Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Posts Tagged ‘culture change

No Fighting in The War Room!

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My apologies (or sympathies) to those of you who have not seen the black satire, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” which contains the line, “No fighting in the War Room!”  I was reminded of this purposively humorous contradiction in reading an otherwise very insightful summary of the state of feedback tools by Josh Bersin that I hope you can access via LinkedIn here:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/employee-feedback-killer-app-new-market-emerges-josh-bersin.

Mr. Bersin seems quite supportive of the “ditch the ratings” bandwagon that is rolling through the popular business literature, and his article is a relatively comprehensive survey of the emerging technologies that are supporting various versions of the largely qualitative feedback market.  But right in the middle he made my head spin in Kubrick-like fashion when he starts talking about the need for ways to “let employees rate their managers,” as if this a) is something new, and b) can be done without using ratings.  Instead of “No fighting in the War Room!”, there is “No rating in the evaluation system!”   I’m curious: Is an evaluation not a “rating” because it doesn’t have a number? Won’t someone attach a number to the evaluation? Either explicitly or implicitly? And wouldn’t it be better if there were some agreement as to what number is attached to that evaluation?

What I think is most useful in Bersin’s article is his categorization and differentiation of the types of feedback processes and tools that seem to be evolving in our field, using his labels:

  • Next Generation Pulse Survey and Management Feedback Tools
  • “Open Suggestion Box” and Anonymous Social Network Tools
  • Culture Assessment and Management Tools
  • Social Recognition Tools

I want to focus on Culture Assessment and Management Tools, in the context of this discussion of ratings and performance management, and, in doing so, referencing some points I have made in the past. If you look at Mr. Bersin’s “Simply Irresistible Organization” (in the article), it contains quite a few classic HR terms like “trust,”, “coaching”, transparency,” “support,” “humanistic,” “inspiration,” “empowered,” and so on, that he probably defines somewhere but nonetheless cry out for behavioral descriptors to tell us what we will see happening when they are being done well, if at all. Ultimately it is those behaviors and the support for those behaviors that defines the culture. Furthermore, we can observe and measure those behaviors, and then hold employees accountable for acting in ways consistent with the organization’s needs.

To quote from Booz & Co in 2013:

On the informal side, there must be tangible behaviors that demonstrate what the culture looks like, and they must be granular enough that all levels of the organization can exhibit the behaviors.”

“On the formal side — and where HR can help out — the performance management and rewards systems must reward people for displaying the right behaviors that exemplify the culture. Too often, changes to the culture are not reflected in the formal elements, such as the performance-management process. This results in a relapse to the old ways of working, and a culture that never truly evolves.

Of course, all that requires measurement, which requires ratings. Which, in turn, begs for 360 Feedback, if we agree that supervisory ratings by themselves are inadequate. My experience is that management demand ratings. My prediction is that unchecked qualitative feedback will also run its course and be rejected as serving little purpose in supporting either evaluation or development.

There may be a place for the kind of feedback that social networks provide that is open and basically uncontrolled in providing spontaneous recognition. But I totally disagree with Mr. Bersin who states that any feedback is better than no feedback.  I have and still do counsel against survey comment sections that are totally open and beg for “please whine here” types of comments that are often not constructive and not actionable.

Mr. Bersin brings up the concept of feedback as a “gift” that I recently addressed as going against the notion that feedback providers need to have accountability for their feedback and see it as an investment, not a gift, especially a thoughtless gift (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/feedback-is-not-a-gift-its-an-investment/).

There is a very basic, important difference in how the field of feedback is trending, i.e., more quantity, less quality, too many white elephants. We need more 401Ks.

©2015 David W. Bracken

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I Have a Dream

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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

Written by David Bracken

April 23, 2014 at 6:16 pm

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

Can you change a culture?

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Us folks at OrgVitality have a view of the “vital” organization that includes concepts of ambidexterity, agility and resilience. These concepts can be operationalized to promote the creation of a culture that makes those characteristics a way of life in the organization.

I found a recent article (Lengnick-Hall, Beck and Lengnick-Hall, 2010) titled, “Developing a capacity for organizational resilience through strategic human resource management.”  Their message of creating and sustaining a culture through human resource processes is a powerful concept.

These authors define resilience as:

“…a firm’s ability to effectively absorb, develop situation-specific responses to, and ultimately engage in transformative activities to capitalize on disruptive surprises that potentially threaten organization survival.”  They go on to propose that resilience should be created through individual knowledge, skills, and abilities and organizational routines and processes.

This is good stuff but I think they have missed an opportunity to talk about creating a culture through behavior change. Culture has a lot of definitions, but a couple are consistent with this view of behavior being a key factor. I have been drawn to an observable and measurable definition of culture offered by Bossidy and Charan (2002) in their seminal book, Execution: The discipline of getting things done,:

The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders. Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate.”

While many traditionalists will argue with such a “superficial” treatment of culture, it was foreshadowed by Kotter and Heskett (1992) who refined their definition of culture with this statement: “…culture represents the behavior patterns or style of an organization that new employees are automatically encouraged to follow by their fellow employees.” (p. 4)

This definition is too limiting in not directly acknowledging that the “fellow employees” who have the most impact on creating the culture are the leaders of that organization.

Let’s return to the resilience article. I looked for statements of behaviors that might be useful for creating a culture of resilience, particularly defined in terms of leader behavior that could easily be fodder for a 360 or upward feedback process. Fortunately for me, there is a section called, “Behavioral elements of organizational resilience.” Their language is somewhat academic (e.g., “nonconforming strategic repertoires”), but here are some examples of behaviors that I propose support their conceptualization of resilience:

  • Encourages new solutions to problems
  • Finds new strategies that are different from the past and industry norms
  • Takes the initiative and moves quickly to overcome challenges
  • Ensures that new and creative solutions are consistent with organizational goals and values
  • Challenges the status quo
  • Encourages the discarding of obsolete information and practices
  • Recognizes and rewards behaviors that demonstrate flexibility and resourcefulness

They list a whole raft of HR policies, principles and practices that can support the development of resilience, including things like after-action reviews, open architecture, broad job descriptions, employee suggestions, and cross-departmental task forces. They reference a need to include performance reviews (“results-based appraisals) that encourage the right activities.

But nowhere is 360 feedback mentioned as a potentially powerful tool to reinforce and create culture change. Here are a few ways that 360 processes can be integral parts of a culture change initiative:

  • Defines the construct (e.g., resilience) in behavioral terms
  • Communicates the construct as an organizational priority (i.e., is being measured)
  • Potentially communicates to all employees (raters, ratees) on a repeated basis
  • Creates a metric for tracking progress over time
  • Creates a metric for identifying individual, team, and organizational gaps in performance
  • Creates accountability for behavior consistent with organizational needs
  • Supports aligned HR practices when integrated with other HR systems (e.g., development, staffing, succession planning, performance reviews, high potential development)

This list makes some assumptions about the design and implementation of 360 processes that support culture change. That is such a large topic that it would require an entire book. Stay tuned for that.

I am amazed and disappointed that a major treatise on what is in effect culture change would not include 360 feedback as at least worth consideration as a supporting HR practice. It makes me wonder why that is.

References

Bossidy, L, and Charan, R. (2002). Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York: Crown Business.

Kotter, J.P., and Heskett, J.L. (1992). Corporate Culture and Performance. New York: Free Press.

Lengnick-Hall, C.A., et al. (2010). Developing a capacity for organizational resilience through strategic human resource management. Human Resource Management Review, doi:10.1016/j.hrmr.2010.07.001.

©2011 David W. Bracken