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PodCast: Using 360s for Decisions

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Thank you to Ben Butina and his Department12 Podcast for inviting me to be the first contributor to his “retooled” program for I/O Psychologists.

Ben asked me to respond to a few questions and he reads my responses, with occasional commentary of his own. I found his questions to be quite insightful in their own right and allowed me to cover a lot of ground with my responses.

I hope you will have the opportunity to listen and submit your own observations, comments and challenges, either here or to my email at dwbracken@gmail.com.

Here is the link:  

Written by David Bracken

April 2, 2016 at 10:45 pm

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Culture is Like a Song

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When defining organizational culture, I have picked up on the definition used by Bossidy and Charan in their book, “Execution” (2009) that it is defined by the behaviors that leaders exhibit and tolerate (and encourage, I would add). They assert that,

…to change the culture of the company, it must be done by changing the behaviors of its leaders” (Bossidy and Charan 2009, p. 105).

I am drawn to this definition because it is behavioral, and, therefore, can be observed, measured, developed and changed. This may feel somewhat “cold” to many of you who envision culture to be something more ethereal.  I offer this alternate definition as an example:

The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Organizational culture includes an organization’s expectationsexperiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudesbeliefscustoms, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid.  (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/organizational-culture.html#ixzz432BtClQ8)

I am sometimes critical of definitions like this because a) they make the construct/concept sound much too complicated for our end users (clients, organizations) and b) it is probably impossible to reliably measure despite the desperate attempt at the very end to assert they must be valid (or at least “considered” valid. Really?)

I was recently sharing my definition of culture in a talk I gave at SPIM (https://goo.gl/jk7LrJ), and it occurred to me that the pure behaviorist definition does seem cold.  I told them (and now you) that I really don’t believe that culture is just a bunch of behaviors any more than three notes are just a “chord” in music. So I got to thinking about this musical metaphor.

I am not anywhere near a musical expert nor prodigy. But I do love music of all kinds, play a couple instruments, and have performed in many groups, from folk groups, rock bands, orchestras, marching bands. and church choirs. Have even tried to write a few ditties along the way.  So I do appreciate the magic of music done well and the challenge of creating that magic.

Most of you are younger than me, but some of the “old” music is still pretty accessible. With the use of the song “America” in the Sanders campaign, you had the chance to get introduced (or re-familiarized) with the duet harmony of Simon and Garfunkel, and that is one kind of magic augmented by a message that strikes home on many levels that can give you goose bumps.

But adding a third note is a different kind of experience.  It’s kind of like the difference between two points creating a line in two dimensions, and then adding that third point that creates a plane. It is that concept that we also use in defining psychological constructs, and (at least from my recollection of factor analysis) part of the reason that, in 360 data collection and reporting, we try to have three items in a dimension and three responses to report a score.

Back to music, the recent death of George Martin has created an excuse to revisit the catalog of The Beatles songs that he produced and even performed on. In fact, just yesterday the New York Times created a list of almost their entire library in which you can listen to snippets or listen to the full song on Spotify with just a click. http://nyti.ms/1M5zq3J

I encourage you to use that easy NYTimes means to refresh (or create) a memory of the magic that they could create with the three part harmonies on songs like “This Boy,” “Nowhere Man,” and “I Feel Fine.”  “Because” from “Abbey Road” is also amazing, but with an asterisk since it might be called “synthetic” harmony in 9 parts, obviously using technology to create the multiple layers of voices.

For those of you who know more about music than I do, I have heard of references to “phantom” (or hidden) notes that are not sung but are heard when harmonies are just right.  I keep using the word “magic” but I can’t think of a better way of describing the sense you get when the sound is so rich, and then even sometimes combined with a moving lyric.  I am not the most spiritual person in the world, but some of my most vivid, chill-producing experiences have been when singing in a church choir when the music, the message, and the performance all come together, maybe for even just a phrase or even one bar. I think most of us have used the metaphor of “singing out of the same hymnal” regardless of our denomination (or lack thereof) and know basically what we are referring to when we use it.

The Beatles (and George Martin, sometimes called the “Fifth Beatle”) were an organization. I think their culture was best demonstrated when they sang in three parts (occasionally Ringo joined), and they did less of that on “Sgt. Pepper’s”, and then it basically went away until their last album, “Abbey Road.” (“Let It Be” was recorded before Abbey Road and had no three-part harmony that I can cite).  I propose that they lost their “culture” in a corresponding timeframe, and got it back to an extent in time to produce their arguably best (and last) album.

So this behaviorist does see/hear/feel the magic that can be created by three or more leaders in an organization that are “singing” the same tune that is derived from a common commitment to the organization’s vision, values and strategy, translated into concrete behavioral requirements that are definable, measurable, and developable. We sometimes refer to that as the whole being more than the sum of the parts; the sentiment is the same but that phrase doesn’t create chills, at least for me.

Can a behaviorist see and hear magic, and get chills? This one can.

 

Bossidy, L. and Charan, R. (2009). Execution: The discipline of getting things done. New York: Crown Business.

Written by David Bracken

March 16, 2016 at 11:08 pm

When “Feedback” Is Not Feedback

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A couple of my colleagues and I are working on a definition of “360 Degree Feedback,” and have been discussing about whether a 360, or feedback in general for that matter, is indeed “feedback” if not used (i.e., creates behavior change).

I found this definition of feedback in a business dictionary:

Feedback is the information sent to an entity (individual or a group) about its prior behavior so that the entity may adjust its current and future behavior to achieve the desired result. 

http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/feedback.html#ixzz3lk0oFWjj

I REALLY like that it focuses on “behavior” that is defined by its relevance (i.e., “desired result,” assuming the desired result is what is important to the organization and not some whim.) But there are certain aspects of this definition that don’t quite fit my idea of what “feedback” is in practice. I believe it is not what is sent but what is received (i.e., what is heard AND interpreted correctly) and that the “may” part is ambiguous, especially if it implies that adjustment is optional.  So I propose this version:

Feedback is the information received by an entity (individual or a group) about its prior behavior so that the entity adjusts (or continues) its current and future behavior to achieve the desired result. 

Returning to the discussion with my colleagues, we have come to an agreement that feedback must be used in order to be called “feedback.”  If it is not used, then it is just information or information that is judged to be irrelevant and not worth using.  At that point it is no longer “feedback” and the sender should be made aware of that (if the sender is human).

Feedback

Sometimes the problem is that the message is not received, as in our cartoon.  Whose fault it that? I had an ex-girlfriend in college who was one of 3 passengers on a long car trip we took. At our destination, she said to me, “You know a lot of words to songs!”  It wasn’t until sometime (too much) later that I realized it was feedback about me singing to the radio.  Maybe that is also part of the “ex” part of our relationship?

But the part that we are debating more vociferously is about the “use part” (the “adjusts or continues” phrase).  This has direct implications for supposed “feedback” processes (such as 360’s in particular that are clearly labeled as “feedback”).  We assert that even if the target receives the information as intended, if he/she does not consciously act (adjust or purposively continue), then the information remains only information and is not “feedback.”

Some of you would assert that “feedback” must only create awareness.  But why send feedback if we feel that that is sufficient?  Why provide feedback if there is no change (or use) expected? Of course, awareness alone is not sufficient, and it must be followed by acceptance.  But still that is insufficient. (If not used, which is information and potential feedback to the sender, the sender may adjust his/her behavior as well, including just giving up.)

Some 360 processes hold that Awareness is sufficient and the leader need not actually use the feedback. We propose that such processes should not be called “360 Feedback” because there is no real feedback, just information. Feedback requires using the information.

Is a chair a “chair” if it is never sat in? I would say no, it is something else. Maybe it is a closet and has ceased being a “chair.”  (And for some of us, a perfectly fine closet.)

NotAChair

Is your process providing “feedback” or is it a closet?  If it’s not producing behavior change, you can call it anything you want  except “feedback.”

WAINT (Why Am I NOT Talking)

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Welch

In a response to my last post, (https://goo.gl/HW1lzl), Jason Read (@JasonReadPHD) correctly notes, “If only they practiced this ratio…”

It’s easy to blame the leader and then the organization (as creators of ability and culture) for not acting as a “coach” by stopping talking and asking, WAIT (Why Am I Talking).  Well, guess what. There are two parties in that exchange and the “other” person (employee, customer, child) should be thinking, WAINT (Why Am I NOT Talking).

There are a number of plausible reasons why the “other” doesn’t ask WAINT more often.

  • Both managers AND the employee (or “other,” whomever it is) have “always done it this way,” i.e., it has become the accepted MO for management. I talk, you listen. Then you do it. See ya.
  • Some people like being told what to do. They don’t expect to be asked, so they either don’t prepare or want to put in the effort.
  • They don’t have the opportunity to talk. Often not enough time is allotted for the real exchange of ideas, which ties back to the first point of the expectation of how the exchange is expected to occur (if “exchange” is even the right word; maybe more of a lecture).
  • Some people have self-doubts, and it becomes a self-limiting obstacle to personal contribution. This also has lots of reasons, including past experiences and past contributions not being acknowledged, tried, and/or rewarded. This can go WAY back in a person’s upbringing, and can be difficult to change, but it often is an assumption the person is making about outcomes.

