exerting pressure on the individual who is the focal point.

My position regarding performance appraisal is the same as it has been for many years: Scrap It. Ditto for 360.

Actually, I generally agree with these statements in that many 360 processes are a waste of time and money. It’s not surprising that these sentiments are out there and probably quite prevalent. I wonder, though, if we are all on the same page. In another earlier blog, I suggested that discussions about the use and effectiveness of 360’s should be separated by those that are designed for feedback to a single individual (N=1) and those that are designed to be applied to groups (N>1).

But the fact is that HR professionals have to help their management make decisions about people, starting with hiring and then progressing through placement, staffing, promotions, compensation, rewards/recognition, succession planning, potential designation, development opportunities, and maybe even termination.

Nothing is perfect, especially so when it comes to matters that involve people. As an example, look to the U.S. Constitution, an endearing document that has withstood the test of time. Yet the Founding Fathers were the first to realize that they needed to make provisions for the addition of amendments to further make refinements. Of course, some of those amendments were imperfect themselves and were later rescinded.

But we haven’t thrown out the Constitution because it is imperfect.  Nor do we find it easy to come to agreements what the revisions should be.  But one of the many good things about humans is a seemingly natural desire to make things better.

Ever since I read Mark Edwards and Ann Ewen’s seminal book, 360 Degree Feedback, I have believed that 360 Feedback has the potential to improve personnel decision making when done well. The Appendix of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback is titled, “Guidelines for multisource feedback when used for decision making,” coauthored with Carol Timmreck, where we made a stab at defining what “done well” can mean.

In our profession, we have an obligation to constantly seek ways of improving personnel decision making. There are two major needs we are trying to meet, which sometimes cause tensions. One is to provide the organization with more accurate information on which to base these decisions, which we define as increased reliability (accurate measurement) and validity (relevant to job performance). Accurate decision making is good for both the organization and the individual.

The second need is to simultaneously use methods that promote fairness. This notion of fairness is particularly salient in the U.S. where we have “protected classes” (i.e., women, minorities, older workers), but hopefully fairness is a universal concept that applies in many cultures.

Beginning with the Edwards & Ewen book and progressing from there, we can find more and more evidence that 360 done well can provide decision makers with better information (i.e., valid and fair) than traditional sources (e.g., supervisory evaluations).  I actually heard a lawyer state that organizations could be legally exposed for not using 360 feedback because is more valid and fair than methods currently in use.

I have quoted Smither, London and Reilly (2005) before, but here it is again:

We therefore think it is time for researchers and practitioners to ask “Under what conditions and for whom

is multisource feedback likely to be beneficial?” (rather than asking “Does multisource feedback work?”).

©2011 David W. Bracken

So Now What?

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This is the one year anniversary of this blog. This is the 44th post.  We have had 2,026 views, though the biggest day was the first with 38 views.  I have had fewer comments than I had hoped (only 30), though some LinkedIn discussion have resulted. Here is my question: Where to go from here? Are there topics that are of interest to readers?

Meanwhile, here is my pet peeve(s) of the week/month/year:  I was recently having an exchange with colleagues regarding a 360 topic on my personal Gmail account and up pops ads on the margin for various 360 vendors (which is interesting in itself), the first of which is from Qualtrics (www.qualtrics.com) with the heading, “Create 360s in Minutes.”

The topic of technology run amok has been covered before here (When Computers Go Too Far, http://wp.me/p10Xjf-3G), my peevery was piqued (piqued peevery?) when I explored their website and saw this claim:  USE VALIDATED QUESTIONS, FORMS and REPORTS.”

What the heck does that mean?  What are “validated” forms and reports, for starters?

The bigger question is, what is “validity” in a 360 process?  Colleagues and I (Bracken, Timmreck, Fleenor and Summers, 2001; contact me if you want a copy) have offered up a definition of validity for 360’s that holds that it consists of creating sustainable change in behaviors valued by the organization.  Reliable items, user friendly forms and sensible reports certainly help to achieve that goal, but certainly cannot be said to be “valid” as standalone steps in the process.

The Qualtrics people don’t share much about who they are. Evidently their founder is named Scott and teaches MBA’s.  They appear to have a successful enterprise, so kudos!  I would like to know how technology vendors claim to have “valid” tools and what definition of validity they are using.

Hey maybe I will get my 31st comment?

