Posts Tagged ‘360 feedback’
(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:
- Open-ended feedback (which CSF relies on) is highly skewed to a narrow set of content areas (Rose et al, 2004)
- Self-selection in crowd sourcing causes sampling bias
- CSF makes no allowance for “opportunity to observe” error/bias, i.e., the competence and motivation of the source (rater)
- CSF has no method to track individual or group change over time
- By using standardized survey content, 360s allow strategically-aligned behavior change across the system
- Use of feedback to create real change is greater with 360s (until proven otherwise)
- Well done 360s have safeguards against retaliation and misuse
- Normative comparisons to other company leaders is an option with 360s
- 360s can be aggregated to view company-wide or system-wide trends that can be compared over time (crowd sourcing cannot)
- 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.
When defining organizational culture, I have picked up on the definition used by Bossidy and Charan in their book, “Execution” (2009) that it is defined by the behaviors that leaders exhibit and tolerate (and encourage, I would add). They assert that,
…to change the culture of the company, it must be done by changing the behaviors of its leaders” (Bossidy and Charan 2009, p. 105).
I am drawn to this definition because it is behavioral, and, therefore, can be observed, measured, developed and changed. This may feel somewhat “cold” to many of you who envision culture to be something more ethereal. I offer this alternate definition as an example:
The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Organizational culture includes an organization’s expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid. (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/organizational-culture.html#ixzz432BtClQ8)
I am sometimes critical of definitions like this because a) they make the construct/concept sound much too complicated for our end users (clients, organizations) and b) it is probably impossible to reliably measure despite the desperate attempt at the very end to assert they must be valid (or at least “considered” valid. Really?)
I was recently sharing my definition of culture in a talk I gave at SPIM (https://goo.gl/jk7LrJ), and it occurred to me that the pure behaviorist definition does seem cold. I told them (and now you) that I really don’t believe that culture is just a bunch of behaviors any more than three notes are just a “chord” in music. So I got to thinking about this musical metaphor.
I am not anywhere near a musical expert nor prodigy. But I do love music of all kinds, play a couple instruments, and have performed in many groups, from folk groups, rock bands, orchestras, marching bands. and church choirs. Have even tried to write a few ditties along the way. So I do appreciate the magic of music done well and the challenge of creating that magic.
Most of you are younger than me, but some of the “old” music is still pretty accessible. With the use of the song “America” in the Sanders campaign, you had the chance to get introduced (or re-familiarized) with the duet harmony of Simon and Garfunkel, and that is one kind of magic augmented by a message that strikes home on many levels that can give you goose bumps.
But adding a third note is a different kind of experience. It’s kind of like the difference between two points creating a line in two dimensions, and then adding that third point that creates a plane. It is that concept that we also use in defining psychological constructs, and (at least from my recollection of factor analysis) part of the reason that, in 360 data collection and reporting, we try to have three items in a dimension and three responses to report a score.
Back to music, the recent death of George Martin has created an excuse to revisit the catalog of The Beatles songs that he produced and even performed on. In fact, just yesterday the New York Times created a list of almost their entire library in which you can listen to snippets or listen to the full song on Spotify with just a click. http://nyti.ms/1M5zq3J
I encourage you to use that easy NYTimes means to refresh (or create) a memory of the magic that they could create with the three part harmonies on songs like “This Boy,” “Nowhere Man,” and “I Feel Fine.” “Because” from “Abbey Road” is also amazing, but with an asterisk since it might be called “synthetic” harmony in 9 parts, obviously using technology to create the multiple layers of voices.
For those of you who know more about music than I do, I have heard of references to “phantom” (or hidden) notes that are not sung but are heard when harmonies are just right. I keep using the word “magic” but I can’t think of a better way of describing the sense you get when the sound is so rich, and then even sometimes combined with a moving lyric. I am not the most spiritual person in the world, but some of my most vivid, chill-producing experiences have been when singing in a church choir when the music, the message, and the performance all come together, maybe for even just a phrase or even one bar. I think most of us have used the metaphor of “singing out of the same hymnal” regardless of our denomination (or lack thereof) and know basically what we are referring to when we use it.
The Beatles (and George Martin, sometimes called the “Fifth Beatle”) were an organization. I think their culture was best demonstrated when they sang in three parts (occasionally Ringo joined), and they did less of that on “Sgt. Pepper’s”, and then it basically went away until their last album, “Abbey Road.” (“Let It Be” was recorded before Abbey Road and had no three-part harmony that I can cite). I propose that they lost their “culture” in a corresponding timeframe, and got it back to an extent in time to produce their arguably best (and last) album.
So this behaviorist does see/hear/feel the magic that can be created by three or more leaders in an organization that are “singing” the same tune that is derived from a common commitment to the organization’s vision, values and strategy, translated into concrete behavioral requirements that are definable, measurable, and developable. We sometimes refer to that as the whole being more than the sum of the parts; the sentiment is the same but that phrase doesn’t create chills, at least for me.
Can a behaviorist see and hear magic, and get chills? This one can.
Bossidy, L. and Charan, R. (2009). Execution: The discipline of getting things done. New York: Crown Business.
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.”
Please take a moment to consider joining in on this major 360 Benchmark study and pass it along to other organizations you believe might benefit.
Shape the Future of 360 Degree Feedback: Share your Current Practices & Learn From the Field
If your organization uses 360-degree feedback, we would like to invite you to participate in a study designed to provide practitioners with a reliable reference point for making 360-degree feedback design decisions. Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback: A Benchmark Study of North American Companies, 5th Editionis the only national study of its kind and highlights the most important issues confronting 360-degree feedback project managers when designing and implementing a feedback program. Current Practices provides detailed insights on how to resolve critical design issues and examines program differences based on 360 purpose (360s for development, performance management, etc.) Participating organizations will receive an advance copy of the results. Complete the 2016 survey here.
There were two items in this Sunday’s New York Times that had “empathy” in their title: “Empathy is Actually a Choice” (http://goo.gl/8BoVfa) in the Review section, and, “Is Empathy in Your Resume” (http://goo.gl/ouI4j4) in the Business section.
The first article is a summary of some research on empathy that supports the stance that empathy is not an immutable personality trait or reflex emotion, but instead is a set of behaviors that can be changed. As the author states, “… empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” (Emphasis added) The article speaks to some of the challenges in getting people to show more empathy, starting with lower empathy from leaders in high positions (perhaps due to the perceived cost of empathetic actions) and towards people of different race.
The second NYT piece is from the Corner Office column, this time an interview with Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack, and earlier Flickr. In Stewart’s responses, he calls empathy an ability, but then goes on to describe how it is manifested in simple behaviors, such as showing up on time and being courteous (a series of behaviors). (Also check out the 3 questions he asks of job candidates and see if you would pass.)
Often the choice is based largely on the person simply knowing that there is a choice to be made and what the organization’s preferred response is supposed to be. That often comes in the form of Values statements.
In the context of this blog on 360s, ultimately, much of what we include (or should include) on feedback instruments comes down to basic behaviors that are choices, not abilities or skills that require training or development plans. Many of them, like showing up on time, are simple choices of whether to do it or not. They are also observable, a basic requirement for inclusion on feedback instruments if we don’t want raters to be mind readers.
Typical leadership competency models are a mix of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) that usually do justify inclusion in selection and/or training processes, such as Communication (as defined as an ability, not a choice whether to communicate) and Values such as Teamwork, which is really a choice of whether to support others or not. Another example that we see in some competency models is the contrast of Decision Making (that can be trained in the context of problem solving processes) versus Decisiveness, the “choice” to make a decision or not. We should distinguish within our leadership requirements which variables are KSAs (Communication, Decision Making) and which are “choices” (Teamwork, Decisiveness).
Back to Empathy, most of us agree that a good starting point for creating empathy is to listen. (I wrote on this topic once before: https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/just-shut-up-and-listen/) In The ManagerCoach© upward feedback instrument, we ask direct reports whether their manager listens more than talks during coaching; it’s the lowest scoring item overall and a very consistent finding.
Getting leaders to listen more and talk less typically requires some awareness, beginning with breaking down the stereotypical view that most managers have that it is their job to have all the answers and to make sure those around them know that. There is a time when a manager needs to be in the “Director” mode, such as in crisis situations or when the employee is new to the task (as in the Situational Leadership Model of a person low on task maturity). But I believe that the preferred and most commonly used type of coaching should be what I call the “Activator” mode where the manager and employee engage in mutual problem solving, creating trust and mutual understanding.
One tool we use to create more listening is the WAIT acronym, that is, to ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?” Not long ago, I saw a blog where a mother was proposing using that same tool as a parent.
Another argument for enhanced listening is referenced earlier in the finding that people have difficulty in showing empathy for people of a different race. When I was an undergraduate, I took a seminar (about 15 people) on nonverbal communication. One of the most impactful exercises we performed was to go into a room alone with cue cards that had emotions written on them (Happy, Sad, Angry, Fear, Surprise, etc.) and take a “selfie” (certainly not what it was called then). Then a week later we were shown pictures of various people in the class and had to judge which emotion they were showing. You got scored as an actor and as a judge.
The seminar membership was not very diverse, but we did have one African American male (big football player) and an African American female. While I don’t recall how I did as a judge or actor, what I really remember most is that I could not differentiate his various emotions but the woman of the same race could. This is very anecdotal, but I believe (and have seen) that my experience is reflective of the larger populations.
In the context of listening as a means to the end of creating empathy, understanding and trust, it is even more critical when we are hampered by not having accurate access to nonverbal clues that is likely when conversing across races. There is other research that not only supports that observation, but branches out to other types of differences between the two parties in an exchange.
The author of the research summary adds this other insight:
…when people learned that empathy was a skill that could be improved — as opposed to a fixed personality trait — they engaged in more effort to experience empathy for racial groups other than their own. Empathy for people unlike us can be expanded; it seems, just by modifying our views about empathy.
This additional research finding gives us even more ammunition for positioning abstract constructs such as empathy not as fixed personal attributes but as behaviors that can be changed by creating awareness and alignment, and providing incentives (including accountability). We are doing ourselves as developers of leaders a disservice when we attach labels to groups of behaviors (e.g., Emotional Intelligence) that potentially cause unintended consequences such as, a) believing the construct it an unchangeable characteristic, b) leading to unclear definitions (sometimes by shear laziness), an c) assuming the “group” cannot be deconstructed and improved one behavior at a time, i.e., the sub behaviors are highly correlated (which they probably are not).
Once the choice is made whether to perform a behavior or not, then there can be some guidance/training to further refine it. For example, if the choice is whether to thank and/or recognize someone, we need to motivate the person/leader to do so. Once he/she has made that decision, we can help them to consider various ways of doing it that fit the situation and person.
But first the choice must be made.
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