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The Key to Feedback with Dignity

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Kris Duggan has another fine article in Fast Company titled, “Six Companies That Are Redefining Performance Management” (http://goo.gl/xXuGdn), with the six being GE, Cargill, Eli Lilly, Accenture, Adobe and Google.  The common denominator is their deemphasis (or even total abandonment) of the formal appraisal process and more focus on feedback and development, presumably via the manager/supervisor, on a more frequent basis. Each organization has its own approach to accomplishing that and the jury is out, though a couple of them are farther along and some preliminary results are coming in.

Kris characterizes the common denominator of these six approaches using these words:

They’re all switching their focus from dictating what employees should do at work to helping develop their skills as individuals.

Wow!  There are a couple of words in that sentence that are really thought-provoking and, in my opinion, taking this discussion in the wrong direction. The first (not in order) is “dictating.”  Since when did organizations abdicate the right (let alone need) to “dictate” to their employees what to do? Using less pejorative words than “dictate,” we call it directing, guiding, managing, leading, and/or aligning.  Reading the word “dictate” makes this person feel like I have been taken back to the days of the union boss ranting against the evils of the management empire who have “taken away our rights and humanity,” or something to that effect.

In a couple of my earlier blogs, including my last one (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/checking-in-is-not-enough/), also inspired by a Duggan article, I used the ALAMO model where the first “A” stands for Alignment, the most powerful variable in the performance equation because it can be both positive and negative. People need and expect alignment. Values are a form of alignment, guiding behavior. Goals help create alignment.

In that same blog, I propose that there is a time and place for Directing, and a time for Guiding. Both are forms of Alignment but using different styles for different situations. Just within the last 24 hours I heard a former professional football player saying that the biggest difference between college and pro football is that in college you are told what to do; in the pros, you are told why you need to do it.

On February 26 I will be giving a talk at the annual conference of the Society of Psychologists in Management (SPIM) in Atlanta titled, “Create a Feedback Culture, Create Change, Maintain Dignity.”  (See http://www.spim.org/conference2016.shtml for more information on the conference.)  The “dignity” aspect of the talk is very relevant to this topic of alignment. From one angle, we show dignity to our employees by showing them the respect they expect by providing them with a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities, and how successful performance is defined. And, again, this is in terms of both tangible and intangible (behavioral) accomplishments.

I don’t agree that we protect an employee’s dignity by shielding them from negative feedback, as some would propose. But I will talk about that more at SPIM.

Very importantly, we can and should protect the dignity of the employee by placing accountability on feedback providers and designers of feedback systems to require that feedback is job related, i.e., aligned with factors that are important to the organization, not just whimsical thoughts of individuals (at any level) who might be given free rein to inflict “feedback.”  What comes to mind is the Amazon stories reported in the NY Times about open feedback systems where employees are able to give anonymous comments that were, in some cases, very damaging and not job related, reportedly causing some employees to leave the company.

The second word that Kris uses in the quote that I question is “switching.” The implication is that we can’t have it both ways, i.e., that we have to give up alignment in order to have feedback and development. Maybe the most important message in the ALAMO model is that feedback and development without alignment may be worthless or even counterproductive (i.e., drawing resources away from the organization with no return).

Some may call it dictating when we set expectation as to what the organization needs from you in order to be a successful member. I would rather call it alignment.  But, whatever you call it, your feedback and development processes need to have it.  Feedback without alignment may not only be irrelevant but it may also take away our dignity.

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ALAMO: A New Performance Model (Webinar)

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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:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7521446050659425281
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!

Dave

Where is Theory O?

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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:

Chains

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.

Galley

(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?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/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

What is a coach? (Redux)

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In an earlier post (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/what-is-a-manager-what-is-a-coach/) I asked the question, “what is a coach?” in the context of the role of manager as coach. A few publications crossed my virtual desk recently that continue to make me think that this question is being addressed from very different angles, neither acknowledging the other.  Let me see if I can bring some focus to this dilemma stemming from the different mental models we have of what “coach” really means.

I think it’s a safe guess that the first vision most of us have when the word “coach” appears is that of the sports coach. From Wikipedia we find this partial definition:

“In sports, a coach is an individual that teaches and supervises, which involves giving directions, instruction and training of the on-field operations of an athletic team or of individual athletes.”  For the purposes of this discussion, I will call this the “Instructor” coach.

Contrast to this definition of coaching/coach (that I have cobbled together from various sources):

Coaching‘ is working together to identify a person’s skills and capabilities and helping that person use their skills and capabilities to the best of their ability.  A “Coach” is the individual who provides coaching.”   I will call this the “Guide” coach.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive views of what a manager-coach should be. There are situations when each is appropriate.  My sense, though, is that the “Instructor” version is the default definition, i.e., the traditional version of coach and one that most managers find easiest and encouraged by organization. It is the “Guide” version of coaching that is more difficult to master but (I and others would argue) is more effective. More on that later.

So back to the publications I mentioned. The first is an article recently published in Personnel Psychology, “Development and Validation of The Performance Management Behavior Questionnaire” (Kinicki, Jacobson, Peterson and Prussia, 2013).  To cut to the quick, the PMBQ instrument has multiple items/scales that describe manager behaviors associated with performance management, and one of the scales is called “Coaching.”  Its items are these:

15. Shows others how to complete difficult assignments and tasks

16. Provides the resources needed to get the job done

17. Helps identify solutions to overcome performance roadblocks

18. Helps people to develop their skills

19. Provides direction when it is needed

So which type of coach does that sound like to you, Instructor or Guide?  (That’s not a trick question.) As a hint, there is nothing in there that I see that suggests a dialogue with the coachee (employee).

Two points about this research. First, the Subject Matter Experts were largely existing managers who have probably been formed by history, reinforcement and some level of success to define coaching this way.  Second, I was really disappointed to see that they use a frequency scale which I have noted before is seriously flawed both statistically and conceptually.

Compare those items with these sampled from the Perceived Quality of the Employee Coaching Relationship (PQECR) (Gregory and Levy, 2010) that I have integrated into The ManagerCoach© feedback instrument:

My supervisor and I have mutual respect for one another.
My supervisor is easy to talk to.
My supervisor spends more time listening than talking when he/she is coaching me.
I am content to talk about my concerns or troubles with my supervisor.
I feel safe being open and honest with my supervisor.
My supervisor helps me to identify and build upon my strengths.
My supervisor engages in activities that help me unlock my potential.

 

Hopefully those sound more like the “Guide” coach where the relationship comes to the forefront.

It seems like every time I read something about effective managers, the topic of empowering and involving subordinates surfaces.  Such is the case with the most recent issue of People & Strategy Journal (from HRPS) that focuses on the topic of performance management (and also includes an article by Allan Church and myself, but that’s another blog topic to come).  In one piece alone, we find these statements from Gyan Nagpal:

  • …many 21st century employees are rejecting conversations that are one-way…
  • Greater employee autonomy and empowerment also changes the meaning of management.
  • We have gone from a “supervisor of task and outcomes” to an “enabler of performance, innovative thinking and collective success.”

With a related theme, there is the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review with an article titled, “Connect, Then Lead” (Cuddy, Kohut, & Neffinger, 2013) with this observation:

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.

But, instead of quoting others, let me make my own case for differentiating the Instructor and Guide versions of coaching using the ALAMO model that I have introduced before (most recently, https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/aligning-to-alignment/) where I propose that:

Performance = Alignment x (Ability x Motivation x Opportunity)

The ALAMO view on two types of “coaching” might sound like this as we listen in on the conversation with employees:

Type of Coach

Alignment

Ability

Motivation

Opportunity

Instructor “I know what is best. Go do it.” “Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me.” “Success or failure will affect your PA rating.” “Here’s your time frame and budget.”
Guide “What do you think is the best way to achieve this goal?” “Yes, that approach is a good match for your skills.” “It seems like you are most excited by this approach.” “Are there any barriers that might hinder your progress?”

(Let me note here that there are times when the manager needs to be the “Instructor”, and one of those is in the area of organizational values. Organizational values exist to define and guide appropriate behavior, which is a process of Alignment.  But with Values, the question is not one of Ability but more a matter of choice, i.e., the choice by the employee as to whether (or not) he/she is going to behave that way.  This is where 360’s can be a valuable tool by providing the manager (and organization) reliable data on how these behaviors are observed by others (coworkers and, if applicable, customers).)

It is disappointing when I see organizations define coaching using Instructor language. I believe that most of us see that we have moved toward a more humanistic, involving and empowering model of supervision, reinforced by work configurations (e.g., global, remote, matrix) that demand nontraditional leadership styles.  As importantly, the Guide model of coaching is more sustainable AND more developmental.

©2013 David W. Bracken

Aligning To Alignment

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I have been citing the “Corner Office” (NY Times) a few times lately, but I can’t help but do it again. Recently the guest was Salesforce COO George Hu (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/business/salesforcecom-executive-on-seeking-out-challenges.html?src=recg).  When asked about leadership lessons, he turns to the importance of communication and alignment.  He says, “We use this process called V2MOM, which stands for vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures.”

In this model, the vision and values part is the alignment component, basically what we are going to do and how we are going to do it (i.e., (my words) how we are going to treat each other and our customers).  I know that “alignment” is one of those terms that has been overworked but, in this case, maybe for a reason: it is important.

In some past blogs I have shared my ALAMO model of performance:

Performance = Alignment x (Ability x Motivation x Opportunity)

While all four variables in the model can drive a fatal blow by going to zero, Alignment is the only one that can also be a negative value because it can actually draw resources away from the organization if the individual/team/organization is working on the wrong thing. “Working on the wrong thing” can be accidental (by misdiagnosis or misdirection), or even purposeful (such as sabotage, where a very motivated person can destroy value).

Misalignment can happen to both the vision and the values part of his model, but I would like to focus on the Values part as it relates to the role that 360 Feedback can play in focusing the alignment of behaviors throughout the organization.

Many organizations have Values statements, often met with some well-deserved cynicism as a plaque on the wall.  Stating a value (e.g., Respect for the Individual”) must go much farther than just defining it. It must also must be defined in behavioral terms, that is, what an employee is doing (or not doing) when they are exhibiting that value.

Some of the most spirited meetings I have been in or led have been about what a Value means in behavioral terms.  Many, many organizations have some version of Respect for the Individual in its Values list. But what does “respect” mean for your organization?  Treating everyone the same regardless of level? Saying “thank you”? Acknowledging the viewpoints of others? Creating work-life balance (i.e, acknowledging personal lives)?  Creating diversity in practice?  You have to pick; the answer isn’t “all of the above.” A Value isn’t effective if it is vaguely defined or too encompassing.

One benefit of creating behavioral definitions of a value is making it very tangible if described specifically. I am reminded of the story of the homeowner who decided he need to fix his front sidewalk, spending all day on Saturday breaking up the old one, and replacing it with a nicely laid cement walkway.  As the sun was setting, he looked out his window admiring his handy work only to see a dog run up and down the walk, leaving his footprints for posterity. The man got his gun (sorry) and shot the dog.  When brought before the court, the judge looked down and asked, “Young man, just what were you thinking?” The man replied, “Your Honor, I really like dogs in the abstract, but not in the concrete.”  Ba bump.

Values are very easy to like in the abstract, but much less so in the “concrete,” as in your actions. Just ask religious leaders about that.

Another value that might seem obvious to you but not others is Integrity.  One version of Integrity is the core notion of telling the truth, not lying, not cheating, etc.  But more and more we see organizations who see telling the truth as a given, and choose to use Integrity as communicating the more subtle message of “walking the talk, “ as in doing what you say you will do, following through on commitments, and following the same rules/expectations that you set for others.

An organization-wide 360 feedback process built around an organization’s Values has many powerful benefits, including:

  • Reinforces the importance of the Values as part of the “how” side of performance
  • Requires the identification of the behaviors that uniquely define the Values for the organization
  • Are disseminated to all employees, usually requiring serious consideration as the raters perform their duties as feedback providers
  • Creates accountability for follow through assuming development plans are integrated into performance management processes
  • Creates a method for trending individual and organizational progress toward “living the Values.”
  • Can be used to identify leaders who do not comply with the Values

We would like to think that Values statements are enduring and wouldn’t require change very often. But if the organization finds that it needs to change its emphasis to support strategy (e.g., more customer focus, quality, innovation, accountability), the message can be quickly operationalized by inserting the behaviors (labeled as a dimension to further create alignment) in the 360 that is used by all segments of the enterprise.  This need to shift quickly is now called “Agility” in the vernacular, and organizations as well as individuals are being required to demonstrate it more than ever.

Alignment and Agility are intertwined, and communicate simultaneously focus and flexibility on both the Vision (“What”) and Values (“How”) that are uniquely defined by the organization.  I would argue that Alignment is one activity that cannot be overdone or overused, which is one message I take away from George Hu’s lessons of leadership.

Finally, one other message to take away from Mr. Hu’s V2MOM: Measurement.  Measurement reinforces Alignment, and you get what you measure. Measurement also creates accountability.  And a 360 Assessment, well-designed and delivered, does both. We largely know how to measure the “what;” show me a better way to measure the “how.”

©2013 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

April 22, 2013 at 9:55 am