Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Posts Tagged ‘performance management

Crowd-sourced: Drive-thru Feedback?

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danger-fast-food

(co-authored with Dale Rose)

There were a couple of interesting webinars in the last 2 weeks on the topic of performance management trends.  One was hosted by AON (Levi Segal and Seymour Adler) and the other by Talent Quarterly (Dave Ulrich, hosted by Marc Effron).

I (Dave) am particularly interested in this topic at this moment because I will be hosting my own discussion/debate on this topic at SHRM Florida on August 31 in Orlando. There I will be joined by Keith Lykins (Lykins International) and Joann Gamicchia (Orange County Clerk of Courts) to share our perspectives and engage the audience in an exchange.

As a result, I recently became aware of work by Gerry Ledford regarding trends in the field of performance management (http://goo.gl/lpv8OZ).  He writes about “cutting-edge performance management,” which is characterized by three things: Ongoing feedback, ratingless reviews, and crowd-sourced feedback.

While there has been a lot of banter recently about how to create ongoing discussions between managers and their direct reports, what really caught my attention was this statement about crowd-sourced feedback (CSF):

There is very little written about and almost no research on this growing area, but we think it may replace traditional 360 feedback over time. It uses a technology (social media) that most employees know, it is delivered in real time rather than annually, and the feedback is free form and therefore less artificial than a 360 rating form.

It is interesting to hear a well respected author suggest that a feedback method with a fairly sizable research base might be replaced by another method because the new method is 1) familiar, 2) faster, and 3) easier to do.  This sounds a little like replacing a healthy nutritious meal with fast food. It’s not that fast food is without any merit – certainly we’ve all traveled enough to know that sometimes you just need something quick and easy.  But let’s not jump too quickly into assuming that fast-food-feedback will serve the same needs as 360° feedback.  Gerry is certainly correct that crowd-sourced feedback does not qualify as 360° feedback, especially if you compare it to the definition that we (Bracken, Rose & Church, in press) have proposed:

360° Feedback is a process for collecting, quantifying, and reporting co-worker observations about an individual (i.e., a ratee) that facilitates/enables three specific data-driven/based outcomes: (a) the collection of rater perceptions of the degree to which specific behaviors are exhibited; (b) the analysis of meaningful comparisons of rater perceptions across multiple ratees, between specific groups of raters for an individual ratee, and changes over time; and (c) the creation of sustainable individual, group and /or organizational change in behaviors valued by the organization.

At this point, it is difficult to make generalizations and comparison with 360° Feedback because CSF comes in many different forms. Josh Bersin’s review of the emerging feedback market has no clear category for the type of feedback system Ledford describes. Just from what we have read in various articles, we see that CSF might be:

  • “Push” feedback (ratees asking for feedback)
  • “Pull” feedback (raters provide feedback on their own, at their own initiative)
  • “Event” oriented (e.g., how did I do in a presentation?), though this is not really “ongoing”
  • Totally unstructured (open ended comments on whatever topic occurs to the rater)
  • Open ended but requires attaching comments to rating dimensions
  • Monitored by the organization or unfettered
  • Only for ratee or shared with/used by the organization (manager, HR, other decision makers)

We see potential value in many of these types of feedback, but they clearly do not provide the same benefits to a leader or organization that 360° Feedback can provide.

If we can make some comparisons between true 360° Feedback and CSF, we see these differences of some significance:

  1. Open-ended feedback (which CSF relies on) is highly skewed to a narrow set of content areas (Rose et al, 2004)
  2. Self-selection in crowd sourcing causes sampling bias
  3. CSF makes no allowance for “opportunity to observe” error/bias, i.e., the competence and motivation of the source (rater)
  4. CSF has no method to track individual or group change over time
  5. By using standardized survey content, 360s allow strategically-aligned behavior change across the system
  6. Use of feedback to create real change is greater with 360s (until proven otherwise)
  7. Well done 360s have safeguards against retaliation and misuse
  8. Normative comparisons to other company leaders is an option with 360s
  9. 360s can be aggregated to view company-wide or system-wide trends that can be compared over time (crowd sourcing cannot)
  10. Unlike CSF, 360s allow for census participation – all leaders can be directed to participate in a standardized process; allowing leaders to create organization-wide shifts in behavior and culture.

CSF’s are equivalent to 1-2 item 360’s in most cases where the rater is providing feedback on a very narrow set of behaviors (which may or may not be specified, may or may not be actionable). They are narrowly focused on content that may or may not be aligned with organizational competencies and/or values. They may be more timely than regularly scheduled 360’s, but not necessarily so (CSF may not be timely, and 360’s do not have to be just annual events). The opportunity for timeliness may be an illusion, an opportunity offered but not always fulfilled.

Dr. Ledford’s call for more research needs to be answered.  Here are some things we would like to know:

  • What are the various contexts in which CSF is collected? (We certainly should combine different methods in examining the effectiveness of the feedback, though we could compare methods).
  • Do ratees actually use the feedback (i.e., change their behavior, let alone pay attention to it)?
  • Does the novelty wear off over time?
  • What types of individuals avoid CSF vs. those who use it frequently? (are high performing early career employees more likely to use CSF than veterans with a long track record of success?)
  • What is the differential effect due to type of CSF?
  • What are the opinions of CSF? For users, nonusers and other stakeholders (e.g., HR, management)?

While we are certainly encouraged that there is so much interest in finding ways to improve employee feedback, it’s worth recognizing that 360° Feedback has a long history of success helping leaders to learn from their environment.  Further, there is a fair amount of research and consensus around best practice in 360° Feedback.  Hopefully researchers and practitioners will take a careful look at new feedback methods like CSF.  Until we have a longer track record and much more experience with CFS, it may be a bit premature to assume that CFS will fully serve an organization’s need for valid feedback that is useful for guiding a wide range of talent decisions.

This is not necessarily an either/or choice between using 360° Feedback and CSF. But we don’t think it should ever be a “CSF only” choice.

 

Bersin, J. (2015). Feedback is the killer app: A new market and management model emerges. Forbes, August 26.  Retrieved at http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/08/26/employee-feedback-is-the-killer-app-a-new-market-emerges/#41bf71036626

Bracken, D. W., Rose, D. S., & Church, A. H. (in press). The evolution and devolution of 360° feedback. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice.

Rose, D. S., Farrell, T., & Robinson, G. N.  (2004). Are Narrative Comments in 360-Degree Feedback Useful or Useless?  Technical Report #8253. Berkeley, CA: Data Driven Decisions, Inc.

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

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.

Checking In Is Not Enough

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It has been two years since I last raised the question in this blog about “what is a coach?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/what-is-a-coach-redux/).   While I think (and talk) about this topic often, I haven’t been moved to write about it in this forum until now when my friend Jon Low published in his daily Low-Down a piece from Fast Company by Kris Duggan titled, “Why The Annual Performance Review is Going Extinct.”  (http://goo.gl/sH7hVi)

There’s a lot going on in this article.  I disagree with the notion that performance appraisals are going “extinct,” so I want to focus on this question of coaching.  Most of the arguments for dismantling the appraisal call for more interaction between the employee and the manager/supervisor, sometimes as if it’s an “either/or” type of choice, like you can’t do both have an annual appraisal and regular feedback and coaching.

Kris does the same in this article, as in “turning managers into coaches,” which here literally means checking in more frequently on progress toward goals.  Taken to its logical end and the capability to monitor some jobs continuously, the best “coaches” will be those managers who constantly monitor their subordinates.

Actually, goal setting and monitoring are often set outside the definitions of “coaching” and reserved more for “managing” performance.  Coaching requires some sort of situational diagnosis, but only as a starting point.

My reflex reaction is to say that “checking in” in not “coaching,” any more than “showing up” is 80% of success (according to Woody Allen).   But maybe “checking in” is an activity (behavior) that is the transition from managing into coaching, the opportunity to clarify goals, check for understanding and identify possible barriers (e.g., resources). That also assumes that “checking in” is more than just saying, “Hey, how ya doin’?”

Here I may be falling into my own trap of making assumptions about what “checking In” means and is intended to mean. Kris and BetterWorks coworkers  may have some particular methodology around training managers on how to “check in” to determine progress against goals. Yet “checking in” has a very casual feel to it in our vernacular, and has the very real risk of being misused as some sort of type of “coaching.”

What IS important is that manager/leaders/supervisors aren’t somehow led to believe that “checking in” is synonymous with “coaching,” and that they are “coaching” when they check-in and that’s the total requirement for being a manager-coach.

Building on a simple model of coaching that I started in the “Redux” blog mentioned above, let me propose a taxonomy of basic manager-as-coach that can create shared expectations for the manager and his/her team members. When there is a clear understanding of what various types of “coaching” can be used to approach a given situational need, and the understanding is shared by both parties (coach and coachee), then the event is expedited.

In an effort to be open-minded, I propose four basic types of coaching style that includes the “check in”:

  • Checker: Ensures understanding of goals and resources.
  • Director: Identifies problems and provides a recommended solution(s). Tells what action to take.
  • Activator: Guides coachee through identification of options and optimal approach, aligned with team/org goals.
  • Developer: Engages coachee in regular, formal discussions regarding current, short term and long term (e.g., career) goals and development implications/steps.

Imagine that the organization requires that every team (defined as a group with a manager/supervisor) has training on these four types of manager/employee interactions, when and how often each type is optimally used, how the conversation is best accomplished, and some role modeling.

Using elements of the ALAMO model (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/alamo-a-new-performance-model-webinar/) (across the top), we can provide examples of how the various interactions might go when initiated by the manager/supervisor.  This table is provided to show the hopefully stark differences in the coaching styles available to a manager, each of which is appropriate under certain circumstances, though typically overused (Director) or underused (Activator).

Alignment Ability Motivation Opportunity
Checker “Are you clear on your assignment?” “Is there anything you need to know?” “Are you making progress?” “Do you have what you need?”
Director “I know what is best. Go do it.” “Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me before.” “Success or failure will affect your PA rating.” “Here’s your time frame and budget. Make it work.”
Activator “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?”
Developer What are your career goals?  What does the organization need? What abilities will you need to develop to get there? Why do you want to go that direction? Why haven’t you already started?

This can create a “language” for the team and for the organization, for that matter. Whether initiated by the manager or the employee, any formal or informal conversation might begin by saying, “Here’s the situation, and let’s have a quick Directive discussion”, or “Let’s have an Activation discussion on how to approach this,” and then dive in. Each person knows they are having a “coaching” session, whether informal or formal, and the basic objective. Or “I’m just checking in. Everything going OK?”

Performance management systems can be set up to allow managers to keep track of the very basics of when  these types of sessions occur.  This can help them track their own progress on using different styles of coaching, and also see when it is time to do career coaching, for example, if that has slipped through the cracks.

I heard, via a webinar, of one organization that gives employees cards with different types of interactions printed on them, and they can “redeem” them with their manager to initiate informal or formal discussions at their discretion.  The manager, on the other side of the equation, can be challenged to collect the cards from each employee over the course of a quarter and/or year. So the employee will have cards that say, using my model,  Checker, Director, Activator, or Developer.  There will be a lot of Checker cards, but only a few (2-4) Developer cards. Each card might have some verbiage with guidance on how and when to best use them.

Finally, let me loop back around to a question Jon Low raises, namely “who should be judging who?”  There is no question that employees should have the opportunity to provide feedback regarding their manager’s performance as a coach. Instruments such as The ManagerCoach© help define the desired behaviors and outcomes (e.g., trust) that will only occur if managers are measured and held accountable to, and hopefully developed, trained and selected as well.

We can’t create effective manager-coaches if we aren’t clear as to what they look like, and then select, train and reward accordingly.  “Checking in” isn’t enough to be a manager coach, any more than just showing up leads to success.

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

ALAMO: A New Performance Model (Webinar)

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Please join OrgVitality for our next webinar in the 2015 series!

ALAMO: A New Diagnostic Performance Model for Individuals, Teams and Organizations

Thursday, June 11th, 2015 at 12:30 PM EDT, 9:30 AM PST

David Bracken, PhD

Performance management and improvement are discussed constantly at all levels of an organization, i.e., individual, team and organizational. We can argue that all performance is sub-optimal (improvable), so the question is: what are the primary factors that drive performance, and then how to ensure that all those causal factors receive full consideration when prescribing interventions. Just considering individual performance alone, ALAMO addresses a huge need to provide managers with tools that support their critical roles of coaching and performance management.

The webinar introduces the ALAMO model of performance that is an acronym which mathematically combines ALignment, Ability, Motivation and Opportunity. We will discuss the value of acronyms, such as SMART and GROW, that promote the communication, retention and use of performance tools. In addition to being easy to remember, ALAMO promotes a holistic view of performance that considers a wide range of causal factors, derived from psychology, change management, and organizational culture. We will demonstrate how ALAMO can be applied to post-feedback discussions, including performance management and coaching at the individual, team and organizational levels.

We are pleased to inform you that this webinar has been approved to offer HR Certification credits. The use of this seal is not an endorsement by the HR Certification Institute of the quality of the activity.  It means that this activity has met the HR Certification Institute’s criteria to be pre-approved for re-certification credit.

 Register here:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7521446050659425281
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinars. We look forward to “seeing” you there!

Hope you will join me!

Dave

What are “Strategic 360’s”?

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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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.