HeQ, SheQ, and the Three Bears

Once upon a time twin babies were born. Because the babies had a full range of feelings, from happy to sad, mad, afraid and every nuance in between, and because the twins showed what they were feeling without hesitation, the adults who raised them named them HeQ and SheQ. The adults loved the twins. They especially loved the twins when they were happy. When either twin was sad, or mad, or afraid, the adults would say shhhhh, and try to quiet and comfort them. In such moments they might also play peek-a-boo or do other things that the baby liked, hoping the baby would shift emotional gears back to happiness. Sometimes, especially in the middle of the night, they would get frustrated and say “Be quiet!”

The same thing happened in reverse. The twins were scared when the adults were mad, sad or afraid. They liked it better when the adults were happy, and so began favoring behaviors that cheered the adults up. Slowly the twins learned to look happy even when they were feeling sad, mad or afraid, because they wanted the adults to be happy.

Years passed and the twins grew up. They had been through many changes, physical, mental and emotional. One day, while walking through the forest, they came upon a small cottage in the middle of a clearing. Oddly enough, there was a sign on the door that said, “Welcome SheQ and HeQ!” Surprised, curious, and a little scared, they entered the cottage. No one was home! The twins explored every room, and then began to get hungry. Their attention turned to three bowls of porridge sitting on a table.

Little did they know, this was magic emotional porridge. The small bowl had too little emotion, the large bowl had too much, and the middle bowl was just right. HeQ felt a little afraid as he took his first bite from the small bowl. His fear diminished to the point of unawareness. He gobbled from the large bowl and was flooded with fear to the point of panic.

SheQ had been eating from the middle bowl, and feeling love for her brother. The love was strong and energizing, yet she could still see clearly and think for herself. She wasn’t blinded by love, as she might have been if she had eaten from the large bowl. When HeQ began to panic, she put her arms around him and calmed him while she calmly considered the risks that they were indeed taking.

“Hush” HeQ she whispered while handing him a spoonful from the middle bowl. “Have a bite of this, and then we should move on.” HeQ took it and trust flowed through him…trust for SheQ but also trust for himself. “She’s right,” he thought. “Why was I so scared?” he thought as he took a bite from the large bowl, that was still in front of him. Wham! He was flooded with shame. “Why am I always so stupid!” he said.

As she often did, SheQ took too much responsibility in that moment for her brother’s feelings. She, too, felt shame as she nibbled from the small bowl. Her shame disappeared, and with it her concern for her effect on others. Shamelessly SheQ said, “You’re right! You are stupid compared to me.”

Still eating from the large bowl, HeQ responded with rage. “That’s right! Admit it! You have always thought you were better than me!” With that, he hurled the large bowl at SheQ, who thankfully ducked. Porridge and broken bowl pieces smashed everywhere. HeQ slumped back, ashamed again, and drained by the anger. “What’s happening to us,” he wondered aloud?

Just then, the three bears came home. HeQ, growing up in a culture that taught that boys aren’t afraid, stood between the bears and his sister. Papa bear mauled him in the head with his big bear arm and HeQ died instantly. SheQ escaped out the back and lived happily ever after…although she did miss her brother and she always had a fear of bears.

The magic porridge is in each of us. If our bowl of emotional porridge is too large or too small, no matter what the emotion, there are consequences. We are born with a perfect balance of the full range of emotions, and complete congruence in showing what is on the inside through our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. We all must learn how to restrain our expression of feelings. Otherwise social life would be chaos, with everyone immediately revealing how they feel from moment to moment. Adults assist in this process both consciously (although perhaps without much thought about what they are doing) by hushing infants when they cry and soothing them towards calmer and happier emotions (simultaneously soothing the adults, who would lose their minds otherwise), and unconsciously by reacting to the infant’s emotions that they, the adults, have issues with.

