Strategic 360s

360s for more than just development

Posts Tagged ‘performance management

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:

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 (

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:
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!


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.

Where is Theory Y?

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This column in Forbes by Rob Asghar literally paralyzed me for a few moments.

Forbes is known for taking provocative positions at times but this one challenges some of my core values as to what it means to be a successful leader, let alone good person.  In a nutshell, he argues that the only important factor in evaluating leader success is bottom line results, regardless of the process. In other words, any means to an end (thank you, Machiavelli).  Rob has no data to support his position, but he protects himself by saying that successful leaders (and he, himself) do not care to hear from the “experts,” i.e., social scientists like many of us, about process.  So what follows is probably an exercise in futility if I think it will ever be read by people like him.  But it gives me the opportunity to bring to you a few nuggets that I’ve seen relating to this topic in the last few weeks. And a couple that go way back.

First, this discussion gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Blake and Mouton’s seminal book, The Managerial Grid. (As an aside, dozens of people entered into a recent LinkedIn discussion I began in the I/O Practitioners space regarding what are some core knowledge areas an I/O Psychologist should be expected to possess, though the discussion went off in other directions.  At one point I offered up the Hawthorne Studies, and I would add The Managerial Grid to that list. I will also add Douglas McGregor’s Theory X/Theory Y, discussed below.)

For the uninitiated, the Managerial Grid is a 9×9 matrix that plots leader behaviors on an X-axis (Task orientation) and a Y-axis (Relationship orientation).  Not by coincidence, McGregor’s Theory X behavior is very task oriented while Theory Y describes a much more participative style (with McGregor being first, around 1960).  In the Grid, ideal leader is 9-9, an equally strong emphasis on task and relationship. (I recall once when a colleague was trying to force me to do something and accusing him of trying to “9-1” me, that is to do something regardless of how I felt about it, which, by the way, is basically what Asghar is promoting.)

Leaders who demonstrate no respect for others occasionally do succeed. Of course, Steve Jobs is the most cited example. This past week I watch a PBS biography on Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy, and I (and others) would add him to this list. He was universally labeled an “SOB.”  No one could remember him ever saying “thank you.”  But he was an obsessive believer in accountability, for both others and himself.  And he was consistent.  And, ultimately, he was successful in achieving his vision.  Mr. Asghar also uses Nick Saban, very successful coach at Alabama, as another example. But these are extraordinary people and exceptions in many ways.

Here’s another article, this time from HBR, which not only has data, it is titled “The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss.”

Using various studies, the author (Emma Seppala) asserts the following:

  • Putting pressure on subordinates that increases stress that leads to high health care and turnover costs.
  • Acts of altruism increase status in the organization.
  • Fair treatment leads to higher productivity and citizenship behaviors
  • Leaders who project warmth are more effective.
  • Employees that feel greater trust for a leader that is kind.

So there is a cost to being a Theory X (9-1) manager, i.e., the health and well-being of your employees. And the cost is getting bigger everyday unfortunately with the state of our healthcare system.

In my last blog (, I revisited the concept of “trust” and labeled it the “sine qua non” (without which there is nothing) of effective leadership.  Trust is a complex behavioral construct, but I totally agree that kindness is an important component. Kindness doesn’t have to mean being soft; it is more akin to empathy, having sensitivity to the feelings of others, particularly when the message is difficult. We are seeing “kindness” being mentioned in a growing number of organizations. Part of that comes from respecting the whole person and his/her point of view and emotions without having to abdicate the responsibility for delivering on individual, team and organization performance commitments.

This piece by Stephanie Vozza from Fast Company ( starts right off with this statement: “For decades, managers led with a heavy hand from corner offices.” She goes on to contrast that with how managers will be most effective in today’s workplace, building upon some work by the Addison Group.  She (and they) maintains that the answer isn’t to be the “best friend” of subordinates, but instead to be a mentor who provides guidance and advice, both on daily performance and careers.

(I do disagree with 2 of her points. First, she maintains that this situation is being caused by the arrival of millennials that have different expectations of management.  Au contraire!  ALL workers have a need to be respected with all the leadership behaviors that that implies, including honoring the value and needs of each person.

Secondly, I take issue with the use of the word “mentor” in this context. We should clearly differentiate between “mentor” and “coach,” specifically manager as coach. But these points get us off track from our theme here.)

