Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Archive for the ‘behavior change’ Category

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.”

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

This Picture is Worth…?

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Logo

This is the logo I have designed for my business, and it is a something of an ambiguous figure (but not too ambiguous hopefully). Please take a few seconds and think about what you see in the context of our work.

Hopefully the main message is something around conflicting forces. In the business of change, whether it be individual, team or organizational, as we attempt to create sustainable change we are always faced with opposing forces. So there are many opportunities to identify which forces are working in our favor and which are working against us, and so on.

The secondary design message I hoped to create is around the multiple triangles, or “Deltas,” that the arrows create. (How many do you see?) And we use Delta as a not only a symbol of change but also as a measurement of the amount of change. A major part of my business is not only to create sustainable change but to be able to reliably measure it, which will allow for comparisons of improvements as well as comparisons between individuals and organizations.

Or maybe you see a duck.

But what I want people to remember most are the Deltas and the message that change needs to be measurable and measured. Measures need numbers. Sometimes numbers are ratings. Ratings can be both reliable and valid. We can use ratings to compare scores if the scores are reliable.  Yes, it can be done.

So what do you think the picture is worth?

 

 

No Fighting in The War Room!

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My apologies (or sympathies) to those of you who have not seen the black satire, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” which contains the line, “No fighting in the War Room!”  I was reminded of this purposively humorous contradiction in reading an otherwise very insightful summary of the state of feedback tools by Josh Bersin that I hope you can access via LinkedIn here:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/employee-feedback-killer-app-new-market-emerges-josh-bersin.

Mr. Bersin seems quite supportive of the “ditch the ratings” bandwagon that is rolling through the popular business literature, and his article is a relatively comprehensive survey of the emerging technologies that are supporting various versions of the largely qualitative feedback market.  But right in the middle he made my head spin in Kubrick-like fashion when he starts talking about the need for ways to “let employees rate their managers,” as if this a) is something new, and b) can be done without using ratings.  Instead of “No fighting in the War Room!”, there is “No rating in the evaluation system!”   I’m curious: Is an evaluation not a “rating” because it doesn’t have a number? Won’t someone attach a number to the evaluation? Either explicitly or implicitly? And wouldn’t it be better if there were some agreement as to what number is attached to that evaluation?

What I think is most useful in Bersin’s article is his categorization and differentiation of the types of feedback processes and tools that seem to be evolving in our field, using his labels:

  • Next Generation Pulse Survey and Management Feedback Tools
  • “Open Suggestion Box” and Anonymous Social Network Tools
  • Culture Assessment and Management Tools
  • Social Recognition Tools

I want to focus on Culture Assessment and Management Tools, in the context of this discussion of ratings and performance management, and, in doing so, referencing some points I have made in the past. If you look at Mr. Bersin’s “Simply Irresistible Organization” (in the article), it contains quite a few classic HR terms like “trust,”, “coaching”, transparency,” “support,” “humanistic,” “inspiration,” “empowered,” and so on, that he probably defines somewhere but nonetheless cry out for behavioral descriptors to tell us what we will see happening when they are being done well, if at all. Ultimately it is those behaviors and the support for those behaviors that defines the culture. Furthermore, we can observe and measure those behaviors, and then hold employees accountable for acting in ways consistent with the organization’s needs.

To quote from Booz & Co in 2013:

On the informal side, there must be tangible behaviors that demonstrate what the culture looks like, and they must be granular enough that all levels of the organization can exhibit the behaviors.”

“On the formal side — and where HR can help out — the performance management and rewards systems must reward people for displaying the right behaviors that exemplify the culture. Too often, changes to the culture are not reflected in the formal elements, such as the performance-management process. This results in a relapse to the old ways of working, and a culture that never truly evolves.

Of course, all that requires measurement, which requires ratings. Which, in turn, begs for 360 Feedback, if we agree that supervisory ratings by themselves are inadequate. My experience is that management demand ratings. My prediction is that unchecked qualitative feedback will also run its course and be rejected as serving little purpose in supporting either evaluation or development.

There may be a place for the kind of feedback that social networks provide that is open and basically uncontrolled in providing spontaneous recognition. But I totally disagree with Mr. Bersin who states that any feedback is better than no feedback.  I have and still do counsel against survey comment sections that are totally open and beg for “please whine here” types of comments that are often not constructive and not actionable.

Mr. Bersin brings up the concept of feedback as a “gift” that I recently addressed as going against the notion that feedback providers need to have accountability for their feedback and see it as an investment, not a gift, especially a thoughtless gift (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/feedback-is-not-a-gift-its-an-investment/).

There is a very basic, important difference in how the field of feedback is trending, i.e., more quantity, less quality, too many white elephants. We need more 401Ks.

©2015 David W. Bracken