Habits emerge. Some emotions are so well hidden that we lose track of them even within ourselves. Synapses whither (but remain intact!). Denial and/or lack of awareness replaces our original state of congruence. We act off emotion (by avoiding, by opposing, by purchasing) without even knowing what we are feeling. We are impatient and blame others if they reveal emotions we have lost touch with or fear in ourselves.

The right bowl of emotional porridge is still inside, if only we can find it. We have to train ourselves to think about what we feel, even if we are afraid of the feelings. With conscious effort we can rebuild our synapses. We can notice what we are feeling even when the feelings are small, instead of letting emotional energy simmer under the surface of consciousness. With consciousness we can more often choose our behavior and not be prisoner to our emotional reactions. We can reclaim the whole range we were born with. We can consciously decide when to reveal what we are feeling and when to mask our emotions from others. Instead of being a prisoner to emotions we are not even aware of, we can reclaim our emotional being while putting our thinking brain in charge of our behavior.

Excerpted from Gilmore Crosby’s upcoming book, “We All Have Issues.”

 

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Are Leaders Born or Bred

Reprinted from the May 3 2018 Zimbabwe Financial Times

HR PERSPECTIVE: Are leaders born or bred?

MEMORY Nguwi  (MN) caught up with one of the leading Organisation Development Experts from the USA and explored what makes a leader. Gilmore Crosby is the president at Crosby & Associates — Leadership and Organisation Development Experts

MN: What is leadership?
GC: While there are many possible answers, such as the ability to inspire others to follow your lead, I find the leadership model of family systems thinker Edwin Friedman (1932 -1996), both practical and transformational. For Friedman, the essence of leadership is the capacity to take clear stands and stay connected. To do so requires trust of one’s own sense of direction, and respect for and trust of others. Most people lean one way or the other when they are in charge, only taking stands (leading autocratically) or only staying connected (leading by consensus). To put it another way, some dictate and erode the connection necessary for leading. Others are unwilling to take strong stands for fear of how people will feel. Either extreme creates problems.
MN: Are leaders born or developed?
GC: That is what I like so much about Friedman’s model. It was built working with families and then with church leaders. Anyone can adjust towards being clearer about what is important to them, and towards tuning in to the people they are leading and entrusting them more. So, do some adults have an easier time leading effectively? Certainly. I would say it is easier, for example, for an extrovert (a more social and talkative person) than an introvert (although I have known many introverts who were excellent leaders). On the other hand, can anyone improve their leadership skills? Absolutely. 
Most, in my experience, underestimate the deep psychological importance of any formal leadership role. All humans are born completely dependent on the adult authority figures in their lives. The emotions that are experienced in those early relationships stay with us throughout life. We project them onto authority figures and live them out in our own roles of authority. To lead and/or follow effectively we must come to terms with our own reactions to authority, and we must empathise with the reactions of others. This is true whether we are a frontline supervisor, a CEO, or a parent. If we let our desire “not to be the boss” keep us from taking clear stands, or if we allow our defensiveness when people react to our stands to erode the connection, then we cannot lead. To truly lead one must provide direction or the Organisation will flounder, and one must effectively relate or the Organisation will not follow.
MN: Can we say every person has the capacity to be a leader?
GC: From my perspective, yes. Part of what is exciting about being human is that you never know who is going to step forward and lead. That is why it is wise for those in charge in an organisation to respect the leadership of people at all levels. Front line workers know solutions that bosses cannot know, and wise bosses allow their workers to take the lead on solving problems and implementing solutions. In society at large, there are countless examples of people emerging as leaders, such as Malala in Pakistan, and Rosa Parks in the United States.
MN: A lot of money is being spent on leadership: How successful are leadership development interventions in the context of a business?
GC: The longer I practice organisation development, or OD, and I have been doing so since 1984, the more evident it is to me that group dynamics are the key to individual and organisation change. Development of leadership skills and habits must occur in the context of the leader’s systemic relationships. Most programmes and coaching occur separate from the student’s work relationships, and are thus prone to those students who need help the most instead gaming the system. That is, they can talk the talk but not walk the walk. A solid programme, and I have led many such, includes coaching the student while they interact with their direct reports, and lots of group based experiential learning. So, like with most things, some interventions are highly reliable, others much less so.
Another differentiator is the presence or absence of systems thinking. There is a lack of systems thinking in most Organisations and leadership development programs. For example, from a systems perspective, it’s not who is on the bus that is most important, it’s how the bus is being driven. 
Most leaders are trapped in a paradigm of personality theory, obsessed with getting the right people on and off the bus. Many leaders I know take pride in their ability to judge people. That of course is necessary, but without a healthy dose of systems thinking, judging, and being judged, becomes the focus. That unintentionally drives fear and defensiveness into the culture, undermining the very openness necessary for high performance. Leaders would do well to strive with at least equal energy for creating the conditions for fostering high performance in the people that are reporting to them. If they are constantly changing people out, they are the problem, not the subordinates. The right driver can lift an entire system, the wrong driver can demoralize and undermine performance.  I have seen both many times.
MN: Do we have various levels or categories of leaders or its one group?
GC: The task of being an effective authority figure remains the same, whether your role impacts many (president, vice president, CEO, etc.) or a few (parent, front line supervisor, etc.). A mistake many programmes make is separating the top leadership from the rest of the company. There is too much separation within companies as it is. Leadership development is a great opportunity to break down such vertical silos. In the programs I lead we mix hourly workers in with all the layers above them, including the top executive layer. If they cannot deal effectively with each other in a program, how are they to relate to each other out in the field?
MN: Can a leader be good in all situations? In other words is talent portable? Can I uplift a good leader from, for example, mining and put them in banking?
GC: An effective leader can lead in any situation. It helps to have knowledge of the processes and products you are leading, but leadership is really about setting the tone for the work culture and monitoring and measuring by results. Many leaders actually create more harm than good if they have a strong area of technical expertise. They may over-manage the part of the organisation they are knowledgeable about, and under-manage the rest. No matter how smart you are, they further you are removed from the hands on work, the less you are going to know. You have to give the new people space.
MN: How important is domain specific knowledge in leading at the top? As an example I read a study that showed that in the medical field the best Chief Executives are those who have a medical background. Can this same principle be applied across all sectors?
GC: Without seeing it, I am initially a skeptic of the study. Granted, it will be easier to relate if you have experience in any field you are leading, but what still matters is your ability or inability to be clear and connect. And even if you are knowledgeable, such as in the medical field, you will have areas of expertise about which you know nothing, such as brain surgery for example, and you had better be good at delegating authority.
MN: Which field tend to produce the best Chief Executives?
GC: Sadly, one in four CEOs are accountants. I say sadly, because I think too much focus on financial data often backfires, leading to poor financial performance in the long run. I have seen many examples of what looked good on paper bleed a company dry, such as granting bids to the lowest cost supplier of vital parts only to have production and ultimately profits suffer. In a competitive market such penny wise pound foolish thinking can lead to irreversible losses. Of course, some of these Accountant CEOs understand a more systemic view…but not all of them.
MN: Most companies are putting potential leaders under a coaching and mentorship programme. How important and effective is such programmes?
GC: Coaching and mentoring varies widely in its effectiveness. Some of the best happens informally because individuals are smart enough to seek the wisdom of more experienced leaders. I am skeptical of any coach who doesn’t see their coachee engaging in work  meetings and conversations. Talking privately isn’t enough. I question the effectiveness of coaches who have never been in organisations. They will be limited to more of a counseling capacity.
MN: What is the best way to put a leadership development programme in a company?
GC: I would definitely talk to some live references, not just to sales people. I would also consider some of what I have already said. Traditional classroom learning is not going to cut it. You need group experiential learning, and some coaching in the field. If you are starting from scratch, I would be happy to offer guidance.
MN: How do you measure the success or failure of leadership development programmes?
GC: I measure the success of all organisation development, including leadership development, by the success of the organisation. Are your metrics improving? Are students within the programme applying their learning, perhaps as a case study, to achieving business critical outcomes? The program should be part of a strategy led by the line Organisation for business success.

Memory Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker, & managing consultant — Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. 

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How Not to Implement Change

Take a hands off approach. Keep your distance.

Don’t explain the “why” of the change.

Handle “resistance,” by putting people through training so they will “embrace change” (“Who Moved My Cheese” being a prime example).

“Hold people accountable to embrace change” by including it in their annual performance review. If they, in the judgment of the evaluators, were “resistant,” lower their rating and/or dismiss them.

Create a “communication plan” that is basically a PR campaign selling  benefits of the change (and mentioning none of the risks or the flaws), and include coffee mugs, banners and t-shirts.

Communicate huge amounts of information through e-mails.

Stick with “Go Live” dates regardless of whether the system is ready to go live. Have faith that the IT (or other specialists) will be able to solve problems as they emerge without crippling production, etc.

Take “input” through committees and meetings, etc., with no structure for assessing and rejecting or turning input into action.

Don;t allow input until the change is well under way.

Assign an executive such as the VP of HR who has no line authority over the targets of the change to be the “sponsor” or “champion” of the change.

Instead of using stretch goals strategically, implement too many stretch goal changes at once, and come up with new stretch goals year after year.

Instead of being straight with your employees when you have a real burning platform, don’t tell the what is going on until it is too late.

Exaggerate a burning platform so as to create a sense of urgency, and keep making up the need for urgency over and over again.

“Hold people accountable to have a sense of urgency” in their annual performance reviews.

Move onto the next project without reviewing and learning from the implementation of the last one (“times a wasting!”).

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The Limitations of Traditional Leadership Programs

The most recent book by Organization Development (OD) master practitioner Gilmore Crosby, entitled Leadership Can Be Learned: Clarity, Connection, and Results, describes how leaders can be more effective in their interpersonal, group, and large-system interactions. During a recent conversation about his book, I asked Gilmore: “What are the traditional leadership paradigms that have consistent negative effects on work culture? How can this be changed?” Here is his complete answer:

There are two prevalent paradigms that lock leadership and work culture into a limited box:

Denial about authority issues — Everyone has them, but most don’t realize they do. We all start small and dependent, and carry emotional memories from infancy into adulthood. Having a boss, being a boss, and being in an organization all remind our brain of our early pre-cognative experiences. Wired for survival, our brain wants to protect us from experiences similar to those early moments, including the dependency and interdependency of most work. Our emotional memories (the past) intensify our reactions in the present. If one isn’t aware enough to separate the past from the present, they will be apt to blame the people they are with (the boss, the subordinates, the peers) for their own mistrust and communication gaps. Our authority issues define and limit how we lead and how we relate to the people we report to.

Lack of systems thinking — From a systemic perspective, it’s not who is on the bus that is most important, it’s how the bus is being driven. Most leaders are trapped in a paradigm of personality theory, obsessed with getting the right people on and off the bus. Many leaders I know take pride in their ability to judge people. That of course is necessary, but without a healthy dose of systems thinking, judging (and being judged) becomes the main focus. That unintentionally drives fear and defensiveness into the culture, undermining the very openness necessary for high performance. Leaders would do well to strive with at least equal energy for creating the conditions for fostering high performance in the vast majority of the people that are reporting to them. If they are constantly changing people out, they are the problem, not the subordinates. The right driver can lift an entire system, the wrong driver can demoralize and undermine performance. I’ve seen both many times.

Practical methods for bringing out the best in yourself and in others are woven throughout my book not as a program, but rather as sound leadership practices suitable to every group in any organization.

What do you think of Gilmore’s perspective? Do these leadership paradigms exist in your organization? What have been the effects?

Rebloged from: http://leaninsider.productivitypress.com/2018/01/the-limitations-of-traditional.html

 

 

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Leadership Can Be Learned Video

Join the author as he describes his second book!

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Leadership Can Be Learned, Gilmore Crosby’s new book, is out!

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The following is excerpted with permission:

Introduction

Despite all that has been written on the subject, the premise of this book is that leadership is poorly understood because human systems are poorly under- stood. Like the paradigms of old, which were eventually discarded—flat earth, earth at the center of the universe, and so on—most people are trapped in a limiting paradigm of personal authority and human systems. Problems are understood as “clashes of personality,” and blame is directed at the superficial level of individuals, groups, and structure. The result is hardly more sophisticated than a soap opera. The true root cause is over- looked, and hence perpetuated.

There is a way out, clearly demonstrated, consistently replicated, and yet little known. This book clarifies that path, already blazed by pioneers such as Edwin Friedman and my father, organization development pioneer, Robert P. Crosby, and guides you on that path in four sections. The first section is focused on Friedman’s transformational leadership model; the second, the theory of human systems from which that leadership model emerged; the third, a deep, yet practical, exploration of self-awareness and interpersonal skills related to leadership; and the fourth and final section a practical application of the aforementioned leadership model to getting results in an organization.

An equally important premise of this book is that everybody has authority issues. It is part of the human condition. Everybody starts life totally dependent on adults caring for them, and our beliefs, emotions, and behavioral habits regarding authority are forged in that early experience.

Despite this universal presence of authority relationships in human families and institutions, many people go through life in denial, or at least unaware, of their biases about authority. Even those teaching and writing about leadership (including me) have authority issues. Many in my profession of organization development have advocated for decades for flat organizations, “self-organizing” organizations, leaderless teams, “servant leadership,” “upside-down” organizations, and a plethora of other approaches seeking a cure for the conflicts, convoluted communication, and inefficiencies that often emerge between leaders and subordinates. Tom Peters, as just one prominent example, in his bestselling In Search of Excellence heaped praise on the Uddevalla Volvo plant for opening its doors with leaderless teams. The same year that his book was published, sadly, the plant had to shut its doors due to low productivity/high cost production.

This is not to say that you can’t make flat structures work. However, to do so, you have to have clarity about authority. You have to know who will decide what, how, and by when, and you need everyone as aligned as possible in support of the authority structure in your system. You also need clarity about human systems. Starting with yourself, you must lead toward a high-performance culture. Without such clarity, even in the simple structure of a hierarchy, you will have chaos.

Friedman’s leadership model, in my opinion, is superior, precisely because it takes our authority issues into account, and guides each per- son in how to adjust and continually become a more effective and mature leader.

Leadership can be learned. Although there is art to leadership, there is also science. With this text you will gain a new understanding of human systems and of how to improve yourself and the system you are in. High- performance culture and high-performance leadership are mirror images of each other. Once you grasp the principals, the key will be in your hands.

Order Here!

 

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Matrixed Work, Authority & Hierarchy

I recently posted this to an OD group:

I wrote this in the middle of the night last night, not specifically as a response to this string, but it is relevant.

I was actually stimulated by my search, with the help of my father and my brother, for the source of the quote my father has been attributing to John Dewey for decades: “There is not freedom without structure.”

Great quote, but as far as I can tell it was actually a paraphrase by my father of Dewy and Kurt Lewin that morphed over time in his brain into a quote of Dewey lol. The brain is a tricky thing…although if one of has evidence that Dewey actually said it, let me know!

Here is what I wrote, that at least feels like a bit of an epiphany for me (although consistent with how I have been thinking all along):

There is no freedom without structure. You need structure to play a game. No rules, no game. You need structure to run an organization. If you think hierarchy is the problem, think again. Hierarchy isn’t the problem. Issues are the problem. Authority issues, trust issues, ego issues, misalignment issues, etc. People will have issues with or without hierarchy. Without it, they will have chaos and issues.

By “hierarchy” I mean any boss-subordinate structure, within multiple layers or only one…certainly any structure where the boss has the formal authority to fire the subordinate.

People within such structures are often interdependent cross-functionally in their work, i.e., “matrixed” (always have been, always will be). I think there is a lot of confusion caused when people mix anti-hierarchy anti-authority values into matrixed work and fail to leverage the actual hierarchical reporting relationships. Project teams are a prime example, although this goes on in daily operations as well. The project team often consists of a project manager and a number of people who do not actually report to the project manager (they only have a “dotted line” to the project manager). If alignment for the work isn’t created layer by layer within the actual hierarchical reporting structure, the project team members will get pulled in other directions by the priorities their actual bosses have for them. It’s a lot easier to create cross-functional alignment by working with the hierarchy versus pretending it doesn’t matter. When there is misalignment people tend to deal with it with their reptilian brains…by acting bossy (fight)…or acting passive (flight). Whether a project team or not, working across functions requires ongoing dialogue to keep silos and attachments to groups from hardening and inhibiting performance…imho.

With that in mind, I think an effective hierarchy can function in any environment.

And from the introduction to my new book, Leadership Can Be Learned (due out in Oct 2017!):

An equally important premise of this book is that everybody has authority issues. It is part of the human condition. Everybody starts life totally dependent on the adults caring for them, and our beliefs, emotions, and behavioral habits regarding authority are forged in that early experience.

Despite this universal presence of authority relationships in human families and institutions, many people go through life in denial, or at least unaware, of their biases about authority. Even those teaching and writing about leadership (including me) have authority issues. Many in my profession, organization development, have advocated for decades for flat organizations, “self-organizing” organizations, leaderless teams, “servant leadership,” “upside down” organizations and a plethora of other approaches seeking a cure for the conflicts, convoluted communication, and inefficiencies that often emerge between leaders and subordinates. Tom Peters, as just one prominent example, in his bestselling In Search of Excellence heaped praise on the Uddevalla Volvo plant for opening its doors with leaderless teams. The same year that his book was published, sadly, the plant had to shut its doors due to low productivity/high cost production.

This is not to say that you can’t make flat structures work. However, to do so, you have to have clear eyed clarity about authority. You have to know who will decide what, how, and by-when, and you need everyone as aligned as possible in support of the authority structure in your system. You also need clarity about human systems. Starting with yourself, you must lead towards a high performance culture. Without such clarity, even in the simple structure of a hierarchy, you will have chaos.

Edwin Friedman’s leadership model, in my opinion, is superior precisely because it takes our authority issues into account, and guides each person in how to adjust and continually become a more effective and mature leader.

Leadership can be learned because although there is art to leadership there is also science. With this text you will gain a new understanding of human systems and of how to improve yourself and improve the system you are in. High performance culture and high performance leadership are mirror images of each other. Once you grasp the principals, the key will be in your hands.

 

Posted in Alignment, Change Management, Cross-Functional Work, Leadership, Matrixed Work, Organization Development, Systems Thinking, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stretch goals versus continuous improvement…a false dichotomy

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A consultant named John Reeve posted the above picture on linkedin with the title “Continuous Improvement may lead to Mediocrity.”

I agree, but fear this will become one more typically oversimplified consulting message, such as “core competencies” (which led to companies shedding profitable businesses that were “outside their core”) and “embrace change” (which has become a non-behaviorally specific performance expectation in many companies, and led to needless training when effectively engaging people in change would be much more useful).

Rather than throwing out the baby of continuous improvement with the bathwater, combine system wide continuous improvement with visionary goals that are actually meaningful (not just churned out annually…or “stretch goals” can also become mediocre) and create a  powerful combination. Continuous improvement can then be aligned to the meaningful goals.

A real example that I was privileged to assist with was the Managing Director of the Jamalco  bauxite refinery’s vision in 2002 of going from highest cost producer of alumina in the global Alcoa system to tied for the lowest (he was satisfied with tying two much larger Australian refineries that had huge advantages in terms of scale). He described this stretch goal to his people on a simple flipchart with the believable message that highest cost producer was a not a good position to be in if the larger corporation decides to cut costs by closing locations. He then (with our help) effectively engaged a cross section of the refinery in continuous improvement targeted at reaching the broader vision. Through initiatives led by many hourly workers, such as reductions in raw materials lost through leaks, huge and sustainable savings were made and the refinery achieved their goals within a year. With continuous improvement they sustained their position in the cost curve and were the only refinery in Jamaica to stay open and at full production throughout the Great Recession.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Find real and meaningful stretch goals and align your system around improvements that are strategic to hitting the goals.

A great resource on this topic is Chris Crosby’s new book, Strategic Organizational Alignment, which can be found on our website at http://www.crosbyod.com.

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Our founder, and father, Robert P. Crosby, on his mentor, Howard Thurman.

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360 Anonymous Feedback – Is it giving your organization the blues?

Every organization I am familiar with in the US and abroad conducts 360 anonymous feedback for people in leadership positions (90% of all companies according to an ETS 2012 study). This holds true despite data indicating lack of results and other problems. Here are just two examples:

Watson Wyatt’s 2001 Human Capital Index, an ongoing study of the linkages between HR practices and shareholder value at 750 publicly traded US companies found that companies that use peer review have a market value that is 4.9 percent lower than similarly situated companies that don’t use peer review and companies that allow employees to evaluate their managers are valued 5.7 percent lower than similar firms that don’t.

A 2005 meta-analysis of 26 longitudinal studies indicated that it is unrealistic to expect large performance improvement after people receive 360-degree feedback.

In other words, many individuals and organizations using 360s have been getting the blues.

Despite such feedback, the use of 360s continues to be widely accepted. All of the research I’ve read comes to a similar conclusion: that the answer is not to scrap them, but rather to improve on how the organization supports learning from the results. It should be noted, however, that all of the research I could find came from companies that sell 360s. Despite the problems indicated by their research, every source remained a proponent of the method.

None of the articles, however, addressed these three fundamental problems:

  1. Anonymous data and feedback leaves recipients and experts alike guessing at the true meaning.

The separation of those who provide the data from the task of understanding the data violates a fundamental principle once held dearly by the social science founders of survey feedback. As Ronald Lippitt, who was a close associate of Rensis Likert (the creator of the Likert scale used in all surveys), put it in a conversation with our founder (Robert P. Crosby), “They who put their pencil to the survey paper should also see and work the data.” This principle has been lost in most survey processes, including 360s.

2. There is a widespread knowledge gap regarding specificity versus judgements in behavioral feedback.

Behavioral specificity is a concept that many are unfamiliar with and/or is underused. Specificity in feedback (our model is based heavily on Dr. John Wallen’s “Interpersonal Gap”) sticks strictly with observable behaviors (“when you said or did ____”). Ownership in this case means taking personal responsibility for how one takes and interprets what someone else did or said (for example, “when you said or did ____, I was concerned that you might be losing faith in me”). Such interpretations (“losing faith” in the last example) come out of our own personal history (I might worry that people will lose faith in me, and project it on to others behavior, whereas you might not carry that worry at all). Blame-laden generalizations (“you aren’t a team player,” “you’re a micro-manager”) are generally delivered without ownership (i.e., as if they are just a fact about the other) and almost certainly result in defensiveness on the part of the receiver. There is a high likelihood the receiver will reject such feedback, and even silently blame the giver (“the actual problem here is you”). The predictable result is further erosion of the work relationship, adding to a spiral of even greater fear of giving and receiving feedback. This in turn can become the work culture of the organization. In contrast, a high standard of specificity and ownership is much more likely to build strong work relationships and higher organizational performance. Anonymous feedback rarely has a high standard of specificity and ownership. Instead it allows generalizations and blame.

