Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Nimble and Sustainable

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Adam Bryant, who writes the NY Times Corner Office feature that I have referenced on multiple occasions, is finally publishing an overview of observations from his interviews of senior leaders in the form of a book (“Quick and Nimble”) and a synopsis in the January 4 edition of the Times’ Business section (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/business/management-be-nimble.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&hp), called “Management Be Nimble.”

In this article, offers 6 drivers of innovation, and I’m going to highlight 3 to make a point.  So here they are, each with a descriptive quote from the article:

Rules of the Road

“…if employees start seeing a disconnect between the stated values and how people are allowed to behave, the entire exercise of developing explicit values will damage the organization. People will shut down, roll their eyes and wonder why on earth they hoped that this time might be different.”

A Little Respect

“When we have problems with somebody gossiping, or someone being disrespectful to a superior or a subordinate, or a peer, it is swarmed on and dealt with”

It’s About the Team

“To foster such a culture, many C.E.O.’s establish a simple rule for their employees: They have to do what they say they are going to do.”

OK, I think we get it.  I, and many/most of you, understand these things, and I, for one, have been building these principles into talks about culture change for a long time. They basically come in the form of:

  • Define the values/culture/climate of the organization in behavioral terms, and then walk the talk
  • Call out bad behavior and address it
  • Hold people accountable when they violate promises, either to the company or each other

The problem, of course, is that creating and sustaining a culture requires that it applies to everyone in the organization so that employees know what to expect from each other (and their leaders), positive behavior can be rewarded, and misbehavior addressed. 

About this same time, Booz & Company released a report, Culture’s Role in Enabling Organizational Change, that has received quite a bit of attention and points out the significant potential barrier to change that culture can present:

A change plan may be especially hard to implement if employees see the transformation as being contrary to the company’s culture—to the many things, such as feedback and peer and manager behavior, that determine (as people often put it) “how we do things around here.”

The question that Adam’s article raises is how organizations can maintain their “nimbleness” while at the same time maintaining the kind of culture they desire.  I maintain that “nimbleness” and “sustainable culture” don’t have to be oxymorons.  But as organizations grow and evolve, things happen that challenge the maintenance of their culture, such as:

  • More people, more supervisors, more variability in styles
  • Larger spans of control, less ability to monitor
  • Bring in leaders from outside, not “home grown”
  • Remote locations

In my last blog (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/get-in-touch/), we considered Liz’s opinion that 360 feedback processes are all vile and that no organization needs that level of formality and rigor.  It is undoubtedly true that small organizations do not need a traditional 360 feedback process to know how their employees are behaving or misbehaving. But with challenges such as those listed above confronting growing, thriving organizations, it becomes impractical to expect that a culture can be monitored and maintained by walking around and hanging out at the virtual or real water cooler.

So I ask Mr. Bryant, just how are these drivers going to be operationalized?  The article I published with Allan Church (http://www.orgvitality.com/articles/HRPSBrackenChurch OV.pdf ) enumerates the benefits of 360 feedback processes in bringing about sustainable behavior change and resulting culture change, which, by the way, requires integration into performance management and other human resource systems (which is also endorsed in the Booz report). 

Part of the challenge is in putting in place the feedback process that will define and then monitor behavior that is consistent with the desired culture without it becoming too cumbersome.  One approach we see surfacing is the “nudge,” a kind of pulse feedback process using an abbreviated list of key behaviors administered on a regular (quarterly?) basis with some sort of accountability attached.  We see Google, for instance, implementing such a process with significant success (http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/view/story.jhtml?id=534355733&ss=The+People+Scientist). 

If someone else knows a better way to satisfy the requirements for system-wide behavioral definition, measurement, and accountability that doesn’t use multisource feedback, I’m all ears.

©2014 David W. Bracken

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Written by David Bracken

February 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

One Response

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  1. […] that bemoan bad leader behavior and the effect on an organization’s climate (see my recent blog https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/nimble-and-sustainable/), but with no specific recommendation as to a […]


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