Strategic 360s

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Posts Tagged ‘Corner Office

Nimble and Sustainable

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Adam Bryant, who writes the NY Times Corner Office feature that I have referenced on multiple occasions, is finally publishing an overview of observations from his interviews of senior leaders in the form of a book (“Quick and Nimble”) and a synopsis in the January 4 edition of the Times’ Business section (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/business/management-be-nimble.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&hp), called “Management Be Nimble.”

In this article, offers 6 drivers of innovation, and I’m going to highlight 3 to make a point.  So here they are, each with a descriptive quote from the article:

Rules of the Road

“…if employees start seeing a disconnect between the stated values and how people are allowed to behave, the entire exercise of developing explicit values will damage the organization. People will shut down, roll their eyes and wonder why on earth they hoped that this time might be different.”

A Little Respect

“When we have problems with somebody gossiping, or someone being disrespectful to a superior or a subordinate, or a peer, it is swarmed on and dealt with”

It’s About the Team

“To foster such a culture, many C.E.O.’s establish a simple rule for their employees: They have to do what they say they are going to do.”

OK, I think we get it.  I, and many/most of you, understand these things, and I, for one, have been building these principles into talks about culture change for a long time. They basically come in the form of:

  • Define the values/culture/climate of the organization in behavioral terms, and then walk the talk
  • Call out bad behavior and address it
  • Hold people accountable when they violate promises, either to the company or each other

The problem, of course, is that creating and sustaining a culture requires that it applies to everyone in the organization so that employees know what to expect from each other (and their leaders), positive behavior can be rewarded, and misbehavior addressed. 

About this same time, Booz & Company released a report, Culture’s Role in Enabling Organizational Change, that has received quite a bit of attention and points out the significant potential barrier to change that culture can present:

A change plan may be especially hard to implement if employees see the transformation as being contrary to the company’s culture—to the many things, such as feedback and peer and manager behavior, that determine (as people often put it) “how we do things around here.”

The question that Adam’s article raises is how organizations can maintain their “nimbleness” while at the same time maintaining the kind of culture they desire.  I maintain that “nimbleness” and “sustainable culture” don’t have to be oxymorons.  But as organizations grow and evolve, things happen that challenge the maintenance of their culture, such as:

  • More people, more supervisors, more variability in styles
  • Larger spans of control, less ability to monitor
  • Bring in leaders from outside, not “home grown”
  • Remote locations

In my last blog (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/get-in-touch/), we considered Liz’s opinion that 360 feedback processes are all vile and that no organization needs that level of formality and rigor.  It is undoubtedly true that small organizations do not need a traditional 360 feedback process to know how their employees are behaving or misbehaving. But with challenges such as those listed above confronting growing, thriving organizations, it becomes impractical to expect that a culture can be monitored and maintained by walking around and hanging out at the virtual or real water cooler.

So I ask Mr. Bryant, just how are these drivers going to be operationalized?  The article I published with Allan Church (http://www.orgvitality.com/articles/HRPSBrackenChurch OV.pdf ) enumerates the benefits of 360 feedback processes in bringing about sustainable behavior change and resulting culture change, which, by the way, requires integration into performance management and other human resource systems (which is also endorsed in the Booz report). 

Part of the challenge is in putting in place the feedback process that will define and then monitor behavior that is consistent with the desired culture without it becoming too cumbersome.  One approach we see surfacing is the “nudge,” a kind of pulse feedback process using an abbreviated list of key behaviors administered on a regular (quarterly?) basis with some sort of accountability attached.  We see Google, for instance, implementing such a process with significant success (http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/view/story.jhtml?id=534355733&ss=The+People+Scientist). 

If someone else knows a better way to satisfy the requirements for system-wide behavioral definition, measurement, and accountability that doesn’t use multisource feedback, I’m all ears.

©2014 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

February 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

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