3. There is also a knowledge gap regarding first order and second order change.

First order change is immediate and specific, such as a behavioral change following effective feedback. Second order change is cultural, such as the impact of how the feedback was gathered and delivered. Anonymous feedback inadvertently creates negative second order change, by reinforcing the fear of and avoidance of open face to face feedback. A typical belief in such a culture is “our people won’t be honest unless it is anonymous” and a predictable consequence is that the organization becomes more dependent on experts (whether internal or external) to manage feedback and/or conflict. In contrast, sufficiently skillful direct feedback has the positive second order effect of creating a culture where people are increasingly willing to have potentially difficult yet much needed work related conversations. Although upfront training and facilitation is likely needed, the organization becomes less dependent in the long run.

Additional negative effects of anonymous feedback based on the three factors above include:

  • Because 0f the low standards of specificity and ownership, the odds of anonymous feedback adding blame-laden generalizations to your permanent employee file are high, thus adding to the fear of the process.
  • Even when the 360 is mostly positive, and even when the receiver of the feedback is a competent and mature adult, it is tempting to speculate on who may have offered any “negative” comments, and to hold some resentment against them.
  • Without dialogue, the receiver is left guessing at the real meaning of even the most specific comments, hence decreasing the likelihood that the intended lesson will actually get learned.
  • By reinforcing anonymity and indirectness, anonymous feedback works against the skillful feedback that is the foundation of high performance culture, and runs counter to wise corporate values such as openness, trust and accountability.

What to do about it

Here are some tips corresponding to the three fundamental problems (above):

1. Use live feedback processes. When surveys are used, which we encourage, of course they should be filled out anonymously. That is not the problem. The potential for individual and organizational performance improvement lies, however, in allowing the people who filled out the survey to interpret the data and engage in dialogue about how to maintain strengths and address issues. Rather than an individual guessing at what others meant, or an expert assisting in deriving implications, the recipient gets live feedback from the people who filled it out. The data becomes a tool for dialogue. The focus, rather than being stuck on the scores and comments, is on the much more important and positive task of how to move forward from here.

Furthermore, effective survey feedback is reciprocal. That is, the scores are understood to reflect a two way street. If the boss scored low on work load prioritization, part of the puzzle is for subordinates that are confused about priorities to mention it to the boss, and to let the boss know what they understand or wish the priorities to be. This requires dialogue with both parties taking ownership of their part in what is working and in what is not working so well. Such dialogue, on an on-going basis, will take the organization to higher levels of performance with the side benefit of decreasing the reliance on outside experts.

Likewise, your people can give each other direct timely individual feedback, and begin a continuous process of learning from their experiences and improving their skills. In high performing groups and organizations people talk directly to peers, bosses, subordinates and other groups about what is working and what is not working. Any work team can move in this direction, and a critical mass in your organization of people who give and seek feedback grounded in specificity and ownership can quickly change the culture. You and your people are capable of direct and productive feedback.

2. Get the training, coaching, and facilitation necessary to make the transition to a culture of live group and individual feedback. Such work culture has been created time and again, and is directly related to high performance.

3. If you do the above you will be creating positive second order change. With each moment of successful live feedback you and your people will be on a path of decreased blame and avoidance, increased trust, increased skill at handling difficult conversations, increased self-reliance (less need for facilitators, etc., as skills and confidence are embedded in the daily culture), and a step-change in the willingness and ability to solve touchy problems that interfere with productivity.

Feedback is necessary. Anonymous feedback can actually have the unintended effect of decreasing the amount of live feedback flowing in the organization. Give yourself and your people the gift of skillful live feedback and you will not only help them avoid the anonymous feedback blues, you will get bottom-line results.

Call us. We can get you started on the path to high performance feedback culture today.

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