©2011 David W. Bracken

The Missing Link

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My colleague, Jeff Saltzman, has a great blog that is much more diverse than mine (http://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress.com ). His most recent entry begins with this little gem of a story that I want to plagiarize and take in my own direction:

”Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” A citizen of a small town not noted for its intellectual prowess asked. “Why the moon of course,” was the reply. “It shines at night when it is needed. The sun shines only during the day, when there is no need of it at all!” (Ausbel, N., A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, 1948)

I have touched on the topic of importance in some past blogs (http://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/worst-is-not-first/), and the folly of asking raters what is “important”. This little story made me think of that issue once again from a slightly different angle. My stance has been, and still is, that raters are in a very poor position to judge the importance of a competency/behavior in the context of the need of the ratee and the organization.

There is really no way to know what is going through a rater’s mind if/when we ask him/her to give use importance ratings. There may be some research on this question (e.g., correlation between importance and effectiveness ratings), but I will hazard a guess that importance ratings are more a function of rater needs than the needs of the ratee or organization/team.

Jeff’s story also makes me wonder how qualified raters are to provide importance ratings when they are most likely not given any instruction as to what “importance” means (as rater training might attempt to do). And their rationale for importance ratings may well be as convoluted as the small town citizen’s is.

The question of importance is useful in helping prioritize actions. So, if it is not the raters who should indicate importance, who is it? The manager (“boss”), of course, partnering with the ratee. Hopefully the boss and ratee have a history of development discussions on a personal level, and about organization/team priorities to create alignment. If they have not been having those discussions, maybe a 360 process tied to performance management and development might create some mutual accountability for doing so.

The importance of the “boss” in the 360 process and employee development in general is so critical that it boggles the mind to think of 360’s that totally bypass (exclude) the manager. I will equally dismayed to read of a major 360 process describe on LinkedIn that makes boss input optional.  Really? I have always thought that manager input is the most useful feedback many ratees get out of 360’s, to the extent that a best practice is to require that the boss complete their input in order for a report to be generated.

I will go as far as to say the manager ratings are more important than participant self-ratings. Ideally both will happen but, as I mentioned in a recent blog, self- ratings are more an indication of commitment to the process than a true evaluation of self competence in many, many cases.  I will acknowledge that sometimes bosses use their ratings to send a message to the ratee, but even then the resulting discussion is often very enlightening for the ratee.

©2011 David W. Bracken

Built to Fail/Don’t Let Me Fail

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This is a “two sided” blog entry, like those old 45 rpm records that had hit songs on both sides (think  “We Can Work It Out”/”Daytripper” by the Beatles),though my popularity may not be quite at their level.  This is precipitated by a recent blog (and LinkedIn discussion entry) coming from the Envisia people. The blog entry is called, “Does 360-degree feedback even work?” by Sandra Mashihi and can be found at http://results.envisialearning.com/.   It would be helpful if you read it first, but not necessary.

Sandra begins by citing some useful research regarding the effectiveness of 360 processes. And she concludes that sometimes 360’s “work” and sometimes not.  Her quote is, “Obviously, the research demonstrates varied results in terms of its effectiveness.”

What is frustrating for some of us are the blanket statement about failures (and using terms like “obvious”) without acknowledging that many 360’s are “built to fail.” This is the main thesis of the article Dale Rose and I just published in the Journal of Business and Psychology. http://www.springerlink.com/content/85tp6nt57ru7x522/

http://www.ioatwork.com/ioatwork/2011/06/practical-advice-for-designing-a-360-degree-feedback-process-.html

Dale and I propose four features needed in a 360 process if it is likely to create sustainable behavior change:

1)      Reliable measurement: Professionally developed, custom designed instruments

2)      Credible data: Collecting input from trained, motivated raters with knowledge of ratees

3)      Accountability: Methods to motivate raters and ratees to fulfill their obligations

4)      Census participation: Requiring all leaders in an organizational unit to get feedback

We go on to cite research that demonstrates how the failure to build these features into 360 can, in some cases, almost guarantee failure and/or the ability to detect behavior change when it does occur. One such feature, for example, is whether the ratee follows up with raters (which I have mentioned in multiple prior blogs). If/when a 360 (or a collection of 360’s, such as in a meta analysis) is deemed a “failure”, I always want to know things such as whether raters were trained and whether follow up was required, for starters.

We are leaning more and more about the facets that increase the probability that behavior change will occur as a result of 360 feedback. Yet all too often these features are not built into many processes, and practitioners are surprised (“shocked, I’m shocked”) when it doesn’t produce desired results.

Sandra then goes on to state: “I have found 360-degree feedback worked best when the person being rated was open to the process, when the company communicated its purpose clearly, and used it for development purposes.” I assume that she means “development only” since all 360’s are developmental.  I definitely disagree with that feature. 360’s for “development (only) purposes” usually violate one or more of the 4 features Dale and I propose, particularly the accountability one. They often do not generate credible data because too few raters are used, even the best practice of including all direct reports.

The part about “being open to the process” is where I get the flip side of my record, i.e., don’t hurt my feelings.  In one (and only one) way, this makes sense. If the ratee doesn’t want to be in a development-only process, then by all means don’t force them. It is a waste of time and money. On the other hand, all development only processes are a waste of money in my opinion for most people. (And, by the way, development only is very rare if that means that no decisions are being made as a result.)

But if we ARE expecting to get some ROI (such as sustained behavior change) from our 360’s, then letting some people to opt out so their feelings aren’t hurt is totally contrary to helping the organization manage its leadership cadre. Intuitively, we should expect that those who opt out are the leaders that need it the most, who know that they are not effective and/or are afraid to be “discovered” as the bullies, jerks, and downright psychopaths that we know exist out there.

I have some fear that this fear of telling leaders that they are less than perfect is stemming from this troubling trend in our culture where everyone  has to succeed. I think that the whole “strengths” movement is a sign of that.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen a few things that further sensitized me to this phenomenon. One big one is this article in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/1/.  Protecting our children from failure is not working. Protecting our leaders from failure is also dooming your organization.

I swear I never watch America’s Funniest Videos, but during a rain delay of a baseball game recently, I did stumble upon it and succumbed. AFV is all about failure, and I’m not so sure that people always learn from these failures. But one video I enjoyed showing a 2 year old boy trying to pour apple juice from a BIG bottle into a cup. He put the cup on the floor and totally missed the first two times (with the corresponding huge mess). As a parent and grandparent, I was quite amazed that the person behind the camera just let it happen. But on the third try, the task was accomplished successfully, followed by applause and smiles! There was a huge amount of learning that occurred in just a minute or two because the adults allowed it to happen, with a bit of a mess to clean up.

How many of us would have just poured the juice for him? His learning isn’t over; he will make more mistakes and miss the cup occasionally. But don’t we all.

As a parting note, Dale and I support census participation for a number of reasons, one of which is the point I have already made about otherwise missing the leaders that need it most. We also see 360’s as a powerful tool for organizational change, and changing some leaders and not others does not support that objective. Having all leaders participate is tangible evidence that the process has organization support and is valued. Finally, it creates a level playing field for all leaders for both evaluation and development, communicating to ALL employees what the organization expects from its leaders.

©2011 David W. Bracken

On the Road… and Web and Print

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I have a few events coming up in the next 3 weeks or so that I would like to bring to your collective attention in case you have some interest.  One is free, two are not (though I receive no remuneration). I also have an article out that I co-authored on 360 feedback.

In chronological order, on May 25 Allan Church, VP Global Talent Development at PepsiCo, and I will lead a seminar titled, “Integrating 360 & Upward Feedback into Performance and Rewards Systems” at the 2011 World at Work Conference in San Diego (www.worldatwork.org/sandiego2011).  I will be offering some general observations on the appropriateness, challenges, and potential benefits of using 360 Feedback for decision making, such as performance management. The audience will be very interested in Allan’s descriptions of his experiences with past and current processes that have used 360 and Upward Feedback for both developmental and decision making purposes.

On June 8, I am looking forward to conducting a half day workshop for the Personnel Testing Council of Metropolitan Washington (PTCMW) in Arlington, VA, titled “360-Degree Assessments: Make the Right Decisions and Create Sustainable Change” (contact Training.PTCMW@GMAIL.COM or go to WWW.PTCMW.ORG). This workshop is open to the public and costs $50.  I will be building from the workshop Carol Jenkins and I conducted at The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. That said, the word “assessments” in the title is a foreshadowing of a greater emphasis on the use of 360 Feedback in a decision making context and an audience that is expected to have great interest in the questions of validity and measurement.

On the following day, June 9 (at 3:30 PM EDT), I will be part of an online virtual conference organized by the Institute of Human Resources and hr.com on performance management. My webinar is titled, “Using 360 Feedback in Performance Management: The Debate and Decisions,” where the “decisions” part has multiple meanings. Given the earlier two sessions I described, it should be clear that I am a proponent of using 360/Upward Feedback for decision making under the right conditions. The other take on “decisions” is the multitude of decisions that are required to create those “right conditions” in the design and implementation of a multisource process.

On that note, I am proud to say that Dale Rose and I have a new article in the Journal of Business and Psychology (June) titled, “When does 360-degree feedback create behavior change? And how would we know it when it does?” Our effort is largely an attempt to identify the critical design factors in creating 360 processes and the associated research needs.

This article is part of a special research issue (http://springerlink.com/content/w44772764751/) of JBP and you will have to pay for a copy unless you have a subscription. As a tease, here is the abstract:

360-degree feedback has great promise as a method for creating both behavior change and organization change, yet research demonstrating results to this effect has been mixed. The mixed results are, at least in part, because of the high degree of variation in design features across 360 processes. We identify four characteristics of a 360 process that are required to successfully create organization change, (1) relevant content, (2) credible data, (3) accountability, and (4) census participation, and cite the important research issues in each of those areas relative to design decisions. In addition, when behavior change is created, the data must be sufficiently reliable to detect it, and we highlight current and needed research in the measurement domain, using response scale research as a prime example.

Hope something here catches your eye/ear!

©2011 David W. Bracken

What I Learned at SIOP

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The annual conference of the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) was held in Chicago April 14-16 with record attendance. I had something of a “360 Feedback-intensive” experience by running two half-day continuing education workshops (with Carol Jenkins) on 360 feedback, participating on a panel discussion of the evolution of 360 in the last 10 years (with other contributors to The Handbook of Multisource Feedback), and being the discussant for a symposium regarding Implicit Leadership Theories that largely focused on cultural factors in 360 processes. Each forum gave me an opportunity to gauge some current perspectives on this field, and here are a few that I will share.

The “debate” continues but seems to be softening. The “debate” is, of course, how 360 feedback should be used: development only and/or for decision making. In our CE Workshop, we actually had participants stand up and stand in corners of the room to indicate their stance on this issue, and, judging from that exercise, there are still many strong proponents of each side of that stance. That said, one of the conclusions the panel seemed to agree upon is that there is some blurring of the distinction between uses and some acknowledgement that 360’s are successfully being used for decision making, and that 360’s are far less likely to create sustainable behavior change without accountability that comes with integration with HR systems.

We need to be sensitive to the demands we place on our leaders/participants. During our panel discussion, Janine Waclawski (who is currently an HR generalist at Pepsi) reminded us of how we typically inundate 360 participants with many data points, beginning with the number of items multiplied by the number of rater groups. (I don’t believe the solution to this problem is reducing the number of items, especially below some arbitrary number like 20 items.)  Later, I had the opportunity to offer commentary on four terrific research papers that had a major theme of how supervisors need to be aware of the perspectives of their raters that may well be caused by their cultural backgrounds.

As someone who is more on the practitioner end of the practitioner-scientist continuum, I tried to once again put myself in the seat of the feedback recipient (where I have been many times) and consider how this research might be put into practice. On one hand, organizations are using leadership competency models and values statements to create a unified message (and culture?) that spans all segments of the company. We can (and should) have debates about how useful and realistic this practice is, but I think most of us agree that the company has a right to define the behaviors that are expected of successful leaders. 360 processes can be a powerful way to define those expectations in behavioral terms, to help leaders become aware of their perceived performance of those behaviors, to help them get better, and to hold leaders accountable for change.

On the other hand, the symposium papers seem to suggest that leader behaviors should be molded from “the bottom up,” i.e., by responding to the expectations of followers (raters) that may be attributed to their cultural backgrounds and their views of what an effective leader should be (which may differ from the leader’s view and/or the organization’s view of effective leadership).  By the way, this “bottoms up” approach applies also to the use of importance ratings (which is not a cultural question).

My plea to the panel (perhaps to their dismay) was to at least consider the conundrum of the feedback recipient who is being given this potentially incredibly complex task of not only digesting the basic data that Janine was referring to, but then to fold in the huge amount of information created by having to consider the needs of all the feedback providers. Their research is very interesting and useful in raising our awareness of cultural differences that can affect the effectiveness of our 360 processes. But PLEASE acknowledge the implications for putting all of this to use.

The “test” mentality is being challenged.  I used the panel discussion to offer up one of my current pet peeves, namely to challenge the treatment of 360 Feedback as a “test.”  Both in the workshops and again at the panel, I suggested that applying practices such as randomizing items and using reverse wording to “trick” the raters is not constructive and most likely is contrary to our need to help the raters provide reliable data. I was gratified to receive a smattering of applause when I made that point during the panel.  I am looking forward to hopefully discussing (debating) this stance with the Personnel Testing Council of Metropolitan Washington in a workshop I am doing in June, where I suspect some of the traditional testing people will speak their mind on this topic.

This year’s SIOP was well done, once again. I was especially glad to see an ongoing interest in the evolution of the field of 360 feedback judging from the attendance at these sessions, let alone the fact that the workshop committee identified 360 as a topic worthy of inclusion after going over 10 years since the last one.  360 Feedback is such a complex process, and we are still struggling with the most basic questions, including purpose and use.

©2011 David W. Bracken

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