Strategic 360s

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Posts Tagged ‘Google

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

What is a Manager? What is a Coach?

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My last blog was a brief description of the notion of the “ManagerCoach,” and that continues to be a topic of great interest for me.  Evidently it is of great interest to a number of people given some recent (and not so recent) articles that have popped up.

For example, just recently Human Resource Executive had a piece called, “Employees Improving Bosses” (http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/view/story.jhtml?id=534354629) that describes a survey of 2700 workers. One of the findings was that approximately a third said their bosses needed to improve in communicating a clear vision of success, motivating employees during adversity, and being open about their own strengths and weaknesses. (That last part is more about the manager than the employee, and is an interesting twist on effective management.)

Also a recent Fortune magazine (Dec. 3, 2012) included a one pager called, “Five Ways to Keep Your Employees Excited” by Verne Harnish (whom I am not familiar with).  The third “way” says, Grow Better Bosses, and includes “Do they know how to coach your employees so they can excel…”

These articles made me recall a study from Google that was described in the New York Times in 2011 regarding the critical abilities of leaders there.  Eight such abilities were identified, the most important of which is coaching, defined as 1) provide specific, constructive feedback  balancing the positive and negative, and 2) have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.

Finally (for now), we have a client that collected over 4000 responses to leadership effectiveness behaviors with the finding that coaching behaviors are not only the lowest scoring but also the greatest drivers of engagement.

When I ask leadership development professionals in organizations whether their managers need to be better coaches, there is unanimous and vehement agreement. And many organizations have “coaching” built into their training and development curriculum to varying degrees.

But what is a “coach,” particularly in the context of also being a manager/supervisor inside an organization with (usually) multiple direct reports?  There a many mental models of what a “coach” can/should be. The Google model seems to suggest that being a coach is accomplished by telling the employee the “best” way to solve a problem, with “best” defined by the manager on behalf of the organization and focusing on strengths.

To this person, that is not “coaching.” I (and others) believe that the “best” solutions are discovered by the employee (coachee) through a process of discovery facilitated by the coach.  Coaching should also be built upon a foundation of a trusting relationship that is created and sustained over time. That facet is probably the biggest barrier to establishing a coaching relationship where the employee has significant input into determining the best actions to take to make him/her more effective and a better contributor.

There is an important role for the manager to “tell” (i.e., inform) their employees about organizational goals and priorities, and how their jobs contribute to the achievement of those goals.  But at some point the “telling” should drop off and “listening” should replace it. If you are a manager and you are talking/telling more than 50% of the time, you are not being a coach.

©2013 David W. Bracken

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Written by David Bracken

January 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm