Strategic 360s

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Posts Tagged ‘David Bracken

Our Responsibility to Help Organizations Make Good Decisions

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Here are two pieces on performance management that surfaced today that motivated and informed this blog entry:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/big-idea-2016-dont-ditch-performance-management-process-herena

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/stop-whining-performance-ratings-glen-kallas

I was asked by a high school teacher to visit his class and talk to them about my profession, that is, just what does an I/O Psychologist do?  I find that a lot of us in this field struggle with a concise answer to that question, perhaps because we touch so many different parts of the interface between people and organizations.

For the purpose of this 30 minute time with the class of juniors, I landed on the notion of a common denominator for the applying of our trade is that of helping organizations make decisions about people. The obvious starting point is the major role we play in helping organizations decide which people to hire or not, though some of us do get involved in the employment life cycle even before that (e.g., during recruitment and advertising to draw applicants.)

Moving on from employment decisions, we can move through all sorts of stages in the career of an employee where decisions are being made (and they are making decisions as well), and wouldn’t it be nice if those decisions are being made based on criteria that are “valid” (to use our lingo), fair and transparent.  And, I told them, that was a major contribution we as I/O Psychologists bring to the process, using science and experience for the benefit of both the employee and the organization to increase the probabilities that the decision is more likely to lead to successful performance than if it were just a random (e.g., flip of the coin, gut instinct, expeditious) choice.

This little discussion was a few years ago, and it came to mind now as I read some more articles on the ongoing discussion/debate regarding Performance Appraisal/Performance Management.  Depending on what version of a Performance Management Process (PMP) makes up your mental model, a PMP can have direct consequences for an employee. In the current discussion and debate on this topic, people are fretting (and rightly so) about the mechanics of evaluating an employee.  They/we also are worrying about other facets of the PMP process that should include higher quality (and more frequent) interactions between the manager and his/her employees for both performance discussions and development conversations, with aspirations that such interactions happen more often than the once or twice a year that “formal” appraisal systems require.

One proposed solution to creating more frequent interactions between managers and employees is to get rid of the formal sessions, symbolically represented by the evil rating process.  One of the many problems this creates is to remove a source of information that the organization needs to make decisions about people.  It is our responsibility to provide decision makers with methods to provide them (at all levels) with reliable data. If the current PMP system at an organization is not doing that, it is fixable as suggested by Glen Kallas and his blog piece.  Dismantling the system does not help unless somehow that data can be generated by whatever is taking its place.  I don’t see that happening, at least in what I am reading.  If there are data being created in the alternate processes that involve more frequent interactions between managers and employees, then we have the same responsibility to ensure that information is as good or better than what it is replacing.

The Herena blog speaks to the many benefits of maintaining or even enhancing your PMP. Then she (and her CEO) go on to call for supplementing PMP by making their managers into better “coaches,” which is fantastic! Especially when supported from the top.  She doesn’t speak to the benefits of PMPs in terms of the data they produce, though the alignment benefit is extremely important and potentially lost when the system goes away.

IF you agree that the organization needs reliable data to make decisions about people throughout their employment cycle, then no profession is better equipped to do that.  Arguing that the solution is to remove the data generator instead of fixing it seems irresponsible.

I was watching a documentary about George Harrison’s life, and they interviewed his second (and last) wife, Olivia.  They were married for 23 years until his death, and it was clear that their marriage, like many, had a lot of bumps (or whatever euphemism you want to use).  Her observation was that the secret to a long marriage is not getting divorced, which I took to mean not giving up when things are difficult.  Well, there are many reasons we should not be giving up (as Glen and Monique point out), and I hope I am adding one more reason to the mix.

We have a responsibility to help organizations make good decisions about people.  And there are decisions being made constantly, ranging from promotions to pay to job assignments, and even what developmental experience you get or don’t get.  What I suggested to those students is that there should be some comfort in knowing that there are people like us that are trying to create a level playing field and good information so that the decisions that affect them (of which many are life and/or job changing) are based on reliable information.  We need to consider that responsibility when we make or influence other types of decisions, including those decisions that reduce the quality of that data.  In other words, help organizations to not “divorce” their PMPs just because they might be doing what we want them to do.

