Strategic 360s

360s for more than just development

Sorry, It’s Not Going Away

leave a comment »

[tweetmeme source=”strategic360s”]

Performance Management is not going away, and we need to continue to find ways to make it more effective. And we continue to find ways to make 360 Feedback more a more powerful tool for workforce assessment and development, important needs for both the organization and the employee.

Please join me for a webinar

Adding Insight to Add Value: 

Integrating 360s with Performance Management

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015  at 12:30 PM EDT, 9:30 AM PST

Implementing 360 Feedback processes that are sustainable and create sustainable change is challenging, to the extent that they sometimes do not succeed. Join us and learn about the best practices and biggest pitfalls in the creation of integrated performance management processes that support a feedback culture and move us away from total reliance on the annual supervisory exercise. We will also consider the proliferation of feedback tools and how they compare to traditional 360 Feedback.

Register here: 

Hope you can join me then!


Written by David Bracken

September 16, 2015 at 9:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

No Fighting in The War Room!

leave a comment »

[tweetmeme source=”strategic360s”]

My apologies (or sympathies) to those of you who have not seen the black satire, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” which contains the line, “No fighting in the War Room!”  I was reminded of this purposively humorous contradiction in reading an otherwise very insightful summary of the state of feedback tools by Josh Bersin that I hope you can access via LinkedIn here:

Mr. Bersin seems quite supportive of the “ditch the ratings” bandwagon that is rolling through the popular business literature, and his article is a relatively comprehensive survey of the emerging technologies that are supporting various versions of the largely qualitative feedback market.  But right in the middle he made my head spin in Kubrick-like fashion when he starts talking about the need for ways to “let employees rate their managers,” as if this a) is something new, and b) can be done without using ratings.  Instead of “No fighting in the War Room!”, there is “No rating in the evaluation system!”   I’m curious: Is an evaluation not a “rating” because it doesn’t have a number? Won’t someone attach a number to the evaluation? Either explicitly or implicitly? And wouldn’t it be better if there were some agreement as to what number is attached to that evaluation?

What I think is most useful in Bersin’s article is his categorization and differentiation of the types of feedback processes and tools that seem to be evolving in our field, using his labels:

  • Next Generation Pulse Survey and Management Feedback Tools
  • “Open Suggestion Box” and Anonymous Social Network Tools
  • Culture Assessment and Management Tools
  • Social Recognition Tools

I want to focus on Culture Assessment and Management Tools, in the context of this discussion of ratings and performance management, and, in doing so, referencing some points I have made in the past. If you look at Mr. Bersin’s “Simply Irresistible Organization” (in the article), it contains quite a few classic HR terms like “trust,”, “coaching”, transparency,” “support,” “humanistic,” “inspiration,” “empowered,” and so on, that he probably defines somewhere but nonetheless cry out for behavioral descriptors to tell us what we will see happening when they are being done well, if at all. Ultimately it is those behaviors and the support for those behaviors that defines the culture. Furthermore, we can observe and measure those behaviors, and then hold employees accountable for acting in ways consistent with the organization’s needs.

To quote from Booz & Co in 2013:

On the informal side, there must be tangible behaviors that demonstrate what the culture looks like, and they must be granular enough that all levels of the organization can exhibit the behaviors.”

“On the formal side — and where HR can help out — the performance management and rewards systems must reward people for displaying the right behaviors that exemplify the culture. Too often, changes to the culture are not reflected in the formal elements, such as the performance-management process. This results in a relapse to the old ways of working, and a culture that never truly evolves.

Of course, all that requires measurement, which requires ratings. Which, in turn, begs for 360 Feedback, if we agree that supervisory ratings by themselves are inadequate. My experience is that management demand ratings. My prediction is that unchecked qualitative feedback will also run its course and be rejected as serving little purpose in supporting either evaluation or development.

There may be a place for the kind of feedback that social networks provide that is open and basically uncontrolled in providing spontaneous recognition. But I totally disagree with Mr. Bersin who states that any feedback is better than no feedback.  I have and still do counsel against survey comment sections that are totally open and beg for “please whine here” types of comments that are often not constructive and not actionable.

Mr. Bersin brings up the concept of feedback as a “gift” that I recently addressed as going against the notion that feedback providers need to have accountability for their feedback and see it as an investment, not a gift, especially a thoughtless gift (

There is a very basic, important difference in how the field of feedback is trending, i.e., more quantity, less quality, too many white elephants. We need more 401Ks.

©2015 David W. Bracken

Empathy Is a Choice

leave a comment »

There were two items in this Sunday’s New York Times that had “empathy” in their title:  “Empathy is Actually a Choice” ( in the Review section, and, “Is Empathy in Your Resume” ( in the Business section.

The first article is a summary of some research on empathy that supports the stance that empathy is not an immutable personality trait or reflex emotion, but instead is a set of behaviors that can be changed.  As the author states, “… empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” (Emphasis added)  The article speaks to some of the challenges in getting people to show more empathy, starting with lower empathy from leaders in high positions (perhaps due to the perceived cost of empathetic actions) and towards people of different race.

The second NYT piece is from the Corner Office column, this time an interview with Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack, and earlier Flickr. In Stewart’s responses, he calls empathy an ability, but then goes on to describe how it is manifested in simple behaviors, such as showing up on time and being courteous (a series of behaviors).  (Also check out the 3 questions he asks of job candidates and see if you would pass.)

Often the choice is based largely on the person simply knowing that there is a choice to be made and what the organization’s preferred response is supposed to be. That often comes in the form of Values statements.

In the context of this blog on 360s, ultimately, much of what we include (or should include) on feedback instruments comes down to basic behaviors that are choices, not abilities or skills that require training or development plans. Many of them, like showing up on time, are simple choices of whether to do it or not. They are also observable, a basic requirement for inclusion on feedback instruments if we don’t want raters to be mind readers.

Typical leadership competency models are a mix of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s)  that usually do justify inclusion in selection and/or training processes, such as Communication (as defined as an ability, not a choice whether to communicate) and Values such as Teamwork, which is really a choice of whether to support others or not.  Another example that we see in some competency models is the contrast of Decision Making (that can be trained in the context of problem solving processes) versus Decisiveness, the “choice” to make a decision or not.  We should distinguish within our leadership requirements which variables are KSAs (Communication, Decision Making) and which are “choices”  (Teamwork, Decisiveness).

Back to Empathy, most of us agree that a good starting point for creating empathy is to listen.  (I wrote on this topic once before:   In The ManagerCoach© upward feedback instrument, we ask direct reports whether their manager listens more than talks during coaching; it’s the lowest scoring item overall and a very consistent finding.

Getting leaders to listen more and talk less typically requires some awareness, beginning with breaking down the stereotypical view that most managers have that it is their job to have all the answers and to make sure those around them know that.  There is a time when a manager needs to be in the “Director” mode, such as in crisis situations or when the employee is new to the task (as in the Situational Leadership Model of a person low on task maturity).  But I believe that the preferred and most commonly used type of coaching should be what I call the “Activator” mode where the manager and employee engage in mutual problem solving, creating trust and mutual understanding.

One tool we use to create more listening is the WAIT acronym, that is, to ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?”  Not long ago, I saw a blog where a mother was proposing using that same tool as a parent.

Another argument for enhanced listening is referenced earlier in the finding that people have difficulty in showing empathy for people of a different race.  When I was an undergraduate, I took a seminar (about 15 people) on nonverbal communication.  One of the most impactful exercises we performed was to go into a room alone with cue cards that had emotions written on them (Happy, Sad, Angry, Fear, Surprise, etc.) and take a “selfie” (certainly not what it was called then). Then a week later we were shown pictures of various people in the class and had to judge which emotion they were showing.   You got scored as an actor and as a judge.

The seminar membership was not very diverse, but we did have one African American male (big football player) and an African American female. While I don’t recall how I did as a judge or actor, what I really remember most is that I could not differentiate his various emotions but the woman of the same race could.  This is very anecdotal, but I believe (and have seen) that my experience is reflective of the larger populations.

In the context of listening as a means to the end of creating empathy, understanding and trust, it is even more critical when we are hampered by not having accurate access to nonverbal clues that is likely when conversing across races.  There is other research that not only supports that observation, but branches out to other types of differences between the two parties in an exchange.

The author of the research summary adds this other insight:

…when people learned that empathy was a skill that could be improved — as opposed to a fixed personality trait — they engaged in more effort to experience empathy for racial groups other than their own. Empathy for people unlike us can be expanded; it seems, just by modifying our views about empathy.

This additional research finding gives us even more ammunition for positioning abstract constructs such as empathy not as fixed personal attributes but as behaviors that can be changed by creating awareness and alignment, and providing incentives (including accountability). We are doing ourselves as developers of leaders a disservice when we attach labels to groups of behaviors (e.g., Emotional Intelligence) that potentially cause unintended consequences such as, a) believing the construct it an unchangeable characteristic, b) leading to unclear definitions (sometimes by shear laziness), an c) assuming the “group” cannot be deconstructed and improved one behavior at a time, i.e., the sub behaviors are highly correlated (which they probably are not).

Once the choice is made whether to perform a behavior or not, then there can be some guidance/training to further refine it. For example, if the choice is whether to thank and/or recognize someone, we need to motivate the person/leader to do so. Once he/she has made that decision, we can help them to consider various ways of doing it that fit the situation and person.

But first the choice must be made.

ALAMO: A New Performance Model (Webinar)

with one comment

Please join OrgVitality for our next webinar in the 2015 series!

ALAMO: A New Diagnostic Performance Model for Individuals, Teams and Organizations

Thursday, June 11th, 2015 at 12:30 PM EDT, 9:30 AM PST

David Bracken, PhD

Performance management and improvement are discussed constantly at all levels of an organization, i.e., individual, team and organizational. We can argue that all performance is sub-optimal (improvable), so the question is: what are the primary factors that drive performance, and then how to ensure that all those causal factors receive full consideration when prescribing interventions. Just considering individual performance alone, ALAMO addresses a huge need to provide managers with tools that support their critical roles of coaching and performance management.

The webinar introduces the ALAMO model of performance that is an acronym which mathematically combines ALignment, Ability, Motivation and Opportunity. We will discuss the value of acronyms, such as SMART and GROW, that promote the communication, retention and use of performance tools. In addition to being easy to remember, ALAMO promotes a holistic view of performance that considers a wide range of causal factors, derived from psychology, change management, and organizational culture. We will demonstrate how ALAMO can be applied to post-feedback discussions, including performance management and coaching at the individual, team and organizational levels.

We are pleased to inform you that this webinar has been approved to offer HR Certification credits. The use of this seal is not an endorsement by the HR Certification Institute of the quality of the activity.  It means that this activity has met the HR Certification Institute’s criteria to be pre-approved for re-certification credit.

 Register here:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinars. We look forward to “seeing” you there!

Hope you will join me!


Feedback is NOT a “Gift.” It’s an Investment.

with 2 comments

[tweetmeme source=”strategic360s”]

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

Written by David Bracken

April 6, 2015 at 11:04 am

What are “Strategic 360’s”?

leave a comment »

[tweetmeme source=”strategic360s”]

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Where is Theory O?

with one comment

[tweetmeme source=”strategic360s”]

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?” ( 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

Written by David Bracken

December 22, 2014 at 4:43 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers