Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Archive for the ‘feedback’ Category

The REAL Foundation to a Human Workforce

leave a comment »

I received an email invitation in my In Box recently for a webinar titled, “Recognition as the Foundation for a More Human Workforce.”  I deleted it but then went back to read it in more detail.

One of the reasons I deleted it is that it struck as sending the wrong message.  In fact, it does say “THE” foundation, not just “A” foundation.  All my experience, intuition, and even personal research tells me that this proposition is just plain wrong.

As relating to a “human” workforce, I recalled the piece by Emma Seppal in HBR (“Managers create more wellness than wellness plans do”) that speaks to the power of organizations and leaders characterized by trust, forgiveness, understanding, empathy, generosity, and respect. Is recognition lurking in there? Perhaps, but there is a big difference between recognition that is a daily spontaneous habit and what is viewed as a program.

When I was working with Dana Costar to design an upward feedback instrument for managers, we did a lot of background reading on possible drivers of perceptions of manager effectiveness.  It seemed to us that recognition was fairly far down the list, but recognition did keep popping up. So we somewhat grudgingly did include it as a dimension in our instrument to see how it stacked up when the data came in.

Our results (Costar & Bracken, 2014) on an international sample of 82 leaders showed that Trust is the leading driver of ratings of manager effectiveness, while Recognition fell far down the list. (As an aside, Trust was behind Facilitating Development in ratings of effectiveness as a Coach, but still far ahead of Recognition.)

Lolly Daskal’s blog in Inc. has a list of leadership “beliefs” (characteristics/behaviors) where says “Honoring Trust” is the “first job of a leader.”  But her list includes many other trust builders as well:

  • Leading by Example
  • Accepting Accountability
  • Leading with Integrity
  • Encompassing Humility
  • Manifesting Loyalty
  • Showing Respect
  • Leading with Character

(I see that recognition, “Exhibiting Appreciation” does make the list but is, in my opinion, overwhelmed by these other factors and a cousin to recognition.)

Gallup’s list of critical manager capabilities includes these:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

We don’t see recognition on this list either, but we do see trust.

Vendors are pushing recognition apps. I believe they fall in the category of activities that are relatively harmless but of little value. If there is harm (besides wasted expense) it is that they, by nature, are targeted only at positive feedback. Then there is a lost opportunity to create awareness of other important behavioral/skill deficits.

I have proposed that “Trust” comes in two forms: Trusts and Trusted. Turned into behaviors that can be defined, developed and measured, they look like this:


Trust is one of those constructs that may be elusive to pin down definitionally, but we all know it and, more importantly, feel it when we experience it. Unfortunately (tongue deeply embedded in cheek) there will never be a “trust” app.  But trust can be “deleted” just as fast as an app with no opportunity to reinstall.

Trust is the real foundation of a human workforce.  Define it, develop it and measure it.  Then your organization has a chance of really being “human.”


Costar, D.M., & Bracken, D.W. (2014). The impact of trust and coaching relationship on manager effectiveness ratings.  In D.W. Bracken (Chair) Manager As Coach: Defining, Developing and Measuring Effectiveness. Symposium at the 29th Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Honolulu, HI, May, 2014.

©David W. Bracken 2016


When “Feedback” Is Not Feedback

with 2 comments


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.

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).


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.)


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.”