Posts Tagged ‘behavior change’
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.”
This is the logo I have designed for my business, and it is a something of an ambiguous figure (but not too ambiguous hopefully). Please take a few seconds and think about what you see in the context of our work.
Hopefully the main message is something around conflicting forces. In the business of change, whether it be individual, team or organizational, as we attempt to create sustainable change we are always faced with opposing forces. So there are many opportunities to identify which forces are working in our favor and which are working against us, and so on.
The secondary design message I hoped to create is around the multiple triangles, or “Deltas,” that the arrows create. (How many do you see?) And we use Delta as a not only a symbol of change but also as a measurement of the amount of change. A major part of my business is not only to create sustainable change but to be able to reliably measure it, which will allow for comparisons of improvements as well as comparisons between individuals and organizations.
Or maybe you see a duck.
But what I want people to remember most are the Deltas and the message that change needs to be measurable and measured. Measures need numbers. Sometimes numbers are ratings. Ratings can be both reliable and valid. We can use ratings to compare scores if the scores are reliable. Yes, it can be done.
So what do you think the picture is worth?
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.
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:
- 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).
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
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
In the next couple weeks, I have a workshop to do on “Creating a Coaching Climate” for the Greater Atlanta Chapter of ASTD, and then a conversation hour at SIOP on “Strategic 360 Feedback” that I wrote about last week (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/holes-in-the-wall-a-siop-preview/).
Clearly I am still trying to influence people about some things that I feel strongly about. So I was thankful that my wife brought to my attention a TED talk by Simon Sinek that has over 16 million views (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action) that she thought I would find interesting because it was positioned to be about leadership. And it is. But, as importantly, it is about influencing others (which is part of leadership). It is also about sales, and he uses the word “buy” often, which can be taken both literally (sales) and as a euphemism (“buy into”).
In this TED talk, Mr. Sinek proposes that the best way to influence others is not to talk about “what you do”, or “how you do it”, but to express “why” you do it, i.e., the passion behind the subject. He reminded us that Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a plan,” (though he undoubtedly did). Instead, he said “I have a dream,” and went on to describe what that dream looked like. There are many other examples, such as John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon that was not only realized but created countless scientific innovations that have become part of our daily lives.
So part of my dream is captured in the tagline from The Handbook of Multisource Feedback that I also referenced in my last blog: Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little. One of the great things about being an I/O psychologist is we have the opportunity and challenge to touch “a lot of people” with our work. One way we do that is the ways we help organizations make better decisions about people, such as in the decisions about who to hire, fire, promote and develop, and by constantly striving to improve the accuracy of those decisions for the benefit of the organization and the individual. And you may (or may not) know that I am a proponent of use 360 Assessments to help improve the quality (i.e., reliability and validity) of decisions we have to make about many employees (e.g., development plans, training, promotions, staffing, compensation, succession plans, high potential identification).
We can also touch “a lot of people” with processes that affect employees once they are on board. The versions of 360 processes that The Handbook primarily focuses on are those that do touch “a lot of people” to create change one person at a time (but all at once). What is missing in that phrase is the critical notion of creating sustainable change. My criticism of many 360 processes is that they do not burden themselves with worrying about what it takes to create sustainable behavior change, seemingly feeling that the simple act of creating awareness of a need to change (a gap between observed and desired behaviors) will somehow make people magically change. Some do, but not often enough nor are they the people who need it most.
Sustained behavior change can also be thought of as a habit. Part of my dream is to have behavior change (which is a choice) become a reflex, a natural reaction.
My son-in-law, who has two daughters (with my daughter, of course), put a post on Facebook last week that asked, “Am I the only one who puts the toilet seat down in my hotel room?” I, and a few others, responded “No, I do it too”, and I (also having two daughters) have been known to use this very behavior as an example of a voluntarily adopted behavior that becomes a habit, even if the behavior has no obvious benefit to the actor. The “benefit” to the actor is that he/she (“he” in this case) is part of an organization (the household, family) and by being considerate of others, can expect to in turn maintain the cohesiveness of the organization.
Last year, right after Nelson Mandela’s death, I listened in on an interview of a BBC journalist who had made a career out of following the life of Mandela. He shared that he was so moved by this man that he gave his son the middle name “Nelson,” and the interviewer asked what he hoped to affect his son’s life by doing so (which is an interesting question). The journalist, though, had an immediate answer: He hoped that his son would show kindness to others as a reflex (i.e., ingrained habit, my words).
The notion of “kindness” is one I am hearing more often in organizations, sometimes in the context of the desire to be empathetic without sacrificing the need to make tough decisions about people. Then I saw this article (http://goo.gl/iz5Qdj) about “compassion” that seems to capture the idea of kindness and shared values. Defined as “when colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues,” some cited research indicates that to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.”
This piece on compassion then goes on to say, “Management can do something about this, They should be thinking about the emotional culture. It starts with how they are treating their own employees when they see them. Are they showing these kinds of emotions? And it informs what kind of policies they put into place. This is something that can definitely be very purposeful — not just something that rises organically.”
You can create a culture by the behaviors that leaders exhibit, whether it’s a culture of compassion, kindness, quality, customer service, fear, anger, fun, feedback, and so on. The point is that these cultures can be defined by behaviors. And a behavior is a choice, i.e., whether to do it or not. And the behavior can become a habit or reflex. We shouldn’t buy the excuse, “Well, that isn’t who I am.” I/we don’t care. The type of person/leader you are is determined by what you do, not what you think or think you think.
And when employees (at all levels) report that they want to be respected, valued, developed, and have trust in their leaders (see this report from APA: (http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/goodcompany/newsletter/article/530), organizations should listen and act, i.e., define the desired behaviors and hold leaders accountable. Someday those behaviors will become habits/reflexes.
So, what is my dream? In this context, it includes things like this:
- That more organizations will acknowledge the intuitive and research-based advantages to treating their employees with respect and kindness, and engendering trust along the way, and then do something to create sustainable change.
- Focus on the potential benefits of processes like 360’s that can potentially improve our decisions, not focus on the challenges in doing so
- Speaking of decisions, that we can use tools like 360’s to identify leaders early in their career who are poised to do damage via inappropriate behaviors, and get rid of them (or at least not promote them)
- Admit that human nature is such that behavior change requires not only awareness but accountability for sustainable change to occur
- Acknowledge that sustainable culture change requires integration into HR processes to create ongoing alignment, accountability, and measurement
- That kindness, compassion and respect become habits for all of us.
That’s enough dreaming for now.
©2014 David W. Bracken