Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

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What’s “Your Way?”

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I had unexpected knee surgery recently and received a “Get Well” gift from my friends and colleagues, Laurie and John Slifka, in the form of the book, The Cubs Way (by Tom Verducci), which was especially meaningful coming from die hard St. Louis Cardinal fans.  The book traces the genesis of their 2016 Championship season, using the World Series as the backdrop.

If you are a baseball fan, you know who Theo Epstein is.  He became the youngest General Manager in baseball when he took that position with the Boston Red Sox (28 years old), and took them to their first championship in 86 years, a drought exceeded only by the Cubs.  After winning another championship, he came to Chicago to try to bring the same magic to the North Side’s “Lovable Losers,” the Cubs.

Epstein brought with him some staff from Boston and kept some staff from the Cubs, and gracefully integrated them into a team by creating a spirit of collaboration and a focus on winning.  Listening to their input, he created a 259 page manual called “The Cubs Way.” It covered every aspect of behavior on and off the field, from the top of the hierarchy to the bat boys.

I am writing this blog piece and this particular topic because of several themes I have been pursuing in my writing and presentations regarding topics such as how to create a culture and the role that trust plays in that process, and then how trust must be established at the level of the supervisor-subordinate relationship where feedback is difficult and sparse.

Trust, Respect and Culture

I believe that trust and respect are created between people when honest feedback is given, both the favorable and unfavorable.  This is in direct contrast to the “strengths only” movement that has gained much too much popularity.  I believe if you respect a person, you are honest with them.

So I had to put down the book and take up the keyboard as I was reading this book as Verducci relates parts of Epstein’s philosophy that became a key part of “The Cubs Way”:

“For years baseball teams rarely shared evaluations about players with the players themselves… It occurred to Epstein that the first time a team truly tells a player he’s not good enough is when it’s too late – when it releases him. It sounded absurd to him that a team wouldn’t tell a player about his strengths and weaknesses… It (a player development plan) does really create a great connection with the player and helps him develop himself… Epstein wanted a culture in which the players could trust the front office. And the way to help build that trust was to develop an open and honest personal connection.” (pp. 104-105).

For fun, they dug out an old scouting report on one of the coaches, and the report said that he was slow at turning double plays.  The coach was angry; “Why didn’t anyone tell me I needed to work on my turns?… I would have gotten to the big leagues so much quicker!”

Unfavorable Feedback is Better than None

I just completed chairing a dissertation that confirmed what most research says, i.e., that the most engaged employees are those that get both favorable and unfavorable feedback, and the least engaged are those who get neither.  Employees who get mostly unfavorable feedback are more engaged than those who get neither, and about the same as people who get mostly favorable feedback.

This philosophy is a core part of the culture the Cubs have built, “The Cubs Way.”  Your organization should have a “Way” as well.  When a Cubs employee does something exceptional, they yell out, “That Cub!!!”  And the example is set by the leaders; their behavior sets the culture.

What is “Your Way?”

Written by David Bracken

November 5, 2018 at 9:20 pm

Manager-Employee Feedback and Development: Why is it SO Hard?

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The current climate surrounding performance appraisals leans toward the abandonment of the administrative exercise we all have come to despise and, instead, replace it with a feedback culture of continuous exchanges between manager and direct report. The solution is not new, so why has it not been implemented in more organizations?

Access the article here:  Manager-Employee Feedback.

 

 

Manager, Coach, Leader, SuperBoss?? Stop!

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We are confusing ourselves and those employees who hold authority positions in our organizations with a plethora of role labels, each of which is valid and viable, but poorly defined and almost impossible to fulfill at the same time. I give you the examples of Manager, Coach, Leader, and (most recently) SuperBoss.

GrtLdr

I have recently discovered Tanmay Vora (qaspire.com)and his wonderful pictorial depictions, often of literature he has read and wishes to summarize. Here is one that captures “Leadership” that he himself created in all its complexity.

No wonder our “leaders” are overwhelmed! This is a great list but really are nine different roles with lots of room for discussion, debate and overlap. In the process of having that discussion, we should carve out sub roles and point out that no one can be good at all these things and certainly not do them all at the same time. Even “SuperBosses” are not good at everything, despite the “super” part.

Let’s begin with “SuperBoss”  because it also contains the label “boss,” another label that we can apply to people in positions of authority (formal and informal).  I had the privilege to hear Dr. Sydney Finkelstein speak recently on the topic of “SuperBosses,” coinciding with the recent publication of his book of the same name. Examples of people he uses to describe the profile of Superboss (along with a 360 Feedback behavioral inventory) is quite diverse:  Jazz legend Miles Davis, restaurateur Alice Waters, fashion iconoclast Ralph Lauren, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, producer George Lucas, SNL creator Lorne Michaels, NFL coach Bill Walsh, and hedge fund manager Julian Robertson.  Dr. Finkelstein asserts that a “SuperBoss” can be created (i.e., developed), though I am not sure how many a given business could tolerate.

