I am designing 360 Feedback workshops and got to reflecting on how we have historically positioned the value of feedback from the perspectives of both the giver and the receiver. One phrase that has become a cliché is that “feedback is a gift.” Clearly this message is primarily used to manage the reactions of feedback recipients, especially when the message is negative. And, as in the gift giving tradition, the leader is supposed to thank the givers for their thoughtfulness and then do whatever he/she wants with the “gift,” including nothing. While some leaders might take actions, the connotation of “gift” is that the recipient has no obligation to do so.
Of course, there are multiple things wrong with this scenario, including:
- The leader is left to his/her own design
- The quality of the “gift” is assumed to be constructive and valuable, even when it isn’t
- The raters are excused from their role as partnering with the leader in his/her development
When coworkers provide feedback in a 360 Feedback process, they should be encouraged to view the exercise as one where they have a vested interest in the leader’s development and improved effectiveness. This message includes the viewpoint that the feedback needs to be honest and constructive, and their responsibility (accountability) for the development of the leader doesn’t end when they submit their feedback.
We can create that vested interest through the language we use in training raters, even if it is primarily through instructions and emails. One concept is to describe the feedback as an “investment” in the leader, i.e., the raters will also benefit if the leader becomes more effective.
What are some of the ways the raters can maximize the value of their investment? They can:
- Ensure they participate in the 360 Feedback process
- Provide honest, constructive feedback, including constructive write in comments
- Encourage the leader to discuss his/her results with them
- Act to ensure that the leader clearly understands the messages
- Help the leader in crafting an impactful, actionable development plan
- Give the leader ongoing informal feedback if/when the leader exhibits progress
Let’s put the “gift” language to rest. Let’s encourage coworkers to see 360 Feedback as a sound investment in their future, but an investment that needs to be nurtured and supplemented.
©2015 David W. Bracken
A colleague recently asked me, “Exactly what is ‘Strategic 360 Feedback’?” Heck, it’s only the name of this blog and in the name the consortium I have helped form, The Strategic 360 Forum (that is meeting for its 5th time in April). The concepts are also laid out pretty well in the article Dale Rose and I published in 2011 in the Journal of Business in Psychology (“When Does 360-degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How Would We Know It When It Does?”).
In as succinct way as I can muster, here are the four core requirements for “strategic” 360 feedback systems:
- The content must be derived from the organization’s strategy and values, which are unique to that organization. Often derived from the organization’s values, they can be explicit (the ones that hang on the wall) or implicit (which some people call “culture”). To me, “strategic” and “off-the-shelf” is an oxymoron and the two words cannot be used in the same sentence (though I just did).
- Participation must be inclusive, i.e., a census of the leaders/managers in the organizational unit (e.g., total company, division, location, function, level). I say “leaders/managers” because a true 360 requires that subordinates are a rater group. One reason for this requirement is that I (and many others) believe 360’s, under the right circumstances, can be used to make personnel decisions and that usually requires comparing individuals, which, in turn, requires that everyone have available the same data. This requirement also enables us to use Strategic 360’s to create organizational change, as in “large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little.”
- The process must be designed and implemented in such a way that the results are sufficiently reliable (we have already established content validity in requirement #1) that we can use them to make decisions about the leaders (as in #4). This is not an easy goal to achieve, even though benchmark studies continue to indicate that 360’s are the most commonly used form of assessment in both public and private sectors.
- The results of Strategic 360’s are integrated with important talent management and development processes, such as leadership development and training, performance management, staffing (internal movement), succession planning, and high potential processes. Research indicates that properly implemented 360 results can not only more reliable (in a statistical meaning) than single-source ratings, but are also more fair to minorities, women, and older workers. Integration into HR systems also brings with it accountability, whether driven by the process or internally (self) driven because the leader knows that the results matter.
Let me hasten to say that a) all 360’s, strategic or not, should have a development focus, and b) none of this minimizes the value of 360 processes that are used in support of the development of leaders, one at a time. There is no question that innumerable leaders have benefitted from the awareness created by feedback, though often also supported by a coach who not only helps manage the use of the feedback, but also should be creating accountability for the constructive use of the feedback.
Strategic 360 processes and “development only” processes can successfully coexist in a single organization. But they have different purposes, and purpose should be the primary driver of all design and implementation decisions.
I saw a commercial (Progressive?) recently where the theme is that some companies (their competitors) prevent their customer service personnel from providing optimal service, presumably by placing restrictions on what they can do. They use some great visual metaphors to communicate the message, including a receptionist in a glass box, a man in a large bird cage (suspended in midair), and this one:
This picture of an employee in chains (who, evidently, can’t even get a cup of coffee, let alone serve his customers) also made me think of this cartoon that has a similar but nuanced message that just telling employees what they are supposed to be doing (i.e., alignment) isn’t enough if they are constrained.
(I am finding that some unknown percentage of viewers of this cartoon don’t “get” it, and I am wondering if it is, at least in part, due to lack of exposure to the slave rower (in the galley) in chains concept. It makes me think of the movie, Ben Hur, one of the greatest movies of all time, but one that many younger people (and most people are younger than me) have not seen. Am I right?)
The photo and the cartoon lead me to refer to the ALAMO© model that I use to help individuals, teams and organizations to diagnose why performance is sub-optimal:
Performance = ALignment X (Ability X Motivation X Opportunity)
I believe that the Opportunity part of this “equation” is one of the features that makes it somewhat unique, i.e., acknowledging that there are contextual factors that absolutely can constrain performance. The factors are also multiplicative so that the lack of any one feature drives the equation to zero (though Alignment can have a negative value).
Opportunity (or lack thereof) comes in many forms, both tangible and intangible. Hopefully employees aren’t physically chained or hung in bird cages, but the feeling can be as salient by policies and practices. Those can, in turn, come for organizationally communicated policies (e.g., policy manuals) as well as local (leader-determined) that may or may not be consistent with company strategies. Employees are also constrained tangibly by lack of resources, like the widget maker whose widget machine doesn’t work. Resources also include time, budget, information and support.
Opportunity constraints can also be psychological. They come in the form of norms, both company and local, regarding “how we do it around here.” They also can be internal, self-limiting thoughts or beliefs such as, “I don’t think they want me to do that,” and/or “I don’t think I can do that,” and/or not exploring sufficient options about how to get past barriers (which also may be perceived or real).
I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Bill Treasurer earlier this year. His message focuses on another “O” leadership factor, namely to create opportunities by “opening doors” for others. His book is Leaders Open Doors, and he tells this little story in there and in his presentation:
When my five-year-old son, Ian, returned home from school, the youngster said his teacher had chosen him as that day’s class leader.
“What did you do as class leader?” I asked.
“I got to open doors for people,” said Ian.
This other “O” is a proactive form of leadership, which is creating opportunities for others. Let your mind wrestle with this metaphor. How do leaders open doors? A “door” might be an obstructive policy. It could be the door to access another person, maybe to get information, build relationships, or be a mentor. It could just be opening their own door. It may be creating options for a subordinate’s career development that require resources that the leader can control.
Whether the “O” is “opening doors” or ensuring “opportunity” to perform, the manager has the “keys to the kingdom,” which include access to resources and overcoming barriers. The best managers I had in my career were ones who helped me spread my wings by breaking down the cages.
This is such an important role for a manager that it is ludicrous to have 360 Feedback processes that do not involve the immediate supervisor and prevent their access to the report. Asking the participant to provide a “summary” instead of the report is fraught with significant perils, including real and perceived inconsistency (insert “unfairness” here).
Lack of “opportunity” can occur at all levels: organization, team, manager, and self. Here are some thoughts about how to improve it using various assessment tools:
- Use employee surveys with a dimension relating to Opportunity to Perform
- I have the resources to do my job well (equipment, budget, work environment)
- I get the information I need to do my job well
- The Policies and Practices here allow me to provide optimal customer service
- Use 360 Feedback/Upward Feedback to assess/improve manager performance in this area, and hold them accountable for improvement
- My manager regularly asks me if I have the resources I need to perform my job
- My manager helps our team to identify barriers to successful performance
- My manager discusses my short and long term career plans, and helps me progress with my development plan
- Define, train and assess to create coaching skills in all managers.
In my last blog, I asked the question, “Where is Theory Y?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/where-is-theory-y/) in response to an article that proposes that all that matters for effective leadership is achieving the goal, not how he/she got there. That led me to a reference to McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, and the leader effectiveness factors of task and relationship. Today I propose a “Theory O” that is equally important to effectiveness as a leader (to deliver it as a manager), and as a job performer by staying aware of the real, perceived and imagined barriers to your own effectiveness.
©2014 David W. Bracken
This column in Forbes by Rob Asghar literally paralyzed me for a few moments.
Forbes is known for taking provocative positions at times but this one challenges some of my core values as to what it means to be a successful leader, let alone good person. In a nutshell, he argues that the only important factor in evaluating leader success is bottom line results, regardless of the process. In other words, any means to an end (thank you, Machiavelli). Rob has no data to support his position, but he protects himself by saying that successful leaders (and he, himself) do not care to hear from the “experts,” i.e., social scientists like many of us, about process. So what follows is probably an exercise in futility if I think it will ever be read by people like him. But it gives me the opportunity to bring to you a few nuggets that I’ve seen relating to this topic in the last few weeks. And a couple that go way back.
First, this discussion gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Blake and Mouton’s seminal book, The Managerial Grid. (As an aside, dozens of people entered into a recent LinkedIn discussion I began in the I/O Practitioners space regarding what are some core knowledge areas an I/O Psychologist should be expected to possess, though the discussion went off in other directions. At one point I offered up the Hawthorne Studies, and I would add The Managerial Grid to that list. I will also add Douglas McGregor’s Theory X/Theory Y, discussed below.)
For the uninitiated, the Managerial Grid is a 9×9 matrix that plots leader behaviors on an X-axis (Task orientation) and a Y-axis (Relationship orientation). Not by coincidence, McGregor’s Theory X behavior is very task oriented while Theory Y describes a much more participative style (with McGregor being first, around 1960). In the Grid, ideal leader is 9-9, an equally strong emphasis on task and relationship. (I recall once when a colleague was trying to force me to do something and accusing him of trying to “9-1” me, that is to do something regardless of how I felt about it, which, by the way, is basically what Asghar is promoting.)
Leaders who demonstrate no respect for others occasionally do succeed. Of course, Steve Jobs is the most cited example. This past week I watch a PBS biography on Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy, and I (and others) would add him to this list. He was universally labeled an “SOB.” No one could remember him ever saying “thank you.” But he was an obsessive believer in accountability, for both others and himself. And he was consistent. And, ultimately, he was successful in achieving his vision. Mr. Asghar also uses Nick Saban, very successful coach at Alabama, as another example. But these are extraordinary people and exceptions in many ways.
Here’s another article, this time from HBR, which not only has data, it is titled “The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss.” https://hbr.org/2014/11/the-hard-data-on-being-a-nice-boss
Using various studies, the author (Emma Seppala) asserts the following:
- Putting pressure on subordinates that increases stress that leads to high health care and turnover costs.
- Acts of altruism increase status in the organization.
- Fair treatment leads to higher productivity and citizenship behaviors
- Leaders who project warmth are more effective.
- Employees that feel greater trust for a leader that is kind.
So there is a cost to being a Theory X (9-1) manager, i.e., the health and well-being of your employees. And the cost is getting bigger everyday unfortunately with the state of our healthcare system.
In my last blog (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/trust-again/), I revisited the concept of “trust” and labeled it the “sine qua non” (without which there is nothing) of effective leadership. Trust is a complex behavioral construct, but I totally agree that kindness is an important component. Kindness doesn’t have to mean being soft; it is more akin to empathy, having sensitivity to the feelings of others, particularly when the message is difficult. We are seeing “kindness” being mentioned in a growing number of organizations. Part of that comes from respecting the whole person and his/her point of view and emotions without having to abdicate the responsibility for delivering on individual, team and organization performance commitments.
