Strategic 360s

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The REAL Foundation to a Human Workforce

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I received an email invitation in my In Box recently for a webinar titled, “Recognition as the Foundation for a More Human Workforce.”  I deleted it but then went back to read it in more detail.

One of the reasons I deleted it is that it struck as sending the wrong message.  In fact, it does say “THE” foundation, not just “A” foundation.  All my experience, intuition, and even personal research tells me that this proposition is just plain wrong.

As relating to a “human” workforce, I recalled the piece by Emma Seppal in HBR (“Managers create more wellness than wellness plans do”) that speaks to the power of organizations and leaders characterized by trust, forgiveness, understanding, empathy, generosity, and respect. Is recognition lurking in there? Perhaps, but there is a big difference between recognition that is a daily spontaneous habit and what is viewed as a program.

When I was working with Dana Costar to design an upward feedback instrument for managers, we did a lot of background reading on possible drivers of perceptions of manager effectiveness.  It seemed to us that recognition was fairly far down the list, but recognition did keep popping up. So we somewhat grudgingly did include it as a dimension in our instrument to see how it stacked up when the data came in.

Our results (Costar & Bracken, 2014) on an international sample of 82 leaders showed that Trust is the leading driver of ratings of manager effectiveness, while Recognition fell far down the list. (As an aside, Trust was behind Facilitating Development in ratings of effectiveness as a Coach, but still far ahead of Recognition.)

Lolly Daskal’s blog in Inc. has a list of leadership “beliefs” (characteristics/behaviors) where says “Honoring Trust” is the “first job of a leader.”  But her list includes many other trust builders as well:

  • Leading by Example
  • Accepting Accountability
  • Leading with Integrity
  • Encompassing Humility
  • Manifesting Loyalty
  • Showing Respect
  • Leading with Character

(I see that recognition, “Exhibiting Appreciation” does make the list but is, in my opinion, overwhelmed by these other factors and a cousin to recognition.)

Gallup’s list of critical manager capabilities includes these:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

We don’t see recognition on this list either, but we do see trust.

Vendors are pushing recognition apps. I believe they fall in the category of activities that are relatively harmless but of little value. If there is harm (besides wasted expense) it is that they, by nature, are targeted only at positive feedback. Then there is a lost opportunity to create awareness of other important behavioral/skill deficits.

I have proposed that “Trust” comes in two forms: Trusts and Trusted. Turned into behaviors that can be defined, developed and measured, they look like this:


Trust is one of those constructs that may be elusive to pin down definitionally, but we all know it and, more importantly, feel it when we experience it. Unfortunately (tongue deeply embedded in cheek) there will never be a “trust” app.  But trust can be “deleted” just as fast as an app with no opportunity to reinstall.

Trust is the real foundation of a human workforce.  Define it, develop it and measure it.  Then your organization has a chance of really being “human.”


Costar, D.M., & Bracken, D.W. (2014). The impact of trust and coaching relationship on manager effectiveness ratings.  In D.W. Bracken (Chair) Manager As Coach: Defining, Developing and Measuring Effectiveness. Symposium at the 29th Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Honolulu, HI, May, 2014.

©David W. Bracken 2016


I Have a Dream

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In the next couple weeks, I have a workshop to do on “Creating a Coaching Climate” for the Greater Atlanta Chapter of ASTD, and then a conversation hour at SIOP on “Strategic 360 Feedback” that I wrote about last week (

Clearly I am still trying to influence people about some things that I feel strongly about. So I was thankful that my wife brought to my attention a TED talk by Simon Sinek that has over 16 million views (­­) that she thought I would find interesting because it was positioned to be about leadership. And it is. But, as importantly, it is about influencing others (which is part of leadership). It is also about sales, and he uses the word “buy” often, which can be taken both literally (sales) and as a euphemism (“buy into”).

In this TED talk, Mr. Sinek proposes that the best way to influence others is not to talk about “what you do”, or “how you do it”, but to express “why” you do it, i.e., the passion behind the subject. He reminded us that Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a plan,” (though he undoubtedly did). Instead, he said “I have a dream,” and went on to describe what that dream looked like. There are many other examples, such as John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon that was not only realized but created countless scientific innovations that have become part of our daily lives.

So part of my dream is captured in the tagline from The Handbook of Multisource Feedback that I also referenced in my last blog: Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little. One of the great things about being an I/O psychologist is we have the opportunity and challenge to touch “a lot of people” with our work. One way we do that is the ways we help organizations make better decisions about people, such as in the decisions about who to hire, fire, promote and develop, and by constantly striving to improve the accuracy of those decisions for the benefit of the organization and the individual. And you may (or may not) know that I am a proponent of use 360 Assessments to help improve the quality (i.e., reliability and validity) of decisions we have to make about many employees (e.g., development plans, training, promotions, staffing, compensation, succession plans, high potential identification).

We can also touch “a lot of people” with processes that affect employees once they are on board. The versions of 360 processes that The Handbook primarily focuses on are those that do touch “a lot of people” to create change one person at a time (but all at once). What is missing in that phrase is the critical notion of creating sustainable change. My criticism of many 360 processes is that they do not burden themselves with worrying about what it takes to create sustainable behavior change, seemingly feeling that the simple act of creating awareness of a need to change (a gap between observed and desired behaviors) will somehow make people magically change. Some do, but not often enough nor are they the people who need it most.

Sustained behavior change can also be thought of as a habit. Part of my dream is to have behavior change (which is a choice) become a reflex, a natural reaction.

My son-in-law, who has two daughters (with my daughter, of course), put a post on Facebook last week that asked, “Am I the only one who puts the toilet seat down in my hotel room?” I, and a few others, responded “No, I do it too”, and I (also having two daughters) have been known to use this very behavior as an example of a voluntarily adopted behavior that becomes a habit, even if the behavior has no obvious benefit to the actor. The “benefit” to the actor is that he/she (“he” in this case) is part of an organization (the household, family) and by being considerate of others, can expect to in turn maintain the cohesiveness of the organization.

Last year, right after Nelson Mandela’s death, I listened in on an interview of a BBC journalist who had made a career out of following the life of Mandela. He shared that he was so moved by this man that he gave his son the middle name “Nelson,” and the interviewer asked what he hoped to affect his son’s life by doing so (which is an interesting question). The journalist, though, had an immediate answer: He hoped that his son would show kindness to others as a reflex (i.e., ingrained habit, my words).

The notion of “kindness” is one I am hearing more often in organizations, sometimes in the context of the desire to be empathetic without sacrificing the need to make tough decisions about people. Then I saw this article ( about “compassion” that seems to capture the idea of kindness and shared values. Defined as “when colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues,” some cited research indicates that to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.”

This piece on compassion then goes on to say, “Management can do something about this, They should be thinking about the emotional culture. It starts with how they are treating their own employees when they see them. Are they showing these kinds of emotions? And it informs what kind of policies they put into place. This is something that can definitely be very purposeful — not just something that rises organically.”

You can create a culture by the behaviors that leaders exhibit, whether it’s a culture of compassion, kindness, quality, customer service, fear, anger, fun, feedback, and so on. The point is that these cultures can be defined by behaviors. And a behavior is a choice, i.e., whether to do it or not. And the behavior can become a habit or reflex. We shouldn’t buy the excuse, “Well, that isn’t who I am.” I/we don’t care. The type of person/leader you are is determined by what you do, not what you think or think you think.

And when employees (at all levels) report that they want to be respected, valued, developed, and have trust in their leaders (see this report from APA: (, organizations should listen and act, i.e., define the desired behaviors and hold leaders accountable. Someday those behaviors will become habits/reflexes.


So, what is my dream? In this context, it includes things like this:

  • That more organizations will acknowledge the intuitive and research-based advantages to treating their employees with respect and kindness, and engendering trust along the way, and then do something to create sustainable change.
  • Focus on the potential benefits of processes like 360’s that can potentially improve our decisions, not focus on the challenges in doing so
  • Speaking of decisions, that we can use tools like 360’s to identify leaders early in their career who are poised to do damage via inappropriate behaviors, and get rid of them (or at least not promote them)
  • Admit that human nature is such that behavior change requires not only awareness but accountability for sustainable change to occur
  • Acknowledge that sustainable culture change requires integration into HR processes to create ongoing alignment, accountability, and measurement
  • That kindness, compassion and respect become habits for all of us.


That’s enough dreaming for now.

©2014 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

April 23, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Frequency: Too Often

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I delivered a webinar last week on using 360 Feedback in Performance Management Processes (PMP), partially built upon a recent article that Allan Church and I published in HRPS’s People & Strategy journal on that topic (let me know if you want a copy).  In the webinar, I spent a little time talking about the challenges of creating reliable/valid measurement when we are relying on input not from the target person but from observers of his/her behavior. 

One of the many elements that come into play when asking employees to rate something (a person, an organization) is the rating scale that is being used.  Note also that the rating scale’s effectiveness is likely to be directly affected by the quality of rater training, which is often neglected beyond the most basic of written instructions. 

In the webinar, I shared a list of a dozen or so various rating scales that I have encountered over the years, all in a 5 point format.  We also see in The 3D Groups recent benchmark study of over 200 organizations that use 360 feedback that, by far, the 5 point scale and the Likert Agree/Disagree format are used more often than any other scale type.  I’m not going too far out on a limb to propose that the use of the 5 point Likert scale is a carry over from employee surveys.  While there is something to be said for familiarity, I also propose that this practice is a form of laziness in 360 designers who haven’t reflected long or hard enough to consider scales that work better when the target is a specific person and not some nebulous entity like an organization that is the focus of the engagement survey.

I have advocated for the need to have the scale to match the purpose in an earlier blog ( so I will move on to another pet peeve.

In the last few weeks, I pulled together a group of colleagues to submit a proposal for a SIOP symposium on helping managers to be better coaches. This process is always fun when you see research others are conducting in an area where you have special interests (kind of like buying a box set of CDs by a favorite artist and discovering some less well known gems).  One of the research papers demonstrates once again the inadequacy of frequency scales (typically 5 point scales that ask how often the person does something, ranging from Never to Always). 

Frequency scales continue to be widely used.  The aforementioned 3D Group study indicates that 23% of the reporting organizations use this scale, third most often behind Agreement (49%) and Effectiveness (31%) (which adds up to more than 100%; it may be that companies were allowed to report on more than one 360 process in their organization).  Frankly, the 23% is shockingly high.  Very recently ( I cited a study that presents a newly developed questionnaire about manager behaviors in the context of performance management that uses a frequency scale, to my chagrin.

For starters, a frequency scale is conceptually flawed. People can’t do everything “Always” (or even Almost Always, as some scales use).  And because they do something “always” doesn’t mean they do it well, and, conversely, because they do it Rarely or Never doesn’t mean they are bad at it. 

As importantly, every time I have seen them scrutinized in research, frequency scales come out poorly in comparison to other formats in terms of reliability and validity.  This is the 20th anniversary of a paper Karen Paul (now at 3M) and I presented at SIOP that indicated that frequency scales severely penalize supervisors who do some things infrequently but are otherwise perceived to be effective.

In a (frankly) more rigorous piece of research by Kaiser and Kaplan (2006) (that you can access here:, they also demonstrate that frequency scales are, by far, less satisfactory when compared to Evaluative and “Do More/Do Less” scales.

Frequency scales are used far too frequently.  They should be used Never.