I had the temerity to inquire during the Q&A as to why he chose to build on the label of “boss” when it has many negative connotations, including associations with the Mafia (think of The Godfather). Was Vito Corleone a good Superboss? Or Michael, for that matter? Dr. Finkelstein shared that his first working title was indeed “Godfathers” but was dissuaded from that course due to multiple problems, not the least of which was gender-related.

Speaking of boss, this graphic has recently resurfaced on LinkedIn and is incredibly BossLdrrevealing. We obviously were not in the head of whomever created it, but it has some useful messages to reflect upon.  On one hand, the Boss is in a position can’t help but generate negative feelings. But note that a) the team is trying to get over a ditch, and b) the Boss is pointing (not whipping), probably talking or shouting, and c) the platform says “MISSION” to infer that everyone knows what is trying to be accomplished (and evidently of some magnitude).

Despite the negative emotions you may have towards this “Boss,” I propose that the Boss is probably of more use than the Leader below, and should be called “Manager.”  In the movie “Gettysburg,” neither Lee nor Grant are out there leading the charge. Each sets the “mission” and assigns others to carry it out, with many “others” required to do so, literally sitting at the rear of the attack.

The time for being the Leader is also important, and sometimes does require both setting the lead by getting on the ground at the front of the line (think “Steward”) , and getting one’s “hands dirty” in the process. What isn’t shown here is the role of the Leader in interfacing with the rest of the organization on behalf of the group, both vertically (upward) and horizontally (both internal and, if applicable, externally).

No wonder our “leaders” (maybe “boss” is better?) are confused and overwhelmed!

And then there’s the Coach. Being a “coach” while leading a team is a totally different set Coach.pngof skills and behaviors from those of Manager and Leader, let alone SuperBoss.  Here’s another great Tanmay Vora graphic from reading the work of Lisa Haneberg.

There is a time and place for a Boss to be a Coach as well, and, as shown here, not an easy set of skills and behaviors to acquire and hone.  These capabilities should be set aside from those of being Manager, Leader and SuperBoss so that they can be communicated, developed, measured and tracked (i.e.,  create accountability) in a clear message.

One thing all four roles (Manager, Coach, Leader, Superboss) have in common is that they each should “inspire action,” (though that “role” surprisingly is not included in the “Roles for Great Leadership” above). Each role does it in a different manner and, in general, with different emphasis on the individual versus the group.

The Forum Corporation published this study on LinkedIn (4/28/16) regarding LdrCompscompetencies for first-level leaders. I would contend that this list further reinforces the need for differentiation of roles and their associated competencies in support of development and assessment:

Finally, I was pointed to this video (https://goo.gl/XfFQnR) of Joel Trammel who makes the distinction between Manager and Leader (and, for CEO’s, Commander).  He goes on to say that he would prefer an organization full of Managers over having a bunch of Leaders.  Clearly his mental model of “leader” is very specific and has little overlap with that of Manager.

In addition to inspiring action, there are clearly two other common denominators that create the foundation for any kind of positive relationship between Boss and his/her direct reports: Trusted and Trusts.  Being Trusted springs from having integrity, being honest and being consistent. Being Trusting (or Trusts) happens as the boss shows respect and dignity, including empowering the direct reports to demonstrate their own talents. MCL

In a nutshell, we might envision the Manager role as being depicted like this. Here I use the label “manager” deliberately to differentiate it from “leader,” though it does show the overlap with the “coach” aspect of the position. Most importantly, each of the 4 activities and the Trust/Trusted foundation must be described in behavioral terms in order to help all stakeholders understand what they require and how to develop them. “Culture” and “Goals” represent the organizational (contextual) environment that creates alignment for those behaviors.

Here are some basic role definitions:

Role

Description

Manager Ensures that day-to-day work requirements are achieved in alignment with organizational goals and values.
Coach Partners with an employee to define and implement effective solutions for problems and/or ongoing work processes.
Developer Partners with an employee to identify needs for short term and long term (career) development, and implements plans accordingly.
Leader Coordinates across team members, represents the team vertically (upward) and horizontally (work groups, customer) to ensure alignment and motivation.

Both the supporters and attackers of our Performance Management systems know that supervisors universally need to be better at providing feedback and developing their direct reports, all while accomplishing organizationally-driven performance requirements. This is a complex set of skills and behaviors that are best taught and developed on the job. That is done most effectively when sub roles are clearly defined, both for the benefit of the supervisors and the DR’s.  We need to choose our labels carefully and ensure consensus when we describe a “boss.”

©2016 David W. Bracken

 

 

 

 

 

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

Feedback is NOT a “Gift.” It’s an Investment.

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I am designing 360 Feedback workshops and got to reflecting on how we have historically positioned the value of feedback from the perspectives of both the giver and the receiver.  One phrase that has become a cliché is that “feedback is a gift.” Clearly this message is primarily used to manage the reactions of feedback recipients, especially when the message is negative.  And, as in the gift giving tradition, the leader is supposed to thank the givers for their thoughtfulness and then do whatever he/she wants with the “gift,” including nothing. While some leaders might take actions, the connotation of “gift” is that the recipient has no obligation to do so.

Of course, there are multiple things wrong with this scenario, including:

  • The leader is left to his/her own design
  • The quality of the “gift” is assumed to be constructive and valuable, even when it isn’t
  • The raters are excused from their role as partnering with the leader in his/her development

When coworkers provide feedback in a 360 Feedback process, they should be encouraged to view the exercise as one where they have a vested interest in the leader’s development and improved effectiveness.  This message includes the viewpoint that the feedback needs to be honest and constructive, and their responsibility (accountability) for the development of the leader doesn’t end when they submit their feedback.

We can create that vested interest through the language we use in training raters, even if it is primarily through instructions and emails. One concept is to describe the feedback as an “investment” in the leader, i.e., the raters will also benefit if the leader becomes more effective.

What are some of the ways the raters can maximize the value of their investment?  They can:

  • Ensure they participate in the 360 Feedback process
  • Provide honest, constructive feedback, including constructive write in comments
  • Encourage the leader to discuss his/her results with them
  • Act to ensure that the leader clearly understands the messages
  • Help the leader in crafting an impactful, actionable development plan
  • Give the leader ongoing informal feedback if/when the leader exhibits progress

Let’s put the “gift” language to rest. Let’s encourage coworkers to see 360 Feedback as a sound investment in their future, but an investment that needs to be nurtured and supplemented.

©2015 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

April 6, 2015 at 11:04 am

What are “Strategic 360’s”?

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A colleague recently asked me, “Exactly what is ‘Strategic 360 Feedback’?”  Heck, it’s only the name of this blog and in the name the consortium I have helped form, The Strategic 360 Forum (that is meeting for its 5th time in April).  The concepts are also laid out pretty well in the article Dale Rose and I published in 2011 in the Journal of Business in Psychology (“When Does 360-degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How Would We Know It When It Does?”).

In as succinct way as I can muster, here are the four core requirements for “strategic” 360 feedback systems:

  1. The content must be derived from the organization’s strategy and values, which are unique to that organization. Often derived from the organization’s values, they can be explicit (the ones that hang on the wall) or implicit (which some people call “culture”). To me, “strategic” and “off-the-shelf” is an oxymoron and the two words cannot be used in the same sentence (though I just did).
  2. Participation must be inclusive, i.e., a census of the leaders/managers in the organizational unit (e.g., total company, division, location, function, level). I say “leaders/managers” because a true 360 requires that subordinates are a rater group. One reason for this requirement is that I (and many others) believe 360’s, under the right circumstances, can be used to make personnel decisions and that usually requires comparing individuals, which, in turn, requires that everyone have available the same data. This requirement also enables us to use Strategic 360’s to create organizational change, as in “large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little.”
  3. The process must be designed and implemented in such a way that the results are sufficiently reliable (we have already established content validity in requirement #1) that we can use them to make decisions about the leaders (as in #4). This is not an easy goal to achieve, even though benchmark studies continue to indicate that 360’s are the most commonly used form of assessment in both public and private sectors.
  4. The results of Strategic 360’s are integrated with important talent management and development processes, such as leadership development and training, performance management, staffing (internal movement), succession planning, and high potential processes. Research indicates that properly implemented 360 results can not only more reliable (in a statistical meaning) than single-source ratings, but are also more fair to minorities, women, and older workers. Integration into HR systems also brings with it accountability, whether driven by the process or internally (self) driven because the leader knows that the results matter.

Let me hasten to say that a) all 360’s, strategic or not, should have a development focus, and b) none of this minimizes the value of 360 processes that are used in support of the development of leaders, one at a time. There is no question that innumerable leaders have benefitted from the awareness created by feedback, though often also supported by a coach who not only helps manage the use of the feedback, but also should be creating accountability for the constructive use of the feedback.

Strategic 360 processes and “development only” processes can successfully coexist in a single organization. But they have different purposes, and purpose should be the primary driver of all design and implementation decisions.

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