This piece by Stephanie Vozza from Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/3038919/mentor-or-best-friend-which-management-style-is-best) starts right off with this statement: “For decades, managers led with a heavy hand from corner offices.” She goes on to contrast that with how managers will be most effective in today’s workplace, building upon some work by the Addison Group. She (and they) maintains that the answer isn’t to be the “best friend” of subordinates, but instead to be a mentor who provides guidance and advice, both on daily performance and careers.
(I do disagree with 2 of her points. First, she maintains that this situation is being caused by the arrival of millennials that have different expectations of management. Au contraire! ALL workers have a need to be respected with all the leadership behaviors that that implies, including honoring the value and needs of each person.
Secondly, I take issue with the use of the word “mentor” in this context. We should clearly differentiate between “mentor” and “coach,” specifically manager as coach. But these points get us off track from our theme here.)
Having done employee surveys for over 35 years and 360’s almost as long, recurring themes in drivers of engagement and evaluations of leader effectiveness continue to be trust and support in helping employees develop and plan for careers.
Let me add one other point to the value of believing that the “means” is as important as the end. An I/O colleague told me of a piece of research that has stuck with him that indicated that a strongest predictor of employee ethical behavior was immediate manager ethical (or not) behavior. There are many potential explanations for why that is, but those are not as important as saying if we believe ethical behavior is important in our organization, we can observe and measure it, and, if it leads to more of that desired behavior, the organization and its customers will benefit. This, of course, applies to other important leadership behaviors, often captured in Values statements that hang on walls and too infrequently actually measured.
Allan Church and I bring the “how” versus “what” of performance into the Performance Management discussion in our article from last year (http://www.orgvitality.com/articles/HRPSBrackenChurch OV.pdf). One of the points we make is that organizations are very good at measuring the “what” side of performance (i.e., tangible, objective achievements) and much less adept at measuring the “how” (i.e., the means to the end, the behaviors demonstrated). A parallel argument can be made that leaders/managers/supervisors find it much easier to manage the “what” side, and, because it is more difficult, give much less (if any) attention to the relationship part of leading, including coaching.
We are certainly not advocating the abandonment of the “what” measures. We are suggesting that an overemphasis on the “how” side of leader behavior is needed until they balance out, both at the individual and organizational level, i.e., achieving more “9-9” management at all levels.
I suspect that the majority of the readers of this blog are the “experts” Asghar references and dismisses. And to you colleagues, I am hopefully preaching to the choir (as they say). If that is not the case, then please let us know what that position is.
For those of you not in the “choir,” I hope you read Asghar’s piece and see if you think he has a valid point. Reflect on both how it applies in your organization and for your own behavior as a leader/manager.
Everybody should sit back and reflect on where/when we see or don’t see Theory Y behavior at all levels of leadership and how to create more 9-9 leaders. We should demand accountability for both “what” and “how” measurement aligned with both strategy and organizational values.
©2014 David W. Bracken
I wrote on the subject of trust not too long ago (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/a-matter-of-trust/), and, trust me, the subject isn’t going away. Since then, I have been accumulating a few more treatments of the topic of “trust;” it is another of those “know it when I see it” type of subjects, which makes it even more important that we compare our mental models to ensure we are thinking (and therefore acting) in the same way when we propose actions to address it.
One that caught my eye was posted in TD (http://goo.gl/8KXx5) (the ASTD, now ATD, magazine) by Doug Conant, who I recognize from his days at CEO of Campbell Soup Company and now Chair of Avon . In there he notes:
I think leaders have to have three traits. They have to be a person of great character, and in that spirit they have to do what they say they’re going to do… it’s a combination of character and competence. If the organization doesn’t trust you, you’re toast.
Erika Garms just posted a blog (that was referenced on LinkedIn) on the interaction of Accountability and Trust (http://goo.gl/eEmwWZ). Her main point is that a focus on Accountability is not going to be effective if it is not preceded (or grounded in) the establishment of Trust. This is an extremely important piece of advice (or warning) that speaks to the potential power of Trust to be a barrier to successful leadership when it is absent.
Marshall Goldsmith (see marshallgoldsmith.com) lists 20 behaviors that leaders need to fix; call them bad habits or derailers if you want, and they form the basis for his fantastic book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” I have referenced this list before in the context of listening (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/just-shut-up-and-listen/), but let’s looks at it through this lens of a subset of those behaviors (in this case negative) that can damage trust:
Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.
Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we aren’t asked.
Withholding information: The refusal to share information to gain or maintain an advantage over others.
Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect.
Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocents who are only trying to help us.
Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
Trust is an elusive construct. My earlier Trust blog took a lead from the ATD study that honed in on integrity and honesty. Mr. Conant throws in competence and character. Goldsmith’s list has a core message that it is created by the respect shown to others.
I would add to this list “Being Inconsistent”, i.e., arbitrarily changing your basis for decisions and actions both across time and across individuals to the point where it creates uncertainty and perceived unfairness. Of course, the other end of this continuum is rigidity, which is also bad. In this context, “inconsistency” equates to unpredictability and capriciousness when the leader does not sufficiently explain the basis for his/her actions.
The good news is that it can be defined by behaviors (also see my earlier blog referenced above on this topic) and that behaviors can be changed. As I noted, behaviors begin as a choice. Many are not difficult to do, and, once accepted as needing change, can be honed to be even more impactful.
Based on this review, a Trust dimension on an upward (manager) feedback instrument might include:
- My manager has the skills and abilities to perform his/her job well.
- My manager is honest at all times.
- My manager treats all people with respect.
- My manager follows through on promises and commitments.
- My manager treats others with consistency and fairness.
- My manager listens to and acknowledges the viewpoints of others.
- My manager takes responsibility for his/her actions and decisions.
- My manager is willing to share his/her shortcomings and development needs.
Trust may well be the “sine qua non” of leadership effectiveness, whether at the organizational level or the individual leader (manager) level. If you’re not acknowledging and measuring Trust in yourself and your leaders, you are probably setting a ceiling on leadership and followership effectiveness.
©2014 David W. Bracken
I am pleased to communicate that the Strategic 360 Forum will have its third meeting in Chicago on September 16-17, hosted by PepsiCo. Plans are to have a full day meeting on the 16th with a series of presentations and discussions led by member companies, particularly new members, on their company processes/programs that relate to the strategic use of 360 Feedback. September 17 will be a half day of breakout sessions on specific topics identified by the attendees.
The Strategic 360 Forum is an informal network of organizations using 360 Assessments for strategic purposes, including support of human resource processes (e.g., talent management, staffing, performance management, succession planning, high potential programs). Attendees will typically be senior leaders with responsibilities for both process implementation as well as strategic applications. There is no fee for membership, though members are expected to be prepared to share aspects of their program/processes that are relevant, including making a presentation to the group at one or more meetings.
Our list of probable participating organizations for this meeting includes:
- Thomson Reuters
- Starwood Hotels
- JPMorgan Chase
- Abbott Labs
If you are would like to learn more, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please join OrgVitality’s David Bracken, Ph.D. for our complimentary webinar: “The ManagerCoach©: Assessing and Developing Managers as Coaches.” on May 20 at 12:30 PM EDT.
Organizations are placing more emphasis on the responsibilities of line managers to act as a coach in order to more fully develop their team members. Effective coaching by the manager supports the organization’s needs for aligning performance management to the organization’s goals while enhancing the employees’ sense that the organization cares about their development and careers.
This webinar presents a new model of “manager as coach” that captures contemporary management concepts and workforce trends. The ManagerCoach Feedback and Workshop© have been developed to integrate upward feedback with learning practice sessions to increase the ability of the manager to become a more effective coach. The workshop builds on seminal research on the key behaviors that managers need in order to create a coaching relationship with direct reports.
Please register here: