Strategic 360s

360s for more than just development

Posts Tagged ‘accountability

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

Trust… again

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I wrote on the subject of trust not too long ago (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/a-matter-of-trust/), and, trust me, the subject isn’t going away. Since then, I have been accumulating a few more treatments of the topic of “trust;” it is another of those “know it when I see it” type of subjects, which makes it even more important that we compare our mental models to ensure we are thinking (and therefore acting) in the same way when we propose actions to address it.

One that caught my eye was posted in TD (http://goo.gl/8KXx5) (the ASTD, now ATD, magazine) by Doug Conant, who I recognize from his days at CEO of Campbell Soup Company and now Chair of Avon  .  In there he notes:

I think leaders have to have three traits. They have to be a person of great character, and in that spirit they have to do what they say they’re going to do… it’s a combination of character and competence. If the organization doesn’t trust you, you’re toast.

Erika Garms just posted a blog (that was referenced on LinkedIn) on the interaction of Accountability and Trust (http://goo.gl/eEmwWZ).  Her main point is that a focus on Accountability is not going to be effective if it is not preceded (or grounded in) the establishment of Trust.  This is an extremely important piece of advice (or warning) that speaks to the potential power of Trust to be a barrier to successful leadership when it is absent.

Marshall Goldsmith (see marshallgoldsmith.com) lists 20 behaviors that leaders need to fix; call them bad habits or derailers if you want, and they form the basis for his fantastic book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”   I have referenced this list before in the context of listening (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/just-shut-up-and-listen/­), but let’s looks at it through this lens of a subset of those behaviors (in this case negative) that can damage trust:

Winning too much:  The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.

Passing judgment:  The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

Making destructive comments:  The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.

Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we aren’t asked.

Withholding information: The refusal to share information to gain or maintain an advantage over others.

Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

Making excuses:  The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

Playing favorites:  Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

Refusing to express regret:  The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

Not listening:  The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect.

Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.

Punishing the messenger:  The misguided need to attack the innocents who are only trying to help us.

Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
Trust is an elusive construct. My earlier Trust blog took a lead from the ATD study that honed in on integrity and honesty.  Mr. Conant throws in competence and character. Goldsmith’s list has a core message that it is created by the respect shown to others.

I would add to this list “Being Inconsistent”, i.e., arbitrarily changing your basis for decisions and actions both across time and across individuals to the point where it creates uncertainty and perceived unfairness. Of course, the other end of this continuum is rigidity, which is also bad.  In this context, “inconsistency” equates to unpredictability and capriciousness when the leader does not sufficiently explain the basis for his/her actions.

The good news is that it can be defined by behaviors (also see my earlier blog referenced above on this topic) and that behaviors can be changed. As I noted, behaviors begin as a choice. Many are not difficult to do, and, once accepted as needing change, can be honed to be even more impactful.

Based on this review, a Trust dimension on an upward (manager) feedback instrument might include:

  • My manager has the skills and abilities to perform his/her job well.
  • My manager is honest at all times.
  • My manager treats all people with respect.
  • My manager follows through on promises and commitments.
  • My manager treats others with consistency and fairness.
  • My manager listens to and acknowledges the viewpoints of others.
  • My manager takes responsibility for his/her actions and decisions.
  • My manager is willing to share his/her shortcomings and development needs.

Trust may well be the “sine qua non” of leadership effectiveness, whether at the organizational level or the individual leader (manager) level.  If you’re not acknowledging and measuring Trust in yourself and your leaders, you are probably setting a ceiling on leadership and followership effectiveness.

©2014 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

November 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

A Matter of Trust

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“Apologizing does not always mean that you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value the relationship more than your ego.”

I saw that anonymous quote on LinkedIn recently and it drew me back to a small note in Traning & Development magazine dated February 24 on this topic. (http://goo.gl/8X6yRe) The text follows:

A recent survey of 954 global professionals by the Forum Corporation found that although 87 percent of managers say that they either always or often apologize for their mistakes at work, only 19 percent of employees say that their managers apologize most or all of the time.

Naturally, managers not owning up to their errors has a direct impact on employee trust levels. Another interesting insight from the survey is that while 91 percent of employees say it’s “extremely important” to have a manager they can trust, only 48 percent of managers agree that it’s extremely important for employees to trust their managers.

So we can only assume that it’s those managers who do not place a premium on trust who are committing the following worst management sins, as identified by survey participants:

  • lying
  • taking credit for others’ ideas or blaming
    employees unfairly
  • gossiping
  • poor communication
  • lack of clarity.

Managers may condone their mistakes because they are afraid of tarnishing their image. According to the survey, 51 percent of managers believe apologizing makes them appear incompetent, 18 percent believe it makes them look weak, and 18 percent shrug it off, saying that apologizing is unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the study also shows that a low regard for employees’ trust may result in low engagement levels.

This note caught my attention for a few reasons. First, this concept of trust is one that is central to the “manager as coach” work we have been doing in defining the foundation of a productive relationship that is required (in our opinion) if a manager is to be a successful coach for his/her team members.

Trust is also manifested in the perceptions of senior management, whether that group is perceived as individuals or in their aggregate actions. Either way, time after time we see that employee surveys indicate that “trust in senior leadership” is usually the primary driver of employee engagement, confirming the last sentence of the article.

Secondly, the basis for trust (or lack thereof), as listed in the bullets, is determined by behaviors. Behaviors are a choice; a person can choose to do them or not. That choice can be influenced by consequences. Evidently, a majority of managers see more value in behaving badly. We can change that behavior by making them aware that they are behaving badly, and then having negative consequences for doing so. From top to bottom.

Thirdly was the discrepancy between the importance of trust to employees versus their managers. It is hard to believe that organizations do not preach honesty, integrity and so on, whether through Values statements that hang on the walls, or by lip service. It does suggest that there is inadequate accountability.

This T+D blurb is another in a series of articles and blogs I have seen recently that bemoan bad leader behavior and the effect on an organization’s climate (see my recent blog https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/nimble-and-sustainable/), but with no specific recommendation as to a solution.

I really hate whining without a proposed solution. I have suggested that a 360 process with accountability (i.e., consequences, good or bad) is a viable solution.   I recently heard of a major organization that has introduced a new leadership behavior (competency) model, and, when I asked how leaders are to be measured against the model, the response what to fall back on single-source supervisor evaluation because “360’s haven’t worked here.” I felt like I was in a backward time warp to 20 years when we started talking seriously about the shortcomings of single-source (manager) performance evaluations (see Edwards and Ewen’s first 360 degree feedback book).

Behaviors can be shaped, starting with creating awareness that change is needed, aligning to the desired behavior, and usually requiring consequences (i.e., accountability). A few leaders will change without the carrot & stick, but those are usually the ones who are not the ones who need fixing.

If you have leaders who are undermining trust, you have a problem. I think there is a solution.

 

Big Data and Multisource Feedback

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Here’s another NYTimes Corner Office offering, featuring Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/business/in-head-hunting-big-data-may-not-be-such-a-big-deal.html?pagewanted=1).  The first half is about hiring with some interesting observations (especially if you have responsibilities in that area).  The second half describes their Upward Feedback process, along with other HR systems. And, no, they are not a client.

I offer these observations for your consideration:

  • Big Data is the new fad, but many of us have been using large data bases to understand the impact of our change processes for a long time, whether at the organizational level (employee surveys) or the individual level (360 Feedback).
  • Your organization is not using “Big Data” (at least in the way Laszlo is describing) if you are using external norms.  Note that Google is using internal norms very aggressively, tracking progress in moving the norm over time AND giving percentile rankings for each leader.
  • The challenges he describes regarding hiring practices are very interesting, and it appears they are making some progress in implementing processes that are more predictive and more consistent. That said, hiring is always a challenge, and emphasizes the importance of using processes such as multisource (360) feedback to identify and either improve or weed out poor managers.
  • He speaks to the importance of consistency in leaders.  360 Feedback promotes consistency in a number of ways.  First, it defines the behaviors that describe successful leaders, a form of alignment. One of the behaviors can relate to consistency itself, i.e., providing feedback to the leader about whether he/she is consistent.  In addition, an organization-wide 360 process that is administered and used in a consistent manner can only help in reinforcing the views of employees that decisions are being made on a fair basis. Organization-wide implementation is the key to success in creating change, acceptance and sustainability.
  • Back to the percentile rankings.  I have found organizations strangely averse to this practice of letting the leader know where he/she ranks against peers.  As Laszlo notes, the challenge is to give the leader a realistic view of how he/she is perceived, and to create some motivation to change.  By the way, these rankings are one “solution” to leniency trends, that is, saying to the leader, “You may think you are hot stuff because you got a 4.0 rating (out of 5)  on that behavior, but you are still lower than 80% of your peers.”  That scenario is common in areas such as Integrity where we expect high scores from our leaders.
  • I am a little surprised that he believes that the managers can “self-motivate” in the way he describes. I am usually skeptical that leaders will change without accountability. I would like to know more about that.  I have already noted the use of percentile rankings that most organizations dismiss, and are seen are powerful motivators in this process.  Laszlo also describes a dialog of sorts with the leader at the 8th percentile. Who is that conversation with? If it is with another person (boss, coach, HR manager), that alone creates a form of accountability and an implied consequence if improvement isn’t seen. If the conversation is just in the leader’s head, it speaks to the power of the information provided by the percentile score.  Creating awareness is one thing. Awareness with context (e.g., comparison to others) is much more powerful.  (Maybe like, “That’s a nice pair of pants!  If it were the 60’s.”)
  • Lastly, Laszlo  speaks to the uniqueness of his and other organizations regarding what the organization needs from its leaders and how an individual employee might fit in and contribute. This clearly speaks to the need for custom designed content for hiring practices and then internal assessments once an employee is onboard.

Google is doing some very interesting research regarding leadership.  Go back and look at their work on leadership competencies that they publicized a couple years ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html?pagewanted=all

Beyond the research, Google is actually using their Big Data to create a culture, define the leaders they require, and putting some teeth into the theory with upward feedback at the forefront.  Yet, at the end, he notes that all the measurement must be viewed through the lens of human insight.  The context is deeper than just organization; it is also moderated by the current version of strategy, the team requirements, the job requirements, and the personal situation, all of which are in a constant state of flux.

©2013 David W. Bracken

Aligning To Alignment

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I have been citing the “Corner Office” (NY Times) a few times lately, but I can’t help but do it again. Recently the guest was Salesforce COO George Hu (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/business/salesforcecom-executive-on-seeking-out-challenges.html?src=recg).  When asked about leadership lessons, he turns to the importance of communication and alignment.  He says, “We use this process called V2MOM, which stands for vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures.”

In this model, the vision and values part is the alignment component, basically what we are going to do and how we are going to do it (i.e., (my words) how we are going to treat each other and our customers).  I know that “alignment” is one of those terms that has been overworked but, in this case, maybe for a reason: it is important.

In some past blogs I have shared my ALAMO model of performance:

Performance = Alignment x (Ability x Motivation x Opportunity)

While all four variables in the model can drive a fatal blow by going to zero, Alignment is the only one that can also be a negative value because it can actually draw resources away from the organization if the individual/team/organization is working on the wrong thing. “Working on the wrong thing” can be accidental (by misdiagnosis or misdirection), or even purposeful (such as sabotage, where a very motivated person can destroy value).

Misalignment can happen to both the vision and the values part of his model, but I would like to focus on the Values part as it relates to the role that 360 Feedback can play in focusing the alignment of behaviors throughout the organization.

Many organizations have Values statements, often met with some well-deserved cynicism as a plaque on the wall.  Stating a value (e.g., Respect for the Individual”) must go much farther than just defining it. It must also must be defined in behavioral terms, that is, what an employee is doing (or not doing) when they are exhibiting that value.

Some of the most spirited meetings I have been in or led have been about what a Value means in behavioral terms.  Many, many organizations have some version of Respect for the Individual in its Values list. But what does “respect” mean for your organization?  Treating everyone the same regardless of level? Saying “thank you”? Acknowledging the viewpoints of others? Creating work-life balance (i.e, acknowledging personal lives)?  Creating diversity in practice?  You have to pick; the answer isn’t “all of the above.” A Value isn’t effective if it is vaguely defined or too encompassing.

One benefit of creating behavioral definitions of a value is making it very tangible if described specifically. I am reminded of the story of the homeowner who decided he need to fix his front sidewalk, spending all day on Saturday breaking up the old one, and replacing it with a nicely laid cement walkway.  As the sun was setting, he looked out his window admiring his handy work only to see a dog run up and down the walk, leaving his footprints for posterity. The man got his gun (sorry) and shot the dog.  When brought before the court, the judge looked down and asked, “Young man, just what were you thinking?” The man replied, “Your Honor, I really like dogs in the abstract, but not in the concrete.”  Ba bump.

Values are very easy to like in the abstract, but much less so in the “concrete,” as in your actions. Just ask religious leaders about that.

Another value that might seem obvious to you but not others is Integrity.  One version of Integrity is the core notion of telling the truth, not lying, not cheating, etc.  But more and more we see organizations who see telling the truth as a given, and choose to use Integrity as communicating the more subtle message of “walking the talk, “ as in doing what you say you will do, following through on commitments, and following the same rules/expectations that you set for others.

An organization-wide 360 feedback process built around an organization’s Values has many powerful benefits, including:

  • Reinforces the importance of the Values as part of the “how” side of performance
  • Requires the identification of the behaviors that uniquely define the Values for the organization
  • Are disseminated to all employees, usually requiring serious consideration as the raters perform their duties as feedback providers
  • Creates accountability for follow through assuming development plans are integrated into performance management processes
  • Creates a method for trending individual and organizational progress toward “living the Values.”
  • Can be used to identify leaders who do not comply with the Values

We would like to think that Values statements are enduring and wouldn’t require change very often. But if the organization finds that it needs to change its emphasis to support strategy (e.g., more customer focus, quality, innovation, accountability), the message can be quickly operationalized by inserting the behaviors (labeled as a dimension to further create alignment) in the 360 that is used by all segments of the enterprise.  This need to shift quickly is now called “Agility” in the vernacular, and organizations as well as individuals are being required to demonstrate it more than ever.

Alignment and Agility are intertwined, and communicate simultaneously focus and flexibility on both the Vision (“What”) and Values (“How”) that are uniquely defined by the organization.  I would argue that Alignment is one activity that cannot be overdone or overused, which is one message I take away from George Hu’s lessons of leadership.

Finally, one other message to take away from Mr. Hu’s V2MOM: Measurement.  Measurement reinforces Alignment, and you get what you measure. Measurement also creates accountability.  And a 360 Assessment, well-designed and delivered, does both. We largely know how to measure the “what;” show me a better way to measure the “how.”

©2013 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

April 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

Just Shut Up and Listen

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I still get the Sunday New York Times in “hard copy” on Sundays (in addition to the electronic version the other days), partly because my wife and I are addicted to the crosswords.  Let me add that I am one of those people who mourn the fadeout of the newspaper, and often find that browsing the physical newspaper often exposes me to pieces of information that I would otherwise miss in the electronic version (whatever form your “browsing” takes, if at all).  (I believe, for what it’s worth, that a similar phenomenon is happening in the music world with the ease of downloading single songs and probably less “browsing” of albums where some other gems are often lurking.)

Back on topic, the Sunday NYT also has a feature in the Business section called “Corner Office” where a business leader is interviewed.  This week it was Francesca Zambello, general and artistic director of the Glimmerglass Festival and artistic director of the Washington National Opera. When asked about leadership lessons she has learned, she says:

When you’re in your 20s and have that leadership gene, the bad thing is that you don’t know when to shut up. You think you know all the answers, but you don’t. What you learn later is when to just listen to everybody else. I’m finding that all those adages about being humble and listening are truer and truer as I get older. Creativity cannot explode if you do not have the ability to step back, take in what everybody else says and then fuse it with your own ideas.