Kaiser, R.B., & Kaplan, R.E. (2006, April). Are all scales created equal? Response format and the validity of managerial ratings. Paper in B.C. Hayes (Chair), The Four “Rs” of 360º Feedback: Second Generation Research on Determinants of Its Effectiveness, symposium presented at the 21st Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Dallas, TX.


©2013 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

September 25, 2013 at 1:09 pm

On the Road… and Web and Print

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I have a few events coming up in the next 3 weeks or so that I would like to bring to your collective attention in case you have some interest.  One is free, two are not (though I receive no remuneration). I also have an article out that I co-authored on 360 feedback.

In chronological order, on May 25 Allan Church, VP Global Talent Development at PepsiCo, and I will lead a seminar titled, “Integrating 360 & Upward Feedback into Performance and Rewards Systems” at the 2011 World at Work Conference in San Diego (  I will be offering some general observations on the appropriateness, challenges, and potential benefits of using 360 Feedback for decision making, such as performance management. The audience will be very interested in Allan’s descriptions of his experiences with past and current processes that have used 360 and Upward Feedback for both developmental and decision making purposes.

On June 8, I am looking forward to conducting a half day workshop for the Personnel Testing Council of Metropolitan Washington (PTCMW) in Arlington, VA, titled “360-Degree Assessments: Make the Right Decisions and Create Sustainable Change” (contact Training.PTCMW@GMAIL.COM or go to WWW.PTCMW.ORG). This workshop is open to the public and costs $50.  I will be building from the workshop Carol Jenkins and I conducted at The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. That said, the word “assessments” in the title is a foreshadowing of a greater emphasis on the use of 360 Feedback in a decision making context and an audience that is expected to have great interest in the questions of validity and measurement.

On the following day, June 9 (at 3:30 PM EDT), I will be part of an online virtual conference organized by the Institute of Human Resources and on performance management. My webinar is titled, “Using 360 Feedback in Performance Management: The Debate and Decisions,” where the “decisions” part has multiple meanings. Given the earlier two sessions I described, it should be clear that I am a proponent of using 360/Upward Feedback for decision making under the right conditions. The other take on “decisions” is the multitude of decisions that are required to create those “right conditions” in the design and implementation of a multisource process.

On that note, I am proud to say that Dale Rose and I have a new article in the Journal of Business and Psychology (June) titled, “When does 360-degree feedback create behavior change? And how would we know it when it does?” Our effort is largely an attempt to identify the critical design factors in creating 360 processes and the associated research needs.

This article is part of a special research issue ( of JBP and you will have to pay for a copy unless you have a subscription. As a tease, here is the abstract:

360-degree feedback has great promise as a method for creating both behavior change and organization change, yet research demonstrating results to this effect has been mixed. The mixed results are, at least in part, because of the high degree of variation in design features across 360 processes. We identify four characteristics of a 360 process that are required to successfully create organization change, (1) relevant content, (2) credible data, (3) accountability, and (4) census participation, and cite the important research issues in each of those areas relative to design decisions. In addition, when behavior change is created, the data must be sufficiently reliable to detect it, and we highlight current and needed research in the measurement domain, using response scale research as a prime example.

Hope something here catches your eye/ear!

©2011 David W. Bracken

Has Anything Changed in 10 Years?

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2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback. To mark this occasion, we have convened a panel of contributors to The Handbook for a SIOP (Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology) session to discuss how the field of 360 has changed (and not changed) in those 10 years. Panel members will include the Editors (Carol Timmreck (who will be moderator), Allan Church and myself), James Farr, Manny London, David Peterson, Bob Jako, and Janine Waclawksi. (See for more information.)

In a “good news/bad news” kind of way, we frequently get feedback from practitioners who still use The Handbook as a reference. In that way, it seems to be holding up well (the good news). The “bad news” might be that not much has changed in 10 years and the field is not moving forward.

Maybe the most obvious changes have been in the area of technology, again for good and bad. One of the many debates in this field is whether putting 360 technology in the hands of inexperienced users really is such a great idea. That said, it is a fact that it is happening and will have some potential benefits in cost and responsiveness.

Besides technology, what how else has the field of 360 feedback progressed or digressed in the last decade?

I will get the ball rolling by offering two pet peeves:

1)      The lack of advancement in development and use of rater training as a best practice, and

2)      The ongoing application of a testing mindset to 360 processes.

Your thoughts?

©2011 David W. Bracken

Making Mistakes Faster

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The primary purpose of this brief blog entry is to bring to your awareness a new article by Dale Rose, Andrew English, and Christine Thomas in The Industrial/Organizational Psychologist (TIP). I assume that a minority of readers of this blog receive TIP, or, if they do, have not had a chance to read this article. (The title would not immediately draw attention to the fact that the majority of the content is about 360 Feedback for starters.)

The article can be accessed at

As you will see, Dale and colleagues focus primarily on how technology has affected 360 Feedback processes, for good and bad. This should be required reading for practitioners in this field.

They reference a discussion Dale and I had on this blog about the “silly” rating format where raters can rate multiple ratees at the same time using a kind of spread sheet layout. They are correct that there is no research that we are aware of that studies the effects of rating formats like this on the quality of ratings and user reactions (including response rates, for example). We won’t rehash the debate here, but suffice to say that it is one area where Dale and I are in disagreement.

Other than that, I endorse his viewpoints about the pitfalls of technology. I recall when computers first became available to us to support our research. As we all struggled to use technology effectively, I remember saying that computers allow us to make mistakes even faster.

I will use my next blog to talk about, “When Computers Go Too Far,” which builds on some of Dale’s observations. Hope you will tune in!

©2011 David W. Bracken

Where Are You Going with Your 360?

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What’s the old saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”?  A few of my blogs have proposed that 360 processes should have an explicit statement of their purpose/goal and that the multitude of decisions in design and implementation should be guided by that statement .

So what should (or can) be the goal of a 360 process? What is the “end game,” i.e., the desired outcome?  And how will you know if you get there? There are undoubtedly multiple valid answers to those questions.

In April, Carol Jenkins and I will be leading a SIOP Workshop on 360 and we would like to discuss this question of the purpose and goals of 360 processes. One reason is that if we have different mental models of what we are trying to achieve, then we will certainly disagree on the “best” approaches to implementing a 360 process.

As a behaviorist, my bias has been to define the goal of a 360 process in behavioral terms. To support that position, I have referred to quotes from the book “Execution” by Bossidy and Charan (2003), that state: “The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders. Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate.” And “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of acting, we act ourselves into a new way of thinking.”

Given that perspective, we (“360 From Another Angle,” Bracken, Timmreck, Fleenor, and Summers, 2001) proposed this definition of the goal of a “valid” 360 process:

“(To create) sustained, observed improvement in behaviors valued by the organization.

When we say “observed,” the direct implication is that they are measurable (by the 360 process). With that definition, we should be able to determine whether it is being achieved and maintained over time.

So what is your definition of purpose (goals) for your 360 process, or for 360 processes in general? If you don’t agree with the one I have offered, tell us why and offer an alternative. Your goal statement should begin with “To…” and ideally be a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bounded). (Mine doesn’t meet all those criteria, and your criteria may be a little different, but hopefully you get the idea.) For example, “To promote leadership development” wouldn’t cut it.

I hope you will jump in and help us!  If we get some responses to this, it should be good fodder for future blogs and for our SIOP Workshop!!

©2010 David W. Bracken

How many psychologists can dance on the head of a pin? By David W. Bracken, Ph.D.

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Welcome to a new blog focused on issues that are of most interest to practitioners in the area of 360 (Multisource) Feedback!  It is my hope that this will create a forum for practitioners to discuss, debate and propose solutions to the myriad of challenges that confront us as we try to create sustainable behavior change and sustainable 360 processes.

I am putting together a CE workshop for the 2011 SIOP Conference in Chicago with Dr. Carol Jenkins of Assess-Systems, whom I had not had the pleasure of meeting prior to this. In the course of getting to know and work with each other, she commented something to the effect of, “This is your life.”  Taken out of context, it sounds a little strong, but her point (I think) was that I am very interested and invested in this topic, in her view. To a great extent, that is true, though I hope it isn’t “my life” per se. I do many other things in my professional life, but it is true that 360 is my passion.

I am not quite sure where this passion comes from.  It is in part due to having a background in employee surveys, assessment centers, and performance management, all three of which have some elements that come to play in many 360 processes. I also had the opportunity to work with Marshall Goldsmith early in my career (and his as well) in the mid-80’s where I saw the potential power of the process in shaping a culture (newly formed BellSouth) and shaping a manager’s effectiveness (my own, as a participant in the process).

So why do a blog now?  For starters, I have been on an involuntary, unexpected hiatus from consulting for the last year or so, and now am working on a couple 360 projects with OrgVitality. These engagements have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for helping clients create change in their leaders and, in turn, their organizations by implementing effective 360 systems.

I also am frustrated by the general lack of forums for discussing these issues. Dale Rose and I have hosted SIOP discussion hours the last two years that were well attended, but waiting for SIOP to roll around is not totally satisfying. SIOP also has had very few other sessions on 360 in recent years, which is something of a paradox for me given its prevalence in organizations. There have been a couple of good books in the last few years, and Dale and I have coauthored an article that should be published before long, but it is so much more gratifying to engage the professional community in a dialogue. As you will see below, even a starter list of topics can be substantial and hopefully worthy of further discussion.

I was additionally motivated after listening in to a teleconference recently by a very reputable practitioner/consultant on the topic of why 360’s often aren’t effective.  While he had many good points, I didn’t agree with a number of his solutions. Not that MY solutions are necessarily right or even the best. But I do think about these issues probably as much as anyone these days.  The fact is that there are very few absolutes in 360 feedback and the many challenges it creates, and that is what makes it so interesting and frustrating at the same time.

The breadth of questions and issues raised in designing, implementing and nurturing a 360 process is, in part, reflected in The Handbook of Multisource Feedback (Bracken, Timmreck, and Church, eds., 2001) and its sheer size.  At well over 600 pages, over 30 chapters and 55 contributors, it attempted to address many topics from many different viewpoints. When speaking about The Handbook, I have been known to quip that “55” must be the answer to, “How many psychologists can dance on the head of a pin?”,  given how many professionals (not all psychologists admittedly) were willing and able to contribute to that project.

The Appendix to The Handbook contains a set of recommendations for designing and implementing 360 processes authored by Carol Timmreck and myself. The title indicates application to decision-making uses, but our intent was to emphasize the importance of the decisions when used for decisions, such as succession planning, staffing, high potential identification and development, and performance management. We strongly believe that any 360 process should strive to follow these guidelines since it seems pointless to invest the time and effort if the resulting data is seriously flawed.

Even after almost 10 years since The Handbook was published, debates rage on about some very basic and important questions regarding 360 processes. The fact is that no two 360 processes are the same. With well over 100 conscious (and unconscious) decisions that need to be made in design and implementation, 360 processes can have dramatically different outcomes (read ROI) depending on what is decided (or ignored).

Here some possible titles for future blogs that might pique your interest:

There is no such thing as “development only”

I’m going to my lawyer

This is not a test

Sometime uncertainty is the key to success.

Worst may not be first

Is your 360 valid?

When the inmates run the asylum

When coaches go too far

360 Raters: Pros or cons?

To thine own self be true? (value of self ratings)

Who is the customer?

The devil is in the details

Ipsative vs. Normative rating scales (“we don’t care how good or bad you are”)

Some rating scales are better than others

That darn Achilles’ heel

Are self ratings worth the effort?

Hope to hear from you! Feedback is always welcome.

©2010 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

August 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm