Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

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Crowd-sourced: Drive-thru Feedback?

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danger-fast-food

(co-authored with Dale Rose)

There were a couple of interesting webinars in the last 2 weeks on the topic of performance management trends.  One was hosted by AON (Levi Segal and Seymour Adler) and the other by Talent Quarterly (Dave Ulrich, hosted by Marc Effron).

I (Dave) am particularly interested in this topic at this moment because I will be hosting my own discussion/debate on this topic at SHRM Florida on August 31 in Orlando. There I will be joined by Keith Lykins (Lykins International) and Joann Gamicchia (Orange County Clerk of Courts) to share our perspectives and engage the audience in an exchange.

As a result, I recently became aware of work by Gerry Ledford regarding trends in the field of performance management (http://goo.gl/lpv8OZ).  He writes about “cutting-edge performance management,” which is characterized by three things: Ongoing feedback, ratingless reviews, and crowd-sourced feedback.

While there has been a lot of banter recently about how to create ongoing discussions between managers and their direct reports, what really caught my attention was this statement about crowd-sourced feedback (CSF):

There is very little written about and almost no research on this growing area, but we think it may replace traditional 360 feedback over time. It uses a technology (social media) that most employees know, it is delivered in real time rather than annually, and the feedback is free form and therefore less artificial than a 360 rating form.

It is interesting to hear a well respected author suggest that a feedback method with a fairly sizable research base might be replaced by another method because the new method is 1) familiar, 2) faster, and 3) easier to do.  This sounds a little like replacing a healthy nutritious meal with fast food. It’s not that fast food is without any merit – certainly we’ve all traveled enough to know that sometimes you just need something quick and easy.  But let’s not jump too quickly into assuming that fast-food-feedback will serve the same needs as 360° feedback.  Gerry is certainly correct that crowd-sourced feedback does not qualify as 360° feedback, especially if you compare it to the definition that we (Bracken, Rose & Church, in press) have proposed:

360° Feedback is a process for collecting, quantifying, and reporting co-worker observations about an individual (i.e., a ratee) that facilitates/enables three specific data-driven/based outcomes: (a) the collection of rater perceptions of the degree to which specific behaviors are exhibited; (b) the analysis of meaningful comparisons of rater perceptions across multiple ratees, between specific groups of raters for an individual ratee, and changes over time; and (c) the creation of sustainable individual, group and /or organizational change in behaviors valued by the organization.

At this point, it is difficult to make generalizations and comparison with 360° Feedback because CSF comes in many different forms. Josh Bersin’s review of the emerging feedback market has no clear category for the type of feedback system Ledford describes. Just from what we have read in various articles, we see that CSF might be:

  • “Push” feedback (ratees asking for feedback)
  • “Pull” feedback (raters provide feedback on their own, at their own initiative)
  • “Event” oriented (e.g., how did I do in a presentation?), though this is not really “ongoing”
  • Totally unstructured (open ended comments on whatever topic occurs to the rater)
  • Open ended but requires attaching comments to rating dimensions
  • Monitored by the organization or unfettered
  • Only for ratee or shared with/used by the organization (manager, HR, other decision makers)

We see potential value in many of these types of feedback, but they clearly do not provide the same benefits to a leader or organization that 360° Feedback can provide.

If we can make some comparisons between true 360° Feedback and CSF, we see these differences of some significance:

  1. Open-ended feedback (which CSF relies on) is highly skewed to a narrow set of content areas (Rose et al, 2004)
  2. Self-selection in crowd sourcing causes sampling bias
  3. CSF makes no allowance for “opportunity to observe” error/bias, i.e., the competence and motivation of the source (rater)
  4. CSF has no method to track individual or group change over time
  5. By using standardized survey content, 360s allow strategically-aligned behavior change across the system
  6. Use of feedback to create real change is greater with 360s (until proven otherwise)
  7. Well done 360s have safeguards against retaliation and misuse
  8. Normative comparisons to other company leaders is an option with 360s
  9. 360s can be aggregated to view company-wide or system-wide trends that can be compared over time (crowd sourcing cannot)
  10. Unlike CSF, 360s allow for census participation – all leaders can be directed to participate in a standardized process; allowing leaders to create organization-wide shifts in behavior and culture.

CSF’s are equivalent to 1-2 item 360’s in most cases where the rater is providing feedback on a very narrow set of behaviors (which may or may not be specified, may or may not be actionable). They are narrowly focused on content that may or may not be aligned with organizational competencies and/or values. They may be more timely than regularly scheduled 360’s, but not necessarily so (CSF may not be timely, and 360’s do not have to be just annual events). The opportunity for timeliness may be an illusion, an opportunity offered but not always fulfilled.

Dr. Ledford’s call for more research needs to be answered.  Here are some things we would like to know:

  • What are the various contexts in which CSF is collected? (We certainly should combine different methods in examining the effectiveness of the feedback, though we could compare methods).
  • Do ratees actually use the feedback (i.e., change their behavior, let alone pay attention to it)?
  • Does the novelty wear off over time?
  • What types of individuals avoid CSF vs. those who use it frequently? (are high performing early career employees more likely to use CSF than veterans with a long track record of success?)
  • What is the differential effect due to type of CSF?
  • What are the opinions of CSF? For users, nonusers and other stakeholders (e.g., HR, management)?

While we are certainly encouraged that there is so much interest in finding ways to improve employee feedback, it’s worth recognizing that 360° Feedback has a long history of success helping leaders to learn from their environment.  Further, there is a fair amount of research and consensus around best practice in 360° Feedback.  Hopefully researchers and practitioners will take a careful look at new feedback methods like CSF.  Until we have a longer track record and much more experience with CFS, it may be a bit premature to assume that CFS will fully serve an organization’s need for valid feedback that is useful for guiding a wide range of talent decisions.

This is not necessarily an either/or choice between using 360° Feedback and CSF. But we don’t think it should ever be a “CSF only” choice.

 

Bersin, J. (2015). Feedback is the killer app: A new market and management model emerges. Forbes, August 26.  Retrieved at http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/08/26/employee-feedback-is-the-killer-app-a-new-market-emerges/#41bf71036626

Bracken, D. W., Rose, D. S., & Church, A. H. (in press). The evolution and devolution of 360° feedback. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice.

Rose, D. S., Farrell, T., & Robinson, G. N.  (2004). Are Narrative Comments in 360-Degree Feedback Useful or Useless?  Technical Report #8253. Berkeley, CA: Data Driven Decisions, Inc.

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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.

Checking In Is Not Enough

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It has been two years since I last raised the question in this blog about “what is a coach?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/what-is-a-coach-redux/).   While I think (and talk) about this topic often, I haven’t been moved to write about it in this forum until now when my friend Jon Low published in his daily Low-Down a piece from Fast Company by Kris Duggan titled, “Why The Annual Performance Review is Going Extinct.”  (http://goo.gl/sH7hVi)

There’s a lot going on in this article.  I disagree with the notion that performance appraisals are going “extinct,” so I want to focus on this question of coaching.  Most of the arguments for dismantling the appraisal call for more interaction between the employee and the manager/supervisor, sometimes as if it’s an “either/or” type of choice, like you can’t do both have an annual appraisal and regular feedback and coaching.

Kris does the same in this article, as in “turning managers into coaches,” which here literally means checking in more frequently on progress toward goals.  Taken to its logical end and the capability to monitor some jobs continuously, the best “coaches” will be those managers who constantly monitor their subordinates.

Actually, goal setting and monitoring are often set outside the definitions of “coaching” and reserved more for “managing” performance.  Coaching requires some sort of situational diagnosis, but only as a starting point.

My reflex reaction is to say that “checking in” in not “coaching,” any more than “showing up” is 80% of success (according to Woody Allen).   But maybe “checking in” is an activity (behavior) that is the transition from managing into coaching, the opportunity to clarify goals, check for understanding and identify possible barriers (e.g., resources). That also assumes that “checking in” is more than just saying, “Hey, how ya doin’?”

Here I may be falling into my own trap of making assumptions about what “checking In” means and is intended to mean. Kris and BetterWorks coworkers  may have some particular methodology around training managers on how to “check in” to determine progress against goals. Yet “checking in” has a very casual feel to it in our vernacular, and has the very real risk of being misused as some sort of type of “coaching.”

What IS important is that manager/leaders/supervisors aren’t somehow led to believe that “checking in” is synonymous with “coaching,” and that they are “coaching” when they check-in and that’s the total requirement for being a manager-coach.

Building on a simple model of coaching that I started in the “Redux” blog mentioned above, let me propose a taxonomy of basic manager-as-coach that can create shared expectations for the manager and his/her team members. When there is a clear understanding of what various types of “coaching” can be used to approach a given situational need, and the understanding is shared by both parties (coach and coachee), then the event is expedited.

In an effort to be open-minded, I propose four basic types of coaching style that includes the “check in”:

  • Checker: Ensures understanding of goals and resources.
  • Director: Identifies problems and provides a recommended solution(s). Tells what action to take.
  • Activator: Guides coachee through identification of options and optimal approach, aligned with team/org goals.
  • Developer: Engages coachee in regular, formal discussions regarding current, short term and long term (e.g., career) goals and development implications/steps.

Imagine that the organization requires that every team (defined as a group with a manager/supervisor) has training on these four types of manager/employee interactions, when and how often each type is optimally used, how the conversation is best accomplished, and some role modeling.

Using elements of the ALAMO model (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/alamo-a-new-performance-model-webinar/) (across the top), we can provide examples of how the various interactions might go when initiated by the manager/supervisor.  This table is provided to show the hopefully stark differences in the coaching styles available to a manager, each of which is appropriate under certain circumstances, though typically overused (Director) or underused (Activator).

Alignment Ability Motivation Opportunity
Checker “Are you clear on your assignment?” “Is there anything you need to know?” “Are you making progress?” “Do you have what you need?”
Director “I know what is best. Go do it.” “Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me before.” “Success or failure will affect your PA rating.” “Here’s your time frame and budget. Make it work.”
Activator “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?”
Developer What are your career goals?  What does the organization need? What abilities will you need to develop to get there? Why do you want to go that direction? Why haven’t you already started?

This can create a “language” for the team and for the organization, for that matter. Whether initiated by the manager or the employee, any formal or informal conversation might begin by saying, “Here’s the situation, and let’s have a quick Directive discussion”, or “Let’s have an Activation discussion on how to approach this,” and then dive in. Each person knows they are having a “coaching” session, whether informal or formal, and the basic objective. Or “I’m just checking in. Everything going OK?”

Performance management systems can be set up to allow managers to keep track of the very basics of when  these types of sessions occur.  This can help them track their own progress on using different styles of coaching, and also see when it is time to do career coaching, for example, if that has slipped through the cracks.

I heard, via a webinar, of one organization that gives employees cards with different types of interactions printed on them, and they can “redeem” them with their manager to initiate informal or formal discussions at their discretion.  The manager, on the other side of the equation, can be challenged to collect the cards from each employee over the course of a quarter and/or year. So the employee will have cards that say, using my model,  Checker, Director, Activator, or Developer.  There will be a lot of Checker cards, but only a few (2-4) Developer cards. Each card might have some verbiage with guidance on how and when to best use them.

Finally, let me loop back around to a question Jon Low raises, namely “who should be judging who?”  There is no question that employees should have the opportunity to provide feedback regarding their manager’s performance as a coach. Instruments such as The ManagerCoach© help define the desired behaviors and outcomes (e.g., trust) that will only occur if managers are measured and held accountable to, and hopefully developed, trained and selected as well.

We can’t create effective manager-coaches if we aren’t clear as to what they look like, and then select, train and reward accordingly.  “Checking in” isn’t enough to be a manager coach, any more than just showing up leads to success.

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

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

Where is Theory Y?

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This column in Forbes by Rob Asghar literally paralyzed me for a few moments.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2014/11/24/the-difference-between-leaders-and-leadership-experts/

Forbes is known for taking provocative positions at times but this one challenges some of my core values as to what it means to be a successful leader, let alone good person.  In a nutshell, he argues that the only important factor in evaluating leader success is bottom line results, regardless of the process. In other words, any means to an end (thank you, Machiavelli).  Rob has no data to support his position, but he protects himself by saying that successful leaders (and he, himself) do not care to hear from the “experts,” i.e., social scientists like many of us, about process.  So what follows is probably an exercise in futility if I think it will ever be read by people like him.  But it gives me the opportunity to bring to you a few nuggets that I’ve seen relating to this topic in the last few weeks. And a couple that go way back.

First, this discussion gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Blake and Mouton’s seminal book, The Managerial Grid. (As an aside, dozens of people entered into a recent LinkedIn discussion I began in the I/O Practitioners space regarding what are some core knowledge areas an I/O Psychologist should be expected to possess, though the discussion went off in other directions.  At one point I offered up the Hawthorne Studies, and I would add The Managerial Grid to that list. I will also add Douglas McGregor’s Theory X/Theory Y, discussed below.)

For the uninitiated, the Managerial Grid is a 9×9 matrix that plots leader behaviors on an X-axis (Task orientation) and a Y-axis (Relationship orientation).  Not by coincidence, McGregor’s Theory X behavior is very task oriented while Theory Y describes a much more participative style (with McGregor being first, around 1960).  In the Grid, ideal leader is 9-9, an equally strong emphasis on task and relationship. (I recall once when a colleague was trying to force me to do something and accusing him of trying to “9-1” me, that is to do something regardless of how I felt about it, which, by the way, is basically what Asghar is promoting.)

Leaders who demonstrate no respect for others occasionally do succeed. Of course, Steve Jobs is the most cited example. This past week I watch a PBS biography on Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy, and I (and others) would add him to this list. He was universally labeled an “SOB.”  No one could remember him ever saying “thank you.”  But he was an obsessive believer in accountability, for both others and himself.  And he was consistent.  And, ultimately, he was successful in achieving his vision.  Mr. Asghar also uses Nick Saban, very successful coach at Alabama, as another example. But these are extraordinary people and exceptions in many ways.

Here’s another article, this time from HBR, which not only has data, it is titled “The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss.”  https://hbr.org/2014/11/the-hard-data-on-being-a-nice-boss

Using various studies, the author (Emma Seppala) asserts the following:

  • Putting pressure on subordinates that increases stress that leads to high health care and turnover costs.
  • Acts of altruism increase status in the organization.
  • Fair treatment leads to higher productivity and citizenship behaviors
  • Leaders who project warmth are more effective.
  • Employees that feel greater trust for a leader that is kind.

So there is a cost to being a Theory X (9-1) manager, i.e., the health and well-being of your employees. And the cost is getting bigger everyday unfortunately with the state of our healthcare system.

In my last blog (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/trust-again/), I revisited the concept of “trust” and labeled it the “sine qua non” (without which there is nothing) of effective leadership.  Trust is a complex behavioral construct, but I totally agree that kindness is an important component. Kindness doesn’t have to mean being soft; it is more akin to empathy, having sensitivity to the feelings of others, particularly when the message is difficult. We are seeing “kindness” being mentioned in a growing number of organizations. Part of that comes from respecting the whole person and his/her point of view and emotions without having to abdicate the responsibility for delivering on individual, team and organization performance commitments.

This piece by Stephanie Vozza from Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/3038919/mentor-or-best-friend-which-management-style-is-best) starts right off with this statement: “For decades, managers led with a heavy hand from corner offices.” She goes on to contrast that with how managers will be most effective in today’s workplace, building upon some work by the Addison Group.  She (and they) maintains that the answer isn’t to be the “best friend” of subordinates, but instead to be a mentor who provides guidance and advice, both on daily performance and careers.

(I do disagree with 2 of her points. First, she maintains that this situation is being caused by the arrival of millennials that have different expectations of management.  Au contraire!  ALL workers have a need to be respected with all the leadership behaviors that that implies, including honoring the value and needs of each person.

Secondly, I take issue with the use of the word “mentor” in this context. We should clearly differentiate between “mentor” and “coach,” specifically manager as coach. But these points get us off track from our theme here.)

Having done employee surveys for over 35 years and 360’s almost as long, recurring themes in drivers of engagement and evaluations of leader effectiveness continue to be trust and support in helping employees develop and plan for careers.

Let me add one other point to the value of believing that the “means” is as important as the end. An I/O colleague told me of a piece of research that has stuck with him that indicated that a strongest predictor of employee ethical behavior was immediate manager ethical (or not) behavior.  There are many potential explanations for why that is, but those are not as important as saying if we believe ethical behavior is important in our organization, we can observe and measure it, and, if it leads to more of that desired behavior, the organization and its customers will benefit. This, of course, applies to other important leadership behaviors, often captured in Values statements that hang on walls and too infrequently actually measured.

Allan Church and I bring the “how” versus “what” of performance into the Performance Management discussion in our article from last year (http://www.orgvitality.com/articles/HRPSBrackenChurch OV.pdf).  One of the points we make is that organizations are very good at measuring the “what” side of performance (i.e., tangible, objective achievements) and much less adept at measuring the “how” (i.e., the means to the end, the behaviors demonstrated).  A parallel argument can be made that leaders/managers/supervisors find it much easier to manage the “what” side, and, because it is more difficult, give much less (if any) attention to the relationship part of leading, including coaching.

We are certainly not advocating the abandonment of the “what” measures. We are suggesting that an overemphasis on the “how” side of leader behavior is needed until they balance out, both at the individual and organizational level, i.e., achieving more “9-9” management at all levels.

I suspect that the majority of the readers of this blog are the “experts” Asghar references and dismisses. And to you colleagues, I am hopefully preaching to the choir (as they say).  If that is not the case, then please let us know what that position is.

For those of you not in the “choir,” I hope you read Asghar’s piece and see if you think he has a valid point. Reflect on both how it applies in your organization and for your own behavior as a leader/manager.

Everybody should sit back and reflect on where/when we see or don’t see Theory Y behavior at all levels of leadership and how to create more 9-9 leaders.  We should demand accountability for both “what” and “how” measurement aligned with both strategy and organizational values.

©2014 David W. Bracken