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Making feedback matter

Posts Tagged ‘Society for Psychologists in Management

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.

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