Having done employee surveys for over 35 years and 360’s almost as long, recurring themes in drivers of engagement and evaluations of leader effectiveness continue to be trust and support in helping employees develop and plan for careers.

Let me add one other point to the value of believing that the “means” is as important as the end. An I/O colleague told me of a piece of research that has stuck with him that indicated that a strongest predictor of employee ethical behavior was immediate manager ethical (or not) behavior.  There are many potential explanations for why that is, but those are not as important as saying if we believe ethical behavior is important in our organization, we can observe and measure it, and, if it leads to more of that desired behavior, the organization and its customers will benefit. This, of course, applies to other important leadership behaviors, often captured in Values statements that hang on walls and too infrequently actually measured.

Allan Church and I bring the “how” versus “what” of performance into the Performance Management discussion in our article from last year ( OV.pdf).  One of the points we make is that organizations are very good at measuring the “what” side of performance (i.e., tangible, objective achievements) and much less adept at measuring the “how” (i.e., the means to the end, the behaviors demonstrated).  A parallel argument can be made that leaders/managers/supervisors find it much easier to manage the “what” side, and, because it is more difficult, give much less (if any) attention to the relationship part of leading, including coaching.

We are certainly not advocating the abandonment of the “what” measures. We are suggesting that an overemphasis on the “how” side of leader behavior is needed until they balance out, both at the individual and organizational level, i.e., achieving more “9-9” management at all levels.

I suspect that the majority of the readers of this blog are the “experts” Asghar references and dismisses. And to you colleagues, I am hopefully preaching to the choir (as they say).  If that is not the case, then please let us know what that position is.

For those of you not in the “choir,” I hope you read Asghar’s piece and see if you think he has a valid point. Reflect on both how it applies in your organization and for your own behavior as a leader/manager.

Everybody should sit back and reflect on where/when we see or don’t see Theory Y behavior at all levels of leadership and how to create more 9-9 leaders.  We should demand accountability for both “what” and “how” measurement aligned with both strategy and organizational values.

©2014 David W. Bracken

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. 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 ( 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 ( 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

Strategic 360 Forum II

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Last July, 12 companies convened in New York city for the first meeting of the Strategic 360 Forum, a full day of presentations and discussions by companies that use 360 Feedback for more than just leadership development.  The event was a great success and the group agreed that a second meeting would be useful.  Almost all of the same organizations will be returning, and we already have 3 new member organizations signed up!  We have room for a few more attendees, so here is the information:

Strategic 360 Forum II

February 25, 2014


One day meeting, coordinated by David Bracken (OrgVitality), of organizations using 360 Assessments for strategic purposes, including support of human resource processes (e.g., talent management, staffing, performance management, succession planning, high potential programs).   Attendees will be senior leaders with responsibilities for both process implementation as well as strategic applications. Larger organizations (5000+ employees) will be given priority consideration for inclusion..

Location and Date:  February 25, 2014 at KPMG, 345 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10154-0102

Tentative Participant Organizations:  GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, Starwood, PepsiCo, Federal Reserve NY, JP Morgan Chase, Cargill, Estee Lauder, WalMart, Schott NA, Thomson Reuters

Benefits for Participants

  • Learn of best practices in the use of 360 Assessments in progressive organizations
  • Discover ways that 360 Assessments support human resource initiatives, including problems and solutions
  • Create personal networks for future situations
  • Create opportunities for future professional contributions, including 2014 SIOP Conference

NOTE: The specific process and agenda will evolve as the organizers interact with the participants and discover their expectations and ways that they can best contribute to the event.


There is no cost for participants beyond their active contribution. Lunch is provided.


The core content will consist of brief presentations by select attendees.  Presentations will be followed by a group discussion where questions can be asked of the presenter and alternative viewpoints shared.

Depending on the programs and interests of the participating organizations, we will explore select  theme topics of high relevance relating to use of 360 Feedback. These topics may include:

  • Performance Management
  • Succession Planning
  • High Potential Identification and Development
  • Staffing/Promotions
  • Coaching Programs
  • Sustainability

Contact Information

Interested organizations should email me with a brief description of the 360 process(es) you wish to highlight/share (purpose, size, longevity, innovations), and your personal role/responsibilities.

David W. Bracken, Ph.D.

Vice President, Leadership Development and Assessment

OrgVitality, LLC

402-617-5152 (cell)


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