Written by David Bracken

January 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm

This Picture is Worth…?

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Logo

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?

 

 

Announcing…

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I am proud to announce…

DWBracken & Associates

  dwbracken@gmail.com

402 617 5152

“Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little.”

 

Written by David Bracken

January 8, 2016 at 11:24 pm

The Key to Feedback with Dignity

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Kris Duggan has another fine article in Fast Company titled, “Six Companies That Are Redefining Performance Management” (http://goo.gl/xXuGdn), with the six being GE, Cargill, Eli Lilly, Accenture, Adobe and Google.  The common denominator is their deemphasis (or even total abandonment) of the formal appraisal process and more focus on feedback and development, presumably via the manager/supervisor, on a more frequent basis. Each organization has its own approach to accomplishing that and the jury is out, though a couple of them are farther along and some preliminary results are coming in.

Kris characterizes the common denominator of these six approaches using these words:

They’re all switching their focus from dictating what employees should do at work to helping develop their skills as individuals.

Wow!  There are a couple of words in that sentence that are really thought-provoking and, in my opinion, taking this discussion in the wrong direction. The first (not in order) is “dictating.”  Since when did organizations abdicate the right (let alone need) to “dictate” to their employees what to do? Using less pejorative words than “dictate,” we call it directing, guiding, managing, leading, and/or aligning.  Reading the word “dictate” makes this person feel like I have been taken back to the days of the union boss ranting against the evils of the management empire who have “taken away our rights and humanity,” or something to that effect.

In a couple of my earlier blogs, including my last one (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/checking-in-is-not-enough/), also inspired by a Duggan article, I used the ALAMO model where the first “A” stands for Alignment, the most powerful variable in the performance equation because it can be both positive and negative. People need and expect alignment. Values are a form of alignment, guiding behavior. Goals help create alignment.

In that same blog, I propose that there is a time and place for Directing, and a time for Guiding. Both are forms of Alignment but using different styles for different situations. Just within the last 24 hours I heard a former professional football player saying that the biggest difference between college and pro football is that in college you are told what to do; in the pros, you are told why you need to do it.

On February 26 I will be giving a talk at the annual conference of the Society of Psychologists in Management (SPIM) in Atlanta titled, “Create a Feedback Culture, Create Change, Maintain Dignity.”  (See http://www.spim.org/conference2016.shtml for more information on the conference.)  The “dignity” aspect of the talk is very relevant to this topic of alignment. From one angle, we show dignity to our employees by showing them the respect they expect by providing them with a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities, and how successful performance is defined. And, again, this is in terms of both tangible and intangible (behavioral) accomplishments.

I don’t agree that we protect an employee’s dignity by shielding them from negative feedback, as some would propose. But I will talk about that more at SPIM.

Very importantly, we can and should protect the dignity of the employee by placing accountability on feedback providers and designers of feedback systems to require that feedback is job related, i.e., aligned with factors that are important to the organization, not just whimsical thoughts of individuals (at any level) who might be given free rein to inflict “feedback.”  What comes to mind is the Amazon stories reported in the NY Times about open feedback systems where employees are able to give anonymous comments that were, in some cases, very damaging and not job related, reportedly causing some employees to leave the company.

The second word that Kris uses in the quote that I question is “switching.” The implication is that we can’t have it both ways, i.e., that we have to give up alignment in order to have feedback and development. Maybe the most important message in the ALAMO model is that feedback and development without alignment may be worthless or even counterproductive (i.e., drawing resources away from the organization with no return).

Some may call it dictating when we set expectation as to what the organization needs from you in order to be a successful member. I would rather call it alignment.  But, whatever you call it, your feedback and development processes need to have it.  Feedback without alignment may not only be irrelevant but it may also take away our dignity.

Holes in the Wall: A SIOP Preview

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I will be leading a Conversation Hour at the upcoming SIOP Annual Conference, surprisingly titled, “Strategic 360 Feedback.” I would love to hear from any of you as to what you would like to talk about in your use of 360’s for more than “just” leadership development, whether you are going to be there or just wish you were.

One topic I do want to address is the use of 360’s in creating large scale change in organizations (climate change??), harkening back to the tagline at the beginning of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback: “Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little.”

I am thinking about using a metaphor building off the observation (criticism?) of “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” here applied to 360’s. Of course, I look at things a little differently, as in missed opportunities. To extend the metaphor, I see many (most) organizations frustrated with the inability to sustain processes such as performance management systems or other culture change initiatives. So let’s say the “initiative” is like a picture we are trying to hang on the wall. So we have to get a hook nailed into the wall. I believe they are trying to push in nails with just their thumbs, and, of course, the picture might hang on the wall for minutes or a few hours, but then crashes with a large thump and lots of broken glass. And leaves a hole in the wall, maybe adding to all the holes already there from other unsuccessful attempts to hang that picture or other pictures.

To wrap up the metaphor, let’s survey the scene (so to speak). A broken picture with lots of accompanying noise that everyone can see and refer to, including the cost of repair if they are going to try to hang it again. And of course the holes in the wall everyone will point at as evidence of all the failed attempts to hang pictures in the past. So where is the hammer (i.e., 360 feedback processes)?

Well, let’s see. We had a hammer but lost it. And someone hit their thumb with the last one. The last time we used it, it was too small (or big, take your pick). A new hammer is expensive. The person who had the hammer left the company and took it with them (and we really didn’t like that hammer anyways). The last time we used it, we used the wrong end (must have been a manager). Maybe a shoe would work next time?

Like any tool, a hammer (aka 360) can be misused and even dangerous. Allan Church and I produced an article that tries to demonstrate how the 360 “hammer” can be used to improve performance management in the right hands. http://www.orgvitality.com/articles/HRPSBrackenChurch OV.pdf

And maybe hang on the wall for a long time.

Please let me know if you have any observations about how your “hammer” hasn’t worked and/or how this metaphor works or doesn’t work for you.

See you in Hawaii??

P.S.  The 3rd meeting of the Strategic 360 Forum will convene in Chicago on September 16.  Let me know if you have an interest.

©2014 David W. Bracken

Get In Touch

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My friend and co-manager of the Linked In SIOP Practitioner Network, Paul Thoresen, passed along this link (http://lnkd.in/bP4ea69) that took me to a blog titled, “The Truth About 360-Degree Feedback”, noting that it was getting a lot of traction on LI.  At last, someone has seen the “truth”!!  This person is Liz Ryan, and she does indeed have quite a following.

Well, her “truth” is that 360 is “vile” and “garbage” and all sorts of nasty, inhuman things that keep us from talking to one another.  She says that employees shouldn’t give “performance reviews” on their peers but evidently it’s OK to give feedback, so I’m not sure what the distinction is.  We have all hoped that someday employees would be able to give honest, constructive feedback to each other. We also hope that all supervisors act consistently with organizational goals and values.  I also hope to win the lottery.

She says, “If your managers want to know how their Team Leaders are doing, they can get out of their offices and observe.”  Really?  There are so many realities working against that, they are impossible to count. The realities of work life are larger spans of control, empowered leaders performing in teams and out of the line of sight of their management, work happening in virtual teams across geographical boundaries on nonobservable technologies, matrix organizations and so on.

She says that leaders want to know, “Can you tell me about a specific situation where I did something you would have liked me to do differently, so that I can learn from it?” That’s what the 360 instrument can’t give you.”  Every 360 I do asks exactly that in the write in comments, and we expect our 360 participants to have a discussion with their team members and peers regarding their feedback. In other words, it is a discussion starter, a conversation enabler.  I wonder what kind of 360 she has experienced because there are indeed some bad ones in design and use.

Her solution:  Create an “assignment”.  I want you to sit down with each person on your team, individually and in a private place, and ask him or her “What is one thing I can do to be a better team leader?” Just ask for one suggestion. Write down the suggestions you get and then let’s sit and talk about them. When we meet for that conversation, I want to hear your suggestions for how I can be a better manager for you.

According to Liz, that’s going to build trust even where none exists. According to Liz, that’s going to create a more human environment. What she is describing is the kind of “one time” event she rails against in describing the vile 360 feedback system she has experienced.  Somehow writing down suggestions is going to create behavior change where none has existed in the past, where there is no follow up nor accountability.  Welcome to La La Land, Inc.

I suggest Liz and you all take a look at this recent Doonesbury cartoon (http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2013/12/08#.UrC21OLWs24) that gets at one aspect of the need for employees to have a vehicle for identifying inappropriate supervisory  (or even peer) behavior that is inconsistent with organizational expectations, whether they be values or even policies and laws.  What Liz is proposing is basically following the “chain of command” in the organization, and expecting the employee to have faith that they can all of a sudden what they have not been perhaps allowed to do for their whole career, i.e., be honest with their boss, and hope that their input will be accepted and that there will be no retribution. That is a huge leap of faith unfortunately for all too many employees. And I’m afraid Liz is out of touch with that reality as well. Installing a “hot line” seems to be her solution for handling the “end runs” she also rails against. The Doonesbury example is an extreme one, but the point can be taken down a few notches to less egregious examples of behavior inconsistent with company values, even as simple as refusing to acknowledge the viewpoints of others.

But using 360’s to manage the negative performing end of the distribution is a minor part of the story. They are also used to identify and develop the leaders of the future for placement in our high potential programs and succession planning systems. They help guide development planning and coaching experiences and give us data that can measure progress over time so we know if our training and development systems are working.

The fact is that a well-designed and implemented 360 feedback system creates a level playing field for employees to see what is expected of their managers and peers. If every leader is required to participate, it creates real and perceived fairness.  It creates an opportunity to receive feedback which is necessary to for behavior change to occur.  Some people don’t like to receive feedback and they probably don’t have mirrors in their houses either.

As for stack rankings and performance reviews and even 360’s that are used to help make decisions about employees, the fact is that in organizations some people get more and some get less, whether it’s pay, promotions, even development experiences.  I’m  not sure how those decisions get made in a fair way in Liz’s La La Land where there is no performance review or 360’s, but 360’s done fairly and consistently can help inform decisions by collecting reliable information that is superior than that collected by a single source, whether that be a single supervisor, HR manager, or water cooler.

At the end Liz proposes 3 questions that a manager can use at his/her staff meeting:

“How are we doing?”

“How are you doing?” and

“How am I doing, managing you guys?”

These are great suggestions and are often part of the action plans coming out of 360 feedback coaching.  The problems are that:

1)      Many managers don’t do it, and they are the ones who need it most

2)      When managers do it, the responses are nonexistent or not honest

360 Feedback will catch up with the managers in Group 1, and create a forum for employees in Group 2.

No two 360 Feedback processes are alike and therefore certainly vary in their quality and effectiveness. To lump them all together and then label them as “vile” or whatever is certainly not responsible, Nor are they the answer to all organizational woes; far from it. But they can make some processes incrementally better if done well.

Get in touch, Liz

Written by David Bracken

December 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm

What is a coach? (Redux)

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In an earlier post (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/what-is-a-manager-what-is-a-coach/) I asked the question, “what is a coach?” in the context of the role of manager as coach. A few publications crossed my virtual desk recently that continue to make me think that this question is being addressed from very different angles, neither acknowledging the other.  Let me see if I can bring some focus to this dilemma stemming from the different mental models we have of what “coach” really means.

I think it’s a safe guess that the first vision most of us have when the word “coach” appears is that of the sports coach. From Wikipedia we find this partial definition:

“In sports, a coach is an individual that teaches and supervises, which involves giving directions, instruction and training of the on-field operations of an athletic team or of individual athletes.”  For the purposes of this discussion, I will call this the “Instructor” coach.

Contrast to this definition of coaching/coach (that I have cobbled together from various sources):

Coaching‘ is working together to identify a person’s skills and capabilities and helping that person use their skills and capabilities to the best of their ability.  A “Coach” is the individual who provides coaching.”   I will call this the “Guide” coach.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive views of what a manager-coach should be. There are situations when each is appropriate.  My sense, though, is that the “Instructor” version is the default definition, i.e., the traditional version of coach and one that most managers find easiest and encouraged by organization. It is the “Guide” version of coaching that is more difficult to master but (I and others would argue) is more effective. More on that later.

So back to the publications I mentioned. The first is an article recently published in Personnel Psychology, “Development and Validation of The Performance Management Behavior Questionnaire” (Kinicki, Jacobson, Peterson and Prussia, 2013).  To cut to the quick, the PMBQ instrument has multiple items/scales that describe manager behaviors associated with performance management, and one of the scales is called “Coaching.”  Its items are these:

15. Shows others how to complete difficult assignments and tasks

16. Provides the resources needed to get the job done

17. Helps identify solutions to overcome performance roadblocks

18. Helps people to develop their skills

19. Provides direction when it is needed

So which type of coach does that sound like to you, Instructor or Guide?  (That’s not a trick question.) As a hint, there is nothing in there that I see that suggests a dialogue with the coachee (employee).

Two points about this research. First, the Subject Matter Experts were largely existing managers who have probably been formed by history, reinforcement and some level of success to define coaching this way.  Second, I was really disappointed to see that they use a frequency scale which I have noted before is seriously flawed both statistically and conceptually.

Compare those items with these sampled from the Perceived Quality of the Employee Coaching Relationship (PQECR) (Gregory and Levy, 2010) that I have integrated into The ManagerCoach© feedback instrument:

My supervisor and I have mutual respect for one another.
My supervisor is easy to talk to.
My supervisor spends more time listening than talking when he/she is coaching me.
I am content to talk about my concerns or troubles with my supervisor.
I feel safe being open and honest with my supervisor.
My supervisor helps me to identify and build upon my strengths.
My supervisor engages in activities that help me unlock my potential.

 

Hopefully those sound more like the “Guide” coach where the relationship comes to the forefront.

It seems like every time I read something about effective managers, the topic of empowering and involving subordinates surfaces.  Such is the case with the most recent issue of People & Strategy Journal (from HRPS) that focuses on the topic of performance management (and also includes an article by Allan Church and myself, but that’s another blog topic to come).  In one piece alone, we find these statements from Gyan Nagpal:

  • …many 21st century employees are rejecting conversations that are one-way…
  • Greater employee autonomy and empowerment also changes the meaning of management.
  • We have gone from a “supervisor of task and outcomes” to an “enabler of performance, innovative thinking and collective success.”

With a related theme, there is the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review with an article titled, “Connect, Then Lead” (Cuddy, Kohut, & Neffinger, 2013) with this observation:

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.

But, instead of quoting others, let me make my own case for differentiating the Instructor and Guide versions of coaching using the ALAMO model that I have introduced before (most recently, https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/aligning-to-alignment/) where I propose that:

Performance = Alignment x (Ability x Motivation x Opportunity)

The ALAMO view on two types of “coaching” might sound like this as we listen in on the conversation with employees:

Type of Coach

Alignment

Ability

Motivation

Opportunity

Instructor “I know what is best. Go do it.” “Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me.” “Success or failure will affect your PA rating.” “Here’s your time frame and budget.”
Guide “What do you think is the best way to achieve this goal?” “Yes, that approach is a good match for your skills.” “It seems like you are most excited by this approach.” “Are there any barriers that might hinder your progress?”

(Let me note here that there are times when the manager needs to be the “Instructor”, and one of those is in the area of organizational values. Organizational values exist to define and guide appropriate behavior, which is a process of Alignment.  But with Values, the question is not one of Ability but more a matter of choice, i.e., the choice by the employee as to whether (or not) he/she is going to behave that way.  This is where 360’s can be a valuable tool by providing the manager (and organization) reliable data on how these behaviors are observed by others (coworkers and, if applicable, customers).)

It is disappointing when I see organizations define coaching using Instructor language. I believe that most of us see that we have moved toward a more humanistic, involving and empowering model of supervision, reinforced by work configurations (e.g., global, remote, matrix) that demand nontraditional leadership styles.  As importantly, the Guide model of coaching is more sustainable AND more developmental.

©2013 David W. Bracken