Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

I Don’t Care

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Last week I led a workshop for the Personnel Testing Council of Metropolitan Washington that was a modified reprise of the workshop Carol Jenkins and I did at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in April. I really enjoy these workshops and the opportunity to interact face-to-face with practitioners in the field of 360 degree feedback.

I do wish that participants in these workshops would engage me in a little more debate, and, to that end, I sometimes throw out comments in the hope of raising some hackles. For example, at the PTCMW session, I twice said “I don’t care” regarding two topics that I will explain below. Unfortunately, no one took the bait in the workshop, but maybe I can lure some of you into the discussion using this blog as a vehicle.

So here are the two areas where a ton of research is being done but where, as a practitioner, I don’t care:

1)      The personality of the participant. I don’t care. Everyone seems to want to know how the personality of the participant is going to affect his/her reaction to the feedback.  In past blogs, I have fessed up to being a behaviorist, and in that respect all I really “care” about is getting the person to accept the feedback and to change, whether they want to or not. In my last blog, I used the examples of people’s apparent reluctance to do simple things like apologize for mistake and/or to say “thank you.”  Behaviorally, those are pretty easy things to do, but evidently some internal force (e.g., personality) makes it difficult.  In fact, those internal forces vary greatly across people, and I find chasing them down to not be a very fruitful use of time for the participant or for myself. If the organization and feedback tells you that you need to modify your behavior, just do it!

Sometimes what is going on inside the person’s head is more an issue of awareness than of personality, and awareness is something we can change through 360’s. Occasionally the journey from awareness to acceptance is difficult due to personality factors. It is our job to design the 360 process to make it difficult to not accept the feedback, including ensuring that raters are knowledgeable, reliable, motivated and in sufficient quantity.

On a practical level, when many 360 processes involve dozens or hundreds of participants, it becomes very challenging to integrate personality assessment, for example, into the mix. Not to say it can’t be done. Carol Jenkins does some of that in her practice with groups of feedback recipients. But part of my “I don’t care” mentality has come from a need to get large numbers of people to use the feedback productively without being able to “get inside their head.”

2)      The gap between self-ratings and “other” ratings. I don’t care. As a psychologist, I do find it interesting to see how ratees approach self-ratings, especially the first time around. And they usually change their self-ratings once they see how they are perceived by others. But I am increasingly convinced that self-ratings are more a reflection of the ratee’s agenda than any real self-assessment. (All raters are susceptible to using their ratings to this kind of error.) One memorable instance for me was in working with a Chief Legal Officer who gave himself all 5’s and stated, “do you think I would be crazy enough to actually document less than optimal performance?”

I DO think that participants should complete the rating process, but for other reasons. One is to ensure that they are familiar with the content and how he/she is expected to behave as defined by the organization. Secondly, it is some evidence of at least minimal commitment to the process.

In general, I am not very interested in why a ratee behaves in a certain way if it needs to change. It is highly unlikely that we can change the “why” part of behavior (i.e., personality) other than to affect their awareness of how they are perceived and the importance of accepting that feedback on the way to behaving differently.What is going on in the person’s head is fun for psychologists to research, but doesn’t necessarily help achieve sustainable behavior change.

©2011 David W. Bracken

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