Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Posts Tagged ‘Trust

What’s “Your Way?”

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I had unexpected knee surgery recently and received a “Get Well” gift from my friends and colleagues, Laurie and John Slifka, in the form of the book, The Cubs Way (by Tom Verducci), which was especially meaningful coming from die hard St. Louis Cardinal fans.  The book traces the genesis of their 2016 Championship season, using the World Series as the backdrop.

If you are a baseball fan, you know who Theo Epstein is.  He became the youngest General Manager in baseball when he took that position with the Boston Red Sox (28 years old), and took them to their first championship in 86 years, a drought exceeded only by the Cubs.  After winning another championship, he came to Chicago to try to bring the same magic to the North Side’s “Lovable Losers,” the Cubs.

Epstein brought with him some staff from Boston and kept some staff from the Cubs, and gracefully integrated them into a team by creating a spirit of collaboration and a focus on winning.  Listening to their input, he created a 259 page manual called “The Cubs Way.” It covered every aspect of behavior on and off the field, from the top of the hierarchy to the bat boys.

I am writing this blog piece and this particular topic because of several themes I have been pursuing in my writing and presentations regarding topics such as how to create a culture and the role that trust plays in that process, and then how trust must be established at the level of the supervisor-subordinate relationship where feedback is difficult and sparse.

Trust, Respect and Culture

I believe that trust and respect are created between people when honest feedback is given, both the favorable and unfavorable.  This is in direct contrast to the “strengths only” movement that has gained much too much popularity.  I believe if you respect a person, you are honest with them.

So I had to put down the book and take up the keyboard as I was reading this book as Verducci relates parts of Epstein’s philosophy that became a key part of “The Cubs Way”:

“For years baseball teams rarely shared evaluations about players with the players themselves… It occurred to Epstein that the first time a team truly tells a player he’s not good enough is when it’s too late – when it releases him. It sounded absurd to him that a team wouldn’t tell a player about his strengths and weaknesses… It (a player development plan) does really create a great connection with the player and helps him develop himself… Epstein wanted a culture in which the players could trust the front office. And the way to help build that trust was to develop an open and honest personal connection.” (pp. 104-105).

For fun, they dug out an old scouting report on one of the coaches, and the report said that he was slow at turning double plays.  The coach was angry; “Why didn’t anyone tell me I needed to work on my turns?… I would have gotten to the big leagues so much quicker!”

Unfavorable Feedback is Better than None

I just completed chairing a dissertation that confirmed what most research says, i.e., that the most engaged employees are those that get both favorable and unfavorable feedback, and the least engaged are those who get neither.  Employees who get mostly unfavorable feedback are more engaged than those who get neither, and about the same as people who get mostly favorable feedback.

This philosophy is a core part of the culture the Cubs have built, “The Cubs Way.”  Your organization should have a “Way” as well.  When a Cubs employee does something exceptional, they yell out, “That Cub!!!”  And the example is set by the leaders; their behavior sets the culture.

What is “Your Way?”

Written by David Bracken

November 5, 2018 at 9:20 pm

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

Trust… again

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I wrote on the subject of trust not too long ago (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/a-matter-of-trust/), and, trust me, the subject isn’t going away. Since then, I have been accumulating a few more treatments of the topic of “trust;” it is another of those “know it when I see it” type of subjects, which makes it even more important that we compare our mental models to ensure we are thinking (and therefore acting) in the same way when we propose actions to address it.

One that caught my eye was posted in TD (http://goo.gl/8KXx5) (the ASTD, now ATD, magazine) by Doug Conant, who I recognize from his days at CEO of Campbell Soup Company and now Chair of Avon  .  In there he notes:

I think leaders have to have three traits. They have to be a person of great character, and in that spirit they have to do what they say they’re going to do… it’s a combination of character and competence. If the organization doesn’t trust you, you’re toast.

Erika Garms just posted a blog (that was referenced on LinkedIn) on the interaction of Accountability and Trust (http://goo.gl/eEmwWZ).  Her main point is that a focus on Accountability is not going to be effective if it is not preceded (or grounded in) the establishment of Trust.  This is an extremely important piece of advice (or warning) that speaks to the potential power of Trust to be a barrier to successful leadership when it is absent.

Marshall Goldsmith (see marshallgoldsmith.com) lists 20 behaviors that leaders need to fix; call them bad habits or derailers if you want, and they form the basis for his fantastic book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”   I have referenced this list before in the context of listening (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/just-shut-up-and-listen/­), but let’s looks at it through this lens of a subset of those behaviors (in this case negative) that can damage trust:

Winning too much:  The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.

Passing judgment:  The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

Making destructive comments:  The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.

Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we aren’t asked.

Withholding information: The refusal to share information to gain or maintain an advantage over others.

Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

Making excuses:  The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

Playing favorites:  Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

Refusing to express regret:  The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

Not listening:  The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect.

Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.

Punishing the messenger:  The misguided need to attack the innocents who are only trying to help us.

Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
Trust is an elusive construct. My earlier Trust blog took a lead from the ATD study that honed in on integrity and honesty.  Mr. Conant throws in competence and character. Goldsmith’s list has a core message that it is created by the respect shown to others.

I would add to this list “Being Inconsistent”, i.e., arbitrarily changing your basis for decisions and actions both across time and across individuals to the point where it creates uncertainty and perceived unfairness. Of course, the other end of this continuum is rigidity, which is also bad.  In this context, “inconsistency” equates to unpredictability and capriciousness when the leader does not sufficiently explain the basis for his/her actions.

The good news is that it can be defined by behaviors (also see my earlier blog referenced above on this topic) and that behaviors can be changed. As I noted, behaviors begin as a choice. Many are not difficult to do, and, once accepted as needing change, can be honed to be even more impactful.

Based on this review, a Trust dimension on an upward (manager) feedback instrument might include:

  • My manager has the skills and abilities to perform his/her job well.
  • My manager is honest at all times.
  • My manager treats all people with respect.
  • My manager follows through on promises and commitments.
  • My manager treats others with consistency and fairness.
  • My manager listens to and acknowledges the viewpoints of others.
  • My manager takes responsibility for his/her actions and decisions.
  • My manager is willing to share his/her shortcomings and development needs.

Trust may well be the “sine qua non” of leadership effectiveness, whether at the organizational level or the individual leader (manager) level.  If you’re not acknowledging and measuring Trust in yourself and your leaders, you are probably setting a ceiling on leadership and followership effectiveness.

©2014 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

November 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

A Matter of Trust

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“Apologizing does not always mean that you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value the relationship more than your ego.”

I saw that anonymous quote on LinkedIn recently and it drew me back to a small note in Traning & Development magazine dated February 24 on this topic. (http://goo.gl/8X6yRe) The text follows:

A recent survey of 954 global professionals by the Forum Corporation found that although 87 percent of managers say that they either always or often apologize for their mistakes at work, only 19 percent of employees say that their managers apologize most or all of the time.

Naturally, managers not owning up to their errors has a direct impact on employee trust levels. Another interesting insight from the survey is that while 91 percent of employees say it’s “extremely important” to have a manager they can trust, only 48 percent of managers agree that it’s extremely important for employees to trust their managers.

So we can only assume that it’s those managers who do not place a premium on trust who are committing the following worst management sins, as identified by survey participants:

  • lying
  • taking credit for others’ ideas or blaming
    employees unfairly
  • gossiping
  • poor communication
  • lack of clarity.

Managers may condone their mistakes because they are afraid of tarnishing their image. According to the survey, 51 percent of managers believe apologizing makes them appear incompetent, 18 percent believe it makes them look weak, and 18 percent shrug it off, saying that apologizing is unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the study also shows that a low regard for employees’ trust may result in low engagement levels.

This note caught my attention for a few reasons. First, this concept of trust is one that is central to the “manager as coach” work we have been doing in defining the foundation of a productive relationship that is required (in our opinion) if a manager is to be a successful coach for his/her team members.

Trust is also manifested in the perceptions of senior management, whether that group is perceived as individuals or in their aggregate actions. Either way, time after time we see that employee surveys indicate that “trust in senior leadership” is usually the primary driver of employee engagement, confirming the last sentence of the article.

Secondly, the basis for trust (or lack thereof), as listed in the bullets, is determined by behaviors. Behaviors are a choice; a person can choose to do them or not. That choice can be influenced by consequences. Evidently, a majority of managers see more value in behaving badly. We can change that behavior by making them aware that they are behaving badly, and then having negative consequences for doing so. From top to bottom.

Thirdly was the discrepancy between the importance of trust to employees versus their managers. It is hard to believe that organizations do not preach honesty, integrity and so on, whether through Values statements that hang on the walls, or by lip service. It does suggest that there is inadequate accountability.

This T+D blurb is another in a series of articles and blogs I have seen recently that bemoan bad leader behavior and the effect on an organization’s climate (see my recent blog https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/nimble-and-sustainable/), but with no specific recommendation as to a solution.

I really hate whining without a proposed solution. I have suggested that a 360 process with accountability (i.e., consequences, good or bad) is a viable solution.   I recently heard of a major organization that has introduced a new leadership behavior (competency) model, and, when I asked how leaders are to be measured against the model, the response what to fall back on single-source supervisor evaluation because “360’s haven’t worked here.” I felt like I was in a backward time warp to 20 years when we started talking seriously about the shortcomings of single-source (manager) performance evaluations (see Edwards and Ewen’s first 360 degree feedback book).

Behaviors can be shaped, starting with creating awareness that change is needed, aligning to the desired behavior, and usually requiring consequences (i.e., accountability). A few leaders will change without the carrot & stick, but those are usually the ones who are not the ones who need fixing.

If you have leaders who are undermining trust, you have a problem. I think there is a solution.