In the parallel universe of my personal life, my daughter Ali sent along an edition of the ABA Journal that references a study of the happiest and unhappiest workers in the US (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/why_a_career_website_deems_associate_attorney_the_unhappiest_job_in_america/) that cites associate attorney as the unhappiest profession (which by coincidence is her husband’s job).  If you don’t want to go to the link, the five unhappiest jobs are:

1) Associate attorney

2) Customer service associate

3) Clerk

4) Registered nurse

5) Teacher

The five happiest are:

1) Real estate agent

2) Senior quality assurance engineer

3) Senior sales representative

4) Construction superintendent

5) Senior applications designer

Looking at the unhappiest list and possible themes/commonalities among these jobs, one is lack of empowerment and probably similar lack of influence in their work and work environment. (The job of teacher may less so, and its inclusion on this list is certainly troubling and complicated I am sure).  But I suspect that these first four jobs have a common denominator in the way they are managed that ties back to Ms. Zambello’s reflections on her early management style, i.e., having all the answers and not taking advantage of the knowledge and creativity of the staff.  It also causes me to remember the anecdote of the GM retiree who mused, “They paid me for my body. They could have had my mind for free.”

This is certainly not an epiphany for most of us, but more serendipity that two publications this week once again tangentially converged on this topic. I will once again recommend Marshall Goldsmith’s book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” that is a compendium of mistakes that leaders make in their careers, including behaviors that might have served them well when starting their career but lose their effectiveness as they move up the organization. The classic case being the subject matter expert who gets promoted and assumes that being the “expert” is always the road to success. In Marshall’s book there are 20 of these ineffective, limiting behaviors (some might call them “derailers”), and when we think of the prototypical leader who wants to be the “expert” and doesn’t listen, it potentially touches on multiple behaviors in the list of 20, including:

2. Adding too much value

6. Telling the world how smart we are

10. Failing to give proper recognition

11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve

13. Clinging to the past

16. Not listening

Considering this list as possible motivators for the umbrella behavior of “not listening,” we can see how it might be very challenging to change this behavior if the leader believes (consciously or unconsciously) that one or more of these factors are important to maintain, or (as Marshall also notes) are “just the way I am” and not changeable.

We behaviorists believe that any behavior is changeable, whether a person wants to change or not. What is required is first awareness, i.e., that there is a gap between their behavior and the desired/required behavior, followed by motivation to change that may come internal to the person, but more often requires external motivation that usually comes from accountability. Awareness and accountability are critical features of a valid 360 feedback process if designed to create sustainable behavior change.

Let me add that the “shut up and listen” mantra is a core behavior for coaches as well. This consultant believes that the challenge that most organizations have in morphing managers into effective coaches is also rooted in this core belief that the role of coach is to solve problems for their subordinates, versus listening to fully understand the issue and then help the subordinate “discover” the solution that best works for them and the situation.

This is a serious problem that has two major downsides. For one, it, at least in some major way, is likely a root cause of creating the “unhappy” job incumbents that in turn leads to multiple negative outcomes for the organization. The other major downside is a version of our GM retiree’s lament, that is, the organization is losing out capitalizing on a significant resource in the form of the individual and collective contributions of its workforce.

There may be no time in our history where involving our young workers is more critical, which includes listening to their input and empowering them to act. Consider the many reasons that this might be so:

  • The pace of change, internally and externally, requires that we have processes that allow us to recognize and react in ways that most likely will diverge from past practices
  • Younger workers bring perspectives on the environment, technology and knowledge that are often hidden from the older generations (that are, by the way, retiring)
  • As the baby boomers do retire en masse, we need to be developing the next generation of leaders.  Another aside, this means allowing them to fail, which is another leadership lesson that Ms. Zambello mentions (remember her?).

Listening is actually a very complex behavior to change, but it begins with increasing awareness of ineffectiveness, and the creating motivation to change by educating leaders on its negative consequences and lost opportunities.

©2013 David W. Bracken

It’s Human Nature

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One question that has been at the core of best practices in 360 Feedback since its inception relates to the conditions that are most likely to create sustained behavior change (at least for those of us that believe that behavior change is the ultimate goal).  Many of us believe that behavior change is not a question of ability to change but primarily one of motivation. Motivation often begins with the creation of awareness that some change is necessary, the accepting the feedback, and then moving on to implementing the change.

One of the more interesting examples of creating behavior change began when seat belts were included as standard equipment in all passenger vehicles in 1964.  I am old enough to remember when that happened and started driving not long thereafter. So using a seat belt was part of the driver education routine since I began driving and has not been a big deal for me.

The reasons for noncompliance with seatbelt usage are as varied as human nature. Some people see it as a civil rights issue, as in, “No one is going to tell me what to do.” There is also the notion that it protects against a low probability event, as in “It won’t happen to me. I’m a careful driver.” Living in Nebraska for a while, I learned that people growing up on a farm don’t “have the time” to buckle and unbuckle seatbelts in their trucks when they are learning to drive, so they don’t get into that habit. (I also found, to my annoyance, that they also never learned how to use turn signals.)

I remember back in the ‘60’s reading about a woman who wrote a car manufacturer to ask that they make the seat belts thinner because they were uncomfortable to sit on.  Really.

Some people have internal motivation to comply, which can also be due to multiple factors such as personality, demographics, training, norms (e.g., parental modeling), and so on. This is also true when we are trying to create behavior change in leaders, but we will see that these factors are not primary determinants of compliance..

In thinking about seatbelt usage as a challenge in creating behavior change, I found study from 2008 by the Department of Transportation. It is titled “How States Achieve High Seat Belt Use Rates” (DOT HS 810 962).  (Note: This is a 170 page report with lots of tables and statistical analyses, and if any of you geeks want a copy, let me know.)

The major finding of this in-depth study states:

The statistical analyses suggest that the most important difference between the high and low seat belt use States is enforcement, not demographics or funds spent on media.

This chart Seatbelt Usage in US, amongst the many in this report, seems to capture the messages fairly well to support their assertion.  This chart plots seat belt usage by state, where we see a large spread ranging from just over 60% (Mississippi) to about 95% (Hawaii).  It also shows whether each state has primary seatbelt laws (where seatbelt usage is a violation by itself), or secondary laws (where seatbelt usage can only be enforced if the driver is stopped for another purpose). Based on this table alone, one might argue causality but the study systematically shows that this data, along with others relating to law enforcement practices, are the best predictors of seatbelt usage.

One way of looking at this study is to view law enforcement as a form of external accountability, i.e., having consequences for your actions (or lack thereof). The primary versus secondary law factor largely shifts the probabilities of being caught, with the apparent desired effect on seatbelt usage.

So, back to 360 Feedback. I always have been, and continue to be, mystified as to how some implementers of 360 feedback processes believe that sustainable behavior change is going to occur in the vast majority of leaders without some form of external accountability. Processes that are supposedly “development only” (i.e., have no consequences) should not be expected to create change. In those processes, participants are often not required to, or even discouraged from, sharing their results with others, especially their manager. I have called these processes “parlor games” in the past because they are kind of fun, are all about “me,” and have no consequences.

How can we create external accountability in 360 processes?  I believe that the most constructive way to create both motivation and alignment (ensuring behavior change is in synch with organizational needs/values) is to integrate the 360 feedback into Human Resource processes, such as leadership development, succession planning, high potential programs, staffing decisions, and performance management.  All these uses involve some form of decision making that affects the individual (and the organization), which puts pressure on the 360 data to be reliable and valid. Note also that I include leadership development in this list as a form of decision making because it does affect the employee’s career as well as the investment (or not) of organization resources.

But external accountability can be created by other, more subtle ways as well. We all know from our kept and (more typically) unkept New Year’s resolutions about the power of going public with our commitments to change. Sharing your results and actions with your manager has many benefits, but can cause real and perceived unfairness if some people are doing it and others not. Discussing your results with your raters and engaging them in your development plans has multiple benefits.

Another source of accountability can (and should) come from your coach, if you are fortunate enough to have one.  I have always believed that the finding in the Smither et al (2005) meta-analysis that the presence of a coach is one determinant of whether behavior change is observed is due to the accountability that coaches create by requiring the coachee to specifically state what they are going to do and to check back that the coachee has followed through on that commitment.

Over and over, we see evidence that, when human beings are not held accountable, more often than not they will stray from what is in their best interests and/or the interests of the group (organization, country, etc.).  Whether it’s irrational (ignoring facts) or overly rational (finding ways to “get around” the system), we should not expect that people will do what is needed, and we should not rely on our friends, neighbors, peers or leaders to always do what is right if there are no consequences for inaction or bad behavior.

©2012 David W. Bracken

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