Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Posts Tagged ‘values

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

Who’s in charge here?

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In my last blog, I touched on an issue that I would like to give a little more attention, namely the question of who our leaders (i.e., the recipients of 360 Feedback) should be listening to when prioritizing their leadership skills and behaviors: the organization, their coworkers, and/or some combination?  This is a topic that has cultural implications that I alluded to in that earlier blog, and I will post this out on the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Going Global group on LinkedIn to see if I can get a response from someone there. But it also has broad implications for how we approach leadership selection, assessment and development in general.

One end of the continuum is to state that an organization has the right (and need) to define leadership competencies/behaviors, ideally derived from strategy, to support its initiatives and create a unique competitive advantage (see the treatment of leadership as an intangible asset in the book, The Invisible Advantage).  Organizations regularly create leadership models that are used to align HR systems in creating the type of leader needed to succeed at the individual and organization level.  This includes values statements that often are operationalized through behavioral items in 360’s that hopefully apply to leaders and line employees alike.

In the context of 360’s, I have long maintained that 360’s can draw their relevance (read “validity”) from a direct line of sight from strategy to leadership models to 360 content, and that it is not necessary to conduct predictive studies to demonstrate the validity of the 360 process. The content of a 360 instrument can define success, and that leaders that behave in ways consistent with the model are successful by definition.  Those who do not conform to those expectations should be give the choice of changing or to find alternative employment.

That is the “top down” version of “who’s in charge here?”  I was influenced in my thinking many years ago by some monographs by Bill Byham at DDI on this topic that were often in the context of assessment center processes but certainly no less applicable. Dr. Byham has written a number of papers on aligning HR systems with competency models, and you can find much of that on their web site.

The other end of the continuum of “who’s in charge here?” is the “bottoms up” view of leadership effectiveness that suggests that the leader’s behavior should be directed by coworkers, particularly direct reports. This view came into greater clarity for me at SIOP during a symposium that I briefly described in my last blog on implicit leadership models.

For decades, this “bottoms up” view of leadership has been implicit in the use of importance ratings. I have been opposed to importance ratings for as long as I can remember, partially because of the extra burden to raters, but, more importantly, because raters are not in a good position to understand the needs of the leader and the organization. I still believe that importance is best determined by the ratee and his/her boss in conjunction.  Asking raters for importance ratings feels like a customer survey. If your 360 treats raters as “customers” of leader behavior, then use a satisfaction scale and design the whole system accordingly.

The SIOP symposium had a number of interesting research studies that explicitly state that an effective leader should understand and react to the needs of coworkers based on the coworkers’ expectations of how an “effective” leader should behave which is, in turn, derived from their cultural backgrounds (i.e., nationality). This is very interesting and cultural awareness is an important issue in our global community.  As some of these papers pointed out, leaders now (especially with virtual teams) can have coworkers and direct reports from multiple nations and cultures, which creates a requirement that somehow the leader has to understand and adapt to the needs of each of these people. My head began to spin!

By the way, I first learned about the concept of Situational Leadership back in the 80’s and I still believe that philosophically it makes a lot of sense to not treat every subordinate the same way. But if you know Situational Leadership, it focuses exclusively on the person’s “maturity” (ability to perform a task) and the need to adapt leadership style depending on an assessment of that maturity level. It is very task oriented, and has little (if anything) to do with the needs and expectations of the follower.

There was some sentiment on the SIOP panel for asking the leader to negotiate or compromise between the “bottoms up” and “top down” views of leadership. I’m not sure how that would work, but it probably compounds one of the main problems I cited as discussant, namely the overload we are creating for leaders by inundating them with all this information in the form of job expectations. I have to believe that leaders are asking, or will ask, this question of “who is in charge?”, the organization or their coworkers?

I will take a stance. I believe that the organization is “in charge.” I did some consulting for a company of about 3500 people in Dubai that had employees with 80 different passports. They were run by South Africans, and ran the company that way. In a nutshell, they expected employees to conform to a common set of values and expectations, effectively leaving their cultural backgrounds at the door. Or at least the company “culture” should take precedence in defining effective leadership. I believe that this aligned focus on organization needs is a necessity, and that we need to make it clear to our leaders “who is in charge” when it comes to deciding how the company will leverage one of its most powerful intangible assets.

©2011 David W. Bracken