I feel myself drifting into clinical psychology (where I don’t want to be and am not qualified to be), so this behaviorist will return to the REAL reason for this post, and that is to propose that WAINT is fixable, regardless of the histoy. The first requisite of change is to increase awareness, and so we need to make people (all the “others” in the world) to first realize they are not talking and that, at times, that needs to change.

When we are the “other,” we have a responsibility to contribute.  And we, as change agents (consultants, HR professionals, trainers, leaders who want change) need to create an environment (culture) that encourages the “others” to get involved and to be supported.

It starts with the awareness creation that the status quo is not working, and both managers and “others” need to change. The organization is losing a major resource in the minds and abilities of its employees when they aren’t heard , supported and recognized.

In a prior blog (https://goo.gl/6w57Fd) I proposed taxonomy of manager/other interactions, four types of discussions that are used in different situations.  I propose that it is insufficient for managers to go off to training and learn this approaching to being a better manager and coach. It is equally important to create the awareness of the “others” that these conversations are all important and each type has its time and place. Part of the message is that Activator exchanges need to be happing more often, and this is where 10:1 ratio of listening to talking comes into play.

I also propose that part of this orientation for both managers and the “others” is to create a language that forms expectations about what kind of exchange is about to happen, as in the manager saying, “Lets have a check-in” so that both parties have a vision of what their roles will be. Or the employee might say, “I’m having a problem and we need to have an Activator chat.”  When they enter that talk, they should be thinking that the 10:1 ratio will be used, versus maybe a 1:10 ratio when the Director discussion is happening. And, if the expectation is that the employee will have the opportunity to talk for 90% of the conversation, he/she had better be prepared to do just that.

Yes, the manager has the WAIT question to wrestle with. But the “other” has a WAINT to be aware of as well. It won’t do any good for the manager to create air time if, as they say on the radio, there is only dead air.

Written by David Bracken

February 14, 2016 at 12:33 pm

WAIT (Why Am I Talking)

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listen

I first came across the WAIT acronym in a Facebook discussion my daughter “liked” from a blog about parenting. My daughter (and husband) have two daughters, ages 7 and 5, so commiserating with parents with similar demographics can be useful when there is no instruction guide (other than grandparents, hah). WAIT stands for “Why Am I Talking,” and it was an interesting take on how to interact with young children when (like many/most managers) we want to “be in charge,” “be the expert,” and “have the last word.”  And, in the process of doing all those things, of course we are not listening, let alone trying to understand.

I was reminded of WAIT recently when reading a LinkedIn posting by Ted Bauer that pointed me to this (http://goo.gl/Wks5x5) by Art Petty, who suggests a 10:1 ratio of listening to talking in order to be a more effective manager.  A 10:1 ratio is pretty radical! I have more typically seen an 80/20 ratio in the context of good coaching. But why not aim high!

I’ll tell you why: because it is so antithetical to the mental model most of us have when we think of “coach” or even “parent.”  But let’s stop (i.e., stop talking) for a few minutes and think about all the possible benefits of WAIT.  A few of these relate to Marshall Goldsmith’s list of negative behaviors in his great book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

  • We never learn anything when we are talking (LBJ and others…)
  • It diminishes the felt value of others when they are not heard
  • It also diminishes the real, actual value of others when their knowledge is not used. As a GM retiree is famously reported to have said, “For 30 years they paid me for my body. They could have had my mind for free.”
  • Our initial need to talk often causes us to state an opinion or make a decision we regret based on insufficient information or analysis. In Jerome Groopman’s book “How Doctor’s Think,” he reports that, on average, a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds. His study of malpractice leads him to conclude, “Sometimes the key to success is uncertainty,” that is, don’t decide too quickly.
  • We may be angry or upset. We all know from experience that these are not good times to be talking without “counting to 10.”
  • It feeds our need to be “right”, and in our mind we are right and always will be if others don’t tell us we are wrong. We hate being wrong because we have been brought up to be “right” (e.g., get straight A’s).  See this great TED talk:  https://goo.gl/E6oPKH
  • It feeds our need to have the last word, regardless of how little value it adds.
  • We actually may not know what we are talking about.

Oh, yeah; and then listen.

WAIT!  (your turn)

Written by David Bracken

February 12, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Join a 360 Feedback Benchmark Study

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Please take a moment to consider joining in on this major 360 Benchmark study and pass it along to other organizations you believe might benefit.

Shape the Future of 360 Degree Feedback: Share your Current Practices & Learn From the Field

If your organization uses 360-degree feedback, we would like to invite you to participate in a study designed to provide practitioners with a reliable reference point for making 360-degree feedback design decisions. Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback: A Benchmark Study of North American Companies, 5th Editionis the only national study of its kind and highlights the most important issues confronting 360-degree feedback project managers when designing and implementing a feedback program.  Current Practices provides detailed insights on how to resolve critical design issues and examines program differences based on 360 purpose (360s for development, performance management, etc.)  Participating organizations will receive an advance copy of the results. Complete the 2016 survey here.

For more information about 3D Group, please visit our website and free to contact the Study Coordinator, Jesse Biringer, at 510.463.0333 x216 orjbiringer@3dgroup.net

Survey link: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2411493/3D-Group-360-Degree-Feedback-Benchmark-Study

Written by David Bracken

February 2, 2016 at 11:17 pm

Our Responsibility to Help Organizations Make Good Decisions

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Here are two pieces on performance management that surfaced today that motivated and informed this blog entry:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/big-idea-2016-dont-ditch-performance-management-process-herena

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/stop-whining-performance-ratings-glen-kallas

I was asked by a high school teacher to visit his class and talk to them about my profession, that is, just what does an I/O Psychologist do?  I find that a lot of us in this field struggle with a concise answer to that question, perhaps because we touch so many different parts of the interface between people and organizations.

For the purpose of this 30 minute time with the class of juniors, I landed on the notion of a common denominator for the applying of our trade is that of helping organizations make decisions about people. The obvious starting point is the major role we play in helping organizations decide which people to hire or not, though some of us do get involved in the employment life cycle even before that (e.g., during recruitment and advertising to draw applicants.)

Moving on from employment decisions, we can move through all sorts of stages in the career of an employee where decisions are being made (and they are making decisions as well), and wouldn’t it be nice if those decisions are being made based on criteria that are “valid” (to use our lingo), fair and transparent.  And, I told them, that was a major contribution we as I/O Psychologists bring to the process, using science and experience for the benefit of both the employee and the organization to increase the probabilities that the decision is more likely to lead to successful performance than if it were just a random (e.g., flip of the coin, gut instinct, expeditious) choice.

This little discussion was a few years ago, and it came to mind now as I read some more articles on the ongoing discussion/debate regarding Performance Appraisal/Performance Management.  Depending on what version of a Performance Management Process (PMP) makes up your mental model, a PMP can have direct consequences for an employee. In the current discussion and debate on this topic, people are fretting (and rightly so) about the mechanics of evaluating an employee.  They/we also are worrying about other facets of the PMP process that should include higher quality (and more frequent) interactions between the manager and his/her employees for both performance discussions and development conversations, with aspirations that such interactions happen more often than the once or twice a year that “formal” appraisal systems require.

One proposed solution to creating more frequent interactions between managers and employees is to get rid of the formal sessions, symbolically represented by the evil rating process.  One of the many problems this creates is to remove a source of information that the organization needs to make decisions about people.  It is our responsibility to provide decision makers with methods to provide them (at all levels) with reliable data. If the current PMP system at an organization is not doing that, it is fixable as suggested by Glen Kallas and his blog piece.  Dismantling the system does not help unless somehow that data can be generated by whatever is taking its place.  I don’t see that happening, at least in what I am reading.  If there are data being created in the alternate processes that involve more frequent interactions between managers and employees, then we have the same responsibility to ensure that information is as good or better than what it is replacing.

The Herena blog speaks to the many benefits of maintaining or even enhancing your PMP. Then she (and her CEO) go on to call for supplementing PMP by making their managers into better “coaches,” which is fantastic! Especially when supported from the top.  She doesn’t speak to the benefits of PMPs in terms of the data they produce, though the alignment benefit is extremely important and potentially lost when the system goes away.

IF you agree that the organization needs reliable data to make decisions about people throughout their employment cycle, then no profession is better equipped to do that.  Arguing that the solution is to remove the data generator instead of fixing it seems irresponsible.

I was watching a documentary about George Harrison’s life, and they interviewed his second (and last) wife, Olivia.  They were married for 23 years until his death, and it was clear that their marriage, like many, had a lot of bumps (or whatever euphemism you want to use).  Her observation was that the secret to a long marriage is not getting divorced, which I took to mean not giving up when things are difficult.  Well, there are many reasons we should not be giving up (as Glen and Monique point out), and I hope I am adding one more reason to the mix.

We have a responsibility to help organizations make good decisions about people.  And there are decisions being made constantly, ranging from promotions to pay to job assignments, and even what developmental experience you get or don’t get.  What I suggested to those students is that there should be some comfort in knowing that there are people like us that are trying to create a level playing field and good information so that the decisions that affect them (of which many are life and/or job changing) are based on reliable information.  We need to consider that responsibility when we make or influence other types of decisions, including those decisions that reduce the quality of that data.  In other words, help organizations to not “divorce” their PMPs just because they might be doing what we want them to do.

Written by David Bracken

January 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm

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