Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

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

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