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The 60-Second Consultant


A minute of shared wisdom
about 360-degree feedback
coaching and leadership
from Timothy Bentley

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Past Issues

Recent Newsletters


Fate And Suffering (26 Apr 2016)
Screen Door Supervision (12 Apr 2016)
Channeling Dissent (10 Nov 2015)
Emojis And Upgrades (27 Oct 2015)
Plunge Into Frigid Water (08 Jun 2015)
Newsroom Leaders Nurture (27 May 2015)
Distress Sail (28 Apr 2015)
Cold And Overheated Car (03 Mar 2015)
Attacked by Demons (03 Feb 2015)
The Coaching Detective (21 Jan 2015)
New Year’s Renewal (06 Jan 2015)
The Donkey Stampede (16 Dec 2014)
The Naughty Pup (18 Nov 2014)
The Support Parade (28 Oct 2014)
Effective Benchmarking (21 May 2014)
Let's Hear It For Maxime (11 Feb 2014)
Why Spend Money On 360? (12 Nov 2013)
Coach A Bullying Liar? (17 Oct 2013)
Splashing The Boat (16 Apr 2013)
"Look out! Look out!" (14 Mar 2013)
What Angina? (23 Jan 2013)
Father's Day (19 Jun 2012)
Teeth, Books, and 360 (17 Apr 2012)
Escaping My Accuser (03 Apr 2012)
Awesome Voyages (21 Mar 2012)
A New Year Of Integrity (26 Jan 2011)
Healing HR's Trauma (10 Aug 2009)
Her Big Brown Eyes (26 May 2009)
How's Your "Fitability"? (14 Apr 2009)
Obama Meets The "Cloud" (12 Nov 2008)
"I'm Sorry, Sort Of." (17 Jun 2008)
The Law Of Two Slips (11 Mar 2008)
360 And Backfire Shock (14 Feb 2008)



Full Text of Newsletters


Feedback Is A Nesting Doll

by Timothy Bentley

If you want to communicate the benefits of 360-degree feedback to decision-makers, but find yourself lost for helpful images, think about nesting dolls. That’s right, dolls.

When resources are tight, your leaders may worry that 360 will benefit only the individual who is assessed. But like the dolls, feedback actually offers an unexpected series of benefits.

Open one and, surprise, there’s another inside. Open that, and yet another benefit pops into view.

The people assessed benefit

There’s no question that recipients of 360-degree feedback receive valuable input about their skills and attitudes. Receiving unstructured comments as well as numerical ratings helps them take it in.

As their effectiveness improves, their satisfaction increases, creating a virtuous cycle.

Responders benefit

But there’s more. For responders, providing feedback anonymously allows them to encourage good work without appearing to be motivated by rewards, and to provide a legitimate critique without being blamed.

From another perspective, the use of 360 tells them that their organization cares about everyone’s experience, not just their boss’s. It reassures them: good leadership is recognized, and the opposite is identified for improvement.

Supervisors benefit

Supervisors appreciate 360-degree feedback because, in general, they hate performance appraisals. Seeing themselves as doers, not talkers, they’re often uncomfortable trying to manage an evaluation conversation.

The 360 report provides them with an agenda that they can examine with the employee. While they might be nervous about raising difficult issues, feedback supports them with clear data.

Organizations benefit

The benefits to the organization as a whole are several.

Everyone, from cleaners to shareholders, benefits as feedback nudges up productivity.

In the marketplace, the use of 360 identifies the organization as a preferred employer in human development practices.

Furthermore, the 360 offers leaders a tool to broadly assess the organization’s capabilities. By aggregating the results of feedback across the organization, they can identify areas where the organization functions above expectations (areas they can market, proudly and loudly), and those that need development (where they can focus scarce training dollars).

Those are a lot of beautiful dolls.




The Many Gifts Of Feedback

by Timothy Bentley

If you’re attempting to communicate the benefits of 360-degree feedback to decision-makers, think about Russian dolls.

Those who hold the purse strings often worry that the process will benefit only the individual who is assessed. But in reality feedback is like an unexpected series of gifts. Open one doll and, surprise, there’s another doll inside. Open that one, and yet another pops into view.

The person assessed

There’s no question that recipients of 360-degree feedback receive valuable input about their skills. Because their feedback includes unstructured comments as well as numerical ratings, they can take it in from both sides of their brains.

As their effectiveness improves, their satisfaction at work increases, creating a virtuous cycle.

Responders benefit

But there’s more. For responders, providing feedback anonymously allows them to praise good work without appearing to be motivated by rewards, and to provide a critique without being blamed.

From another perspective, the provision of 360 tells them that their organization cares about everyone’s experience, not just their boss’s. And it reassures them: good leadership is being recognized, and poor leadership identified for improvement.

Performance appraisal

Supervisors appreciate 360-degree feedback because, generally speaking, they hate performance appraisals. Seeing themselves as doers, not talkers, they’re often not comfortable trying to direct an evaluation conversation.

The 360 report provides them with an agenda that they can examine together with the employee. While they may be nervous about raising difficult issues, the feedback supports them with clear data.

Improved organizational capacity

The benefits to the organization as a whole are several. In the marketplace, the use of 360 identifies the organization as a preferred employer in human development practices.

And of course everyone, from cleaners to shareholders, benefits when feedback nudges up productivity.

Quantified info

Furthermore, 360s offer leaders a tool to broadly assess the organization’s capabilities.

By aggregating the results of feedback across the organization, they can identify areas where the organization functions above expectations (areas they can market, proudly and loudly), and those that need development (where they can focus scarce training dollars).

Those are a lot of beautiful dolls.




Fate And Suffering

by Timothy Bentley

During a Passover seder last weekend, reflecting on Hebrews' enslaved in ancient Egypt, I got to thinking about how human beings suffer in the face of terrible events.

A factory, on which an entire town depends for income, burns down. Owners, managers, employees, all hurt by a single, awful hour.

Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, overworked knees and hips, taking their toll on loved ones.

Age morphing into dementia. Very old people trapped in bodies too healthy to release them.

The heartless take advantage of the weak and naive -- enslaving, torturing, bombing, displacing the vulnerable. Hunting animal species to the edge of extinction.

And apart from human evil, nature's random acts blow homes apart, burn forests, flood island nations, quake the very foundations of civil life.

"What have we (or they) done to deserve this?" we exclaim. "It isn't fair."

Our ancestors didn't like it any better, but took some comfort in a crude blame game. It was fate, they explained. Or luck. Or sin. Or God.

What drives our generation crazy is that for over a century we have imagined we were gaining control over painful events. Mankind triumphant.

We built machines to do our will, nearly defeated diseases like smallpox, polio, and measles. We developed devices to entertain and titillate us when we're bored.

Fate, luck, sin, even God, became irrelevant as explanations, for we were gradually seducing ourselves with the illusion that we could control our destinies.

And then the factory burned.

Time for a little humility; pain is inevitable in human life.

And if suffering can be defined as how we respond to pain, then suffering is optional. We multiply our suffering when we cling to that illusion of control.

The reality check: nothing is "fair". It just is.

But this is not fate. We are not called to passive acceptance. We have a vocation, and it is to do what we can to reduce the pain of others, and ourselves, and to move forward gracefully.




Screen Door Supervision

by Timothy Bentley

Last time, I told you how workmen almost destroyed a priceless stained glass window. Why? Because they assumed their boss wanted it removed. Assumptions, assumptions!

Today, the screen door installer arrived. Once burned, twice shy, I checked his assumptions, which included installing a door sill that was aluminum, not white as we had ordered.

So we agreed he would install the aluminum now, and replace it with white when it arrived from the factory.

The discussion went well. We had no negative history and little likelihood of an ongoing relationship.

But when you're a supervisor in the workplace, life is more complex. You're dealing with the burden of history and a future relationship.

So how closely should you supervise?

Here's the argument:

Too little supervision can lead to big mistakes, employees following their own agenda rather than the organization's, a wasteful use of time.

But too much supervision can result in irritation, resentment, active concealment, and a refusal to take risks or show initiative.

Neither approach is going to get your organization into the top ten.

Finding the right balance

Here are the key principles:
  • With most employees, the goal is to minimize the level of routine oversight. In other words, to encourage and empower.
  • Discuss supervision fully at the beginning of the relationship. Make sure the employee knows what to expect, and why.
  • Supervise more closely at first, until you and the employee know what to expect of each other.
  • Mis-steps are inevitable. They're an opportunity to learn together and plan for the future.
  • Check assumptions at the beginning of each unfamiliar task, with a clear expectation of ongoing discussion.
  • Calibrate supervision around the importance of the task. Neither of you can afford failure in a job that's critical to the organization.
  • Keep the communication going. If you show up only when there's a disaster, employees will associate you with pain, not progress.

No one ever said supervision was easy, but these seven principles should screen out the worst problems.




Assumption: The Sound Of Something Breaking

by Timothy Bentley

Workmen came to our house yesterday to install an insulating layer of glass to protect a beautiful stained glass window.

When Esther heard a loud noise, she found to her horror that they were attempting not to protect the stained glass, but to remove it.

Unhappily, it took extra time to restore the window, then install the insulating glass as intended.

Assumptions

In the end, it all worked out. But looking back, things became clear.

The contractor made an assumption: that the workmen understood they should protect the stained glass, not replace it.

The workmen made an assumption: that their boss wanted them to remove it.

Esther and I made an assumption: that the workmen knew what we intended. (It seemed obvious to us that no one would deliberately destroy a fine feature in a century home.)

Assume at your peril

So here's the crucial part: everyone acted in complete good faith. No one set out to do anything wrong.

But we all contributed to a bad situation by not checking our assumptions.

In the workplace, assumptions are commonplace. For instance, we assume that each person knows what the most crucial part of her/his job is. And its timelines. And the resources available, etc.

95 per cent of the time, our assumptions are correct, which is seductive.

But when they're not, too often the next step is to assign blame. Blaming, of course, results in anger, conflict, depression, anxiety, and reduced productivity, not the outcomes we're hoping for.

Clarify, clarify

So though it may seem redundant, it's worth asking a few probing questions.

"I know you're experienced, but for my sake, can we talk about how you understand this task?"

"Can we discuss the actual steps you're going to take?"

"Are we agreed that this is what will happen?"

"How will you know when the job is complete?"

You may get a little push-back to questions like these, but think about the blaming you'll avoid and the lovely stained glass you may preserve.




A Few Amps Short Of A Charge

by Timothy Bentley

I've always liked the idea that successful leaders don't have to be brilliant if they surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are.

Recently, I proved to myself how true that is.

For a while I'd worried that our boat was short on electric power. At anchor, two sets of batteries were the only source of power for lighting and refrigeration. But after a short while, I'd find them almost flat.

So I scouted a location to add a third set of batteries, ran the wires, and hooked them up. I must admit I felt pretty good about it.

That is, until last summer's cruise, when we were waylaid by the evil smells of malfunctioning batteries.

At that point, I was forced to call in a highly respected marine electrician who didn't hesitate to identify my failings. "You've installed your batteries at different distances from the charger," he chided me, with no concern for my pride.

"The first set gets charged up best, the next set second best, and the ones you installed worst of all. No wonder you're having problems."

I'd put a lot of thought into those batteries, but frankly I didn't know what I didn't know. Apart from damaged pride, I'm glad I involved someone who's smarter than I am.

He proceeded to rewire the batteries so they'll charge up equally. Problem solved.

Here's what's involved:

1. There's no need for false humility. You don't have to pretend you're dumb. In fact, in the most important areas you're probably brilliant.

(For example, I'm definitely a more empathic consultant than my electrician.)

2. Accept that no one has to be exceptional in every field.

(The fine points of electrical wiring will forever be outside my skill set.)

3. Wherever you need supplemental help, don't hesitate to search out the smartest people available, and put them to work. Praise them, promote them, even pay them money.

(In this case, praise wouldn't have accomplished much, but money worked fine.)

The result: you'll be regarded as brilliant, not "a few amps short of a charge".




Thanks To The Unaware Coachee

by Timothy Bentley

A story from many years ago. Esther and I had a coaching client who was genuinely confused about why he was stalled in his career.

We didn’t think he was deliberately holding out on us. But we guessed that he was missing some vital information about his impact in the workplace.

With his agreement, we interviewed his colleagues. They revealed that he was a capable person, but self-involved, unaware of the needs of those around him, insensitive to the trail of hurt feelings he left behind him.

That information shocked him, and provided a valuable teaching moment. He committed to improving his interpersonal skills, and made a lot of progress.

For us the experience was life-changing. It convinced us that frank feedback could provide crucial insight into how our clients were seen by others.

With the next client, we modified our approach. We created a single questionnaire and circulated it to several of the client’s colleagues. Again the results were stunning. The lights went on for her, and we recognized that 360-degree feedback had huge potential to help people get unstuck.

The only hassle was the many grueling hours we spent compiling the data for each client, calculating columns of ratings, fixing our inevitable errors, printing and re-printing reports.

The alternative was to buy a fixed 360-degree feedback paper questionnaire, get people to respond, and mail the completed forms to the provider, who in the fullness of time would compile a report. It was arbitrary, slow, and costly.

So we asked our son, a programming whiz kid, to knock together a spreadsheet to automate the process. Colleagues and friends asked if they too could use it, and as Esther announced one day, “There’s a real need for this!”

Within a few months, back in 1998, our son produced the first successful online 360 ever. We called it Panoramic Feedback. It has matured till it’s hardly recognizable from its first appearance and has attracted thousands of users on every continent.

But we owe it all to our first unaware client. Our deepest thanks, wherever you are.




Steve Jobs and 360-Degree Feedback

by Timothy Bentley

Watching the film "Steve Jobs" recently, I was impressed by how self-deluded, insensitive, and generally unlikable this genius was.

But I couldn’t ignore the fact that essentially he got it right, developing computers that were more friendly to users.

I wouldn’t compare myself or others who provide computer applications with Jobs, either in ego or the magnitude of his accomplishment. But there is certainly one common thread.

Like him, we’re very committed to creating apps that are easy to use.

360-degree feedback providers have long recognized that, although 360 is powerful at improving productivity and work satisfaction, a major barrier can be the amount of effort it demands of administrators.

How an app develops

Recently we released a new tool with a substantial history.

It tells people being assessed (“subjects”) when an email bounced back because they had guessed the address for a responder incorrectly.

We introduced a simple online form where subjects can make that correction. The email is then re-sent to the new address automatically, making no demands on the administrator.

Before then it was the administrator’s job to research the correct address, update the system, and re-send the email. Now they were breathing an audible sigh of relief.

How we got there

When online 360-degree feedback began, one of the biggest jobs administrators faced was managing all the addresses of responders.

They had to ask each subject for those addresses, then enter them into the system. In a project of only 200 subjects, they could be juggling 3000 addresses!

We experimented with various automated improvements, but administrators found none of them entirely satisfactory.

Finally we designed a new portal where subjects could enter those addresses themselves. The result was a significant reduction in administrators’ workload.

A process of evolution

But that’s when we started hearing feedback about incorrect addresses. And that led us to improve our system further.

On a smaller scale, it’s like Jobs’ continuing re-invention of the computer, though hopefully based on a little more feedback and less ego.

Still, the essential motivation is similar, to keep on making it easier to provide feedback, benefitting subjects who hope to grow and develop in their careers.




Another New Year - Or Is It?

by Timothy Bentley

I wish you a very good new year.

Unless you’re Chinese, of course, in which case we’ll hold that wish until February, when the year of the red monkey begins.

Or unless you’re Hindi, Tamil, or Bengali, in which case you’ll be waiting till April.

Or unless you’re Jewish, in which case we already celebrated Rosh Hashanah in September, on 1 Tishrei.

Or unless you’re Muslim and celebrated in October, the first day of Muharram.

Or unless you follow the sun, in which case we saw the sun reach its lowest point (in the northern hemisphere) on December 21. From there on, we’ve seen lengthening days, arguably the strongest sign of a new year.

Or, wouldn’t it be more fair to affirm that the new year begins when the Spring begins, say, March 20?

Or when the first shoots poke out of the soil – a date unpredictable and variable depending on where you live.

All of which suggests that how we date the new year depends on accidents of birth and location. It’s basically a point of view.

There’s no right or wrong about it. It’s simply custom.

You could say the same about any number of political ideas. Deficit financing, immigrants, defense, you name it. We may hold our views very firmly, and make excellent arguments for them.

But basically they’re a point of view, neither correct or incorrect.

Similarly for many workplace issues: pay, performance, profit, promotion, and a plethora of other issues.

We may have an opinion we hold to fervently and argue for strongly, but that’s all it is. An opinion, a point of view.

So I have a wish for you and me, as this new year begins. (According to certain calendars.) (In the minds of some of us.)

Let us go gently in the days to come, as we argue for our point of view. Let us allow that the other person’s argument may have certain merits. Let us listen as much as we speak.

And of course, if you prefer a different date for the new year, feel free not to begin this practice until then!




Recalling Our Common Humanity

by Timothy Bentley

The Syrian refugee crisis, terror in Bamako, Jerusalem, Yola, and Paris, the shutdown of Brussels, all remind us this month how interconnected we have become. Even those who reside in the relative safety of North America are shaken by shocks and aftershocks.

We hear voluminous detail from the media. We talk about it endlessly with friends and family. We recognize what we can’t ignore, that everyone is more or less vulnerable.

And as if to remind us, closer to home, a knee hurts when going up stairs, a crown falls off a tooth, a friend is diagnosed with cancer or diabetes, an elderly person loses her mind.

To be human is to be vulnerable. We don’t believe in Superman any more. We understand that any one of us can be knocked off our comfortable seat at any time.

One of the last places we acknowledge these insights, is our organizational life.

At work, we prefer that others, and ourselves, maintain a stiff upper lip. We’re exasperated by those who complain of pain or anxiety. We’re tempted to grumble when someone’s sick day or pregnancy catapults extra work onto us.

As if we forget that work life is part of real life.

In real life, our narcissistic self-involvement is gradually eroded by the unavoidable. We get used to staying up with the crying baby, comforting the sad child, making time to listen to the teenager’s rants, paying attention to young adults stressed about their careers, grieving with the bereaved, holding the hands of the old and demented.

It may be hard, it’s demanding, but it’s what we do.

In our institutional life, finding a place for that kind of empathy and sacrifice is not quite so straightforward. We’re hooked by the deadlines, driven by the demands to accomplish. We practice being strong, and hard, and focused.

Until we’re not.

Then, we remember again how interconnected we all are, how vulnerable we all are.

That’s when our hearts soften, when deadlines and guidelines become more malleable, and our natural generous humanity seeps back into the foreground of our minds.

Now is that time for connection, for empathy, for recognizing that we are all vulnerable, all one community, at home and at work. How we express it will vary as much as the shape of our faces and bodies, but express it we will.




Channeling Dissent

by Timothy Bentley

“It’s all bullshit!” An unexpected challenge erupts during a company retreat. “This company has a culture of fear.”

A stunned hush falls on the group.

Lisa swallows hard and continues. “We’re expected to be perfect, and if we’re not, we hear about it. But no person can be perfect. So we’re all afraid.”

Heads nod in agreement.

The earnest group facilitator is shocked. Everyone was saying such nice things, about “collaboration” and “integrity”.

Lisa falls silent. Her face is hot, her heart pounding.

If she had experienced fear in the past, now she’s really anxious.

The cost of honesty

Lisa’s outburst occurred last week, but it could have been anytime, in any organization.

Such an event imposes a huge cost on the dissenter. Inwardly, there’s high anxiety and adverse physical reactions. Outwardly, there’s the possibility of shaming, loss of promotion, or the end of employment.

At so high a price, it takes tremendous courage to say what everyone else is thinking but dares not speak.

And what are the chances that Lisa will see any benefit personally?

A culture of truth

It’s worth asking what is your organization’s culture around truth-telling?

Is it seen as inconvenient, awkward, embarrassing, even traitorous? Does it threaten profitability, interrupt important tasks, divert precious energy to fix a mere glitch? (Think Volkswagen.)

Or is it honored? The path to a better workplace. The route to improved relationships with consumers?

Does the source of the organization’s culture, the C suite, encourage truth-telling, or quiet conformity?

Among the many tools to promote corporate frankness, 360-degree feedback is especially valuable, its promise of confidentiality mitigating the fear of punishment.

Culture is key

But ultimately, the bigger question is the quality of organizational culture, the foundation of the health of the organization.

Because of Lisa’s courage, truth has been honored. Remediation is a possibility. It’s all good, but she’s unlikely to win a plaque or a promotion.

Or will she?




Emojis And Upgrades

by Timothy Bentley

We all depend on up-to-date software. Our phones, our computers, and our appliances demand it.

The recent debacle at Volkswagen (software in the car was designed to hide high diesel emissions) reminds us how much we rely on software that’s accurate. They’ll be upgrading theirs soon – or so we hope.

Every few weeks we’re presented with upgrades designed to fix bugs, reduce vulnerabilities, and according to an alert I received today for my phone, provide even more emojis.

Emojis? I had to look them up. Turns out they’re small standardized pictures that convey an emotion or other information. Anyway, you’ll be glad to know I’m getting another 150.

When Windows 10 launched this summer, it had serious bugs, but an upgrade was slow to arrive. Oh, and it failed to fix all the problems, so I’m hoping there’s another on the horizon.

Emoji upgrades may be frivolous, but such items are usually part of a package that provides valuable functionality.

Upgrading PF

Here at Panoramic Feedback, we’ve invested a lot of effort recently to upgrade the software that runs our online questionnaire. We made it more attractive, but crucially, more convenient to use.

Now there’s a bar at the top of the page that tells responders how many questions they’ve answered out of the total. It helps them keep track of progress, especially in longer questionnaires.

Soon we’ll release another upgrade that places the Submit button on that top bar, so it’s always visible. That way, those who might forget to actually submit their questionnaire will be reminded.

We also improved how responders choose their answers. Instead of having to click on a little circle (the old radio button), they can click anywhere in a larger rectangle. Additional benefit: once the question is answered, it fades a little, so it’s obvious which ones remain.

Upgrades without effort

Our software resides on the Panoramic Feedback server (i.e. not on your computer). That means we can release upgrades as soon as they are ready, and you literally don’t have to do anything to get the benefits.

Soon you and your responders will see the new Submit button. But sorry, no emojis this month.




Plunge Into Frigid Water

by Timothy Bentley

In a flash, I made a decision worthy of regret.

My boat was tied securely, except at the bow. To fix that, I needed to attach a line already tied to the dock, to the front of the boat. Problem was, the wind was pushing it away from the dock.

Two options presented themselves.

The safest would be to climb on board, get the boat hook (a long pole with a hook at the end), and use it to grab the line from the dock. Then slowly pull the boat toward the dock until I could tie the line to the boat. That would take a couple of minutes.

The quick and easy solution would be just to lean out from the dock and tie the line to the boat.

So, acting on impulse (certainly not rationality), that's what I chose.

As I was tying the line, the wind began to blow the boat away. Predictably.

With my feet on the dock and my hands on the boat, I was soon suspended horizontally above the cold springtime water.

A moment later, I was in it.

Sputtering, I swam for a ladder and laboriously hauled myself out. With wet clothing, I weighed a lot more than normal.

I shivered as I towelled myself off and put on dry clothing. Oh yes, I still had to tie the boat up. Later I had to dry out my hat, clothes, shoes, wallet, money, and everything else in my pockets.

That adventure cost me much more time – and loads more discomfort – than if I'd chosen the safe way in the first place.

Shortcuts anyone?

Taking the quick and easy way is always appealing, but how good are we at counting the potential cost if it fails?

For instance, do you sometimes ignore the vital but time-consuming jobs on your desk, in favor of shortcuts and quick fixes?

Do you ever delay the difficult talk you need to have with an employee or supplier, in favor of easy conversations with people who are more simpatico?

Do you stay stuck at your desk, when you really need to walk around?

Whatever your answers, here's my wish. May your choices never drop you into (metaphorically) frigid water, as mine did.




Newsroom Leaders Nurture

by Timothy Bentley

As I described last time, I spent a couple of summers as a cub reporter in a big-city newspaper. The newsroom seemed a largely hostile environment. In particular, I was terrified of the rough, rude city editor who was my boss.

I quickly discovered that I was on my own. No one in the newsroom was going to tangle with the editor. No one would take my side.

No one, that is, except for two unassuming grey-haired women who worked at desks off to one side.

It was my good luck that Phyllis Griffith and Helen Allen noticed an overly-sensitive junior journalist who was moping, during his first few weeks of hard times in the newsroom.

They kindly took me under their wings, listened to my woes, fed me cookies, and encouraged me to keep on developing my skills.

They taught me a thing or two, coaching me in how to manage our abrasive city editor without getting him angry.

Each day when I walked into the newsroom, Phyllis or Helen would make eye contact and flash a quick smile. It was all I needed to get through a period in my life that was both fearful and rich with opportunities for growth.

I was briefly appreciative. But as a self-involved young male, I soon took these two apparently ancient and insignificant women for granted.

I certainly didn’t recognize that they were leaders and heroes in the world of journalism.

Phillis Griffith was an ex-basketball star, and one of the first women to succeed in becoming a sports writer.

For decades, Helen Allen’s daily column, Today’s Child, helped hundreds of hard-to-adopt children find nurturing families.

Today, with the benefit of hindsight, it all makes sense. What makes a great leader? Strategic vision and all that, of course.

But also personal awareness, kindness, and nurturing.

Helen and Phyllis are gone now. They were giants in their work, and I hope never forgotten.

What they taught me and the quiet way they guided me, left a legacy that is lasting.




Fear and loathing in the newsroom

by Timothy Bentley

In my late teens, I scored a job as cub reporter at a city newspaper. At the same time, another junior joined up.

Dan and I were the same age and shape, and both blond. Our boss, the city editor, could hardly tell us apart.

"Tim!", he'd yell down the newsroom, and I'd look up from my typewriter in fear.

Then he'd hesitate. "No....Dan!" So Dan would half-rise.

"No....Tim!" He had finally settled upon the correct victim. I'd hurry to his desk, to be chewed out for a mistake in how I'd handled a story.

The man was an excellent editor, technically, but his manner was bombastic, unforgiving, and nasty.

His reign of terror did not make me a better reporter. In fact, it focused my attention, not on the opportunities for good writing, but on staying out of sight.

I was a better journalist when I was out of the newsroom researching a story, than when writing it up under his baleful gaze.

To this day, he remains my mental prototype of the mean boss.

He was not the only bombastic character around. The police reporter was a 400-pound loudmouth who'd have joined the police force if he could pass the physical. He kept a siren and police radio in his car, and sometimes packed a gun.

He too was really good at his job. He could listen to our three police radios at the same time, and sort out the best and bloodiest stories to follow.

At his size, he couldn't move very fast, so sometimes he'd send Dan or me out to investigate. If he was disappointed with our output, he'd threaten to sit on us.

He wasn't a great leader, but at least I remember the twinkle in his eye.

Leadership by intimidation is still at work in some of our workplaces. Bosses who relentlessly chip away at morale and, with it, productivity.

It's time they got the memo. It's our responsibility, all of us in this field, to help them learn to lead in a more humane and ultimately productive manner, or to get out of the way.




Distress Sail

by Timothy Bentley

Sunday was the day we planned to pull up the sail on our beloved boat. I had it ready, lying in a pile on the foredeck.

As I attached the sail's loop to the halyard (the sailor's term for the rope that goes up to the top of the mast), Esther inquired innocently, "Are you sure that's the right loop?"

"Yeah. It's fine." I know what I'm doing. Don't doubt me.

So she guided the sail, while I pulled on the halyard.

At that moment, a fellow sailor walking by on the dock hesitated, stopped, almost walked away, hesitated again, then said quietly to Esther, "You know it's upside down, right?"

An upside down flag - or sail - is the international sign of distress. In my case, I guess it's mental distress.

So we pulled down the sail, found the correct loop, and then it went up just fine.

Maybe, maybe, maybe

Later on, the sailor admitted he didn't want to say anything.

Maybe we knew what we were doing. Maybe he was just wrong. Maybe we'd respond badly.

It's always tempting not to challenge people who act as if they know what they're doing.

But all I can say is thank you

Thank you, my friends.

For taking the risk of telling me about the up-side-down sail.

And, by extension, thanks for the feedback about how I spoke to so-and-so at the office.

Thanks for asking if my marketing plan took account of all the contingencies.

Thanks for noticing that I'm better at big-picture strategy than follow-through.

Thanks for mentioning that, when I talked about my successes, I didn't give credit to my hard-working direct reports.

Thanks for saying that I could strengthen my leadership skills by taking more time to listen.

We're all in distress, sometimes

We can only fix what we know about.

When others offer us feedback, they may be right, they may be wrong. But, bless them, we sail more safely when we at least consider what they tell us.




Feedback Can Impact Culture

by Timothy Bentley

Scott Borland believes there's more inherent value in 360-degree feedback than simply identifying leader's style and performance gaps.

He says feedback can uncover the powerful organizational dynamics that influence their actions. "Real world realities," he says, "are clearly providing the backdrop for specific leadership behavior."

Performance influences

These realities include the structure of the organization, its priorities, and leaders' roles.

If the intentions of the organization aren't clear, then neither will be the behaviors of managers. If the culture is critical and secretive, how can managers display openness and receptivity? If decision-making is held tightly at the top, how can managers be expected to make sound decisions?

As president of Cygnus Management Consultants, Scott has seen firsthand how such factors deter even the wisest managers. "I've had too many debrief / interpretation discussions with leaders where their own desire and ability to improve and make personal change is clearly hampered by the broader business or organizational context in which they live."

Improving 360s

To shed light on these areas, he suggests enhancing the design of the 360 questionnaire.

He adds questions that relate to the workplace context, such as clarity of direction, role boundaries, and decision-making. For example, questions can ask about the ability of the leader to clearly differentiate their role and accountabilities from other leaders.

Narrative comments reveal more than the person's behaviors. For instance, "What constraints within the business hinder the ability of this individual to become more effective as a leader?"

During the 360 debrief, he suggests discussing how the context affects the job. What are your boss's expectations? What are the dynamics of your team?

The idea is to pinpoint ways that the organization itself may be reducing both the joy and productivity of leaders, and support them in addressing these issues.

There's a profitable bottom line, he says. "By utilizing the rich treasure trove of contextual information emerging from 360 feedback, you'll enable your leaders to be far more successful in their own personal development and performance improvement efforts."

Read more in Scott's blog at http://www.cygnusconsultants.com/blog.




Cold And Overheated Car

by Timothy Bentley

“This car is really cold,” said Esther, shivering as we drove. So we turned up the heat.

Nothing.

Then I happened to glance at the engine temperature gauge. It was pinned to the top of the meter.

That told me the heat wasn’t being conveyed from the engine to the heater. It was building up inside.

I pulled over to let the engine cool. Another minute and we’d have boiled away the rest of our coolant. Close call.

So we limped home, stopping frequently to dump excess heat, coasting on the downhills, then left the car at the service station to be fixed.

Now here’s the interesting and humbling question. How long had that gauge been giving me feedback that the engine was overheated, before I actually read it?

A minute, an hour? I’ll never know because I foolishly didn’t check it.

Have you noticed your feedback?

Have you too been missing feedback that was freely available? Have you been encouraging the people who could offer you guidance about your performance?

It’s crucial to let colleagues and employees know that you have your eye on the temperature gauge every day – that you’re paying attention.

Let them know you welcome feedback

Ask your people for feedback that’s direct and specific:

"Did you think I was clear at the meeting?”

“I’m wondering if I’m doing something that’s delaying our project.”

“How would you have handled that problem?”

“What are the downsides to my plan?”

Questions like these convey that you’re open, curious, and not afraid of the answers.

Respond positively

When people see that you welcome frank feedback, that you discuss it with them and don’t punish them for being honest, they feel encouraged. Next time they may offer useful data even before you ask for it – especially if they see that you’re acting on what you hear.

And me, well, I intend to pay more attention to feedback too. Starting, but not ending, with the temperature gauge.




Just Another Delayed Aircraft?

by Timothy Bentley

The airline clerk announced to the waiting passengers that our 3:40 pm takeoff would be delayed an hour.

Strangely, the monitor in the Departure lounge said takeoff would be 8:00 pm. Why the discrepancy? “I don’t know,” replied the hapless clerk. “They told me to say one hour.”

It was many hours later that the airline informed us that we’d have to spend the night in a hotel and return for a 5:00 am takeoff.

Of course it took forever to load buses, travel to the hotel, line up for registration, eat dinner, and settle into our rooms for a nap. By 3:00 am, we were all back in the lobby, bleary-eyed, lined up again to check out.

Most of us arrived home exhausted. But the airline lost too.

Holding back the facts

It wouldn’t have required massive sophistication for them to give us a realistic prognosis early on:

"There’s a problem with equipment on the plane. If we can fix it ourselves, we’ll get you out of here in a couple of hours. If we have to fly new parts in from elsewhere, we’ll put you up in a hotel overnight. We’ll let you know the minute we know."

Passengers understand that a broken aircraft needs to be fixed.

But the airline’s failure to trust us with basic information, in a timely fashion, cost more than they recognized.

Conveying disrespect

You lose loyalty when you herd 150 human beings around like cattle.

When your unspoken message is: "We know what’s happening, but we’re not telling you. So go where we tell you, when we tell you. Till then, stay out of our way."

And the point is?

This little misadventure raises two obvious questions.

1. Have you (0r your organization) ever failed to share information with employees, suppliers, customers, or neighbors, because you were too busy putting out fires?

2. Have you ever delayed communicating because you were anxious about negative reactions?

Few of us can truthfully answer "never", but such failures can cost steeply in discontent. We all need a plan to communicate, communicate, communicate.

No one wants to fly with an airline that hoards its information.




Attacked by Demons

by Timothy Bentley

Getting onto the bus, I was surprised to see a young woman bobbing and weaving in her seat, fending off some kind of invisible threat. I’ll call her Jean.

“Here come the demons,” said Jean out loud, overheard by many of her fellow passengers.

I felt a surge of compassion. She seemed to be around the typical age for the onset of schizophrenia. I stood there thinking maybe I could help. Help how? I’ve no idea.

Then Jean called out to the driver. “Open the door. People don’t want to listen to this.” As the door swooshed open, she stepped onto the sidewalk and disappeared from sight.

I stood there in awe. Although she felt herself under attack by ferocious demons, this terrified young woman still had compassion for her fellow passengers. She didn't want them to feel trapped on the bus with her.

By exiting, she intended to save them from anxiety and embarrassment.

Jean’s words reminded me that all human beings, even those with few resources, have a capacity for generosity.

In our families, social groups, and workplaces, there are people who suffer intensely, who are anti-social in some way, or who cannot fit into the stereotypes that support the rest of us.

It's hugely important that we acknowledge their positive efforts.

I'm not suggesting that we be patronizing.

I'm thinking of frank statements like this: “I really appreciated when you....” Or “It helped us out when you….”

Honest appreciation is too rare for people with problems. But the encouragement of fellow passengers on the bus ride of their lives might support them as they try to behave in appropriate ways.

At the least, it might create a moment when they feel less alone.

To tell the truth, I have some regret. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to jump off the bus behind Jean, thank her for her compassion, and wish her well.

Too slow, too late. All I can do now is say this. “Wherever you are today, Jean, thank you. I do hope for the best for you.”




The Coaching Detective

by Timothy Bentley

An effective coach is always on the lookout for clues that will help solve the mysteries in 360-degree feedback. Such a coach will sift through evidence about the personality and well-being of the individual before focusing on specific skill deficits.

A good place to begin is any disparity between the individual’s self-rating and that of other responders.

Lower self-scores

If the individual’s scores are lower than others, it may suggest s/he suffers from chronically low self-esteem, and feels hopeless about improving performance.

Or it may indicate a clear-eyed self-awareness and a commitment to improvement.

To steer the investigation in the right direction, the coach must ask smart questions, starting with how the individual would explain the disparity.

Higher self-scores

Another common scenario is for the person to rate her/himself higher than others do.

This perception problem often afflicts individuals who are out of touch with both their true skill level and their impact on others. Worse still, they may be resistant to new information and to coaching itself.

The skilled coach asks why the individual thinks others rated her/him lower, and whether s/he has had similar feedback in the past.

Differences between responder groups

Generally, the various responder groups will agree roughly about the skills of the individual. So when one group sees the person differently than others, it may also require further investigation.

For instance, when the boss rates the individual’s skills significantly higher, it suggests that person is adept at “managing up”, giving the boss what s/he wants. The crucial question is, does that mean showing less regard for peers and direct reports?

If direct reports rate the individual lower, it may suggest that s/he treats less powerful people with disdain or disrespect. If so, the coach may have uncovered a clue to tensions in the workplace.

Again, ask the individual for her/his explanation of that disparity, in a non-judgmental way, and you are likely to discover information that can guide the coaching investigation in the right direction.




New Year’s Renewal

by Timothy Bentley

New Year's eve was cold and dark, on a frozen lake in the Gatineau Hills.

But the ice surface was amazing – smooth, silvery, entirely free of snow.

I hadn't been on ice skates for over a decade but watching family members circling the lake, gliding in and out of the light from the cottage, I just had to join in.

My first surprise was how uncertain I had become. My balance was iffy, arms flailing like a windmill. My ankles were wobbly, my muscles soon sore.

But that magical bare ice, a rarity in any year, pulled me onwards, and soon I too was gliding into the darkness.

On New Year's day, I skated the entire circumference of the lake with one of the boys. The following day, after a snowfall turned everything white, I found myself working alongside another, confidently shovelling out a hockey rink on skates.

Looking back, the big surprise for me is not that I lost those skating skills so long unused, but how quickly they returned when given an opportunity.

One of the big challenges in organizations is that our expectations of people decline over time. Eventually, those with long tenures are often regarded as dead weight, resented for limited capabilities and inflexibility.

But the reality is often that, being good at whatever they do, they have settled into a too-comfortable routine. There has been nothing to challenge them to maintain their underused skills.

We need to recognize that many are still quite capable of skating and shovelling at the same time. All they need is the assignments.

As leaders, here's a New Year's resolution which will work for everyone's benefit - to provide our people with irresistible challenges, so that metaphorical ankles strengthen and metaphorical muscles become more fit.

My resolutions, personally, also include replacing my outdated skates. I want to be ready for the next time the lake is frozen and the rink needs shovelling.




The Donkey Stampede

by Timothy Bentley

When I was 10, my parents took my sisters and me to a nearby farm to ride the donkeys. When we arrived, there were twenty of them ambling about the corral, lazily chewing on grass. I was flooded with visions of the wild west.

A farm hand helped us climb onto our donkeys, and at once my sisters set off on a pleasant ride.

But despite my best efforts, my donkey would scarcely budge. Like a cowboy in the movies, I kicked with my heels. I yelled “Giddy-up”. But he refused to giddy-up.

By now, my sisters had finished their rides, and I was one frustrated cowboy.

Then I heard a rumbling sound. For reasons unknown, the other donkeys had started to run. I was right in the middle of a wild-west donkey stampede!

Now my donkey erupted into motion. Around the little corral it raced, once, twice, three times.

Eventually, I slipped off and ran for the fence.

And as quickly as it had begun, the stampede was over. Once again the donkeys were walking placidly about, browsing on the grass.

It’s an amusing story to look back on, but I also think that each of us is a bit like that donkey.

For instance, let’s say a new program has been introduced in the workplace – a production quota, or 360-degree feedback, or something else – there’s a part of us that wants to get involved.

We may think it’s a good idea. We see the benefits. There’s a part that wants to please whomever is promoting the program.

But there’s also a part of us that isn’t going to run unless everyone else is running too.

So whenever you initiate a valuable new program, think about how you can make sure everyone knows that others are engaged. Encourage people to get into motion by applying the momentum of the community.

Or in wild-west terms, decide how you intend to start the stampede.




The Day I Didn’t Burn The House Down

by Timothy Bentley

The motion detector light at the back of our house has been erratic lately. Off, when it should be on. Sometimes on all night. So I bought a new one.

But as I removed the old light, I saw that it hadn’t been installed in a proper electrical box, just screwed into the wall.

Unfortunately, I remembered who installed it. Me, years ago.

Back then, I’d followed the example of the previous owners: when it comes to renovations, expend minimum effort, as long as it works.

I vaguely remember debating with myself, then stuffing the electrical connections back into the siding, pretty sure it would be safe.

Yesterday I was tempted to do the same thing. Who needs more work in this busy age?

But what if?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if there was a problem, I’d always regret taking the short cut. So reluctantly, I went out and bought a proper outdoor electrical box.

I was tempted to begrudge the extra hours. But as I installed the box, it got me thinking about how we risk others and ourselves when we hang on to inadequate or outdated systems, whether in our homes or at work.

After all, we tell ourselves, our personnel policies haven’t burned up the organization yet. Probably they’ll be fine.

So we allow management assessments to be delayed. Or we rely on supervisors to evaluate employees, with no outside confirmation. Or we ignore rumours of a serious employee relationship problem.

If there’s some smoke, sometime in the future, we figure we’ll notice before it turns into a fire.

And if something turns out really bad, we can always blame it on the people who set up the original systems, or non-systems, so many years ago.

The temptation to ignore

The problem is that, in the meantime, people can get hurt. They may get angry or depressed. They may stop giving their best. They may file grievances, or just quit unexpectedly.

Which is why you may want to take a closer look at your systems. Identify the problem areas, and put in the effort required to update them. Do everything you can to reduce the likelihood of fire.

Today could be the day you don’t burn down your organization.




The Naughty Pup

by Timothy Bentley

The puppy was young, and bouncy, and full of mischief.

As I drove, I watched him pull the leash out of his owner’s hand and run onto the street in front of my car.

I stopped, blocking traffic, and activated the flashers to caution other drivers. She dashed into the street to grab his leash.

He crouched and waited, fun sparkling from his eyes. “You can’t catch me.” The moment she reached out, he pranced cheerfully away, with no sense of danger. She ran down the street after him.

Traffic stopped in both directions. Again, she got almost close enough, but the escapee ran onto the sidewalk.

The pup was just being a pup. This was a marvelous game.

Next try, the woman almost stepped on the leash, but the puppy bounded gleefully into the air, and rushed to the opposite sidewalk.

A cool, kindly dude got off his bike, and walked confidently toward the pup, talking cool dog language. As he bent down for the leash, the pup ran back into the street.

The cyclist tried again. Same result. Defeated, he remounted his bike and rode off.

The owner took several more passes at the pup, meeting with failure each time. She was looking tired.

Then a woman climbed out of a car stalled in the traffic, clearly a dog person. She smiled, she talked, she approached slowly. And the mischievous pup ran into the other traffic lane.

She shook her head, and got back into the car.

By now the whole show had gradually moved several blocks east. The pup was enjoying a great adventure, avoiding capture a dozen times.

At length, the owner got lucky, stepped on the leash, and dragged her recalcitrant pet to the safety of the sidewalk.

Traffic began to move again as she bustled down the sidewalk, hauling the cheeky pup behind her. I honked a cheerful beep-beep-beep, to say “Congratulations! You finally did it.”

But she ignored everyone, looking straight ahead – angry, humiliated, exhausted.

Why tell this story? Mainly, it was so much fun I couldn’t keep it to myself.

But its conclusion reminded me of people at work who try so hard but keep missing the mark. They deserve so much more than a beep-beep-beep, someone to walk with them, to reassure them, “You’re doing well, even though it’s so hard.”




The Support Parade

by Timothy Bentley

Have you ever watched a mother duck swimming along the waterway, followed by three or four little ducklings all in a row? The incessant cheeping and quacking reassure the family that they’re all together.

I was reminded of the ducks last week when I visited a patient in the post-surgical ward at a hospital.

No matter how serious the operation, the patients are encouraged to get up and walk as soon as possible.

So they bravely struggle out of bed. Depending on their condition, they limp, shuffle, or stride along the corridors. Once around the ward, twice around, even three or four times.

Some push walkers or intravenous poles for support and balance.

And – here’s where the ducks come in – behind them in line follow their visitors: family and friends.

Of course, there is no necessity to have four or five people trailing a single patient. The parades clog the corridors. One person would be plenty.

But wait. Think about the message this conveys. The encouragement. The support.

The supporters’ presence says, “We’re with you. Despite the surgery, the pain, the fear, you are not alone. No matter what happens, there are a host of people who care about you.”

Well, you can see where I’m heading.

It’s the human condition to flourish when we’re connected with caring people. Those who try to tough it out in isolation, are constantly at risk of breaking.

Outside the hospital, it’s equally important to know that we’re not alone. That we don’t have to face our challenges without support.

That’s why feedback is so important. It says, “We’re here to support you, and by offering feedback, we’re giving you a pledge of our connectedness.”

That’s why it’s so important that employees who are facing difficult situations know that their supervisors and HR people care about them.

“Of course we care,” you say. But that is never so obvious to people who are immersed in hard times.

They need to hear from you that the ducklings are with them, that they are securely part of the community.




The Kid Who Couldn't Climb

by Timothy Bentley

At the age of nine, Jimmy was a faster bike rider than most of the kids in the neighborhood, a competent softball player, and a decent student.

One summer day, he and I set out with a couple of other kids to have an adventure. At the curve of the river, where centuries of erosion had cut away the clay, was the cliff we called Blue Banks.

Usually, we swam in the river, but this particular day we started teasing each other. "You're scared to climb the cliff." "No, you're a big chicken yourself!"

At first, it was easy to scramble up the slope, but as we moved higher, the cliff face became almost vertical. Fifty feet up, looking at the sparkling blue river below, my stomach was suddenly queasy.

Beside me, Jimmy's handhold broke away, the clay clattering down Blue Banks. With tears in his eyes, he moaned, "I can't go up and I can't get down. I'm scared."

We argued with him, "You can do it!" But he was paralyzed with fear.

So the rest of us scrambled to the top, ran to find an adult, and lowered a ladder. Jimmy grabbed a rung, and quickly climbed to safety.

Getting Unstuck Restores Confidence

The day after our climb, Jimmy was still the fastest bike rider in the neighborhood, a competent softball player, and a decent student. There was nothing inadequate about him. He simply got stuck on a particular cliff.

The challenge, for those of us who work with people, is to help them extricate themselves from situations that make them appear, and even feel, incompetent.

How Feedback Helps

Training and development are among the best ways of lowering a ladder. The recipients still have to do the work, but now there's a tool to support them.

360-degree feedback is especially valuable because it clearly identifies the things at which they excel. It reminds them to stay committed to the skills that have made them successful, and identifies areas where they need further development.

So when everyone is urging you to cut back on your support for people, keep the faith. There are a million Jimmies stuck on cliff sides out there, some of whom who could be propelling your organization to greater success.

All they need is a little help getting unstuck.




Which Organizations Benefit From 360-Degree Feedback?

by Timothy Bentley

Wiring and feedback

A friend recently renovated her house, severely damaged by flooding. As the contractor tore out the rotting drywall, he discovered that the electrical wiring behind it was illegal and dangerous. In the kitchen alone there were five hidden junction boxes.

With the renovation complete, it now looks better than ever, but what you cannot see is the fundamentals. The entire electrical system has been replaced. It’s up to code and will provide safe, efficient service for decades.

Had the flood not happened, there’s a good chance that fire could have destroyed the home.

360-degree feedback is most beneficial to organizations that understand the importance of fundamentals to their longevity, safety, and success.

Future orientation

360-degree feedback attracts organizations looking to the long-term. They recognize that honest feedback from multiple directions motivates employees to grow. This increases the well-being, confidence, and capabilities of the entire work force.

Long-term, that means better productivity and fewer tensions.

Growth orientation

Organizations that invest in their people’s development will gain their loyalty – which helps everyone through the rough patches. They also gain efficiency, motivating workers to produce better results with fewer errors.

People orientation

If an organization is content to sell products without a desire for input from the people who work there, they won’t be interested in 360-degree feedback. On the other hand, leaders for whom their people culture is a crucial differentiator from the competition, will see feedback as a fundamental aspect of their business plan.

Looking beyond management

360-degree feedback is most often provided to management level workers. But the benefits don’t stop there. Because most of them are leaders and supervisors, when they develop improved skills, everyone benefits.

Managing is a tricky skill, and most managers have no formal training. 360-degree feedback tells them how they’re doing, and suggests where they can improve.

A culture of openness

Some organizations are mired in a culture of fear, caution, or anxiety – and of course, that’s self-reinforcing. Organizations that already encourage trust, openness, and informal feedback, find that a formal program of 360-degree feedback reinforces their strengths.

They see feedback, like good wiring, as fundamental to success, safely delivering the energy of information to those who can gain from it and are motivated to make changes.




Did You See The Zombie Walk?

by Timothy Bentley

Did you see thousands of wounded people, walking, shuffling, dragging themselves down the street? Covered with blood, clothing in tatters, eyes blackened and downcast. Did you see the man with a zipper that opened his face? The splattered bride in a wheelchair?

How about the guy carrying a sign: "Will work for brains"? Was he with the woman carrying a severed head and an ax?

The prom queen licking a sucker with bloody lips. The little girl splattered in gore, snarling as she walked. The little boy with ribs sticking out of his chest.

What's wrong with these people? might be our first reaction. What's this morbidity, this fascination with contagion, injury, death, and gore?

The next thing we might notice, though, is the overall cheerful feeling on the street, the sense of fun. Here in the midst of death (or, more correctly, "death") and degradation, is life – a celebration of our worst fears on a bright sunny day.

OK, it's a contradiction.

But don't we all carry those contradictions? All of us moving toward inevitable death while we celebrate life. All alive while we fear illness and disability. Even the most healthy among us know and love people who suffer and struggle to make it through their days.

And don't most of us carry unseen wounds – PTSD, painful memories, shame, sorrow?

For a moment, all of that was out there on the streets.

Then the zombie crowd passed, and people looked normal again. Except, maybe, we had a little more sympathy for the unseen pain in those around us, at home and in the workplace.

And perhaps a moment of compassion for our own, wounded, imperfect selves.




Effective Benchmarking

by Timothy Bentley

Those who work with numerical data often ask whether it's possible to apply benchmarking to 360-degree feedback. The answer is no, yes, and with caution.

Benchmarking is the practice of comparing outcomes against those of another entity. For instance, you might compare the productivity of one of your factories against the benchmark of your other factories.

The essential starting point is valid comparative data: units of output, dates, expenses, etc. But when it comes to 360-degree feedback, that's not so easy.

Think, for instance, about comparing workers in a factory in the US northeast against those in the south. It's pretty evident that everything from organizational norms and culture, to salaries, to weather and economics, will influence the results and skew the data. Such a comparison will have little, if any, value.

There are, however, two valid forms of benchmarking in 360-degree feedback.

The first compares the results for an individual against those in the same cohort. They might be participants in the same course, or might labor in the same workplace. That comparison might be useful in suggesting stretch goals, or encouraging those who excel.

Even so, caution is advised. Any two individuals are likely to have a different group of responders. The responders may have replied on different days. And they may be experiencing different climates (in the organization, not to mention the weather).

The most reliable form of benchmarking has the most specific focus: when individuals compare their results with their own earlier 360s. People completing a course can assess, for instance, whether their skill level has improved.

Or they can benefit from comparing this year's 360 against last year's.

Even so, all benchmark data about people should be taken with a grain of salt. We're talking about perceptions here, not measurable quantities like money, widgets, or equipment failures.

Benchmarks are most useful when they supplement human observation: How does the individual appear to work? What's happening elsewhere in the individual's life? What's the climate in the workplace? How may that affect her/his behavior? What is her/his impact on others?

Although 360-degree feedback has unquestionable value in providing data for leaders and administrators, we must always remember that it is primarily designed to help individuals understand how others see their work.

Its essential function, and the true measure of 360 benchmarking, is to help them identify development goals, encourage them toward those goals, and work well with those around them.




Hands, Voices, Guitars: Revelations

by Timothy Bentley

As I walked through a downtown neighborhood yesterday, I experienced four epiphanies among strangers.

Two women crossed the road in front of me, comfortable with silence, each with an arm around the other.

At the edge of the intersection, another two women were facing each other. Holding both hands. Looking into each other's eyes. Listening and telling their stories.

A moment later, I passed a man on his porch with a guitar, singing loud and raucous songs. All production, no sensitivity. Not a care for the neighbors.

At the same moment, across the street, two guys were sitting on the park grass, also with guitars. Quietly playing music, listening intently to one another.

They spoke to me

I loved the implicit mutual support of the women crossing the road.

I know. Not many people stroll the corridors of power with their arms around each other. But in every organization there is a tremendous amount of quiet, sometimes unspoken, respect and upholding.

What makes our workplaces healthy is the way we help each other through the busier intersections in our lives. Arms metaphorically around each other.

The two women talking eye-to-eye spoke to me of the colleagues with whom we can say exactly what's happening. Thus bringing big problems down to size. Celebrating small successes.

For a second, the soloist on the porch drew my scorn. Then I softened: at least he cared enough to sing. Sometimes the person who just puts their feelings out, tells us what no one else will.

So if he was too rough or loud? Someone will cool him down.

Seeking feedback

Overall, the guys in the park most touched me. On the surface, just a couple of kids hanging out.

But in a way we males don't find so easy. No macho jostling. No alpha male posturing.

Just showing what they could do. Asking for advice. Giving each other feedback.

The message: "I want to keep improving; so talk to me."

120 seconds

All those beautiful revelations passed by my eyes in literally two minutes.

You can understand why, for the rest of my walk, I had this big sappy grin on my face.




Change Is A Nightmare Scenario

by Timothy Bentley

Last night I tried to catch a train but the station wasn't there. Then I couldn't find my friend. I tried to phone, but couldn't remember how to dial. I searched for the instructions, but they were lost.

Everything I looked at was fuzzy. I could hardly see anything in front of me, a thick grey film coating my eyes.

Then I woke up.

What a relief!

Coping with a minor change

The moment I got out of bed, I realized that the dream was a reflection of my life this week. It showed me that I'm anxious about a minor change I'm in the midst of.

Honestly, I didn't think I was apprehensive. The change is nothing to do with health, family, home, friendship, work, or income. It's just a little complicated.

The dream reminded me that swirling through my mind are concerns, questions, and metaphors. Will I get to the right place at the right time? Will I make contact with the right people? Will I be able to see my way through it?

And if that's my reaction to a small change, how much more do I (and all of us) quake at the tectonic shifts in life.

Resisting change

Too often we see family and friends resist inevitable transformations in their lifestyle, relationships, endings and beginnings.

At work as managers and HR professionals, we worry that certain employees are avoiding change. They may delay re-training, when jobs become redundant. They may drag their heels instead of learning new software or adjusting to new schedules.

It's important to remember that such changes can be highly intimidating. These people already know how to deal with their current situations, no matter how unsatisfactory. The new situation may seem rife with threats and unintended consequences.

Feeling threatened

Perhaps it's time for us to show more compassion for those whose lives are shifting. It's too easy to push them, say "Just get on with it."

A little kindness and understanding could make transitions less difficult for the person who has no choice ultimately but to change.

To lead is to let them know that we appreciate the unknowns they face. To show that we understand their concerns and admire their courage.

Today, an apprehensive dream reminded me that I'm not immune to anxiety about change. Not one of us is.




Watch For That Pedestrian!

by Timothy Bentley

Our car ran over the base of a traffic pylon yesterday, sending it spinning into the ditch. Had that plastic orange cone been a pedestrian, he’d have suffered very sore toes!

Large oncoming objects

A novice driver was at the controls, with me in the passenger seat. The learner was a little nervous, a little cautious, but generally doing fine. In other words, a typical new driver.

Except that, as I warned him, he kept steering too far toward the passenger side of the road.

Experienced drivers know that’s natural. Oncoming traffic, especially trucks and busses, can be very threatening. We all have an instinct, as wrong as it is, to move away from them, to drift toward the other side.

The pylons and people over there don’t appear nearly as menacing. In fact, because they're in our peripheral vision, we don't realize how close we may come to hitting them.

Ignoring quiet workers

The workplace is not very different. One’s boss, for instance, is like a bus, a large threatening oncoming object. So we take special care not to collide.

It’s the same with the louder, more demanding people in the office.

On the other hand, it’s easy to ignore those quiet individuals who are off to the side.

Rationally we understand that they are valuable, productive, important human beings. But because they don’t pose as obvious a threat, they tend to be less visible, maybe just a blur in our peripheral vision.

So it's easy to drive over their toes. Easy to run them down.

Saving knowledge capital

That's why the most progressive workplaces make special efforts to pay attention to these people. Smart leaders spend time with them, ask for their opinions, solicit their feedback.

They find out about their ideas for greater productivity. They ask about their concerns. They discover their frank opinions about change and progress.

In doing so, they increase the accumulated wisdom of the organization, and at the same time transform the standing of these individuals in the workplace from passive functionaries to active assets.

From pylons, you might say, into people.




You Forgot To Put Your Teeth In

by Timothy Bentley

In the middle of an extended dental procedure, I'm missing a few teeth. Right now I look unbalanced, gappy, toothless – kind of derelict.

So the dentist made me a partial denture to wear every day until he gets my smile back to normal.

On vacation last week, I joined the family for breakfast. Half an hour into this lovely relaxed time, the youngest child present caught my eye and said, "You forgot to put your teeth in."

With a word of thanks, I hurried out, retrieved the denture from its glass, and re-appeared. She smiled approvingly.

Of the whole family, it was this delightful 5-year-old who told me what I couldn't see myself.

She didn't worry about offending me (as the older people might have). She just stated the obvious, and helped me out.

Where would we be without feedback?

My administrator reminds me if I forget to reply to someone's question.

My wife tells me when she thinks my clothes don't match.

My best friend challenges me if he believes my plans are nutty.

My editor corrects me when my sentence structure is confusing.

My chief developer chastises me when my ideas for updating our questionnaire don't use the latest web technology (i.e. if they're based on techniques from more than a week ago).

None of this is news. You probably have similar experiences.

And I bet that's why you're such a believer in a workplace where feedback is valued and openness encouraged.




Ukraine And The Organization

by Timothy Bentley

Ukraine is at risk of splintering. The western part, more identified with Europe, was infuriated by the government's turn toward Russia. The east and south, emotionally and geographically closer to Russia, feared European domination.

The victory of reformers in Maidan Square this week provides no solution, but marks a crucial stage in the country's development. 46 million Ukrainians may be intensely loyal to their country, but there exists a genuine risk of a split. Like the former Yugoslavia, like Syria.

To manage the two Ukraines will require a master mediator. Does interim president Oleksandr Turchynov have the vision, the strength? Does Yulia Tymoshenko?

Workplace divisions

As undramatic as our organizational life may appear by contrast, similar challenges confront our leadership. Our staff may be deeply committed to the enterprise's well-being, but life may tug them in different directions.

Like Ukraine, some organizations have powerful geographic divisions – say, between operations in the south and north, or in cities and suburbs.

Unionized employees may rely on collective bargaining for their benefits. Exempt employees may credit their skills and value to the organization.

There is a growing division between those who emphasize factors that made the organization successful (quality, advertising, customer relations), and those who insist on a future focus (innovation, risk-taking, social media).

Easily the most fundamental separation is between males and females. We have workplaces (oil-drilling platforms, primary schools) dominated by one gender, leaving the other relatively powerless. In other organizations, the numbers may be more equal, but not the roles or rewards.

The mediator-leader

In this context, the quality of leadership is paramount. Some individuals maintain power by pitting one constituency against another, overtly or subtly. Some ignore the divisions. Some listen, support, and build coalitions.

We're not thinking only of C-level executives. Every manager, every professional, every team leader, and even those who possess no rank but exercise personal influence over others – every one of these can help employees and the organization pull together, become more inclusive and effective.

Our role? To consistently warn against the politics of division, and to support the perpetrators of every inclusive gesture, no matter how tiny.




Let's Hear It For Maxime

by Timothy Bentley

The Olympics reward excellence in sports, it's true, but there is a downside. Sometimes they suggest that only the champions are worth our respect and attention.

Case in point: the fabulous Dufour-Lapointe sisters, Justine and Choe, who won gold and silver last weekend in women's freestyle skiing moguls.

As they posed for photos with their sister Maxime who scored further back in 12th place, an abrasive cameraman yelled, "Just the winners!"

Maxime separated from her victorious sisters, and her face fell. A reporter noted that the rest of the room was close to tears. It was, unfortunately, a very Olympic moment.

That tendency is not restricted to sporting events. Back home in our work life, we often ignore those who fall short of being number one or two.

Yet it takes ordinary people with their unspectacular contributions to keep our enterprises moving forward. They, the majority, work hard, are dedicated and loyal, and produce results. Without them, we'd be lost.

It's fair to challenge them not to settle for merely adequate performance. But will comparing them to the champions in our organizations inspire excellence? Or will it simply invite negative comparisons?

Will it encourage self-development, or dampen morale? When you benchmark everyone against the 90th percentile of performers, there's no avoiding the fact that fully 90 percent of your people will be shown to be less capable.

Some will embrace that comparison as a welcome "stretch" goal. But what about the rest?

It's wonderful to have a Justine or a Choe in the organization. They're inspiring and highly effective.

But it's crucial to show respect and appreciation for all the Maximes. The challenge for managers is to provide them with appropriate attention, noticing their accomplishments, rewarding their dedication, encouraging their development, inquiring about their goals and aspirations.

As far back in the pack as Maxime Dufour-Lapointe ended up, she is one fabulous, talented athlete. Most skiers would kill to be half as good.

Ironic postscript: When a newspaper featured this story, critical of the callous photographer, it illustrated it with a photo of the sisters. The winning sisters, that is – and no Maxime. Another truly Olympic moment.




Coaching Finds Its Strength In Community

by Timothy Bentley

Coaching another person can be one of the kindest, and most effective, aspects of your work. Though it is difficult at times, it derives its power from our basic human nature.

Coaching is basic

Despite its 21st-century vibe, coaching originated in the earliest days of human existence as a way of helping one another develop our skills. It's fundamental to life in community.

It's kindly because you are supporting the person in becoming the best that he or she can be. Even in a disciplinary situation, you're still offering a great opportunity for growth.

Coaching supports change

Coaching is so effective because most people learn best not in isolation but in community.

Funny story: our chief developer would occasionally consult with me about a problem he'd run into. He'd describe it, and often, before I had a chance to offer my profound insights, he'd walk out of the room muttering, "Right. That's it. Got it figured out. Thanks."

It's fascinating how sometimes just having another person in the conversation can shine new light on complex issues. More often, the coachee is looking to you for more direct assistance in reflecting on a range of actions and options.

How to strengthen your coaching

As basic as coaching seems to be, there are certain refinements that ensure you'll give your best in the workplace:

  • A good theoretical framework for coaching
  • Understanding the subtleties of how organizations operate
  • Balancing the needs of the organization and the individual
  • Relationship skills, including empathy, active listening, and courage
  • Teaching ability, including breaking down tasks into learnable bits, and supporting action-and-reflection
  • Respect for the coachee's inherent wisdom
  • Modeling communication skill and self-care in your own life

A daunting list? Not so much. You already possess many of these characteristics. And, like learners since the dawn of time, you're open to discovering the rest.




Mandela, Leadership, Reconciliation

by Timothy Bentley

I remember the shock, seeing the black president of South Africa don the jersey of the country's all-white rugby team, in 1995 during the World Cup in Johannesburg.

Many in South Africa were shocked too, blacks booing Nelson Mandela for supporting the Springboks team, whites resenting his intrusion into their game.

But Mandela was playing for a highly strategic goal. With civil war still a possibility, he needed the most effective people to work together to heal decades of disastrous racial separation. He sought not revenge but reconciliation.

This was a risky play for a man who was not even a fan of rugby. But he kept his eye on the goal.

Why did it succeed?

It did no harm that in the final game, the Springboks defeated a powerhouse New Zealand team to win the cup, setting off a wave of national jubilation.

But had the victory not occurred, his gesture would still have been powerful, for two vital reasons.

Leadership

The first is that Mandela himself showed great leadership, rising above the divisions that marked his country. It would have been easier to follow the lead of those who were justifiably angry.

He could have consulted the equivalent of his polling numbers, quietly made an appearance at the game, and gone home. But throughout his presidency, he persisted in looking at the bigger picture, exercising his leadership for a higher purpose.

Mandela knew that a personal act of reconciliation could bring far greater benefits to his people than sulking or angry confrontation.

Reconciliation

The second reason is Mandela's recognition that one of the greatest strengths of human beings is our potential to reconcile with those of opposing views for the greater good of all.

In our earliest days, the human race would not have survived had we not learned how to work together, despite sometimes opposing needs, to overcome powerful animals around us, not to mention the unforgiving landscape.

Here and now

So I have a wish, not only for the current season of grief, thanksgiving, and joy, but for the harsh light of January and February.

It is that all of us in organizations – executives and managers, union executives and rank-and-file, the unrepresented and the powerful, the boards of directors and the consultants – may exercise our wise leadership.

At every possible moment. In our workplace and beyond. In the cause of human reconciliation.

***

The 60-Second Consultant is taking a holiday break. See you in the new year.




Why Complement 360-Degree Feedback With Coaching

by Timothy Bentley

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Dan is flipping through his 360-degree feedback report. Alone in his office, door closed, he's muttering to himself.

"...8 on a scale of 10. That's OK... Look, another 8... Wow, there's a 9. All right!...

"What? A 5?

"Takes time to listen, is a 5? Who has time to listen? Not me. I can't listen to all their complaining."

Four hours later, Dan is still stewing. "A 5 for Takes time to listen? They're ungrateful. They don't appreciate my hard work. I've got a headache. I'm going home."

Add coaching to feedback

Perhaps the most risky decision when setting up 360-degree feedback is to leave people alone with their feedback, rather than integrating it with coaching.

Dan doesn't know which responders gave him a 5, but he'd like to show them a thing or two. By the next day, his angry mood is beginning to pervade his department, reducing other people's performance.

He's caught in an unproductive spiral.

And the worst part is this – no one can help him, because no one knows.

Feedback with a coach is creative

Let's look at the scenario where Dan encounters the same feedback, this time with a coach.

The coach helps him appreciate the vote of confidence represented by those 8s and 9s, even suggests planning to keep the bulk of his performance at that level.

The coach lets him blow off steam about the 5, then helps him position it as an opportunity for growth.

Sure, it stings, but it shows the way to development and recognition for him, to making him even more valuable to the organization.

A kindly coach supports the workplace

With the coach's support, Dan begins to see the 5 as an opportunity for growth in the context of a successful career.

The coach helps Dan plan some simple experiments in listening. Helps him evaluate the results, paying attention to the increasing effectiveness of his people.

The coach we're describing might be a trained supervisor or a professional outsider. Either way, he or she offers Dan both objectivity and support.

As Dan seizes the opportunity, he and the organization prosper.




Why Spend Money On 360?

by Timothy Bentley

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From time to time, our office folk are asked, "Why shouldn't we create our own 360-degree feedback using a spreadsheet?"

Their answer is, of course you can, if your needs are simple. But undertake this onerous task only if you're cash-strapped and have a lot of time for design, setup, and testing.

The related question we hear is, "Why not use a free survey service?"

Here are some capabilities to check out if you're considering it. (Obviously, we have a bias here.)

Customizability

Fully customizable email notifications, questionnaires, and reports mean that you can communicate in the terms your people best understand, with text that fits context.

Languages

If your organization has overseas components, you may want a system that can ask questions and accept responses in European or Cyrillic languages, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.

Automatic emails

An auto email mechanism can save you hours of work by keeping track of who should receive notifications, who needs reminding, and when.

Responder selection

Organizations avoid 360s that require too much effort from their administrators. So you may want people being assessed to choose their own responders online, and to make corrections if their emails bounce back.

Auto report generation

An automatic service that sends reports directly to the people being assessed can save you major effort.

Comparative reporting

Many organizations find it highly motivating to provide people with reports that reference either their own previous scores or the results for their whole group.

Multi reports

Most administrators need ongoing reports on the status of their project. At completion, you may also want a data download for further analysis, or group aggregate reports to support strategic planning.

Service bureaus

You may not consider 360 administration your best strength or the best use of your time. A service bureau at your provider could do it all for you.

If any of these options are important to you, be wary of cheap solutions. Check out commercial services (including ours) before you commit yourself.




Faking The Performance Review

by Timothy Bentley

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"My annual review was late," recalls my friend. "The vice principal had dozens of teachers to assess, and he got sidetracked.

"With the school year winding down, I reminded him, 'You haven't done my performance review yet.'

"He paused, thinking about all the work on his desk, then looked me in the eye – we had a good relationship – and said, 'You write it. I'll sign it.'

"So I did, and he did."

Fraudulent performance reviews aside, this story illustrates something important. Supervisors with more than a few supervisees are often overwhelmed by the task, and tend to delay.

How am I going to figure out what to say about so-and-so? they think. What about the guy I don't really like but he seems very effective with the staff? And the woman whose work is almost invisible to me? And what about the one who treats me like a god, but I'm not sure about how he treats his own staff?

There are so many. Where do I start?

And when? OK, tomorrow. Maybe the day after.

These supervisors need support, and it's available. As the name suggests, 360-degree feedback widens their view, so they can see the people they supervise from several valuable perspectives: their peers, customers (internal and external), direct reports.

When the supervisor responds to the 360 questionnaire, it may take only a few minutes, but already the well-crafted questions are helping to focus the mind.

Perhaps a week later, reading the report with everyone's ratings and comments, seeing both strengths and weaknesses described, the supervisor begins to feel less anxiety. There's plenty of material to stimulate a performance review.

It's important to note that although the review will be informed by the views of others, in the end it is the supervisor's. The supervisor takes responsibility for bringing it all together, assessing the supervisee's performance, providing rewards, suggesting stretch goals - but with much less stress.

Thanks to 360-degree feedback, the review sometimes seems to write itself.

Thinking back to the alternative, my friend just chuckles. "I sure got a pretty good review that year!"




Coach A Bullying Liar?

by Timothy Bentley

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Recently a very anxious coach asked for advice about debriefing with a subject who had received terrible 360-degree feedback.

He'd read the report, which the subject had not yet received, in preparation for the meeting. He described the comments as "harsh and intense", describing her as disrespectful, a liar, and a bully.

For a normal coaching relationship, that would be challenging, but valuable, information. Any subsequent improvement could greatly benefit the subject's career and the emotional well-being of her co-workers.

But the additional factor, unknown to the coach until then, was that the subject was within days of retirement.

Had he known this, said the worried coach, he would not have agreed to feedback for her. Why send her into retirement with a weight of negative information she could never hope to undo?

I couldn't see a clear-cut answer to this dilemma, but suggested these thoughts:

1. Since the subject cooperated in setting up her feedback by selecting responders, maybe she actually wanted it.

2. She should be given a choice: "Some of the feedback is highly critical. You don't have to hear it. After all, you're moving on to a new life."

3. She will likely live as a retired person for 30 years or so. That's a long time, and she could potentially benefit by confronting her demons now, and making changes.

4. The feedback might turn out to be a valuable parting gift, providing she has someone with whom to work through it – ideally a therapist.

After much consultation and soul-searching, the coach met with the subject. He asked about her retirement plans, then inquired why she had decided to participate in the 360. Her reply was surprisingly vague, "Good modeling I suppose".

Then, without missing a beat, she added, "I don’t really want the feedback." Problem solved. Session complete.

As the coach reflected later, "All that worrying, planning, and positioning, and that was the end of the story. However, that being said, I wouldn’t have proceeded in any other way."

The moral? Devote all the preparation you can to your difficult situations, and sometimes – sometimes – the subject will do all the work for you.




Standalone 360 vs Bundled

by Timothy Bentley

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We’re sometimes asked why anyone would use a stand-alone system for 360-degree feedback, when there's a 360 already bundled into their all-in-one HR system.

To put it crudely, why purchase something you can get for free?

My reply, which is of course biased, is essentially that you’ll get what you pay for.

Complexity

People sometimes assume that all 360s are basically the same.

But they’re not. For instance, we hear complaints that all-in-one systems are so vast and complex that it's intimidating to activate the 360 component.

Why? Because the 360 was generally added as an afterthought. ("Hey, why don't we tack on 360-degree feedback? It can't be that hard.")

UI problems

As a result, the user interface frequently looks like it was designed by technicians rather than human development experts. Administrators often find the setup complicated and inconvenient.

With that in mind, you will also want to check whether the questionnaires and reports are attractive to participants. That’s actually more important than the administrator’s UI, because they’re unlikely to respond positively if there's a negative initial impression.

Functional limitations

A critical question is whether the system actually does what you need it to do. Here are some common issues:

In this global age, can it be used in many world languages?

Does it have special features you need? For instance: dual scales, comparative reporting, customizable email notifications.

Does it reduce administration effort by allowing subjects to nominate their own responders online?

Are the questionnaires fully customizable? Does the system provide samples you can modify, and does it also allow you to use your own?

Does it provide paper questionnaires for off-line participants?

Do the on-going status reports provide all the information you need to manage the project?

Are the individual’s reports fully customizable to suit your organization's needs?

Can you generate customized aggregate group reports, and export strategic data, while preserving confidentiality for responders and subjects?

I recognize that these questions don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes price does trump all other considerations. But I hope this will help you balance the most important issues for your organization.




Scan Reports For Coaching Success

by Timothy Bentley

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The best preparation for a 360-degree feedback debrief is to scan the subject’s report ahead of time, looking for information about the critical issues to address.

Strengths and areas for attention

Start by reading the section that reports on headings (core competencies) to see where the subject may need further development.

A common scenario is the person who is very strong in the technical headings (which is usually how they got promoted) is not so effective in "soft" skills like supervision.

Next, examine the detailed behaviors under each heading - for example "Communication". If the person is an introvert, she/he may be very effective in written communication, but shies away from speaking one-on-one with people. That could be a valuable growth point for discussion.

Relationship skills

For clues about how the person relates with others, compare ratings from different groups of responders.

If direct reports rate the subject lower than others, it’s often a sign either that the subject doesn’t treat them well, or being close up, they see the flaws in her/his work that no one else does. Either way, it’s worth exploring.

When the boss provides higher ratings, it suggests that the subject relates upward with ease, but not so well downward or with peers.

Self-image

When the subject’s self-scores vary significantly from those provided by others, you can make tentative guesses about how they see themselves.

Lower scores suggest the subject is aware of the need to improve. Find out if this means they are highly motivated, or just feeling hopeless.

Subjects who rate themselves significantly higher may be out of touch with their deficits or their negative impact on others. They may be resistant to feedback and/or coaching, so think about he best strategy to reach them.

That’s only the beginning of the valuable information you’ll find when you scan the report. It’s a reality check which can tell you a great deal that’s not evident on the surface.

Holiday

The 60-Second Consultant will be taking a break for the rest of the summer. May all our vacations be relaxing and happy.




Tips For Debriefing Critical Feedback

by Timothy Bentley

There’s no doubt that dealing with critical comments from responders is the most difficult aspect of coaching for 360-degree feedback.

As we’ve all experienced, negative feedback is distressing. People sometimes feel that their world is crumbling around them. It may be the first time they’ve seen themselves as others see them.

To keep their trust and commitment, make sure you’re gentle and thoughtful. Since you can’t always guess when they feel supported and when they feel challenged, be sure to ask them, at several points in the session.

What you’ll often notice is that your coachees discount the compliments they’ve received. An important task is to help them focus on the positive responses, building their self-esteem, and that will help them deal with criticisms.

Let them know too that you have experienced critical feedback. Talk about the challenges you experienced, and how you moved through them to gain value from the feedback.

Help them see negative feedback in context: “Remember that your 360 is not the whole truth about you. It conveys how you are viewed by some people. So one of the things we’ll do together is to look at how you can change the way people perceive you.”

If you’re working with a genuinely sensitive leader, it may be useful to facilitate a meeting afterwards between her/him and the responder. It’s often beneficial for people to know that the messages they sent to their supervisor via 360 were actually received.

But it is critical that this communication be handled well, so you should help subjects plan how they will address the responders. Because feedback is intended to be anonymous, it is especially important that they not ask responders to clarify their comments, or in any way attempt to discover who said what.

Yes, debriefing is a significant challenge, but it offers huge value. For people who are unaware of their impact on others, or resistant to feedback, it can be literally life-changing. Sometimes the shock value alone propels them into taking a fresh look at themselves.

And because leaders are ambitious and capable people, they will usually run with the opportunity.

Next time, we’ll look at the issues that commonly arise from 360-degree feedback.




Effective 360 Debrief Sessions

by Timothy Bentley

Here are some ways to increase the effectiveness of your feedback debriefing sessions.

First, read the feedback report before the session, so you understand its general direction and value.

Keep in mind your organization’s strategy for 360-degree feedback: to encourage the free flow of constructive information within the organization and to move the culture toward continuous personal development.

For your subject, its objectives are to create paths for growth, and to increase job satisfaction and career success.

All this may seem obvious, but keep in mind that, appearances to the contrary, the subject may be experiencing a lot of anxiety. The person’s unspoken questions often include: Did people criticize me? Will this feedback have negative effects on my career? If it shows that I have deficits, can I overcome them?

Given those feelings, it is important to make the person physically comfortable, in a space that’s private. Remind them that feedback is a gift, and even if it’s challenging, it will help them grow in their career.

If you’re the person’s supervisor, your feedback will be reflected in the report. It’s appropriate for you to have an agenda as the leader, but try to take advantage of the unique power of 360-degree feedback - it widens the discussion to include the perceptions of others.

So look at the big picture, and guide the planning for development in directions that fit the individual’s personality and strengths. Make sure they know that you will be there to help them develop. (Whenever people start a challenging process, it’s encouraging to know that we’re not alone.)

If possible, plan two sessions. In the first, you can concentrate on an overview of the feedback, without being overly distracted by implications. In the second, you can focus on action planning.

To make the sessions most productive, try to emphasize feedback related to those behaviors that can be altered. Don’t dwell on characteristics that the subject can’t change.

These ideas will help you run a debrief that increases the subject’s confidence and motivation. Next time, we’ll look at how to deal with negative feedback.




Feedback And The Squirrel's Dilemma

by Timothy Bentley

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At a party, a group of us are discussing how we communicate critical information to other people. I decide to tell them the following story:

I was reading peacefully in the back yard, when a squirrel began to chatter loudly from a nearby tree.

The noise was not unpleasant, but it was distracting. So I looked directly at the squirrel, and yelled at the top of my voice, "Shut up!"

At once, the squirrel fell silent. But it didn't run away. It stood still on its branch, thinking about what I had just said.

After a few moments, when its tiny squirrel brain had fully debriefed my exclamation, it hopped quietly to another branch, then jumped from tree to tree out of sight.

===========

Actually, that was a dream I had last night. The party. The squirrel. The leisurely reaction.

I've no idea why I dreamt it.

But it is no dream that a key factor in debriefing feedback is to provide enough time for the person to think through the data, and decide what action to take.

I imagine that squirrel asked itself a few questions. Shall I simply do nothing? Shall I chatter back, louder than ever, or drop an acorn on the loudmouth below? Or shall I leave the back yard with my dignity intact?

It made its decision without consultation. But in the case of 360-degree feedback, a good debriefer can help the individual use the time to think through the feedback and the options it offers.

Taking time does matter, because feedback can be initially validating and affirming, or uncomfortable and upsetting. Successes may flash by in the blink of an eye, while failures seem to dominate the landscape, thundering around the room. The person may need some time for the dust to settle.

Because such moments can be difficult, the debriefer should make sure there is privacy and quiet for the debrief, and that the other person feels as safe as possible. Small kindnesses, like a cup of tea or coffee, can mean a lot.

Needless to say, the squirrel had no such support system. On the other hand, I suppose it may not have grown much as a result of my feedback.




Debriefing After 360 Is Powerful

by Timothy Bentley

Debriefing 360-degree feedback is a hugely valuable process. So for the next few columns, let's look at how to use it to it's full advantage.

Don't provide the report in isolation

Studies have shown that 360 has the strongest positive effect when the subject receives a feedback report in the presence of another person.

On their own, recipients tend to focus on the negatives, sometimes sinking into depression. Debriefing with another person helps them celebrate strengths and look for growth potential.

Who can debrief?

If you'll get the best results from debriefers with skin in the game, involve the supervisors of the subjects. (They'll do the best job if they themselves have received constructive 360 debriefs and a quick training course.)

In some settings, it's better to look outside the chain of command. Choose professional coaches or consultants, or trained senior members of the HR team.

If one-on-one isn't feasible, provide the reports in a group setting. That way, subjects will not develop that demoralizing sense of isolation. (Note that no one should be asked to share their results with the others).

How much time is involved?

The ideal is two to three hours, split into two sessions.

In the first session, the coach and subject go through the raw information in the report item by item, discussing the issues, anxieties, and questions it raises.

Schedule the second a few days later, to allow for digestion, examining the most pertinent information and deciding on an action plan.

How do you cope with anxiety?

It's important to let the subject know in advance that the debrief is not intended as criticism or discipline. It's to help them make the most of their potential and increase their personal satisfaction at work.

Remind them that 360-degree feedback can help them address important data that they might not be aware of. (Because we can’t manage what we don’t know.)

You may wish to share these words from the poet Robbie Burns, written in 1786.

Oh, would some power the gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us
And foolish notion.



Splashing The Boat

by Timothy Bentley

I've been working long and hard to prep our boat for its "splash" – the magic day we lift it from its winter cradle and drop it back into the water.

Yesterday I completed the final – exhausting – job, waxing the hull. So with spring on the calendar for almost a month already, I'm antsy for safe splashing weather.

Wouldn't you know it, the forecast is all about precipitation: rain, freezing rain, wet snow, even ice pellets! No chance of moving the boat under those conditions.

So, like every spring, I'm being reminded that things will happen when the time is right. I can push ahead, fulfill my responsibilities, but ultimately I must wait respectfully until nature says it's ready.

It's not much different in the workplace. You can encourage progress, but if the individual isn't prepared to move forward, the results will disappoint. You may offer the opportunity to get feedback, or take a course, or work with a mentor, and sometimes nothing happens.

You can counsel an individual to improve their management style, to be less aggressive or punitive, more supportive or interactive, but until they're ready to do it, nothing will change.

And at the corporate level, you can push for better manager training, or an incentive program, or a feedback program. Until the culture is ready, nothing at all will happen.

So give up? Get mad? Not likely.

You can't ward off the ice pellets, but you can certainly help the individual or the organization gain comfort with a new initiative. It's all about focus and respect.

  • Show empathy to those who resist, by really listening to them.
  • Respectfully explore their objections.
  • Figure out why the objections have such power.
  • Offer responses to the objections.
  • Point out others who have successfully undertaken similar initiatives.
  • Clarify the advantages for the people you're in dialogue with.
  • Reassure them of your ongoing support.

Over time, they will likely see the idea you are encouraging differently. As the ice melts, It can seem a less radical notion, a more manageable ideal.

From there it's not such a big step to acceptance – and a satisfying splash.




Data Mining In 360-Degree Feedback

by Timothy Bentley

Jeff Cole is an expert at mining data from 360-degree feedback to discover information that's not obvious on the surface. He is a client solutions director for the international skills advancement firm, Global Knowledge.

It is notoriously difficult to measure the success of leadership training, but he uses aggregate reporting to demonstrate the impact of his company's courses.

They often offer 360-degree feedback to participants before their leadership courses, followed by another 360 after completion. The aggregated information points to the effectiveness of training.

"Six to 18 months after we deliver the courses, we'll take a look at whatever gap exists between those ratings afterwards. That allows us to demonstrate the value of soft skills and leadership training to the organization."

Benchmark against other organizations

Recently, Cole compiled a special aggregate report to help a client see how it could progress relative to other organizations.

"We created an aggregate report of all the people in many different organizations who had used our 360 between 2006 and 2011. Then we compared it to the aggregate results for this particular client.

"Of course, I cautioned them that it's not a psychometric way of evaluating how you stand with respect to other organizations. But really what they wanted was a comparison between the perceptions within other organizations and those in their own organization.

"They appreciated that, because it not only validated some of things that they had been doing, but it also helped them answer the question, how can we move the needle forward even more?"

Build strategic skills

Another client needed a business case for a new emphasis on strategic capability. So Cole added strategic questions to the organization's 360.

"The client looked at the results, and their benchmark data told them which strategic behaviors were weakest and which were strongest. They said, we now know exactly how to build our program, based on our specific context and culture.

"The result was that the budget was opened up for the initiative."

A subsequent benefit was that Cole was able to use the aggregate data as a guide to developing the strategy coursework.




"Look out! Look out!"

by Timothy Bentley

I was riding my bicycle across an intersection yesterday, when a woman stepped into the street in front of me. Against the lights. Eyes straight ahead. Not checking for traffic.

I yelled. She looked in my direction for the first time, and stepped quickly back onto the sidewalk. "O my god!" she exclaimed, as we passed each other unscathed.

That was really close. It's not a stretch to imagine us lying on the road in a tangle of spilled shopping bags, bent bike, and twisted limbs.

Much is written these days about how to stay young, about keeping our minds flexible through exercise, games, social activities, and dancing.

For me personally, the best is biking, despite the occasional flirtation with disaster.

Brain development

Biking does more than exercise my cardio-vascular system, though it does that well. It also forces my brain into maximum alertness.

I notice the stance and movement of a unaware pedestrian. I anticipate the possibility of a car door opening in my path. I decide which lane will facilitate the turn I have to make.

I'm constantly aware of random unanticipated details, requiring my brain to coordinate actions with perceptions. Rough patches of roadway ahead, sewer grates, dead-end streets, cars approaching from behind, cars crowding me, lights changing ahead. Every moment brings new feedback. It's great brain work.

And being so exposed, my focus is not on avoiding minor inconveniences like bent fenders. I'm avoiding injury and death; this counts.

A less predictable office

I notice that it's all in stark contrast with my work life. Mine and, I'm guessing, most of the employees you interact with.

Sitting at desks, we risk little more than stiff joints and carpal tunnel.

Is it time for a fresh look at the environment of life in your office?

How much physical movement does your workplace encourage? What's on the horizon when you look up from your screens?

How do you increase the frequency of inputs to office-bound brains? How often do people get feedback? How much of it comes in unexpected ways from unexpected sources?

Riding a desk can never match the thrill of a bike, but it's worth checking your office life for the welcome possibility of unexpected events, for physical movement, random interactions, and frequent feedback.




Case Study: Indecisive CEO Benefits From 360, Coaching

by Timothy Bentley

The CEO of a large health care organization was approaching the renewal of his contract. But his 360-degree feedback diagnosed him as lacking decisiveness.

His coach was Jocelyn Bérard, VP of the training firm Global Knowledge, which has pioneered the use of 360-degree feedback in leadership development. Bérard helped the CEO confront the contradictions in his performance, as revealed by the feedback, and make positive changes.

The power of 360 comments

"Because it was time for the renewal of the CEO's contract," Bérard recalls, "he asked for feedback from a big group – the board of directors, his direct reports, the medical leadership, and outside partners as well."

"When we asked for comments about the CEO's strengths, we saw phrases like 'energy and drive', 'strategic thinker', 'optimism', 'high integrity', 'humility', 'brings out the best in people', 'compassion', 'focus on patients', 'friendly', and 'approachable'. Over and over, we saw the word 'respectful'.

"So that's the positive side, but what did the responders think the CEO should improve? They said he should be 'more action-oriented', 'stay the course', 'be more assertive', 'more decisive', 'confronting', and several times that he should be 'more direct and forceful'."

Helping the recipient accept feedback

Bérard put it all together. "He's a team player, but when it's time to give somebody tough love, tough medicine, he shies away.

"The other thing is, he's very imaginative and creative. So he's strong on strategy, but remember when they said he should be more action-oriented? One moment he's talking about something big, then two months later he's onto something different."

Through coaching, the CEO built on the feedback to develop better follow-through and become more assertive. But knowing that these changes would take time, he also surrounded himself with action-oriented people who could make sure that his strategic priorities were actually carried out.

Bérard concludes, "It's a very good example of how we increase the power of coaching by following up on the comments in 360-degree feedback."

(Case described with CEO's permission.)




Skills Development Expert Advocates 360-Degree Feedback

by Timothy Bentley

To develop effective leaders, organizations should invest in 360-degree feedback to diagnose their development needs.

That's the advice of Jocelyn Bérard, a Vice President at Global Knowledge, the international skills advancement firm which championed the use of feedback to drive personal development (http://www.globalknowledge.com).

"Self-awareness adds a great deal to the growth of leaders," he says, "and 360-degree feedback, accompanied by an effective debrief, makes a world of difference there."

Global Knowledge has amassed a wealth of real-world experience, generating 15,000 assessments of executives and managers over the past decade, using the 360 system developed by Panoramic Feedback. They are eager to share their experience with the training community.

Put resources into assessment

"If people are not self-aware," Bérard points out, "or don't realize that they need to improve, they may not see training and development as aligned to their needs. Or worse, they may not see any need for improvement."

"That's why, if you have X amount of dollars to spend on developing people, you should use a good proportion of it to assess them, raise their self-awareness, and make their boss aware of what they need. And then move to the development solution."

"In our work, 360-degree feedback provides a valuable diagnostic stage in leadership development, coaching, and succession management," Bérard says. His consultants and facilitators create questionnaires that precisely match their diverse leadership development and succession management solutions.

Flexibility provides opportunities

For Bérard, flexibility on the part of the feedback provider is a major requirement. "As an example, we were doing a succession management project for a company recently, but people were slow to respond with their feedback. After the deadline, with the 360 project already closed, they came to us and said they still wanted to provide their comments. So our provider re-opened the questionnaire for us.

"That kind of responsiveness is exceptional. I don't want to do that all the time, but I want to have the flexibility, because if it's too rigid, we'll lose great opportunities."

He also highlights a section in the feedback report that summarizes the participant's highest and lowest rated behaviors on a single page. "That really speaks to our people," he explains. And that's really the point of 360-degree feedback, to provide an assessment that gets the attention of everyone who could benefit from self-development.




What Angina?

by Timothy Bentley

I was pretty happy a few months ago when a long-lost cousin in England emailed a proposal to cross the Atlantic for a visit. I cleared the dates and waited.

Last week, there was another email. "Diagnosed with angina. Forbidden to travel." So much for happy reunions. I wrote back sympathetically.

But a few days later, I heard from him again: "Diagnosis incorrect. Heart is fine. Rebooking the trip."

So unless Heathrow freezes over, which is actually a possibility, I'll be meeting my cousin on Thursday. My healthy cousin.

It's a reminder of the risks of careless diagnoses. In recent years, I've seen people incorrectly diagnosed with terminal cancer and inevitable blindness. It can cause a huge amount of grief and anxiety.

So if doctors with sophisticated tests and equipment don't always get it right, it's certainly critical that workplace professionals don't rush into diagnosis.

It's sometimes tempting to jump to a diagnosis when an individual exhibits symptoms of low morale or capability. You might, for instance, hear that so-and-so is not capable of doing a good job anymore.

Well, that's an opinion, and it's worth attending to, but if it's your responsibility to make a diagnosis, you need a lot more information. Talk to the individual, find out what's happening in their life. Use 360-degree feedback to get a confidential sampling of reactions to the person.

And here's where management by walking around can pay dividends. Talk with other members of the team. Pay attention to the individual's interactions and productivity. See what else is on the radar.

Sometimes the problem is the result of a temporary but depressing personal loss, family problem, or health crisis.

Sometimes the problem is with the critic, who experienced a recent setback which made her or him unduly harsh. Or maybe it's just gloomy weather, or upsetting business news, that made people edgy and irritable.

If it's your job to reach a diagnosis and plan an intervention that could turn someone's life upside down, make sure you've got all the facts available.




Dummy Hypnotizes Ventriloquist

by Timothy Bentley

Last night I watched ventriloquist Nina Conti converse onstage with her dummy.

Eager to show off his new skill, the dummy boasted that he was going to hypnotize Conti by counting down from 3 to 1.

It worked. By the time he reached 1, her head was drooping and her eyes were closed. Pretty amazing.

The dummy waited. Proudly. Patiently.

Then he tried to wake her up. Although he opened and closed his mouth, no sound emerged.

He looked around anxiously, as the grim truth became clear. With his ventriloquist asleep, he couldn't speak.

Worst of all, he couldn't tell her to emerge from the trance. He kept working his mouth yet lacked a voice, trapped in a disaster of his own making.

Finally, in a moment of desperation, he butted Conti with his head. The blow awakened her, and she glared at him before resuming the show.

After I stopped laughing, I asked myself, what's the message behind the humor? I mean, there's always a message, right?

An obvious possibility is the old adage: Pride goeth before a fall. In other words, don't get too uppity.

And then there's the law of unintended consequences.

But a situation like this has to be analyzed from a different perspective. After all, this was a prototypical boss/employee relationship, where a lack of communication could lead to disastrous results.

So maybe the meaning was: If your manager is out of the picture, for whatever reason, nothing will get done. (Sort of obvious. We've all been there.)

Or: If your manager can't hear your feedback, you may need to do something to get her attention. (Not a physical assault, of course, but don't give up too easily.)

Or maybe: If you have something to say, make sure you also have the means to get your message across. (Maybe that's where 360-degree feedback comes in.)

They didn't actually talk about any of this onstage, but I'm sure it was in the back of Conti's mind. She made it seem like it was all just fun.

So we laughed, and the show continued.




Questions Your 360-Degree Feedback Planning Team Should Answer

by Timothy Bentley

It can be pretty intimidating to plan a 360-degree feedback project for an organization. Don't try this alone. You'll have the greatest success if you involve representatives of all stakeholders (including subjects being assessed and responders to the questionnaire) in the design team.

Where do you start? Here are four sets of questions will help guide the team as they think about the crucial issues.

Fundamental questions

  • Do we intend to run the survey every 6 months, every year, or less often?
  • Would an Internet-based tool be valuable to us?
  • Will some employees need paper versions?
  • Do we want to provide administration or hire a service bureau to manage the service?
  • Do we need consulting support to design the project or questionnaire, provide training, coach subjects and responders, and/or provide statistical analysis?
  • What is the budget in money terms?
  • What is the budget in effort terms?
  • Do we wish full 360-degree feedback, upward feedback only, self-only, or supervisor-only?

Questionnaire

  • Do we want to use benchmarked, validated questionnaires or questionnaires that reflect our organization's culture, location, industry, and employee group?
  • Should the questionnaire force a reply to each question or allow a "Not enough info" response?
  • Do we want to use a second scale to ask how important each skill is for the Subject's work?
  • Do we want to invite unstructured (or narrative) comments?
  • Do we want everyone invited to offer them?
  • Do we want them displayed in the subject's report, or reserved for a coach to see?
  • Do we want to offer questionnaires and reports in languages other than English?

Subjects and Responders

  • Who will and will not be within the group of subjects being assessed?
  • How large a responder group do we want, per subject?
  • When will we schedule introductory training workshops in the arts of receiving feedback and giving feedback?
  • If we were to upload subject (or subject and responder) data from our HRIS, spreadsheet, database, or contact program, would it make for easier administration?
  • Who should select responders for each subject: administrators, supervisors, the subjects themselves?
  • How do we want to gather that information?
  • Do we want automatic emails sent to responders inviting them to answer the questionnaire?
  • On what dates should pre-announcements, catalysts, and reminders be dispatched?
  • Should responders who don't want to participate be allowed to opt out from receiving further emails?
  • How will we get notifications to those without email access?
  • How will we encourage high response rates?
  • How will we deal with inadequate response rates?

Reports

  • Who will generate reports?
  • How will we maintain the confidentiality of reports?
  • Do we want to merge responder groups that have few responses, in order to maintain confidentiality of responders?
  • Do we want reports to provide a summary of best-rated and lowest-rated skills, or encourage subjects to discover them for themselves?
  • When will we schedule a receptivity workshop for feedback subjects?
  • Will we use coaching sessions for Individual subjects?
  • Would a guide to development available to all subjects increase their opportunities for positive change?
  • Do we want to provide support to help subjects comprehend their reports: workbook, supervisor, external coach, etc.?

Answer these questions and you will have an excellent foundation for a successful 360-degree feedback initiative.




The Sidewalk And The Office

by Timothy Bentley

My neighborhood has a tradition that people put unwanted items on the sidewalk in front of their houses, while others who need them, take them away.

It serves both parties really well. The givers gain space in their homes, while the receivers get something they either need, or can repair and sell. In a given week, you may see computers, clothing, or kitchen utensils waiting outside our homes for an eager new owner.

In my case, books

A few days ago, I unloaded a hundred books, dating back as far as university days, from a dusty, crowded bookshelf in my office, and put them outside in sunny weather. Most were in excellent condition, some obscure, others famous, a few autographed.

Each time I went outside, their numbers had decreased. By the end of the weekend, most were gone.

Several times I met someone browsing through the books, and they would tell me with appreciation which titles they were taking. In those moments, it was very evident that we were of equal status, giver and receiver, owner and taker, common participants in an exchange designed to benefit us both.

Some neighborhoods disapprove of this kind of activity: Clutters the sidewalks. Attracts unsavory individuals. Bad for retail.

But in reality, it's a great reminder of how we human beings are interconnected. Each of us possesses something in abundance that others need. And not just things, but capabilities, information, even wisdom. The net result; we're all wealthier.

I certainly felt enriched when I discovered this note in the mailbox yesterday, from someone I've never met: "Thank you for these books – I left a few behind, reluctantly. Made my day! Erin"

A respectful office sidewalk

And if this is true in our neighborhoods, it is equally true for social institutions and government, and especially for business.

The entrepreneurs who invented really big organizations a century ago, could never guess that by bringing so many people together to work under the same roof, they were accidentally creating a network of informal exchanges.

Today, employees share information about child-rearing, sailing, or the prospects for world peace. The CEO knows that he or she may learn something valuable from the sweeper. The director of production may discover useful innovations from the newest hire.

They grow in respect for each other, for they share a common sidewalk.




Laboring In The Code Mines

by Timothy Bentley

One thing I've learned, managing the development of Panoramic Feedback software, is that every improvement inevitably leads to the need for another.

We first developed the system in 1998, to reduce the countless hours required to run 360-degree feedback. Service providers offered questionnaires that were rigid and slow.

As the first 360 service online, we wanted Panoramic Feedback to be flexible and fast, and minimize the administration. But we quickly learned that good software creates an appetite for ever-improving capability.

Reducing admin load

For example, at first administrators entered the email addresses of everyone who might be a responder. Then they assigned them to the subjects being assessed, 10 to 15 responders per subject. That's a lot of data.

The administrators were really happy to be working online, but their projects began to grow, often involving thousands of responders. They complained it was too much work.

So we created a new interface. Administrators still entered all potential responders into the system. But they didn't have to assign them to subjects. The subjects themselves could do that.

Administrators offered us their undying appreciation.

Improvement breeds expectations

But it wasn't long before they asked the logical question, "Why do we have to enter the responders at all? Couldn't the subjects do that too?"

It made sense. So we developed more code, and a year ago unveiled a portal where subjects enter their own responders. Less work for overworked administrators.

But because they still needed to know the results, we created a new report that lists the responders each subject selected, and released it this summer.

Back to the code mines

Based on that success, some busy administrators asked us to eliminate another time-consuming job: generating reports and delivering them to subjects.

So we returned to what we laughingly call "the code mines", to create a tool which would send reports automatically. It was a complex piece of engineering, which we released last month.

Now, administrators have the option of assigning a date on which the system will automatically send each subject their report by email. Manual report generation is no longer required.

But again, administrators needed to be kept in the loop. So we developed a confirmation tool which tells them who the reports went to, and when.

Tired yet? Fortunately, we're not. In fact, right now we're working on further advances, and anticipating the reactions of astute administrators.




Why All Those Responder Groups In My 360?

by Timothy Bentley

Coach Keith didn't have a ready answer when Julie asked why there were so many responder groups in her 360-degree feedback. "Why not put them all in one box?" she asked.

The question took Keith briefly by surprise, so here's a back-to-basics answer:

Part of the extraordinary power of 360-degree feedback is that it brings out a variety of perceptions, from people who are at every point on the Subject's metaphorical compass.

Julie benefits by understanding the limitations and strengths of each of these points of view.

Boss/Manager/Supervisor

Here's the upside of getting feedback from the boss: S/he can best measure how the Subject relates to managers. The boss is also in an excellent position to know how effectively the Subject is producing results the organization needs.

Downside: There's often a positive bias in the boss' feedback, since the Subject's results reflect on the boss' competence. Plus, since most people try to impress the boss, the boss may see only those results that the Subject chooses to pass on.

Peers

Upside: This is a generally neutral group, with fewer biases about the Subject. Plus, peers see the Subject at work on actual projects.

Downside: Peers don't usually see the broad range of the Subject's day-to-day work. And if they're highly competitive, they may rate the Subject lower to strengthen their own position.

Customers, other outsiders

Upside: They can be very objective about how the Subject relates to them, with valuable information about whether s/he provides what they need.

Downside: They may know next to nothing about the Subject's abilities in the everyday workplace.

Direct reports

Upside: They have the most contact with the Subject, seeing her/him often in unguarded moments. They know more than most about the Subject's impact on morale, productivity, communication, and on people in lower ranks.

Downside: If treated well, they may offer uncritical praise. If not, may show bitterness and exaggerate the negative.

Self

Upside: Subjects can learn a lot by comparing their self-assessments with those of other groups.

Downside: It's hard to be objective about one's own skills. We tend to interpret our hard work as actual accomplishments, our intentions as performance, and skill deficits as minimal.

Perceptions vs Truth

Keith reminded Julie that her feedback was about perceptions, not objective truth. The coaching was effective because they worked together to clarify the value and limitations of each group's point of view.

That process gave Julie a clearer perspective on how to make changes that would have a positive impact on each group in her work life.




Coaching An Unaware Manager

by Timothy Bentley

Last time, we explored the situation where a participant gets better 360-degree feedback from the boss than from direct reports. This week, a coach works with someone who rated her/himself higher than anyone else did.

Coach: Do see any patterns in your 360 report?

Terry: Well, I'm a little upset that no one else rated me as high as I did.

Coach: I noticed that too. What do you make of it?

Terry: No one seems to know how well I perform, and this is bad. My boss may not give me a good performance appraisal.

Coach: Sounds like you have reason to be concerned. How do you think this situation arose?

Terry: Mainly I'm in my office and they don't see how hard I work.

Coach: Does that mean that you should get out of your office more? Talk with the people around you so they understand what you're doing?

Terry: Maybe. But do you really think they're right?

Coach: There's no way I can know. But I do notice that no one is saying you're bad at your job. It's just that they pretty consistently rate you a little lower than you do. In situations like this, I always ask if it's possible that although you're a hard worker, you're not actually as effective as you think.

Terry: You mean, I'm overstating my success?

Coach: Well, why don't we look at a specific question.

Terry: Ok. Where it says "Communicates well verbally", I gave myself 9 out of 10. Everyone else gave me 6 or 7.

Coach: What does that tell you?

Terry: I guess when I think I'm communicating well, maybe I'm not.

Coach: How could you check that out in day-to-day life?

Terry: Ask them?

Coach: Sure. Could you ask, "Is this making sense to you?"

Terry: I guess so. I've never thought about it...

In fact, it's possible that Terry alone would never have been aware of the self-rating issue.

It took the support of a coach to surface a pattern in the 360 that could become an important part of Terry's self-development.




360 And The Golden Rule Of Managing

by Timothy Bentley

360-degree feedback helps managers develop more productive methods of supervision. Here, manager Terry is looking at a 360-degree feedback report with a coach.

Coach: So what do you notice about the scores from your boss and your employees?

Terry: My boss gave me higher scores than my employees. I don't know why.

Coach: I wonder if you treat her any differently from how you treat your employees?

Terry: Of course.

Coach: What's the difference?

Terry: Well, I like her. And I have to give her what she needs, to keep my job.

Coach: So she sees you as pretty effective. That makes sense. And what about your employees?

Terry: They're basically there to give me what I need. They're supposed to satisfy my requirements.

Coach: OK, let's look at your boss again. What does she do, to get such loyalty from you?

Terry: Well, she's been very encouraging. Shows me a lot of respect. So I work hard for her.

Coach: She shows a lot of support for you, and in return you work hard for her. Would your employees say that you support them, that you show a lot of respect?

Terry: I'm not sure.

Coach: Maybe the answer is right there, in your 360 report.

Terry: You mean they rate me as less effective because I don't encourage them as much?

Coach: What do you think?

Terry: It's possible. Honestly, I don't think about them a lot.

Coach: You seem pretty clear about how the attitude of your boss affects your productivity. Do you have any ideas about how your attitudes affect your employees' productivity?

Terry: Well, I guess they'd work harder for me, if they thought I was encouraging them.

Coach: Lets talk some more about that....

Looking at the 360-degree feedback report in isolation, Terry might never have seen what lay behind the boss' and employees' ratings. It required the focus and objectivity of a coach to help Terry learn to be a better manager.




Confronting Performance Problems

by Timothy Bentley

"How's it going?" Mark asks his employee Jenny. He's casual, friendly.

"Fine," she responds.

"Good... great." He hesitates for a moment, then walks away.

Mark doesn't want to pry. He has noticed that Jenny is less productive, but knows he's not qualified to counsel her. So he makes the effort of asking, and when she cuts off the discussion with "Fine", he respects her privacy.

Meanwhile, Jenny knows her performance isn't up to par. She'd like to talk with Mark. But in her anxiety, she's counting on him to make it happen.

Every day in thousands of workplaces, well-intentioned leaders miss opportunities to support their employees by asking vague questions.

Imagine a more productive scenario...

Mark: Jenny, I've noticed that you seem a little distracted. Can we talk about what's going on?

Jenny: I'm fine.

Mark: You don't have to tell me anything personal, but if something is affecting your work, it would help me to have some idea what's happening.

Jenny: Well, we're having a lot of trouble with my youngest. He's really difficult these days.

Mark: You often seem tired at work.

Jenny: I didn't realize it's so obvious.

Mark: We all go through ups and downs. Is there anything I can do to help? You're really valued around here.

Jenny: I know I'm not getting as much done as usual. I'm really sorry.

Mark: Are you getting any help with your child?

Jenny: Yes, and I asked my partner to pitch in at night, so I can get more sleep.

Mark: It sounds like you're doing a lot to deal with the situation. I hope it's better soon, and you can get back up to speed. Will you talk to me next week about how it's going?

Jenny: OK. Next week.

In this conversation, Mark acts responsibly as a supervisor. He shows empathy and tells Jenny that he appreciates her. But he doesn't side-step the fact that her productivity is slipping.

He doesn't try to play therapist, just encourages her to get support. And he expresses a helpful expectation that she'll soon have something positive to report.

For her part, Jenny knows that her boss still cares about her, that he's concerned about her performance, and that he's counting on her to manage the situation.

But the most crucial benefit is this: they have broken the ice. Now they can talk about her performance challenge anytime.




Father's Day

by Timothy Bentley

As Father's day arrived last weekend, I thought about Michael Bentley who was an aeronautical engineer. My dad died in 1999, but I still see a lot of him in the way I approach technical issues.

I learned some skills directly, like how to working with wood - hammering, sawing, sanding. But more importantly, I learned his approach to difficult issues – don't panic, do your research, ask for help, and believe in yourself.

This spring I decided to install solar panels on the boat. I had no real understanding of what was involved, and I was definitely nervous. Still, I seemed to hear his voice telling me that I'd be ok. That I could figure it out, bit by bit, step by step.

With his encouragement, I researched the invisible mysteries of the wiring behind the walls of the boat. Then I removed parts of the walls and ceiling, and snaked the wires through conduits, so they could carry the hoped-for solar power to the batteries. I left the wire in place, but unconnected at both ends.

Next, l researched the complicated question of how exactly the power should connect up to the batteries. I pored over wiring diagrams and took apart electrical panels I had never dared examine before. Finally, I did it. I connected the batteries to the wiring.

Then I planned how to support the solar panels at the back of the boat, got someone else to drill holes in the metal supports, and bolted the panels into place.

By accident, I touched a wire from one of the panels to a metal support, and a spark jumped. Rather than being horrified, I was thrilled. It was my first proof that the magic of solar power was actually producing electricity.

Finally, I was ready to connect he panels to the wiring I'd installed earlier. I was overjoyed when the meter showed current flowing into the batteries.

It was a long and complicated job. I doubt I could have done it without the wisdom and moral support of my dad, reminding me to do my research and encouraging me to take the task bit by bit.

I know not everyone has that kind of backing. I'm lucky.

My wish for you, as you undertake the difficult tasks in your life and work, is that you too hear an encouraging voice motivating you to try and to persevere.




How To Use Comparative Reporting

by Timothy Bentley

We at Panoramic Feedback are pleased to offer our users comparative reporting as an option in our 360-degree feedback reports. But we also caution them about possible drawbacks.

1. Self-comparison

Let's say an individual is rated 7 out of 10 for the behavior "Communicates well verbally".

While that's useful information, we could enhance it by providing more context, for instance a comparison with how they scored last time around. If it was 6, they've improved. That's good news.

If the previous score was 8, they've slipped. This can provide a useful coaching moment.

Self-comparisons are particularly motivating when 360s are offered every year, or if they're held before and after a course or other growth experience.

2. Comparison with the group

On the other hand, we could offer a comparison to the entire group with whom the individual was assessed.

The power of group comparison is to suggest realistic stretch goals. "Your group averaged 8, so how can we help so you achieve an 8 next time?"

But group comparisons should be used with great care, generally in the context of coaching.

That's because each individual's 360 is a "snapshot". It's the opinion of a few raters (different people for every individual), at a certain moment in time, in the context of specific events and challenges.

So it has to be used with restraint.

3. Comparison with a percentile group

We can also see how the individual rated compared to the most proficient people, for example the top ten percent of the group.

That can be valuable for individuals who have plenty of untapped potential and are motivated to work extra hard to reach that goal.

But for those who are not star material (the majority of us) it can lead to depression, anxiety, or lower productivity, knowing that they can never achieve the coveted 90th percentile.

How to view comparatives

Remember that comparative reports never provide the complete story about any individual.

They should always be supplemented by personal assessment, particularly when making decisions about performance appraisal, compensation, or training. They often provide great material for coaching.

Fortunately, those are best practices already widely used in 360-degree feedback.




The Stone Under The Carpet

by Timothy Bentley
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When the men finished work on our basement last week, they rolled the broadloom back into place, cleaned up meticulously, and left.

Nice guys, but a big relief. Quiet. The house to ourselves again.

Basement bump

A couple of days later, the bottom of my foot detected a tiny lump under the basement carpet.

Frankly, I was conflicted, strongly tempted to ignore it.

After all, the bump was so tiny, and I sure didn't welcome the disruption of having the workers back. So I wavered, almost did nothing, then finally listened to my inner wisdom and phoned the contractor.

He rolled back the carpet, and there it was – a little stone his workers had missed while cleaning up. It was fixed in half an hour, and he was gone.

The stone could have stayed there for years. Unnoticed. Untended. Gradually wearing through the carpet. A little problem eventually becoming a big problem, requiring repair or replacement.

The lumpy workplace

The workplace is like a basement. Generally, the problem areas are pretty minor, not worth stressing about.

But some persist, gradually abrading the fabric of the workplace, and breaking through to the surface. That's the famous point at which somebody goes ballistic for no reason at all – or so it appears.

Most of these situations can be fixed before they become costly and dangerous.

The open workplace

You won't be surprised that I see 360-degree feedback as a major line of defense. It's a reliable way to bring hidden issues into view, where they can be dealt with.

But while not every workplace has 360, every single one needs an atmosphere that's open to information. So how does yours stack up?

Is it a place where people feel safe speaking frankly about minor or major irritants?

Or are there areas dominated by a fear of authority, fear of conflict, or the subtle punishment of those who speak out? If so, there's an urgent job to be done, to change the management style, the dominant culture, so it can tolerate a little disruption.

Otherwise the lumps under the carpet will remain unreported, hurting people until they break through and damage the fabric of the workplace itself.




The Importance Of Setting The Anchor

by Timothy Bentley

As our sailboat enters the little bay, I go forward to the bow and prepare the anchor.

The skipper watches the depth-sounder intently. When the depth is right, she reverses the prop briefly to stop our forward motion.

I reel out the anchor chain and the skipper reverses again, pulling on the anchor, setting it firmly in the soil.

For the next hour or so, we keep a close eye on the shoreline. As long as it remains unchanged, we're confident that the anchor isn't dragging.

We never sail without an anchor. Lacking one, we would drift disastrously toward the shore and shipwreck.

And by contrast, when our anchor is well set, we're relatively certain of our place in the world. We eat, sleep, swim, work, and play without excess anxiety, knowing we're reliably connected.

* * *

In childhood, the reactions of other people provide a reliable anchor to reality.

We don't know we're in danger until someone says, "Watch out for traffic." We don't know we are generous until someone says, "That was kind of you." We don't realize how powerful our words are until someone says, "That really hurt him."

A parent gives a subtle shake of the head, and the child knows not to continue asking a certain kind of question. A friend's eyes well up with tears, and the child recognizes that she's feeling pain.

Growing up, our naive desire to do exactly what we please begins to change, as we receive information about how our actions affect those around us.

We become increasingly grounded, kind, safe, mature.

And then, just when we think we have it all figured out, the wind blows harder, our inner anchor begins to drag, the horizon starts to move.

So again we attend to our anchor, feedback from those around us, to help us stabilize in this lifetime of growth.

For those who do not or cannot take in the reactions of others, life is more problematic. They tend to be dangers to themselves and others, blown by unproven instincts and self-focused perceptions, because they are drifting through life unanchored.




Teeth, Books, and 360

by Timothy Bentley

The dentist

My eyes opened as wide as my mouth when I visited the dentist recently. He took my xrays using a new digital machine.

It's pretty sensational, emitting only a quarter of the usual amount of radiation, picking up images on a tiny plate resting in my mouth but connected to his computer.

The pictures were available immediately, without processing. They were ultra sharp. He manipulated them to show obscure details. And he side-stepped physical storage by saving them to a hard drive.

Win, win, win, win.

The book-seller

Days later, I listened to a radio interview with Heather Reisman, owner of the book-selling chain Indigo.

Facing the decline of conventional books, she decided her company must either innovate or die. Three years ago, they adopted the Kobo e-reader, and now sell an every-growing number of their books in electronic form.

They're thriving, while some apparently immortal chains (Borders comes to mind) have died.

Old problems, new solutions

I'm reminded that there is almost no limit to the ways we can adapt today's technology to humankind's challenges, whether teeth, commerce, or performance development.

Our own experience goes back fourteen years. At that time, there was a single rigid method to perform 360-degree feedback. On paper. Using a pen or a special readable pencil. Responding to an enforced, standard questionnaire that usually didn't quite fit the client's needs. Waiting weeks for the results to be collated into a report.

In 1998, we came on the scene with the first effective digital 360. Panoramic Feedback freed the 360 from paper, making the questionnaires customizable and available online, and the reporting instant.

But you can't innovate, then sit back. Since that time, we've found ourselves constantly changing, adding new features, meeting the demands of our clients and of the times.

We're not going back

As a society, no one is advocating reverting to the rigid inefficiencies of the past. It's either innovate or get out of the way.

Which may raise an interesting question for you.

How are you, your department, or your firm, innovating to provide new solutions? Are you developing more elegant ways to help people develop their skills, deliver books, maintain their teeth, or fulfill your own organizational mandate?

I'd be interested to hear from you.




Escaping My Accuser

by Timothy Bentley

"Excuse me! Excuse me!"

I was riding my bicycle, when I heard her critical voice from behind. I'd just merged with a heavy stream of bike traffic, and without a glance backwards, I knew what she was complaining about.

I'd gotten in her way.

I pretended I didn't hear her. It was a reasonable excuse, given the noise of the traffic. I had no desire to deal with an angry critic.

So I pushed on the pedals, racing along the street for several more blocks.

I made a left turn across traffic and down the laneway that leads to my backyard, opened the gate, and was almost safely inside. Then I heard it again.

"Excuse me! Excuse me!"

My heart sank. Sure enough, there she was, riding up the lane toward me.

I was about to get an earful.

"Here," she said. "You dropped your cell phone."

She held it out to me, red-faced, clearly out of breath. "Boy, you sure ride fast!"

Then she turned and peddled out to the street, while I said a warm, embarrassed, thank you to her departing back.

The difficulty of receiving and giving feedback

Reflecting later, a couple of ideas washed over me.

First, I'm sometimes so unwilling to listen to critical feedback, that I miss the gifts kind people have to offer me.

If there was ever a reminder of the importance of helping people open themselves to feedback, this was it.

Second, people are nervous about being direct. If, instead of a timid "Excuse me", my rescuer had yelled, "Hey, stop, you dropped your phone," I'd have screeched to a halt on the street.

But let's face it, no one is terribly confident about confronting other people's problems.

Which is why formalized programs like 360-degree feedback, providing a safe structure for difficult communications, are gifts to us all.

Still, I wonder, did I cut her off?




Awesome Voyages

by Timothy Bentley

There was much excitement at our place last week when a birthday present arrived by courier.

It was such an awesome piece of technology that for a moment it obscured the awesomeness of its journey to us.

Here's the story. On Saturday, I went online and ordered the new iPad.

The very next day it was engraved and shipped from Shenzhen, China. On Monday, it spent a few hours in Hong Kong, then traveled to Anchorage, Alaska.

On Tuesday it arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, and by Friday it was in Buffalo, New York. The same day, it was shipped to our local courier center. It was delivered to us by truck.

Think about that amazing trip. So far. So fast. So entirely trans-national. Such a simple, single metaphor for the world we now inhabit.

Equally awe-inspiring to me is our ability to manage people across the time zones.

My son, working in the Eastern Time zone, was recently part of a team of developers, some of them located as far away as New Zealand and Australia. Their phone meetings (via Skype) were pretty difficult to schedule, especially when daylight savings time added to the confusion. Yet they met reliably, every work day without exception.

Our own Panoramic Feedback staff work at distances ranging from a few miles away to over 2000.

Today our international clients can collect 360-degree feedback in up to 50 different languages, and some really need them. Even if their head offices are in the US or Europe, they have responders as far away as China and Japan.

Or should I say, as close as China and Japan?

I find it amazing - and strangely warming.

Without question, there are terrible tensions between some of our world neighbors. And terrible crimes are being committed in the name of nation states.

But to my mind, the awesome miracle of today is how much we are co-operating, even when we speak languages impossible for each other to decipher. The shrinking of our world is making us more inter-dependent, increasingly likely to listen to each other's feedback.

Our ideas now take voyages more amazing even than our birthday gifts.




What Are The Key 360-Degree Feedback Features?

by Timothy Bentley

I ordered a new pair of glasses last week. The salesman showed me frames I could bend and twist without breaking. He claimed I could safely sit on them.

I was amazed. It was so much fun twisting them out of shape and watching them return to normal that I bought them.

But later I asked myself, when was the last time I actually sat on my glasses?

Never. That's when.

Glasses are not the only product advertised on the basis of capabilities we'll never use. For instance, Google mail promises me 25,600 megabytes of storage. I'm currently using a measly 3 per cent of that.

Which got me thinking about 360-degree feedback. Providers can offer a cornucopia of features, but I wondered which ones, based on experience, do users really, really want?

I asked our sales people which are most frequently requested. Here are some of the front-runners:

Customizability

For both questionnaires and reports, can the administrator customize questions, scales, categories of responders?

Logo

Can their organization's logo appear on the questionnaires and reports, so people know this 360 was developed specially for them?

Languages

Can they write their questionnaires in languages other than English? Frequent requests are for French, Spanish, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Japanese, and Chinese.

Auto emails

Can they customize the text of emails that notify responders to fill in the questionnaire? Customization allows them to make the pitch for why their organization is using 360-degree feedback.

Support for people being assessed

Is there a workbook or self-development guide that subjects can use with their 360-degree feedback reports? Even coaches seem to appreciate a little guidance.

Outsourced admin

Finally, is there a service bureau available to manage the administrative work? HR professionals want to be free to do what they do best, putting their energy into dealing directly with people.

While each user has somewhat different needs, those are the most frequently requested features of 360-degree feedback systems. Have I missed any that you consider vital? Let me know.




Being Honest About The Kid On The Raft

by Timothy Bentley

As sailing season approaches, I've been looking at family albums. I'm fascinated by a black-and-white photo of myself as a child, grinning with delight, as I learn to pole a raft made from an old packing crate.

And many decades later, I see a multitude of colorful digital images of my wife and myself, happily voyaging in our sailboat.

An ancient adage echoes in my mind: the child is father to the man.

The skinny kid (me), learning to mobilize a raft is parent to the adult me, who may not possess all the skills of sailing but delights in the voyage.

As we grow into adulthood, we are both propelled and limited by the character we developed in our earliest days.

When as adults, we sense the need to develop further, there is one particular task we cannot avoid. It is to examine carefully the images of our life, that is, to be utterly frank about who we are.

Some do so literally, studying photographs, slides, prints, home movies and videos, looking for hints of their strengths and limitations.

Others may stand before a mirror, demanding that the reflected image remind them of who they were, and are.

Others use focused introspection: on their own, or in counseling, coaching, or therapy.

The method is not so important, but the task of knowing ourselves is.

The unexpected bonus is that by telling ourselves the truth, we not only prepare ourselves for change, we have in fact already changed. We have become more honest.

I write this with the recognition that you already know it. Of course.

But I imagine that there are people you wish to help develop to their full potential, including perhaps yourself, so I trust that you will find this reminder encouraging.

Looking at my own photo album, I seem to see the limitations of inexperience overcome by tenacity and bliss. I wonder what you see in yours.




Teamwork: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

by Timothy Bentley

Being an introvert, I tend to shudder when I hear someone else described as "a good team-player".

I mutter (to myself of course, being my own best audience), "Is anything valued these days apart from teams, and co-workers, and colleagues, and partners, and committees?"

What about the individual? What about the creative spark?

The problem when it comes to 360-degree feedback, is that "team-player" is one of the greatest compliments we can offer. There's little appreciation of those of us who accomplish wonderful things (or at least, things) by ourselves.

How often do you see a question like this on a 360 survey?

"Works on her own to accomplish breakthroughs."

Or "Manages to do excellent work without a group of colleagues cheering him on."

Never, that's when.

Anyway, I'm pleased to announce that the New York Times recently ran an excellent article by Susan Cain decrying "The Rise of the New Groupthink". Read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

The writer reminds us that many of the world's greatest breakthroughs came from people who worked well in solitude. Think Moses. Jesus. Buddha. Sir Isaac Newton. Picasso.

And Wozniak.

That's right. Steve Wozniak, who labored in solitude in 1975 to develop the first truly user-friendly computer. He actually wanted to give it away, but then his friend Steve Jobs talked him into co-founding Apple instead.

Wozniak's advice to his fellow inventors was simple: "Work alone…Not on a committee. Not on a team."

Cain reminds us of studies that prove we're more efficient as individuals than in groups. But of course you can prove anything if you choose your studies carefully.

OK, maybe we introverts worry too much about the ascent of the team. It's good to support and stimulate others. It's great to share positive feelings together about our place of work.

But please, give us a few moments on our own.

And maybe a little recognition that we can be effective even when we're not part of a committee.




Validity 5: Effective Coaching Makes 360 Valid

by Timothy Bentley

There's great fascination these days with the issue of validity in 360-degree feedback, so this final installment in a five-part series about best practices for validity tackles the importance of supporting the recipient, post-360.

For a copy of the complete series, contact us.

The challenge of feedback

When we receive our feedback reports, it's normal to experience a range of reactions: anticipation, excitement, and satisfaction may be accompanied by discomfort, resentment, fear, and anxiety.

With such powerful and conflicting emotions, it's easy to get stuck in negativity. A single critical comment in a 360 report will often preoccupy our minds.

We mutter ineffectual questions like, "Who said that?" "What do they mean?" "How can I get back at them?" "Does everyone think that?" "How will this affect my prospects?"

That's particularly the case when we receive feedback on our own, and it reduces the validity of the process.

Coaching for positive change

To combat this tendency, it's essential that we receive coaching as soon as possible after we receive the report.

Whether the coach is our manager or a trained professional, s/he can help re-frame our feedback not as a threat but a gift.

The effective coach helps interrupt a negative cycle of thinking by encouraging us to sustain our positive behaviors.

What can we change?

Validity measures the extent to which a process leads to positive change.

So the coach will steer discussion away from those things we can't change (like personality qualities) to those we can (behaviors). The coach will help us figure out how to do things differently.

The validity of the 360 increases when the coach can point to resources that support sustainable growth, like mentoring and courses.

Subsequent coaching conversations encourage us to be accountable for our own development and fine-tune our efforts.

A final word

It's tempting these days to focus on the dramatic but self-interested claims of the promoters of so-called "validated" questionnaires. But there is much more to validity than questionnaires.

Validity in 360-degree feedback includes the preparation of recipients and responders ahead of time, careful fine-tuning of the questionnaire to suit your organization, and effective follow-up with recipients.

Cover these areas, and you'll have a 360 process where the validity can be measured by positive results.




Validity 4: Validity Depends On Recipients

by Timothy Bentley

We've been addressing the myth that the validity of 360-degree feedback rests on the so-called "validated" questionnaire.

First we established how you can prepare your own valid questionnaire.

Then we broadened the focus to motivating responders and helping them provide feedback in a form that's accessible to the recipients.

Now, how the preparation of the subjects (recipients) contributes to validity.

The most effective method of preparation is to hold small meetings, so subjects can ask questions, discuss their concerns, and experience support. (If meetings are not possible, the following information should be provided in writing.)

Value of feedback to the organization

Subjects are often anxious about getting feedback. One way to counter this is to tell them why the organization invested in 360-degree feedback.

Clearly it was not to embarrass anyone. Or increase anxiety. Or find an excuse to fire them. Or provide a weapon for people with a grudge. Or focus on things they can't change about themselves.

360-degree feedback helps the organization become more efficient, improve the workplace atmosphere, and encourage a culture of personal growth and satisfaction. These, of course, are the marks of organizations that are responsible, respected, efficient, and profitable.

Value to the recipient

At the individual level, everyone wants to perform at the best level possible. 360 provides subjects with explicit guidance about how changes in their work habits can improve their productivity.

Not only can it increase their perceived value within the organization, it provides the data they need to improve their career prospects.

As well, because most adults spend half their waking life inside the community of the workplace, 360 offers significant social benefits.

It helps subjects discover how they are seen by others. It points out how they can improve the work atmosphere and strengthen their relationships.

It's win-win-win.

Finally, by expanding feedback beyond the traditional supervisor's perspective, it provides a more broad-based perspective on their skills.

Next week: how coaching subjects, post-360, increases the validity of the process by empowering positive change.




Validity 3: Honey and Vinegar

by Timothy Bentley

Today we look at a key step in developing valid 360-degree feedback.

One of the toughest parts is preparing responders to provide feedback that's critical, but in a way that the recipient won't reject or ignore.

Feedback that's hearable

"You're an idiot who should be fired," will not help anyone develop their skills.

Feedback is effective only when it meets three criteria. 1. It must be candid. 2. It must address not unchangeable personal attributes but specific behaviors that can actually be changed. 3. It must be kind.

Nowhere is the saying more true that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. The problem is that it's hard for responders to be kind when they have been frustrated and angry for a long time.

Instinctively, they're tempted to lash out. But their dilemma is that if they do, their feedback will be discounted.

Brief training sessions are most effective

Remind responders that feedback can make even the most secure individuals anxious. And help them remember how they themselves reacted when they were criticized in a rude, exaggerated, or disrespectful way.

Of course they got angry, dug their heels in, refused to change, or totally ignored the feedback.

And, by the way, if you can't provide in-person training for responders, your minimum responsibility may be to provide a brief written guide.

Candid, kind, and specific

Help responders discuss how to make their point without alienating the recipients. They should point out where the recipients have been effective, and where they have not.

Useless: "You're a terrible leader." Valuable: “You've been pretty effective when you communicated openly with the team. But we should be asked for input on important matters more often."

Useless: "You play favorites." Valuable: "It's frustrating that you give the interesting work to a few of your old favorites, and hand the rest of us the drudgery. We can't be creative, and no one sees how capable we are. Give us all the chance to shine."

Help your responders understand how to make their point without alienating the recipient, and you're well on the way to a feedback process that's unquestionably valid.

Next time

How good preparation of recipients contributes to a valid feedback process.




Validity 2: Preparation Of Feedback Responders

by Timothy Bentley

There's a common misconception that you can ensure the validity of your 360-degree feedback project by building it on a particular questionnaire.

But the truth is that validity relies on much more than a set of questions. It depends, in fact, on one over-arching concern: Does the 360 process as a whole lead to the desired outcome?

That outcome is that the subjects (the people being assessed) become more clear about where they are seen to be most and least effective. With this information, they can be assisted in leveraging their highly productive behaviors, and improving the skills that need work.

One of the requirements for a valid feedback process is good preparation of the people who will provide it, touching on three major topics: Why it's valuable to provide feedback. The commitment to confidentiality. And how to give critical feedback without alienating the person receiving it.

Why it's valuable to provide feedback

The motivation of responders is crucial for success.

A good information program informs responders that feedback is not only a generous gift to the subject, but that they themselves will receive value from providing it.

They should be reminded that subjects who receive feedback will become better employees, bosses, and colleagues. Feedback will help make the work environment more positive and work relationships more satisfying.

Commitment to confidentiality

They also need to know that they are safe, meaning that they can provide frank feedback anonymously without fear that their identity will be leaked to the subject. After all, that person may be their boss or a powerful colleague.

They should be reminded not to use language in their responses that could identify them.

(The exception is that the subjects' supervisors do not require confidentiality, since they are not vulnerable in the same way. In fact, providing identifiable feedback is part of their job description.)

The commitment to confidentiality also means that the administrators who work on the 360 project will not attempt to identify who said what.

Next time

Ok, as a responder I've been informed that feedback is valuable, and that I'm protected by a firewall of confidentiality. So does that mean I can empty both barrels at that subject I'm so angry about?

Next time: how responders can provide feedback that's critical but doesn't alienate the subject.


Validity 1: The 360 Validity Debate

by Timothy Bentley

There's a lively debate currently on the Linked In social network about the validity of 360-degree feedback.

In this and subsequent columns, we'll examine the three crucial areas you must address to be certain that your 360 process is valid:

  • Valid questionnaire design
  • Careful preparation of participants
  • Followup that leads to action

Today: Validating your questions

The Linked In debaters agree on one thing. 360-degree feedback is only as good as its questionnaire. Carelessly-written questions severely limit its value.

But there are opposing views about how to create a good questionnaire.

Statistic-driven validity

On one side, the techno-statistical people promote so-called "validated questionnaires" that allow them to collect responses to the same set of questions across a wide range of workplaces.

On the surface, it seems attractive to compare the responses in your organization to their averages. They claim their off-the-shelf questionnaires are superior to those created individually for each workplace.

Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all approach could end up comparing both a small-town bank and a Wall Street giant to the same criteria.

Local validity

I'm with the professionals who are asking why you would want your workforce to emulate the results of a vast group from which they are likely to be significantly different.

They believe that the only true test is local validity. So they ask this: do the questions communicate effectively in your specific situation?

As it happens, it requires only a few simple steps to produce a highly effective, locally-appropriate, totally valid questionnaire:

Keep it short

If it exceeds 40 questions, responders will get tired, providing less thoughtful answers. But resist the temptation to combine two thoughts into one confusing question.

Make it relevant

Restrict your questions to your organization's core competencies, job-related tasks, and areas of significant concern to your employees.

Ask yourself, are the responses going to lead to action? A valid questionnaire will identify where the recipients are doing well and should continue on track, and where they need to improve - encouraging them to make changes.

Ensure it's unambiguous

Check the questionnaire with representative groups prior to launch, including responders, people being assessed, HR professionals, and senior management (since they'll eventually use the aggregate data).

Ask them to flag any questions that aren't relevant, and any wording that is not crystal clear. And you can ask your 360 provider for a professional evaluation.

That's it! Creating a valid questionnaire is within every practitioner's reach. Next time, we'll describe how to prepare participants for a valid 360 process.




360 Scales: The Goldilocks Scale

by Timothy Bentley

Recently I described the Likert rating scale as used in 360-degree feedback. It's the scale that made actress Bo Derek's good looks synonymous with the number 10.

Today we'll look at a scale that's less glamorous but sometimes more practical: the Goldilocks scale.

Remember when Goldilocks broke into the home of the three bears? She avoided the porridge that was too cold or too hot, and the bed that was too soft or too hard.

Wisely, she chose the one that was "just right".

This is a fairy tale with a practical theme because the Goldilocks scale can tell your people whether they are exhibiting too little or too much of certain behaviors, or just the right amount.

It does this by displaying minus numbers and positive numbers. For instance, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3. On this scale, the mid-point, zero, is "just right".

An eloquent champion of this scale is Panoramic Feedback distributor Scott Borland .

He says that the problem with the Likert scale is that "there is no way to acknowledge when a behavior is over-utilized, to the detriment of the Subject and those with whom they interact." He notes a 10 score, for instance, is not helpful to Subjects who need to distinguish between "very much" and "too much".

"Some leadership behaviors that are overused can be detrimental. For example, a leader may be very effective in leading and supporting change. However, if the leader uses this strength to continually revamp processes where there may not be a business need to change, there can be drawbacks. Examples might include the need for continual (and time-consuming) retraining for staff, or disruptive updates for clients."

Equally, responses at the lower end of Likert scales don't necessarily provide actionable information. "If a manager receives an 'ineffective' rating," he asks, "does that mean they should do more, or less, of the specific behavior?"

His preferred solution is the Goldilocks scale, with these anchors:

  • -3 Do a lot less
  • -2 Do less
  • -1 Do a little less
  • 0 Do the same
  • 1 Do a little more
  • 2 Do more
  • 3 Do a lot more

Having tested this scale extensively, he says, "Results for participants are generally much clearer, and there is less ambiguity about strengths and areas for improvement.

Another plus: "Respondents may be more receptive to their 360 results since the new scale appears to be less about overall score and more about doing more, or less, in relation to specific behaviors."

The moral of the story is to base your choice of scale - Goldilocks or Bo – on the information needs of your Subjects.




A Loving, Hopeful, Optimistic Politician

by Timothy Bentley

Yesterday a great political leader died before his time at the age of 61.

A few months earlier, Jack Layton had led his party to official opposition status in Canada for the first time in history.

In an era of nasty politics, as the other parties slipped into attack ads and negativism, he proclaimed an optimistic and progressive agenda.

And in an age where cynical politicians have lost much of our respect, it is certainly rare to suggest that leaders of organizations should emulate a politician. But as a Globe and Mail editorial said today, "With his courage and grace, Mr. Layton ennobled politics."

Jack Layton was highly dedicated to his beliefs, and shrewd of mind. But he succeeded, unlike others, because he cultivated an attitude of civility towards even those politicians he opposed.

As a leader who was never in power, always in opposition, he developed a canny ability to work with people of sharply different views to achieve socially valuable ends.

His life stands as a great example to all who provide leadership in organizations. He showed that we can bring more to our jobs than cleverness and commitment.

He exemplified how cooperation and respect can advance any cause. He knew how and when to push, not too little, not too much, but just right.

Last weekend, Jack Layton wrote a last letter to Canadians, in which he concluded, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

And he did. Jack literally changed our world.

(Next time, I'll return as promised to the Goldilocks scale, a fine way of measuring when a person is doing neither too little nor too much.)




360 Scales: The Bo Derek Scale

by Timothy Bentley

Who's a 10?

The 1979 film comedy "10" made a star of Bo Derek. Her character was rated for beauty on a scale of 1 to 10.

While 360-degree feedback is no beauty contest, it too uses scales to provide the person being assessed with vital information about how others regard their capabilities.

Scale variations

Scales can range from 1 to 2 (a blunt "No/Yes") to 1 to 10. On odd-numbered scales (e.g. 1 to 7), responders can choose a mid-point (4) to assess the person as neither terrible nor excellent.

In general, the higher the number on the scale (e.g. 9), the "better" the skills.

The advantage of using shorter scales (e.g. 1 to 4) is simplicity in response. But scales with more points (e.g. 1 to 10) allow greater precision and definition.

To assist responders who don't have enough information to reply, many questionnaires include an additional point outside the scale. It allows responders to reply, "Don't know", rather than choosing the mid-point (which would be misleading) or failing to respond at all.

Anchors

"Anchors" are the words that identify the meaning of the numbers. For the sake of responders, it's important to choose the most appropriate set of anchors and stick with it throughout the questionnaire.

Quality questions, like this, "How skilled is the person in verbal communication?", call for anchors like: 1 Very unskilled, 2 Unskilled, 3 Skilled, and 4 Highly skilled.

Frequency questions, e.g. "How frequently does the person show skill in communication?" call for anchors like: 1 Very rarely, 2 Rarely, 3 Occasionally, 4 Frequently.

Skill descriptions like "Skill in communication" call for: 1 Very dissatisfied, 2 Dissatisfied, 3 Satisfied, 4 Very Satisfied

Statements such as "Shows great skill in communication" require anchors like: 1 Strongly disagree, 2 Disagree, 3 Agree, 4 Strongly agree.

Dual Scales

The use of two scales for every question will increase the complexity for responders, but provide additional valuable data.

For instance, "Shows great skill in communication" could use the Disagree-Agree scale plus a scale that measures the importance of the skill: 1 Very unimportant, 2 Unimportant, 3 Important, 4 Very important.

In the final report, the responses can be displayed in a matrix which makes it visually evident which essential skills need improvement, and which skills are not important for the job, even if the person happens to be highly skilled.

Hot porridge

Next time, moving from Bo Derek to Goldilocks, we'll examine how a different scale can assess which behaviors are not practiced enough, too much, or "just right".




Assessing Your Organization's People Strength

by Timothy Bentley

To make strategic decisions in such diverse areas as marketing, production, compensation, and training, organizations require accurate metrics about the effectiveness of their employees.

They need answers to the following questions:

Are our employees generally good at their jobs?

So we know the true state of our human capital.

Are they getting better or worse, year over year?

So we understand our trend lines.

Are they all at similar skill levels, or widely variable?

So we know whether to focus training efforts on everyone, or on specific groups that need it most.

What are their strongest skills?

So we can market our abilities in those areas.

Where do they most need improvement?

So we can avoid promoting those areas until skills have improved.

Are high and low skills to be found in specific divisions, locations, or responsibility levels?

So we can design skill development that will do the most good at the least cost.

Who are our outstanding all-round employees?

So we can recognize and reward them, and leverage their capabilities.

In each of our core competencies, who are the outstanding employees?

So we can bring their strengths to bear on our most important areas.

How do our employees view their supervisors?

Good employees don't leave organizations, they leave supervisors. So the answer to that question will go a long way to guide improvements in supervisory skill, and stem the outflow of good employees.

So how might you find answers to such crucial questions? Survey your customers? Create a task force? Hire a consultant? Conduct time and motion studies?

None of the above, if you use 360-degree feedback, because answers to every one of those questions are already waiting silently within your feedback projects.

To give this data a voice, and provide valuable strategic information to your executives and directors, and leaders in HR, training, and OD, just generate a group report that aggregates the data from your individual 360-degree feedback results.




Best Ways To Provide Feedback Reports

by tbentley

The optimum way to provide 360-degree feedback reports is with other people around.

I'm not talking about announcing people's "marks" out loud, like teachers did when we were in school. I'm not abandoning confidentiality.

But I am convinced that most people learn and grow best in community.

When a person receives a report in isolation, they may be delighted by the feedback. But if they encounter critical comments, there's also a significant risk of fear and despair.

That's difficult enough, but what makes it harder is that there's no one to help them see past their anxieties to the opportunities of positive change.

Here are two better scenarios.

One-on-one

In this case, the intermediary could be the person's supervisor, a coach, or an HR or OD consultant.

Ahead of time, this person has studied the report to understand the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the subject. S/he has also examined the perspectives of various responder groups, to see whether the subject relates more effectively up, down, or sideways.

S/he then meets privately with the subject, presents the report, and allows time for the subject to read it, before they discuss it.

Often they'll plan a second meeting, to look at the report in more detail.

Group feedback

An excellent alternative is to present reports to a group of subjects at the same time.

The intermediary provides plenty of physical space between them for privacy. S/he hands out the individual reports, and guides participants through their common features.

After giving them a few minutes to read their own reports, s/he offers to answer questions. Although the questions are usually more general than personal, an important message is conveyed here: that no one gets a "perfect score", and it's ok to have uncertainties.

Finally, the intermediary tells participants how they can get access to coaching. While this is reassuring for everyone, it can be crucial information for subjects who are confused or anxious.

While each method has its own strengths, both enable practitioners to increase the ROI of 360-degree feedback by developing supportive links with the people being assessed.




Build A 360 Questionnaire That Encourages Growth

by tbentley

Would you like to increase the effectiveness of your 360-degree feedback?

Ask yourself this question: Which group is likely to respond best to critical feedback - those who feel judged and disparaged, or those who feel appreciated?

The Criticized

We know that when people experience a lot of criticism, they become rigid, resist change, and develop a fortress mentality.

If someone gets upset with them, they focus on what's wrong with the other person.

They become the chronically "stuck" members of the organization, their vision limited to defending their turf.

The Appreciated

On the other hand, people who feel appreciated, respected, and valued have the mental bandwidth to accept challenges and run with them.

When these people discover that someone is upset with them, it spurs them to action, to discover how they can improve the relationship.

And when they receive constructive feedback, it expands their vision, helping them consider how to improve their performance.

What This Means For Feedback

In standard 360 reports, subjects may receive largely critical comments – or at best a random mixture of critical and appreciative. It's just good luck if they see enough positive comments early on to help them feel confident in confronting the inevitable criticisms.

Yet you can structure your 360 so it conveys appreciation right off the top, telling the subject in effect, "We respect your skills and contributions. And here are some ways in which you can improve on your performance."

How To Lay It Out

First, title the initial heading in your questionnaire something like this: "Abilities We Appreciate" or "Skills and Capabilities".

Then enter a request for appreciative narrative comments that get at the subject's strengths. Examples: "What do you most appreciate about this person, and why does it matter?" Or "Give an example of when this person displayed highly ethical behavior [or showed good leadership, or improved the atmosphere in the organization, or inspired others]. Why do you think this was valuable?"

Follow this with your standard competency headings and numerical questions.

Beginning with appreciative comments will send a crucial message to both responders and subjects: "The person being assessed is an important member of our team. So no matter what improvements we might suggest here, we're starting from a point of appreciation and respect."

Thanks to our distributor Esther Ewing (http://www.ewingchange.com) for inspiring these thoughts.


A New Year Of Integrity

by tbentley

As the new year begins, we're seeing demands everywhere for organizations – and that means their staff – to act with increased integrity.

As I suggested recently, enriching your 360-degree feedback project with ethics-focused behavior descriptions will encourage personal and corporate integrity. A further benefit is that when you aggregate the results for all participants, the report will provide a powerful insight into the health of your organization.

Here are some behavior descriptions you can use, or adapt, for your questionnaire:

Standards

Consistently acts according to the core values of the organization

Guides the organization in a way that increases your confidence in the short and long term

Focuses on strengthening the organization's capability and integrity

Social Responsibility

Shows social responsibility in decision-making, with reference both to people and the environment

Balances the organization's need to present a strong public face with its responsibility to be frank and fair

Is prepared to put her/his own desires aside for the sake of responsibility to shareholders, employees, customers, and the wider community

Financial

Fully understands the financial management of the organization

Is capable of overseeing the financial management of the organization

Ensures that accounting and audit measures are carried out rigorously and transparently

Is the kind of person you would trust to manage your personal finances

Unstructured comments

Please comment on this person's adherence to the highest standards of leadership

Please comment on this person's capability as a leader with financial responsibilities

Is there any risk that this person is building an organization which, although successful in the short term, might attract negative attention in the longer term

Everyone benefits from these questions

Behavior descriptions such as these, edited to suit your organization, should be included in every 360 questionnaire for senior managers.

Not only do they encourage those who take seriously their responsibility for integrity, but they highlight areas of the organization where people may be playing with fire.




Protecting Integrity, Preventing Disaster

by tbentley

This decade's corporate scandals illustrate the benefit of using 360-degree feedback to scan people and organizational practices for danger.

In every company that has hit the headlines because of integrity problems, there were individuals who recognized the issues ahead of time but had no secure way to voice their concerns.

Given their silence, the pretense of official corporate numbers ruled the day.

If they had aggregated the results of confidential 360-degree feedback, those organizations could have charted their corporate health earlier and more accurately, alerted boards of directors, and put remedial measures in place.

360-degree feedback can provide information about:
    • The integrity of your leaders
    • Their level of competency
    • Whether they adhere to codes of ethics
    • Whether the organization is out of control

The process requires foresight but surprisingly little additional effort. Here's a 3-step plan:

1. Assess the right people

Make sure your 360 project covers all the senior management of the organization, including the CEO and CFO.

It's important to let participants know beforehand that their results may be seen by others, as part of the aggregate report.

2. Ask the right questions

All you need to do is ask focused questions like this: "Does the person being assessed carry out accounting and audit measures rigorously and transparently?"

The uniquely confidential nature of the 360-degree feedback questionnaire makes it safe for responders to provide valuable intelligence.

Your questionnaire will not only elicit priceless information, but also convey the unmistakable message that your organization is committed to integrity in governance.

3. Aggregate the results

Just as an individual's report reveals much about her/his strengths and weaknesses, a report on the group can shed light on those corners of the organization where integrity is strongly or weakly practiced.

It can predict whether the organization risks becoming the next victim of critical headlines by alerting you, for instance, to persons who may be rated high on business acuity but received lower scores on ethical or financial issues.

Remedial action based on 360-degree feedback can help save them and the organization from scandal and loss.

Next time, I'll share a sampling of questions that will focus your 360-degree feedback on personal and corporate integrity.




The Workshop Was A Disaster

by tbentley

The portly little man at the front of the under-heated, dimly-lit room didn't introduce himself, or ask us who we were.

He provided no agenda, and rambled from topic to topic for two and a half days.

If you had run 360-degree feedback on him during the first hour, it would have provided evidence to fire him summarily.

Over the next three days, our instructor screened excerpts from dozens of films, from Zinnemann's High Noon to Hitchcock's Frenzy to Fosse's All That Jazz.

We were a disparate group with varying needs: actors old and young, experienced and aspiring, small-time directors with dreams, and me.

Why then did we find the workshop so invigorating? I think it was the instructor's passion for his topic: how good directors make great films.

Or perhaps it was his generosity, openly sharing his admiration for excellent work and dismay at the lazy and inadequate.

Yes, and his transparency, debating with himself out loud, allowing us to participate in his process. "Ok, so let's... no, maybe this one... sorry, I was pointing the remote at the screen instead of the player... mmm, I was going to save that for the end... but no, but let's look at it now."

The workshop reminded me to be skeptical about the usual signals of managerial success. Here was a man with no training in adult education who had successfully guided a critical and discerning audience.

We had learned to appreciate his vision, his idiosyncratic choices, even the moments of technical disaster. If you ran a 360 on our final day, you'd have raised the instructor's salary and provided a corner office.

Like our instructor, there are many effective managers who don't fit the official norms. Some may do more to get widgets out the door, and keep their people engaged, than technocrats who possess all the correct skills.

That's why it's important to design 360-degree feedback questionnaires that address not just formal skills, but also the enthusiasm and commitment that some special managers bring to their own cast of characters.




The Value You Add To 360-Degree Feedback

by tbentley

As you know, there's an mistaken tendency to undervalue HR and OD professionals.

360-degree feedback vendors sometimes contribute to this when they suggest that their off-the-shelf questionnaires have been universally "validated". The implication is that your unique skills are not required.

Just plug and play.

But the truth is that an HR or OD professional who designs a 360 questionnaire brings knowledge of the organization and people that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot match.

When you validate a questionnaire for your particular organization, you answer questions like this:

Do the questions fit the organization?

As an insider, you're uniquely positioned to select valid questions, meaning those that shine a light on the strategic needs and challenges of your workplace.

Will the answers lead to action?

A valid questionnaire is one that communicates clearly to your recipients what they are doing well and where they need to improve, encouraging them to make changes.

You're in the best position to design a questionnaire that speaks to the people of your organization.

Are the questions clear and unambiguous?

HR and OD professionals have the specialized knowledge to assess whether the questions are valid within the culture and expectations of responders.

They generally follow these two steps:

First, put yourself in the responder's place. Choose questions that they can answer without straining to figure out their meaning.

Second, test your questionnaire on real people. Again, you add value by locating representative individuals who will tell you whether they understand the questions and can readily answer them.

As an example, we provide Panoramic Feedback users with an excellent library of carefully-designed questionnaires. But because every setting is different, we encourage everyone to rewrite them. We recognize that words can have sharply different meanings in different contexts.

Theoretically you could save effort by not validating your organization's questionnaire. But would you install new equipment or introduce new work processes without this kind of careful preparation?

To make your 360 more effective and your workplace more productive, trust your own wisdom.




Reducing Feedback Anxiety

by tbentley

Last time, we looked at reasons why responders find the feedback process threatening.

Today: Five ways to reduce their anxiety.

1. Feedback makes the world go round

Remind responders that there's nothing new or fancy about feedback. It's basic to human nature.

We all need know how we're doing. That's why, from infancy onwards, we get praise when we do well, and corrections to help us refine our skills.

To offer feedback is to express respect and hope for the recipient.

2. Still, anxiety is normal

Because we don't know how a person will respond to frank feedback, it does require a certain amount of courage. Ask the parent of a teenager.

The good news is that most adults are so eager to excel in their careers that they welcome any information that will help.

3. Who says criticism has to be nasty?

We've all descended to negativity at some point, and we've seen how it alienates the person on the receiving end, accomplishing nothing positive.

Remind responders that the most effective way to give critical feedback is to keep in mind the changes they'd like to see.

Then tell it the way they'd like to told, describing the behavior they want to see changed, in a supportive and respectful manner.

4. Prepare those being assessed

Being the recipient of feedback carries its own anxieties. By calming the recipients, you encourage a safer environment for those who provide feedback.

Remind recipients that an outsider's perspective is not a threat but a gift. It helps them assess their own performance objectively, lighting the road to career success.

5. Encourage a feedback loop

It's good for the health of the workplace when recipients reflect openly about their feedback.

Responders feel encouraged, knowing that it is appreciated and led to changes. They respond with a greater level of trust, which makes for greater productivity.

To reduce the anxiety of responders, you must also support the recipients. Your reward is to watch a growing culture of openness and trust.




Feedback Is A Piece Of Cake!

by tbentley

Just tick off a few answers, jot down some comments, and you’re finished the feedback. 10 minutes max. Piece of cake.

Yet if providing feedback was that easy, why do so many delay, delay, delay?

Why do some tick off the middle choice for every question?

Why do some soft-pedal their critical comments, while others hammer at them like nails?

We should never under-estimate the level of concern felt by feedback providers.

Anxiety beforehand

Ahead of time, many people worry about the feedback. They're thinking really fast:

"Will s/he accept what I say?....Will s/he be upset, embarrassed, humiliated, vindicated, triumphant?....Will s/he figure out who said what?....Will there be retribution for critical comments?....Can I be honest and kind at the same time?....If I’m too kind, will I feel like I’m selling out?"

Challenge during the process

If it were easy to provide feedback in a form that the other person could truly “hear”, responders would offer it every day.

That's why they're doing much more than just ticking off answers. They're managing a constant stream of thoughts.

"Should I balance the positive with the critical, or just say what needs to change?....If I soft-pedal my feedback, will s/he take it seriously?....I've been so mad for so long, and now I've finally got a chance to let her/him have it!....If I sound angry, will her/his back go up?....This is taking a long time to figure out....Maybe I’ll put it off till tomorrow."

Concern afterwards

Even after they finish providing feedback, people don’t just go back to work. They wait for the other shoe to drop.

"Is s/he going to acknowledge the feedback we’ve all given?....Will the mood be chilly or appreciative?....Will the feedback actually make a difference in her/his behavior?....Long-term, will we gain or lose by providing feedback?....I'm feeling surprisingly vulnerable."

Addressing these concerns

With so much activity taking place under the surface, it's pretty amazing that the feedback process leads reliably to increased growth, confidence, and productivity.

That's because responders are generally well prepared. Our challenge is to smooth the path by addressing their concerns.

So next time, I'll offer you some hints about preparation.




Babel And Rosetta Confront 360-Degree Feedback

by tbentley

A language myth

In ancient days, all the people on earth spoke the same language. But their ease of communication made them over-confident. At Babel, they began to build a tower which would reach up to the heavens and threaten the security of the supreme god.

Angry with their arrogance, the god decided to confound their language, scattering people into separate groups, each with its own tongue. Thus did he transform rivalry between humans and their god, into rivalry between language groups.

The story seeks to explain why there are so many language groups and such confusion, discomfort, misunderstanding, and antagonism among them.

Undoing Babel

A true story now. For over a thousand years, no one knew how to read the language of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Then, two centuries ago, an ancient tablet was discovered that held identical information written in three languages: ancient Greek, common Egyptian, and hieroglyphs. By comparing with the two known texts, scholars learned to read the hieroglyphs for the first time, thereby reducing the babel of languages.

To me, the tower of Babel and the Rosetta Stone are like bookends of our struggle to manage our language barriers, symbols of our separateness and our connection.

The struggle to read

Which gets us to the problem faced by organizations that include more than one language group when they roll out 360-degree feedback. In the past, they would simply ask their questions in English, requiring non-native speakers to mentally translate the questionnaire into their own language. Then these same people would struggle to compose narrative comments in English.

Feedback is supposed to be simple, heartfelt, and frank. But that’s a difficult task for people who are mentally translating every word.

Today, our international clients often provide questionnaires in two or more languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, French, Norwegian, etc. Their employees can reply directly and fluently.

As a result, the comments they provide are less likely to convey confusion, discomfort, misunderstanding, or antagonism. That means it’s better feedback.

The moral of the story is that if you are providing 360-degree feedback to two or more language groups, be sure to choose a service that lets them read and write in their own languages, rather than trying to answer a babel of questions in an unfamiliar tongue.




Jigs And Ego-free Learning

by tbentley

Jigs, reels, and waltzes flowed out over the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts last weekend.

I happened upon half a dozen fiddlers, a guitarist, and pianist, at a jam session that was much like a shared learning workshop. They ranged from grizzled professionals to young children.

The sole non-musician in the room, I was captivated by the sheer joy of listening, and intrigued by their commitment to growth.

The music was punctuated with personal stories, and requests for help with their challenges.

A fiddler told the others she wanted to learn to play chords, to accompany the melody line. So while everyone else played melody, the pianist called out the chords to her: “C sharp…now A…D…A…C sharp.”

You can see where I’m going with this. They were motivated not to shame or outshine each other, but to learn to play better. Their chosen method was to get feedback from those around them, and practice doing things differently.

Partway through, a late arrival introduced himself with a twinkle in his eye, “Hi, my name is John, and I’m a recovering fiddler.” Not missing a beat, the rest of the group responded “Hello John”, a spontaneous imitation of an AA meeting. They made no secret of the fact that they were looking for support with the musical issues in their lives.

I noticed that these two hours were free of criticism and full of encouragement. “Oops, I messed that up,” announced a player, without embarrassment, at the end of a jig. “That’s OK,” replied another, “The more you do this, the better you’ll play.”

For these musicians, developing their skills during that Berkshire weekend was part of a seamless lifetime of learning. They let go of their egos, refusing to compete against each other, alternating generosity with a greedy eagerness for feedback.

As we enter this autumn in our places of work, I do hope we can encourage each other to minimize competitiveness and ego, in favor of a lifetime commitment to feedback and self-development.




How 360-Degree Feedback Helps When Unemployment Is Down

by tbentley

Employment figures are improving. In May, jobs grew by 25,000 in Canada and 41,000 in the US. private sector.

It's good news in many ways, but from an employer's point of view, there's a downside to this tentative recovery. With more jobs available, employees are beginning to look around for better opportunities elsewhere.

An atmosphere of fear, like the one we experienced during the recession, keeps people stuck. An increase in confidence gets them thinking about roaming.

And who will be the first to seek new opportunities?

Of course, it will be our strongest, most skilled, most courageous employees. The very ones we want to keep.

And who will stay, no matter how attractive the outside world? Some fine, dedicated employees, for certain, but also people who see themselves as marginally attractive to employers.

In the worst case scenario, improved employment opportunities remove our best employees and leave behind the least capable.

Employee development programs, including 360 assessments, can be part of the solution.

First, they raise the bar, letting all employees know that skills and commitment matter.

To our most valued employees, they send two more crucial messages.

The first is: "We're paying attention. We can see how well you're producing. You're not going to be ignored."

The second is arguably even more important: "Here's what you're doing well. And here, according to those who know your work best, are areas where you could improve. Now, how can we help you?"

Those messages appeal to employees who have a lot of potential, are eager to grow, and are open to feedback from their peers. In other words, the kind of employees we don't want to lose.

360-degree feedback helps reduce the impact of monetary seduction. Why should they roam, when their most important values are being addressed right here at home?

So if you've put assessment and development programs into cold storage during the recession, it's time to take them out again. Or if you've never used them, start now, and reduce the likelihood of saying goodbye to your best employees.




Why present 360-degree feedback in languages other than English

by tbentley

It is a mere accident of birth that the majority of 360-degree feedback questionnaires are in English.

It happened because 360 spent its gestation among the English-speaking populations of the US, Great Britain, and Canada.

Plus the fact that English has been, till now, the language of both trade and the Internet.

Spanish, French, Romanian, Chinese….

But increasingly, other world languages are showing up in 360s.

Spanish, for instance, because it's the second language in the US and a major force in the world. French because it's an official language of Canada.

Norse because Norway has a significant 360-degree feedback history. Romanian, Czech, and Hungarian because of the startling growth of 360 in those languages.

Japanese because Japan's trade is focused on achieving high productivity. Chinese because China is attempting to develop a top-quality leadership group in a fraction of the time available to other cultures. And so on.

That's why many international organizations see the value of presenting 360-degree feedback in other languages.

"But our people speak English!"

It's tempting to say, "We'll just do it in English, because everyone in the company speaks English." But this misses a crucial limitation of surveys, which is that the more comfortable people are in responding, the more generous their responses and the more clear their feedback.

So yes, it's true that your colleagues know enough English that you don't have to learn their language to converse with them. But that does not mean that they will interpret the wording of your questionnaire like a native-born English speaker. The subtleties of language may trip them up.

As well, it will take them more time to respond, and they'll fatigue more quickly, which means that by the end of their second questionnaire, they may have little energy, or confidence, to provide those all-important narrative comments.

And if they have to comment in English, well, they may just decide it's not worth the effort, and skip it. Or they may fear that their imperfect use of the language will identify them.

So if you have non-native English-speakers in your group, it's worth the time and effort to offer your 360-degree feedback program in their languages, as well as English.




Saving 360-Degree Feedback From Drowning

by tbentley

When Roger fell out of his boat into the frigid waters of Blockhouse Bay yesterday, I was watching from a dock.

As his boat headed down the bay without a captain, he began to tread water, shaking with cold.

I called out to Mike and Bernie, whose boats were nearby. They zoomed to the rescue at top speed, pulling him onboard in under three minutes.

They captured his wayward boat and brought Roger back to shore, humiliated but unharmed.

The intriguing element to this story is that the day before, Mike and Bernie attended a seminar on water safety. As they set out in their boats, they joked, "Let's go find someone to rescue!"

It turned out to be more than a joke. They had prepared themselves with valuable information and plans, to save my friend Roger.

There's a parallel here to 360-degree feedback, where a fall into the frigid waters of error can have serious consequences. It's so important to prepare our rescue strategies in advance.

1. Keep participants out of danger

In the complexity of setting up a 360 project, it's easy to forget how much the participants worry about being judged. They will read every detail of their final reports with anxiety.

By offering them preparatory seminars and coaching, we can help them out of frigid water and into warm dry clothing.

2. Protecting responders' confidentiality

If someone discovers that you have made critical comments about them in a 360, you fear the impact on your relationship with that person, on your salary, your promotions, even your job security.

That's why responders need brief, effective training in how to write so the feedback doesn't reveal their identity.

Even more valuable is learning to present critical feedback so that the recipient wants to "hear" it, rather than rejecting it.

That means being kind as well as frank, specific rather than general, and assuming the best about the recipient.

3. Keeping the organization from slipping into frigid water

You've put a lot of thought and work into your 360 initiative.

Don't let it drown by failing to think through worst case scenarios in advance and planning for safety.

OK. Now let's go find someone to rescue!




Feedback, Food, Phonebooks

by tbentley

Our family dinner this week was set on a table as long as the continent.

Ten of us gathered in Toronto, and on the west coast our daughter and a friend joined us via Skype.

We balanced a computer with a camera on a pile of phone books, on a chair at the end of our table, so she could see and hear us, as if she were sitting here. At her place, she put her computer across the table from where they were sitting.

We ate and talked together for several hours. Sometimes, at their end of the 3000-mile table, they chatted with each other, ignoring us. We did the same. Exactly the way it is at family dinners when everyone is physically present.

If we'd attempted such a connection a dozen years ago, it would have cost $50,000 and required an army of technicians. This week we did it for free, with no techies, using the Internet.

It was the most lovely, and natural, high-tech experience I've ever had. This sparkling event allowed the seniors at our table to see how beautiful their granddaughter is today.

I mention 1998, a dozen years ago, because that's when the first successful 360-degree feedback system appeared on the Internet. It was Panoramic Feedback, which instantly became and remains today, a world leader in multi-source feedback.

Admittedly I'm boasting here, but I'm also thinking about you and your work.

The technology you would have used, back when we released Panoramic Feedback, was the best and most convenient form of 360-degree feedback anywhere in the world. But, from today's perspective, you would have found it pretty clunky.

If you're now a 360 user, you're experiencing a highly streamlined version of our system. And I'm working with our developers to adopt new technologies that will make it more intuitive, responsive, engaging, and natural for you.

Curious, isn't it? Improvements in Internet technology, providing solid benefits to users of 360-degree feedback, also contribute to our family's 3000-mile meal.

About the phone books? Well, we don't use them to look up numbers these days, because it's faster to use the Internet. But they're a perfect new technology for holding up the computer.




360-Degree Feedback And Its Critics

by tbentley

"If it's worth saying, say it straight to my face."

That's the slogan of some who question the place of 360-degree feedback in the workplace. They don't believe that feedback should be mediated or anonymous.

360 joined the army

360-degree feedback got its start in the US army about 60 years ago. Its leaders recognized that the forces would become more effective if personnel saw themselves through the eyes of others.

But they were also realistic. Given the authoritarian nature of an army, they knew that no one would provide frank feedback unless they were protected from recrimination.

Confidentiality became an essential part of the process.

It spread to the private sector

During recent decades, businesses, governments, and other organizations have recognized that a freer flow of information internally, including feedback, would make them more effective.

They adopted 360-degree feedback to encourage employees to use frank information about their performance as a stimulus to growth.

Why confidentiality continues

At the same time, they recognized that people join the organization to earn a living and help it accomplish its aims. Employees are not particularly interested in risking their future by confronting colleagues.

They also recognize that they have staff who claim to welcome feedback, but can't handle it.

Ironically, the "say it to my face" people are often the most difficult to give feedback to. With exceptions, they tend to be more doctrinaire, less self-aware, and less empathic. Some get angry, some sulk, others simply ignore.

Organizations know that a single explosion as a result of informal, "say it to my face"-type feedback, can trigger a costly loss of morale.

That's why most people take the "say it to my face" argument with a grain of salt.

And why organizations continue to support the kindly, sustaining commitment of confidentiality that 360-degree feedback provides.




360-Degree Feedback Reveals The Fit

by tbentley

A shoe must fit the foot. A bolt must fit the nut. And in today's climate, new hires have to fit the organization.

Although companies have begun hiring again, there's a change in what they're looking for.

Their increased focus on costs means they're not willing to wait for new employees to learn their culture and gradually fit in. They have to hit the ground running.

Fit reduces waste

Fit means more than a certain set of skills.

If the new hire fits in, with the best blend of skills and character, there's less likelihood of wasted initiatives or conflict with colleagues.

Organizations can't afford to invest months, molding upper-level managers in particular until they fit. They see issues like motivation, management style, leadership, values, and ethics as crucial.

Fit and hiring

We ran into this issue when we designed the questionnaires for our new MY360 Degree Feedback product. It is designed to help capable unemployed people and recruiters find each other through a 360-degree feedback report.

So we included "fit"-type statements like these, inviting responders to mark their agreement or disagreement:

"Displays a high level of self-awareness regarding her/his strengths and areas for improvement"

"Acts ethically and responsibly, even in situations that are ambiguous"

"Takes responsibility for her/his own reactions, rather than blaming others"

360-degree feedback based on such questions gives employers an immediate impression of whether the applicant is likely to fit their culture.

This is not an issue of judgement: right or wrong, good or bad, skilful or not. It is simply about being suitable for a particular organization.

Re-examine your 360-degree feedback questionnaire

Times are changing.

Because fit is closely linked to success within your corporate culture, now is the time to re-examine your 360-degree feedback.

Check whether it features questions about the qualities, not just the skills, most needed for your organization's success.

(P.S. If you're a Panoramic Feedback user, look into our library of sample questionnaires for many more "fit"-related questions.)




Paying People To Dance With You

by tbentley

Did you ever go to a dance with someone you liked, and after an hour saw your partner lost in someone else's arms?

A big issue this year will be retention of the organization's most valued contributors. If they leave the party with someone new, they'll take a lot of morale with them.

Job turbulence on the way

During the recession, fear trapped even the high-producers in their jobs. Now they're growing more confident, beginning to think about who they'd like to dance with next.

That's why HR professionals will be judged this year on whether they contribute to a successful retention strategy, or merely transact the inevitable resignations.

Here's the opportunity: organizations tend to think they can pay people to dance with them, and to an extent, it's true. But HR professionals know that even lots of money can never buy loyalty.

The thrill of being asked

For many people, it's a thrill to be invited to dance. They'll accept a new job mainly because the employer took the trouble to court them, made them feel important. Sure, they like the money, but there's so much more to life.

So ask yourself, what will make your most capable people feel valued? The answer is simple: opportunities to grow and develop themselves.

They'll keep dancing with an organization that gives them 360-degree feedback, helping them assess their skills realistically. They'll be charmed by an organization that makes training and coaching readily available.

Some will be attracted by special assignments that fall outside their usual area.

Getting that kind of policy in place is the strategic advantage of HR.

Policies are not enough

The problem with putting on your best clothes, shining your shoes, and fixing your makeup (i.e. getting your policies in order), is that you can't guess what will appeal to each individual dance partner.

For some, knowing they're being prepared for promotion is highly satisfying. For others, there's no worse fate than being promoted from a successful career (let's say as a star software developer) to become a mediocre manager.

The very best way to ensure they'll want to keep dancing with you, is to ask.

So exercise those special interpersonal skills that HR people have. Talk with them individually, personally. Find out what interests them. Share your hopes for them.

A good talk on the edge of the dance floor can win a person's heart.




How To Create A Valid 360 Questionnaire

by tbentley

In the previous column, I proposed abandoning the delusion of "industry norms" for 360-degree feedback. I suggested that we use the results of our own 360s to provide locally valid normative data.

This week, I suggest we ditch another great illusion: the notion of "industry validated" questionnaires.

No question, you do need your questionnaires to be valid. They must ask the right questions in the clearest form, to provide meaningful 360 results.

The validity illusion

But there's no such thing as a questionnaire that's valid throughout an industry.

Ask one worker whether her boss manages their team effectively and she'll respond in a heartbeat: "Totally. We all feel empowered."

Another worker, in another setting, will ponder and reply, "What team? We're not playing sports here."

For the second employee, the question was not valid. She might need a question that addresses the boss's fairness, or trustworthiness, or clarity, or vision, to elicit a meaningful reply.

Validate locally

The key to validity is to design questions that make sense to your particular employees, based on your organization's needs, in the current economic climate, in your specific cultural and regulatory environment.

Such questions will be valid (meaning that they will attract a meaningful response) no matter whether you're a small-town plant, a multi-national giant, or a government department.

Want some help?

Not everyone is a natural writer. If you use the Panoramic Feedback 360-degree feedback system, most of the work is already done for you.

You can download hundreds of unambiguous questions designed by professionals. Simply select those that address your organization's needs.

How will you know if they're valid?

Forget about so-called industry norms. Your most crucial task is to validate the questions locally.

First step, examine them yourself. Do they reflect the goals of your organization? Do they fit your environment?

Second, ask a sample of your people to read them, and tell you what they see. Do they find the questions clear, meaningful, and relevant to their workplace?

Third, revise as needed, and get feedback on your revisions.

That's how you develop a meaningfully validated questionnaire. That's how you invite feedback that will help your people grow and your organization prosper.


COMMENT

"This article is spot on. We fight against the validity illusion every day. Glad someone in our industry finally set the record straight."

Joe Vance

EchoSpan, Inc.




The Hidden Truth About Normative 360 Data

by tbentley

Wouldn't you love to have access to data that tells you whether your people are working at a level of skill that's appropriate for your industry or sector?

You could compare it with your 360-degree feedback results, and feel satisfaction and pride. Or initiate some urgently-needed retraining.

Granny's wisdom

Our quest for normative data presupposes that "normal" responses to numerical questions actually exist, allowing us to measure accomplishments against a clear set of expectations.

HR executives should score at least 7 out of 10 on familiarity with employment law, or administrators should score an 8 on computer literacy.

But, the problem, as my dear grandmother always warned me, is that "comparisons are odious."

And this turns out to be the hopeless quest for an odious illusion.

What's normal anyway?

Common sense tells us that the appropriate level of skills for a California fruit farm will be different from a Chicago law firm.

But even if you compare results for two neighboring farms or two nearby law firms, you'll likely find their corporate culture and expectations are poles apart. For instance, one rewards highly effective, detail-oriented micro-managers, while the other devolves power, responsibility, and rewards to all employees.

And let's face it, even the events of the day can influence what's "normal". You'll get different results if assessments are performed before or after a layoff, or a round of bonuses.

And it's no solution to average the farm with the firm. The figures will be an utterly meaningless compromise.

Think small, think local

Instead, let's drop the delusion of "industry norms", and find a source for meaningful normative data.

There it is, right on your doorstep. Simply generate an aggregate report from your local 360-degree feedback project.

It will tell you the normative levels for your particular organization, at this particular time and place.

You may wish to improve these norms over time, but this is data that's realistic, usable, and normative as of today. It will challenge your people and guide your strategy.

(Thanks, Granny.)




Chocolate Mint Or Vanilla?

by tbentley

When I think ice cream, I always think vanilla. Actually, I love chocolate mint, tartuffo, and butter-pecan. But say the words "ice cream", and I'll imagine vanilla.

When we put MY360 Degree Feedback online a few weeks ago, we had only one flavor in mind: to support talented people who lost their jobs to the recession.

We wanted to help them draw the attention of overworked recruiters to their excellent resumes.

But it turns out there are half a dozen other flavors of MY360, for people who don't have access to 360 through their organization.

Last week, an academic user sent us her perspective. She said, "I am the chair of a large academic department which is undergoing an administrative review this year. I thought it might be useful to have a reflective look at my leadership as part of this process, and MY360 was perfect for this purpose."

That got us thinking about some of the other groups who might find it useful:

  • Executives who don't get honest feedback because of their rank
  • Individuals who want to change jobs or careers, and may need to improve their skills
  • People who want to make the case for promotion or re-assignment within the organization
  • People who want to accelerate their work with a career coach
  • Anyone who recognizes that they need to see their skills more objectively
  • Everyone actively committed to self-development

The academic said she appreciated the "honest, concrete feedback" she got so quickly. "It will be extremely useful," she said, "Not only for the review, but mainly for my own self-development as a leader and person."

Our focus is still on unemployed people who want to draw the attention of recruiters to their special capabilities. But it's great to catch a taste of the other flavors of MY360 Degree Feedback.




How Do You Identify Issues Under The Radar?

by tbentley

You have a lot of wisdom to offer your organization, but if you have nothing unique to offer about the crucial issues, it's hard to get a hearing at the executive table.

Everyone knows already about problems in the economy, sales, and staffing.

But you could make a valued contribution by identifying other issues that fly under the radar of your leaders.

Some are subtle: probable regulatory changes, public opinion about your operations, morale shifts, concerns about governance. Then there are productivity issues, equipment problems, inefficient processes, labor unrest.

Any of them could add or subtract a percentage point in the bottom line, sometimes making the difference between success and failure.

Discovering these issues requires a certain amount of research but, generally, you can use channels you already possess.

Get acquainted with strife

If your organization is unionized, talk with your negotiators about labor issues likely to arise in the next contract.

Talk to strangers

Spend lunch hours with people you don't work with. You'll learn about the issues they face, and the impact they may have on the bigger picture.

Attend socials

View social events as high-value work time, not optional irritations. Talk with people at other levels, and in other divisions, and express interest in the current challenges of their work.

Mine your data

If you use 360 degree feedback, aggregate group reporting is an excellent source of data not available anywhere else. Based on a wide sampling of people, it provides reliable information about the organization's strengths and weaknesses.

It can suggest new strategies that use currently untapped skills. And it can warn against risky programs where the organization lacks bench strength.

It can also identify skills that need to be upgraded universally, vs. training that should be targeted to particular divisions or locations.

Share the wealth

When you've gathered organizational trends, summarize your findings for the executive group. Repeat frequently.

It's a great way to make a recognizable contribution to an enterprise you care about.




New Hope For Well-Qualified Unemployed

by tbentley

Do you know unemployed people whose job applications get no attention because they look like hundreds of others?

Millions of people are competing for the same handful of jobs. They're frustrated and demoralized.

At Panoramic Feedback, we saw that 360 degree feedback assessments could make well-qualified job-seekers stand out for recruiters.

But there's a catch-22. Most people have access to feedback only if they are already employed, by an organization that uses 360s!

New individual focus

We're proud to announce that's changed.

Our solution is to make 360s available to job-seekers directly, at a price they can afford.

This week we launched MY360 Degree Feedback, which allows them to initiate their own assessment whenever they need it. It takes only minutes to set up online

We think it could introduce profound change to the recruitment process.

Recruiting benefits

The primary beneficiaries of MY360 will be people seeking new or improved jobs.

They'll be able to enhance their resumes with a feedback report that says "Open me first" to employers.

At the hiring end, it will help recruiters do their job more quickly and effectively by highlighting those who, in the judgement of others, have strong skills.

Currently, they're drowning in look-alike applications, naturally cynical about self-serving claims, and desperate for authentic data.

MY360 will identify those high-value candidates who show flexibility, appreciate feedback, continue to grow, and are highly regarded by colleagues.

Skills Development

MY360 will also support the traditional use of feedback: for self-development. It will tell workers how their skills are viewed by those who know their work best, guiding and inspiring them as they set about expanding their skill sets.

MY360 will help coaches do their best work, supporting their efforts anytime their clients need external feedback.

Please take a look

If you'd like to know more, check out my-360-degree-feedback.com.

I hope you'll share the link with anyone who is struggling to find appropriate employment, and those who recruit them.

And please contact us, if you have comments or suggestions for improvement.




Personal Power Vs Positional Power In HR

by tbentley

When a rebellious child demands, "Why do I have to?" the exasperated parent replies, "Because I said so."

This is the power of position: I'm your parent; bigger, older, smarter, so do what I say.

Sometimes it's all a loving parent has to fall back on. But in the workplace, it's too often the default approach to authority.

Fortunately, HR professionals are less tempted by it, not so much because they are better people but because they have very little of it. Positional power, that is.

The HR style is to influence by personal power, so let's look at how you can you increase yours.

Honesty and Authenticity

Personally, I'm willing to accept the authority of someone who always speaks the truth, and whom I can trust to show me their authentic self. No games, no disguises.

I'll follow their lead because I know exactly where they stand.

Experience

If I'm asked to travel into the unknown, I want my companions to be people who have been in a multitude of situations.

The more life experience they possess, the more skilfully they will respond to situations new, unknown, or threatening.

Self-assurance

Self-assured people are, paradoxically, fully aware that they are fallible.

Their confidence leaves them calm. They're free to be persuasive, rather than demanding, brash, or belligerent.

Consultative

Truly confident leaders ask others for their opinions.

That means they're relying on the best, most current data available. So I'll happily follow them.

Maturity

With maturity, either you have it, or you don't. But we know what we like about mature people.

They don't run after every trend or adore every hero. They assess people based on capability and contribution, not glitz or connections.

They take time to think about their decisions, but can respond quickly in an emergency. And they are as stable as possible in these unstable times.

Those are qualities that will increase your personal power, helping you win friends, influence people for good, and do your job better.




Healing HR's Trauma

by tbentley

As the recession winds down, the casualties include a lot of dedicated HR professionals.

They've experienced the pain of letting good people go. They've watched their own colleagues disappear, and worried that they might be next.

They've encountered people they would be firing in a day or two, and longed to shout that the sky is falling.

They've endured many a hostile glare.

It hasn't gotten any better

Even at home, some find it hard to relax. Their sleep is disturbed, their appetite affected.

Though they desperately need the comfort of family, sometimes their fuses are so short that they push their loved ones away.

The recession has stolen more than job satisfaction. It has taken their peace of mind.

The cost for the organization

The HR work space has been damaged.

Productivity is often lower. Stress has increased between members of the department. Respect for leaders has diminished.

And commitment to the organization has slipped.

Help those suffering from stress

The first response should be to recognize that some are experiencing serious stress as a result of traumatic experiences.

They may need to talk with someone caring and impartial, a coach or psychotherapist, so they can release the pain they're carrying.

Confronting collective feelings

Many HR departments harbour systemic guilt and resentment. "This is not what we joined HR to do," people say. "Someone else made us do this."

It is crucial to deal with this collective distress, so the department can regain its balance and work effectively for the benefit of all.

The executive responsible for HR should bring everyone together, with no other purpose than de-briefing the past year.

It will be helpful to have a facilitator present, so the leader (who may also be carrying a lot of feelings) can participate as a member of the group, rather than trying to manage its unpredictable moods.

Good News

Healing in HR is inevitable.

When people's concerns are acknowledged and responded to, it will come all the faster.




Coaching: No Brilliance Required

by tbentley

I had a coaching meeting this morning with a manager who is distressed about problems at work.

Afterwards I tried to distil the factors that make a coaching session effective. Here's what I concluded:

Take charge

Create a secure environment which is comfortable and private. Generally that's an office with a closed door and no distractions. Turn off the phone.

Sit facing the individual, no desk between you.

Pay attention

Let go of the important things that you've been busy with.

Take a moment before the session to close your eyes, and attune yourself 100% to the person.

Look and really see

Eye-contact is not about looking at the person's eyes. Its looking into them, past the pupils, to their soul.

In other words, becoming completely open to how they feel and think.

Make honesty safe

Corporate culture often discourages people from telling it straight, so what they first talk about may not be exactly what's troubling them.

But listen intently, with an open mind, and you will hear the true issues.

Let go of expectations

A coach's starting point is to let go of expectations, to accept the person just as they are.

And to believe that they are capable of finding solutions to their dilemmas.

Don't be brilliant

If you're working hard to be really smart, you will miss the most important things the person is saying.

You don't have to have the answers.

It's helpful to reflect back to them what you're hearing. And to wonder out loud how best to handle their situation.

But in the long run, your job is to encourage their wisdom, not yours.

Thank your lucky stars

Coaching may be your main job or an occasional opportunity.

Either way, to be trusted to share another person's pain, challenges, and strengths remains one of life's great privileges.




Cheat Early, Cheat Often: Creating A Great Questionnaire

by tbentley

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Over the last couple of months, our 360-degree feedback development team has been hard at work creating a questionnaire for a new product we're launching.

Along the way, we made the questionnaire too long, then too short. We added questions, and subtracted many. We requested narrative comments, then re-wrote requests that were redundant or confusing.

It took some time.

But it's been a great process, and reminded me of the 5 key principles of questionnaire development.

1. Don't rush the fermentation

You don't need many hours per day to crush grapes or develop a questionnaire.

But it's important to schedule the process over a longer period of time, so you can get feedback, re-write, re-test, and re-write again, to create the best questionnaire ever.

2. Keep your eye on the core

The best way to develop an effective 360 is to focus on the core competencies of your organization.

Which competencies have built your reputation? To outperform, which do you need to encourage? What capabilities make your organization unique?

Once you've listed half a dozen competencies, make them the headings for the questionnaire, and write 4 or 5 questions about each one.

3. Cheat early, cheat often

There's no reason to start from scratch, when there are lots of good cheat sheets already out there.

For instance, we provide over 1000 well-tested questions to users of our 360 system.

They import, edit, adopt, adapt, mutate, transmogrify, and ignore them, and sometimes simply use them for inspiration. It's all good.

4. Invite a crowd

You need only a couple of people to design a great questionnaire.

But proper testing takes a crowd.

Your engineers read things differently from managers, and line workers differently from professionals.

So clarify those phrases that confuse or bewilder your testers. Your questionnaire will soon make sense to everyone.

5. Bless the challenges

If you chose your testers well, you'll get lots of feedback.

Some replies will surprise, some dismay. ("We tried so hard to make this perfectly clear, and now they say they don't get it!")

It's the challenge every good writer faces.

Grapple with those comments, and gradually you'll become better attuned to how others see your words.

Next time around, you'll write better, and easier.




Top 10 Tips for Effective 360s

by tbentley

Helping individuals grow through 360-degree feedback is critically important in times like this, when we have to accomplish more with fewer people.

Here are 10 ways to make sure you get the most value from your 360s.

  1. Ask your leaders to talk-up the advantages of 360 to the health of the organization. For instance, remind responders that they benefit when recipients grow in skills; everyone's work becomes more satisfying and secure.
  2. Check every part of the process for relevance. For instance, do your announcement emails tie 360 to the organization's goals? Does the questionnaire reflect its values, current focus, people needs?
  3. Run a local pre-test with one recipient and a handful of responders. Scrutinize announcement emails, questionnaires, reports, to be sure everything appears as you intend.
  4. Clarify confidentiality policies ahead of time. Tell recipients of feedback whether their reports will be seen by others. Re-assure responders that no one will know who said what.
  5. Plan for coaching. Whether your coaches are managers, HR personnel, or career coaches, train them to interpret 360-degree feedback results so the recipient will get the greatest possible value.
  6. Help recipients choose the right responders, ranging from those who know them well to those with purely business relationships. If they try to stack the deck with "friends", their 360 will be less helpful and accurate.
  7. Guide responders to give feedback that can be "heard" by the recipient. For instance, any negative comments should critique the behavior, not the person.
  8. Provide reports to recipients as quickly as possible after closing date, so they maintain momentum and excitement.
  9. Use aggregated group reports to provide your leaders with metrics about the health of their human capital.
  10. Conduct an evaluation using group reports. Check which departments or locations had fewer responses, so you can ensure their success next time by giving them extra attention.



Her Big Brown Eyes

by tbentley

I spent last weekend with Freida, the newest member of our family. She's four months old and gorgeous.

The memory that stands out is a plump, smiling, dark-haired baby who was looking at me. Really staring, for minutes at a time.

On our previous visit her eyes moved at random, rarely settling on me or anything else.

Now she's able to really attend. My heart melted, to be the focus of attention for someone so fresh and new.

Truly looking

Thinking about our visit later, I realized how rare it has become for us adults to truly look at each other.

Sure, we may co-exist in a certain space, whether the office or the kitchen.

We may talk, do tasks, share plans, design programs, but there's a distinct lack of attention to the human being behind those tasks and plans and programs.

We see each other only well enough to avoid stepping on each other's feet.

That look

Meanwhile, we're all hungry to see that light in the eyes that says, "I get you. I really see you."

Maybe that's why there's so much talk these days about face-time.

Maybe it's what drives us to think, "Don't treat me as a function who accomplishes certain vital tasks. See me as a human being, with aspirations and needs, with a headache or a joy, with anticipation or dread."

Feedback says I'm seen

Which may also explain why the idea of feedback has become so important in recent decades.

Feedback can be an informal remark over the kitchen table. ("You look great, but straighten your tie before you go out.") Or it may be a full-fledged, corporate feedback process.

Either way, it provides relevant information: where I'm doing well and where I could improve.

Crucially, it also tells me that someone sees me, really attends to how I'm doing.

We're all wired to want that kind of recognition.

Which takes me back to Freida

In her pure, infant way, she really saw me.

Now I'm looking forward to staring back into those big brown eyes, and saying "I see you too, Freida."




Decision-Makers: Battered Surfers

by tbentley

Decision-makers who have survived the recession are like surfers thrown off their boards once too often. At least, that's the view of a colleague whose insights I value.

Esther Ewing of The Change Alliance told me recently she sees the recession as eroding the confidence of decision-makers. And their caution is imposing unintended downstream risks on their organizations.

"They're like surfers who got bashed too many times. Before, they'd just climb back on the board, and 7 times out of 10 they were fine. But now they're thinking about the 3 times they weren't. It's magnified in their minds, so they're more fearful."

Which makes organizations less agile

"Let's say a company is going to buy 360-degree feedback, or coaching, or change consulting, they're putting a lot more cycle-time into the decision. Even people who have the authority to make the decision, are consulting their bosses.

"They may make the same decision as they would 12 months ago, but it's taking longer. And there's a risk it isn't going to happen at all, because it's just too cumbersome.

"But the biggest danger is that they may stop growing their people. If they see people expenditures as cash-out-the-door, rather than recognizing the value they will get from it, they're likely to lose out.

"Growing your people is absolutely necessary. You may decide to try to do it internally, instead of spending the dollars externally. But if you ignore it, your people will say, 'We're not valued. They're not going to grow us.' And ultimately they will go somewhere else."

They won't leave at once

Esther believes that won't happen immediately because people are too fearful to move right away.

So this is the time, she says, to re-assure them. "Because the people they're most likely to lose, are their best people."

Like surfing, it's all about balance. And choosing the right wave.




Water Ski Disaster: Benefits Of Another Pair Of Eyes

by tbentley

I was 12, visiting a cottage and looking for adventure, when I first met Pete the water-skier.

While my family was chugging along in a beat-up old tub, Pete was racing around the lake behind a big, fast boat.

I was thrilled when he invited me to ski with him. He even taught me to drive while he skied. We had many good times that sunny summer.

It all ended one day when I failed to check behind me during a turn. While I watched for obstacles ahead, Pete was sinking into the water.

I can still feel the unexpected jolt as the tow rope suddenly tightened. The handle broke, flying out of his bleeding hands.

I turned the boat to pick up Pete. He called me an idiot, dropped me off at the dock, and we never again skied together.

Nowadays, the law says you cannot tow a skier without a spotter. No driver can be expected to keep an eye on the water ahead and the skier behind, at the same time.

For safety, you need another pair of eyes.

That's equally true in our careers. Many of us rely on our "spotters" to give us essential feedback.

Whether we're talking about good, honest friends in the workplace, or a formal 360-degree feedback program, spotting has become even more critical during this recession.

Most people are totally focused today on what's coming at them. They're doing everything they can to manage their jobs and sustain their employers.

They rarely have the luxury of looking around to make sure everything is ok. Like the kid driving the boat, they can't see what they can't see.

Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to notice when they're courting disaster.

Their spotters can warn them about destruction they're leaving in their wake, and that gives them a chance to do something about it.

Equally, they need someone to notice where they are brilliant. People are working so hard, so worn out, that they're often oblivious to the good they're doing.

Spotters can offer re-assurance, a little appreciation that staves off burnout.

In these times of stress, we owe it to our people to encourage every opportunity for frank, caring feedback.

Just imagine, if I'd had a spotter that day, Pete and I might still be water skiing together this summer!




How's Your "Fitability"?

by tbentley

It's pretty obvious that people need excellent job skills to be hired in today's labor market.

But Ray Moscoe, owner-partner of technical recruiting firm TES: The Employment Solution, tells me that another factor differentiates successful candidates today.

It's "fitability".

Ray and I are boating friends. I asked his advice about a new 360-degree feedback product we're considering offering to our clients. Inspired by the idea, Ray told me how "fit" has become a big hiring factor.

"Our clients today don't hire the way they used to," he said. "They are more inclined to look at the complete person, to really pursue the references, for instance. They want to know about the person's character."

He told me that his company used to deal directly with heads of IT or chief engineers. But today most of their placements are made through HR professionals. And they're not just seeking skills.

"When an individual comes looking for employment, there's 50 percent of that individual that's technical ability. They have to be able to do the job.

"But today we're looking for the 'fitability' factor too. How well is that individual going to fit into our organization? What's their personality? Can we see that they're keen, sharp, positive attitude, willing to learn, eager?

"That's the other 50 percent of the individual.

"And," Ray concluded, "it's the feature that's brought out with your product."

Of course, I found that encouraging. Assuming we go ahead with the product, I'll make sure you learn about it here.

But in the meantime, we all know people who are urgently looking for new or better jobs, in a shrinking market.

Let's encourage them to pay attention to their personal qualities. Not just their skills, but their "fitability".




How To Coach In An Age Of Fear

by tbentley

As jobs and hope evaporate, frightened people are turning to coaches, some of us professional, some gifted amateurs.

Here are a few reminders about how to be most effective as a coach.

Put Aside Your Own Preoccupations

You may believe that things will get worse, or better. Your relatives may have suffered, or prospered. You may be personally fearful, or optimistic.

But in the coaching moment, none of that is relevant.

Leave it all aside. Nothing breaks empathy like, "Well, in my case..." Or "That reminds me..."

Focus On The Person

Rivet your attention on the person before you.

Listen attentively to their words, but note too what's happening physically: their face, their hands, their posture.

You'll begin to see the subtle ways in which they are different from any other person you've coached.

You'll gain helpful hints about what's happening inside them, including fears they may not express in words.

Maintain The Dialectic Of Rationality And Empathy

To be an effective coach, your mind and heart need to work together.

Never doubt that your questions, suggestions, and guidance are valuable. Your task is to think beyond the moment, to imagine how the person can effectively secure their future.

But your ideas will mean nothing if the person does not sense that you "get" them: empathically, warmly.

To be empathic is not to lose yourself in another's pain but to acknowledge it and show that you understand.

Draw Out Their Wisdom

Share your ideas, but don't rely on them.

You'll do more good helping people to express and refine their own solutions than by attempting to convert them to yours.

And that takes a distracting load from your shoulders, not having to be the font of all wisdom.

Attending to the other person's ideas offers an unintended benefit.

By working out their own solutions, taking ownership of their issues, they feel their power grow, and kindle their own hope.

Hope counterbalances some of their fear, freeing up their energy for success.

Which makes you a great coach!




"360? I'm Way Too Cynical."

by tbentley

"Sorry," said the woman, as she refused to answer a 360-degree feedback questionnaire, "I have become way too cynical for this project." She was not alone.

Why These Unwilling Responders?

Blame history.

Some have lost faith that the organization is serious about making changes, or developing its employees' skills. They look back at promises broken, and ask quite sensibly, "Why should I believe them now?"

Others have lost faith that confidentiality will be honored. They have learned through hard experience that those who speak their truth risk punishment.

Occasionally the problem is anger at the person being assessed. "Donna needs to be fired," exclaimed an unwilling responder. "Her failure to program for her department proves the inadequate job she and her staff are doing."

If you've hit against this kind of resistance, it's clear that you and your leaders have a big job ahead of you.

Past Failures

Frankly, few organizations have managed employees perfectly.

Frequently, they disciplined people who spoke out about problems.

Paradoxically, they tolerated harsh, vindictive managers. Not to mention employees who failed to produce.

So unless your organization has acknowledged its failures and committed itself to reformation, it can be hard to promote the benign transparency of the 360 process.

Communication Is Crucial

But once your organization has renewed its practices, you have the key to success in your hand: communication.

Make sure everyone knows about the renewed standards and good faith of the organization.

Communicate the organization's commitment to continuous learning, to open communication, to confidentiality, and to safety for all.

Such commitments are universally accepted as the basic standard for sustainable organizations. Back them up with policy, and they'll resonate with those formerly cynical responders you want to hear from.

After all, we get the best value from 360-degree feedback when everyone feels it's worthwhile to contribute.




The Kid Who Couldn't Climb

by tbentley

At the age of nine, Jimmy was a faster bike rider than most of the kids in the neighborhood, a competent softball player, and a decent student.

One summer day, he and I set out with a couple of other kids to have an adventure. At the curve of the river, where centuries of erosion had cut away the clay, was the cliff we called Blue Banks.

Usually, we swam in the river, but this particular day we started teasing each other. "You're scared to climb the cliff." "No, you're a big chicken yourself!"

At first, it was easy to scramble up the slope, but as we moved higher, the cliff face became almost vertical. Fifty feet up, looking at the sparkling blue river below, my stomach was suddenly queasy.

Beside me, Jimmy's handhold broke away, the clay clattering down Blue Banks. With tears in his eyes, he moaned, "I can't go up and I can't get down. I'm scared."

We argued with him, "You can do it!" But he was paralyzed with fear.

So the rest of us scrambled to the top, ran to find an adult, and lowered a ladder. Jimmy grabbed a rung, and quickly climbed to safety.

Getting Unstuck Restores Confidence

The day after our climb, Jimmy was still the fastest bike rider in the neighborhood, a competent softball player, and a decent student. There was nothing inadequate about him. He simply got stuck on a particular cliff.

The challenge, for those of us who work with people, is to help them extricate themselves from situations that make them appear, and even feel, incompetent.

How Feedback Helps

Training and development are among the best ways of lowering a ladder. The recipients still have to do the work, but now there's a tool to support them.

360-degree feedback is especially valuable because it clearly identifies the things at which they excel. It reminds them to stay committed to the skills that have made them successful, and identifies areas where they need further development.

So when everyone is urging you to cut back on your support for people, keep the faith. There are a million Jimmies stuck on cliff sides out there, some of whom who could be propelling your organization to greater success.

All they need is a little help getting unstuck.




How To Appear Smart: Work With A Great Team

by tbentley

I've proven once again that the best way to look clever is to surround yourself with bright people.

After 10 years on the Internet, we just released a next-generation version of our Panoramic Feedback 360-degree feedback system.

It's named "SASS", an acronym for Smart Administration System for Surveys. It is truly a smart, logical, sassy user interface

But it wouldn't be smart software without the work of a team of brainy, dedicated people. I'd like to introduce you to some of them:

Elena Albegova is our client support manager, who keeps us up-to-date on what our clients need. With her assistant Janna Andre, she continues to provide our tech team with abundant, practice-based guidance for SASS.

Aaron Bentley first programmed Panoramic Feedback a decade ago as a family member, and grew into an internationally-recognized open source developer. He created the initial design for SASS and performed much of its programming. He also performs his own music at open stages around the city.

Mike Fletcher joined us when we needed extra muscle to move SASS forward. He showed a special ability to conceptualize our initiatives for our research and development grant applications. Mike is well known as a presenter at Pycon, the annual Python developers' conference in Chicago.

Mike Lin has made our user interface powerful, intuitive, and graceful. He's a wizard at managing JavaScript and the Ext library. He may be the youngest member of our technical team, but once people see what he accomplished with SASS, I believe his career future is assured.

Maru Newby led as senior developer on this project for more than two years, enhancing the blood flow to his brain by traveling to work on rollerblades. He's a world-class expert in the Python programming language we use. From the onset, he also made a point of understanding the users of 360-degree feedback.

As these people have proven, software (or machinery, or business plans) can never outweigh the contribution of the human beings who make it all happen.

But you knew that. It's probably what attracted you to the profession of helping people develop, in the first place.




Inauguration Of Hope and New Beginnings

by tbentley

This is a week of hope for new beginnings.

As Barack Obama begins his presidency, we're all hoping it will restore the US to a position of respect, strength, and responsibility.

With our world (not to mention our personal investments) consumed by a devastating financial crisis, faced with climate change, terrorism, and awful tensions in the Middle East, we need an alternative to despair.

But to embody hope is too heavy a weight for any one person, even someone as impressive as the new president.

Because of our special roles in HR, OD, training, and consulting, we can share the task.

I'm not suggesting we pretend that everything's fine. At his inauguration, president Obama emphasized the need for hard work and pragmatism.

But we can highlight the positives, in this generally unhappy time.

Upgrading Skill Sets

Perhaps the greatest positive is also painful: this crisis will require many people to upgrade their abilities, or learn radically new skills.

It will be hard on folks who were relying on a comfortable future in, for example, manufacturing.

But ultimately it's a gift, a crisis that shakes us out of our illusions of security.

Those who invest their energy in self-development will find themselves much more secure in this changed world.

Change In Organizations

The pain of this period is not felt by laid-off employees or small stock-holders alone.

Look at the demands being placed on auto manufacturers, once so reluctant to build greener cars. Or the banks and financial regulators, forced to upgrade their standards.

Look at the CEOs who won't receive obscenely large bonuses this year.

Not only are they being forced to change, but because of those changes, we will all live in a better world.

Helping People Feel Hope

The most effective way to convey hope, for those of us who work with people, is to listen and empathize.

Those who face the multiple challenges of self-development need to know that we understand and care, that we have faith in them. That will go a long way to encourage their hope in these new beginnings.




If Obama Is "President 2.0", What About Employees?

by tbentley

Headlines have described Barack Obama as "President 2.0". The term reflects his collaborative style of relating to people in the US and the world. It evokes his use of new social media collectively known as Web 2.0.

These Internet capabilities are revolutionary because they give everyone a voice, and encourage feedback loops.

A paradigm shift is underway that makes obsolete our old views of what makes an organization successful.

Because of the current economic crunch, it's all the more urgent to identify those special employees who are capable of leading their organizations into an uncharted future. Below, I'll suggest questions you can use in 360-degree feedback to discover who they are.

We used to rely on supervisors to point them out, but discovered that this reinforces old paradigms of leadership.

That's why many organizations are turning to 360-degree feedback. To expand their circle of assessment to include a wide range of perspectives, is in itself a "2.0" act.

But here's the challenge: the 360 questionnaires we used in the past may overlook competencies that could guide us through the economic recovery and into the years of prosperity to come.

So here are some questions you might want to add, to identify those remarkable employees who are, or are becoming, "2.0".

Web Awareness

  • Understands the emerging media of Web 2.0
  • Uses social media to listen and communicate up, down, and around
  • Encourages others in the organization to use new media

Openness To New Information

  • Scans social, political, and technological developments for opportunities and threats to the organization
  • Communicates with people outside the organization in order to stay current with developments
  • Understands the changing interests and expectations of employees, customers, and suppliers

Flexibility

  • Questions traditional organizational assumptions
  • Shows flexibility in thinking, experimenting with ideas outside the box
  • Asks for feedback and uses it to plan personal and professional changes

Under the old paradigm, we often overlooked staff who rated highly on these traits. We based succession planning more on who they knew than what they knew.

But today, 360-degree feedback assessments can identify those remarkable (and previously unrecognized) staff who possess the instincts, openness, and drive to lead your organization into the future.

Find them. Nurture them. Reward them. Promote them.




Judging A Swan By Its Color

by tbentley

Last Spring, two cute baby swans hatched on the shore of our bay. Soon they were swimming, somewhat tentatively, behind their glistening white parents.

But as the cygnets grew into adolescence, nearly the size of the adults, something was wrong. One of them was light brown.

How to explain this? No other swan on the bay is anything but white.

While I can't figure out how Brownie got his coloring, his presence in the society of swans intrigues me.

Appearance Doesn't Matter

Brownie possesses the same skill set as his paler cousins.

He dips his long graceful neck into the water to find plants and insects for dinner, just like they do.

He swims efficiently, seems to be fond of his sister, will probably mate for life, and should survive for 40 years. In all respects but one, he's a very ordinary swan.

Appearance Is Everything

I'm very fond of Brownie. I always look for him. He's my ugly duckling in reverse.

I find him "interesting", and maybe that's patronizing. But it's human nature to judge a book by its cover. We all agree that appearances are deceiving, but we rely on them instinctively.

We'd like to think ourselves indifferent to differences. Color, gender, orientation, culture, or ability shouldn't matter, we say.

But within seconds of meeting someone new, human or swan, we've pretty well decided how we will regard them.

Self-Awareness Is Essential

It's critical to notice that we're making these mental assessments. Otherwise, we're powerless to control them.

Without intending to, we will continue to reserve our highest respect and offer the best opportunities to people who look roughly the same as us.

(Unless, of course, they are tall, exceptionally good-looking, culturally similar, or superbly dressed. They'll probably get the benefit of the doubt.)

By the way, I've noticed that the local swans are not nearly as perceptive as I am. To date, they seem to have failed to notice that my good friend Brownie is the wrong color.




Obama Meets The "Cloud"

by tbentley

My wife was delighted to see that her Facebook postings were being followed last month by US candidate Barack Obama.

A remarkable contributor to his election as president was the use of internet media to make contact with millions of potential workers, donors, and voters.

Early on, social media helped propel this virtual unknown into a solid lead over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination contest. A MySpace page, posted by people who weren't even officially connected to his campaign, gained 160,000 signatures in no time.

There's a message or two here, for those of us who work in people-related jobs.

Cyberspace Is Friendly

We used to fear that the cyber revolution would reduce human contact.

In the election, it helped millions of American voters to connect with the political process and build on their dreams.

In the family, webcams allow relatives separated by thousands of miles to see each other.

At the office, instant messaging lets my technical team communicate instantly with each other, even when we're in different locations.

Everywhere, email is so much more convenient than snail mail that we all connect more frequently.

Human Services Professionals Are Savvy

A new group of internet users is arising.

We used to think that people who work in human services are computer-shy, internet-averse, and Luddite-friendly.

Today many have a high level of web awareness, and they are changing the world of work.

"Cloud" Computing Comes Down To Earth

The "cloud" is a new metaphor for a host of services brought to us by the internet.

We can use social media, office applications, backups, you name it, without having to buy, install, maintain, or upgrade software.

The "cloud" is highly democratic. We don't have to understand the underlying technology to use its capabilities.

And it encourages us to experiment with opportunities never considered before.

For example, say you want to try out 360-degree feedback in your organization without the obligation of purchasing a program. You could ask my company to do a beta test in the "cloud". No technological sophistication required.

Or, say you want to know what Barack Obama is thinking about. You'd go to Facebook to check him out.

Or, say he wanted to know what you were thinking....




Don't Adopt, Adapt: Creating A Great 360 Questionnaire

by tbentley

Voice on the phone: "We've decided to use 360-degree feedback as part of our strategic plan!"

A sudden shift to anxiety: "But we're not sure what to ask. Can you provide us with questions?"

"We're happy to give you hundreds," replied our sales associate.

"We've got questions for leaders, board members, managers, in finance, manufacturing, government, healthcare, IT, sales, and a bunch of others.

"But there's a catch...."

The catch is that you'll get the full benefit of 360 only if you ask the right questions.

So don't just adopt our lists of questions. Adapt them.

Here's how to develop an excellent questionnaire.

1. Be Clear Why You're Using 360

There are plenty of excellent reasons to use 360.

Which will drive your project?

  • Gain a competitive advantage
  • Prepare staff for the next big push
  • Change the organization's culture
  • Create a thirst for growth among those distracted by day-to-day demands
  • Reward motivation and disrupt complacency
  • Guide those who are unsure where to focus growth efforts
  • Reduce training costs through focused delivery

2. Decide What To Ask About

You can't assess every skill, so ask about those that reflect strategic needs.

  • Where does our organization have a critical need for renewal: skills, attitudes, values?
  • Which ones need development right away?
  • Which will be required for success in the next two to five years?

3. Build Your Questionnaire

Start with 40 questions where people can respond on a scale of, say, one to ten.

Re-write them to reflect your organization's identity and culture.

Add requests for unstructured comments. (Many people learn better from comments than numerical answers.)

4. Don't Go It Alone

Get more eyes on the project. Ask colleagues to:

  • Help you cut back to 30-35 questions
  • Sharpen the focus of questions where they have special knowledge
  • Spot problems that you might not notice (groan!) till the day after the questionnaire appears online

Nice catch!

Now you know how to develop a superior instrument for 360-degree feedback.




"Shhh! Collude On Assessments, And Pay Will Rise."

by tbentley

Had a call last week from a colleague who uses 360-degree feedback annually to help several hundred employees develop their skills.

"Until now, we've also factored the 360 results into decisions about merit pay," she said.

"But management wants to re-think that. Give me some guidance I can take to them."

Why Use 360 To Calculate Merit

Managers hate deciding merit pay.

They fear giving increases that might smack of favoritism. Or withholding money that's desperately needed.

There's too much responsibility and too little accuracy.

So they like 360-degree feedback. It's a source of information about performance that is external, reliable, and reduces their angst.

The Case Against Using 360

The problem is that 360 is so effective because of a delicate matrix of trust.

Persons being assessed trust their responders to be more-or-less unbiased. Why would anyone be motivated to slant feedback for or against them?

As soon as money comes into the picture, everything changes. The critical issue is no longer skills development but paying the mortgage.

This tempts peers to exaggerate the positive.

Whether said out loud, or by implication, it amounts to: "I'll give you a positive assessment, and you give me the same. We'll both benefit financially."

Similarly with disaffected responders. "I'll do everything to make sure s/he doesn't get a merit increase," they may think.

Once participants begin to mistrust some of their assessments, they effectively stop taking any of them seriously. The power of 360-degree feedback to help them improve their performance is weakened.

As trust crumbles individually, questions arise about the organization.

What about those responsible for the compensation process? Is their commitment to 360 strategic, or just a easy way out of the compensation muddle?

And what happened to the responsibility of senior management to prepare for economic storms by increasing the skills and productivity of employees?

For the majority of organizations, the positive impacts of 360-degree feedback are way too valuable to be compromised by the inflammatory issue of compensation.




Ancient Mariners Help Us Survive Economic Storms

by tbentley

I'm a novice but enthusiastic sailor.

So it caught my attention, in this current economic storm, that commentators are urging us to "clear the decks", "batten the hatches", and "reef the sails".

Seafarers have always employed those tactics to ride out deadly hurricanes, but what do they mean for those of us working in HR, OD, and training during today's crisis?

Clear The Decks

When the ship was rolling in heavy seas, the last thing the ancient mariner wanted was heavy objects sliding around the deck and breaking things. Sailors stowed away everything they didn't require immediately.

Equally, those of us who labor on land need to reduce the clutter and re-focus resources onto projects that will help us weather the storm, and when the skies clear up, move ahead quickly.

While many tools fit this criterion, the one I'm most familiar with is 360-degree feedback. Here's a test you can apply to 360 and your other projects.

In good weather, do they help the organization maintain its competitiveness?

In rough weather, do they offer a double benefit?

Do they help people ride out the storm, staying above water while your competitors struggle to stay afloat? And do they prepare your workers to seize the advantage once the storm has passed?

Batten The Hatches

During heavy weather, sailors used strips of wood called battens to secure the covers on hatches (openings), and keep the water out.

It's crucial that we keep our most precious cargo from getting swamped. People are easily discouraged in rough times.

We could lose some of our best workers to other opportunities. And the productivity of those who remain could shrink, as their enthusiasm dampens.

When people are worried, initiatives like 360 reassure them that they're still cared about, and their career paths remain important.

Reef Your Sails

You don't want to spend a ton of new money at a time like this.

During a blow, sailors reduce their sail area so the ship won't be overwhelmed by the wind.

You can reduce costs with the more economical methodologies such as 360-degree feedback, instead of risky high-priced initiatives.

I've also noticed that lots of organizations have asked us to manage their 360 projects recently, to avoid increasing and/or re-training their own staff.

So however you choose to handle the current crisis, I wish you good sailing.

As for me, I'm trusting the ancient mariners to guide us all to safety.




Johnny Cash Still Sings About Commitment — And Churn

by tbentley

I first encountered the deep, dark voice of Johnny Cash as a kid of thirteen, listening to AM radio while I did my homework.

Today I'm still listening. I may be pushing the Repeat button on a Bose music system, but I'm no less moved by the stories he told, the struggles he sang about, and the boom, chica, boom rhythm of his band.

Johnny Cash was among the first country music stars to attract a mainstream, international audience. The recent film Walk The Line told the story: his musical success, failures with drugs, empathy for the underdog, and marriage to singer June Carter.

Walking The Line

I'm convinced that one of the reasons Johnny Cash still connects with so many people is that his songs struggle with truth, fidelity, and infidelity.

"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine....Because you're mine, I walk the line."

They tap into a basic human yearning, to commit ourselves. To find our own line, and walk it straight.

It's a longing that transcends love affairs. It attaches us to communities, causes, even employers.

Playing The Field

But the same desire can also lead people into fear: that when they commit, the other will prove untrue.

"You're gonna break another heart, you're gonna tell another lie."

Many organizations dilute their workers' commitment by playing the field. We take our loyal long-term people for granted, while we chase after the "brightest and best".

We sanitize infidelity, saying it's all part of the "churn".

But it's highly unsanitary.

Churn replaces known people with unknown. It costs us many thousands per employee. It dilutes our knowledge capital. It slows us down while we train new hires.

And it keeps our good people on edge.

Most of our workers want to keep faith with us. Reducing churn requires something of us as employers: showing respect, creating a reasonably comfortable workplace, offering meaningful challenges, making a commitment.

Johnny Cash wasn't necessarily thinking about the workplace as he sang about broken hearts, but his struggle to walk the line resonates still.




Do You Have The Skills That Make An Excellent Coach?

by tbentley

Good coaching, whether provided by managers, HR professionals, or dedicated coaches, is crucial for a successful 360-degree feedback program.

To assess whether you or your colleagues have the skills to be effective, check out these seven core competencies of the world's best coaches.

Coaching Orientation

Effective coaches understand how the human mind functions, and the conflicts, whether external or unconscious, that can impede a persons growth.

They avoid simplistic, off-the-shelf solutions to complex problems.

And they keep encouraging their clients to experiment with new solutions.

Organizational Understanding

Because they operate from a systems perspective, these coaches understand the complex dimensions and needs of organizations.

So they can help individuals balance their need for change against the needs (official and unofficial) of corporate culture.

Coaching Skills

Good coaches start out with empathy and a caring attitude.

They are "active listeners", meaning that they ask insightful questions, make good contact, and constantly check that they have understood.

They have the courage to confront their clients as needed, along with the necessary gentleness to support their self-esteem

Teaching Ability

Effective coaches know how to break complex tasks down into manageable pieces, then encourage an action-and-reflection rhythm.

Equally important, they have a deep belief in the capacity of their clients to learn new skills.

Like all teachers, they have the patience to surmount obstacles that arise along the way.

Values In Action

They believe deeply in the inherent wisdom of those they coach, i.e. they have faith that they already possess the beginnings of the answers they seek.

Their work is a delicate balancing act: protecting the interests of the organization, while maintaining confidentiality with the person.

Interpersonal Skills

Good coaches show an unconditional positive regard for those they coach.

And they personally model the behavior, communication skills, and self-care they recommend.

Personal Qualities

Look around at the good coaches you know, and you'll recognize that they are generous and genuinely good human beings.

But none of this comes easy. They developed their personal maturity through life experience.

And they supplemented it by receiving their own personal coaching. It's a full circle.

So what do you think? Do you and your colleagues have the qualities that will help your people move forward?




Chinese Olympics Glitter, Commerce Is Next

by tbentley

I guess everyone watching the 2008 Olympics has their favorite moment.

Like Michael Phelps winning 8 golds for swimming in only 9 days.

Or Ian Millar - at age 61- winning silver in equestrian team jumping.

And China's Guo Jingjing becoming the most successful Olympic diver ever, taking gold this week in the 3-meter springboard.

Suddenly, everyone is interested in China. We've been looking closely, critically, at issues of human rights, freedom of expression, pollution and the environment.

Olympic Success

We've wondered whether, as host country, it would surpass the 32 gold medals it won in Athens in 2004. Already, it has passed that milestone.

Overall, the Olympics have enhanced China's reputation. It trained 1300 athletes to compete effectively in 55 sports.

It built innovative Olympic structures, including the "bird's nest" National Stadium and the Water Cube, not to mention a new north-south subway line in Beijing.

Demolished forever is the myth that China's strengths are limited to cheap and abundant labor.

International Commerce Competition

But an even bigger challenge has come from its recent success in international commerce.

The expansion of its privatized, competitive environment has increased the need for managers with enterprise-level skills and in-depth experience.

These are the people organizations rely on to ensure consistent performance and credibility on the international stage.

Chinese executives have an excellent running start. They understand that success in business requires close attention to relationships. A recent study reported they have superior qualities of self-awareness, self-management, and relationship management.

But as in the West, many owe their jobs to good political connections, family status, or experience in technical roles. That has already proven a risky situation. Unskilled leadership can severely damage performance, quality, and credibility.

I'm happy to report the use of 360-degree feedback in China is growing. According to a recent survey, 89% of the organizations that currently use it have made participation mandatory. Multi-source feedback is a natural fit for a country developing world-class managerial teams.

China's next commercial mission will be to increase the production of high-quality value-added goods, at better margins and in sustainable workplaces.

Again, all eyes will be on China. Success in this competition will require an Olympic level of commitment to the development of its management teams.




The Importance Of Looking Backwards

by tbentley

I went sail-boarding on the weekend for the first time in years. It was a blast!

Sail-boarding (or wind-surfing) means balancing on a narrow board while rocking on the waves, and using a hand-held sail to propel yourself - preferably without being blown overboard.

I love this sport. It's clean, mobile, silent (except for the bubbling wake at the stern), and puts me in touch with the wind and the water.

Always Look Back

But this time there was a problem. I was visiting a lake I'd never seen before. And I was very excited, putting all my effort into not falling off.

I forgot to look back.

I didn't check how the dock I'd just left, looked. I didn't identify its location on the bay. That's important because everything seems different from the water.

After an hour, the wind began to die, I needed to use the remaining puffs of breeze to navigate back. But every cottage looked the same.

I was utterly lost, touring from dock to dock to dock.

After I visited many cottages that turned out not to belong to my friends, someone pointed me in the right direction. I arrived at the right cottage just before the wind died for good.

The point is, I never know where I'm going unless I know where I've been.

360 That Looks Backward

Next time you plan a 360-degree feedback project, consider providing your employees with a comparison of their results against the results from last year.

If you're running training courses, provide participants with before-and-after 360s.

Comparative reporting takes only a little extra effort. But there's a huge benefit.

It provides the recipients with a graphic view of the dock they left behind. It helps them see where they have improved their performance since then, and areas where they may have slipped.

It updates them, in other words, on where they need to focus, in order to achieve their goals.

Think of it as sail-boarding for the corporate environment.




Who Stole The Bride's Jewelry?

by tbentley

The wedding celebration was beautiful. An impressive dining tent stood in spacious grounds around the family home. A 7-piece orchestra played our favorite music. Off-duty police officers politely helped guests park their cars.

A charming bride and groom, excellent food, bright sunshine, and 100 happy guests.

Well, 99.

Before supper, someone spotted an invited guest sneaking into the master bedroom and closing the door. Moments later, a child spotted a necklace dangling from his pocket.

Arrested Development

High drama ensued. The police arrived within seconds, of course, the highlight for them of a pretty slow day. They made the arrest, recovered money and jewelry, and we got on with the party.

For the rest of the evening, 99 of us had a wonderful time.

But I'm still thinking about the hapless character who attempted this farce of a robbery.

I've Got Some theories

Compared with the hosts, I imagine he was poor, maybe desperate. Relative to their happiness, he likely felt deprived. Among the cliques on the lawn, he was probably an outsider.

Applying a rather limited criminal mind to that dilemma, he headed for the bedroom.

Desperate People In The Workplace

You can never be sure when employees who are chronically desperate or disaffected, like our thief, will decide to even the score, create a little mischief, help themselves to the crown jewels.

Whether or not they're successful, there's no policy, no regulation, no insurance, that can mitigate the losses, in time and money.

But as corporate citizens, we are not altogether helpless.

We can keep the lines of communication open for everyone, including those who are less attractive or accomplished.

We can help those who feel like outsiders to know they are welcome, respected, and part of the team.

It's a start in avoiding bigger problems, helping them feel more connected to our shared commitments.

That's not just smart management, or clever problem regulation.

It's also common decency. It's treating people as we would like to be treated.

Admittedly, this strategy won't dissuade those who are criminally inclined.

I'm guessing that no pleasant, respectful conversation would have diverted our jewel thief from his doomed and desperate adventure.




"I'm Sorry, Sort Of."

by tbentley

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper rose in the Canadian House of Commons to apologize to native people who were removed from their families as children, then abused in residential schools owned by the government.

Many wept with relief.

A few months before, on February 13, Australian PM Kevin Rudd apologized for the grief and loss suffered by the "stolen generations", Aboriginal children who were removed from their families to be raised by whites.

Many cheered.

But both apologies arrived late, long after there was national consensus that grave wrongs had been committed.

Why Is It So Hard To Say I'm Sorry

Everyone understands that a heartfelt apology can initiate the healing of relationships and lead to growth.

Yet we rarely apologize: in government, at home, but especially in the workplace.

Our lawyers warn that apologies imply liability, which could lead to financial cost.

Our souls warn, equally loudly, that we become vulnerable when we say "I'm sorry". An apology dethrones us from our position of power. It demands humility.

Why Does An Apology Lead To Growth?

Apologies are powerful for the very same reason that they're hard to make.

They lift the persons being apologized to, into a position of equality.

Suddenly they don't have to waste valuable energy shoring up their self-esteem, or expressing anger or rebellion.

Now there's energy freed up to take care of themselves. To improve their skills or education. To build relationships. To be generous.

The person apologized to feels the ground more solid under her or his feet.

What Makes An Apology Effective?

It goes without saying that an apology must be sincere. We can't buy off those we've harmed with cleverly-chosen words that convey, "I'm sorry, sort of".

Equally, it must be accompanied by changed behavior.

It will have meaning only if we treat those we have hurt differently from now on.

The aboriginal peoples of Canada and Australia announced that they will be watching to see whether their governments actually implement policies to improve their often wretched conditions.

Behavior does matter, whether in the legislatures, homes, or workplaces.

It's said that a little humility is good for the soul. A heart-felt apology makes us better people.

And when we match our words with new, more respectful behavior, we gain allies in making this world a better place.




Hands, Voices, Guitars: Revelations

by tbentley

As I walked through a downtown neighborhood yesterday, I experienced four epiphanies in ordinary people.

Two women crossed the road in front of me, comfortable with silence, each with an arm around the other.

At the edge of the intersection, another two women were facing each other. Holding both hands. Looking into each other's eyes. Listening and telling their stories.

A moment later, I passed a man on his porch with a guitar, singing loud and raucous songs. All production, no sensitivity. Not a care for the neighbors.

At the same moment, across the street, two guys were sitting on the park grass, also with guitars. Quietly playing music, listening intently to one another.

They Spoke To Me

I loved the implicit mutual support of the women crossing the road.

I know. Not many people stroll the corridors of power with their arms around each other. But in every organization there is a tremendous amount of quiet, sometimes unspoken, respect and upholding.

What makes our workplaces healthy is the way we help each other through the busier intersections in our lives. Arms metaphorically around each other.

The two women talking eye-to-eye spoke to me of the colleagues with whom we can say exactly what's happening. Thus bringing big problems down to size. Celebrating small successes.

For a second, the soloist on the porch drew my scorn. Then I softened: at least he cared enough to sing. Sometimes the person who just puts their feelings out, tells us what no one else will.

So if he was too rough or loud? Someone will cool him down.

Seeking Feedback

Overall, the guys in the park most touched me. On the surface, just a couple of kids hanging out.

But in a way we males don't find so easy. No macho jostling. No alpha male posturing.

Just showing what they could do. Asking for advice. Giving each other feedback.

The message: "I want to keep improving; so talk to me."

120 Seconds

All those beautiful revelations passed by my eyes in literally two minutes.

You can understand why, for the rest of my walk, I had this big sappy grin on my face.




Rage And Impotence At The Office

by tbentley

By Timothy Bentley

I didn't get a moment's sleep. And I was furious.

Two weeks ago we moved to our new offices. A very cool location; three coffee shops at the nearby intersection. Subway only a block away. Fresh paint, new Cat-6 cables throughout, plenty of space for expansion.

I thought I'd planned this move meticulously.

The movers arrived on time, and nothing broke. Then, at 6 p.m. Sunday evening, a sole technician showed up, with no helper, to connect our computers and phones.

Turns out I'd made a disastrous assumption. Because it's so important to us to be well-staffed and organized, I figured our new IT providers would be too.

As the night passed, I helped him where I could. But by sun-up on Monday, as the work week began, nothing was working: no phones, no internet, no intranet. I was powerless to make any significant difference.

He was bleary-eyed, and I was desperate for my bed.

Why do I tell this tale of woe?

As a reminder of how critical it is, when planning a new enterprise, to make sure everyone is capable and well-prepared.

360-degree feedback, for instance. With today's excellent technology, there's just one potential weak link: human beings.

Administrator

Make certain that the person who administers your 360 program day-to-day is well-trained, careful, and above all, known to keep confidential matters confidential.

Loose lips sink ships, as the wartime saying goes. This individual will be handling very sensitive information, so if there's any doubt in people's minds about her/his integrity, it could poison the trust you need.

Responders

People who respond to 360s know they are taking a big risk.

If the person they are assessing isn't committed to skills development, their response effort will be wasted.

Worse still, if their confidential responses are leaked, their jobs are at risk.

So make sure they understand how to respond in a way that motivates their assessees to make changes, and know that the system will protect their identity.

Assessees

People are often scared stiff about what they will read in their 360s.

Train their supervisors to be supportive, and make coaching available where needed, so their anxiety doesn't degenerate into apathy.

Mad, Sad, and Glad

If you've made sure the participants are well-prepared, it will be a fine feedback experience.

Back here at the office, it took two frustrating weeks, but I'm happy that our systems are functioning.

Still, I remain angry with myself. I brought these problems on by not checking more carefully whether the key providers were ready to undertake our crucial project.




"Ah hell, I should have given him a full 360!"

by tbentley

When we listen closely to people who are reluctant to provide 360-degree feedback, their comments may hold the seeds of a solution.

The statement above came from a worker who regretted his refusal to participate:

"I'm opting out of this 360 with great reluctance. But let me say that, when I had the pleasure of working with him, it was a great experience. He is really, really committed to the company and its clients; and after writing this, I am thinking, ah hell, I should have given him a full 360!"

Those who don't participate can show us how to avoid the most common mistakes in preparing participants. In this case, the organizers didn't communicate the value of insights from ordinary people like himself.

Anxiety About Anonymity

Other responders don't see the benefits of anonymous feedback. "I prefer communication and feedback, as opposed to evaluating others on paper," said one.

Most of us agree. We believe in honest face-to-face communication. But we are not so brave about providing it, especially when it might exact a career penalty.

That's why, in the run-up to a 360, it's important to remind people of the value of providing confidential feedback.

Wrong Choice Of Participants

"This person is very quiet and reserved. Our jobs do not bring us together often. I have not spoken over 50 words to her."

Sometimes the organizers select responders carelessly. That's frustrating for them, and it degrades respect for the process.

Other times, the wrong people are selected to be assessed: "She is leaving the company on Monday. So there is no reason to complete her review."

Unwillingness To Assess Oneself

"Do I really need to review myself?" asked a participant. "It doesn't make much sense. "

Organizers had failed to communicate that a self-assessment would provide her with valuable information: how her self-image compares with the perceptions of others.

Good Preparation Is Key

As these comments show, it's not so difficult to make 360s more friendly.

The key to success is to commit generous resources to the preparation of participants. And to listen especially to those who were not convinced by even your best efforts.




Donald Trump and the Dusty Laborer

by tbentley

Three luxurious condo towers are under construction, overlooking the blue ocean north of Miami.

On the hoardings against the sidewalk, an immense sign advertises "The Visionaries" who were wise enough to invest in the apartments.

You can recognize their enormous photographs from blocks away: Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and others.

At that spot, at four o'clock every afternoon, something quite remarkable happens.

Ironic Juxtaposition

Hundreds of construction workers stream out of the half-complete buildings to wait for a bus and go home. They stand exhausted, hardly speaking, with their hardhats, dusty clothes, and empty lunch buckets.

They're tiny, compared to the clean, fresh Visionaries above them in their suits and ties. But these anonymous laborers, mostly black or Hispanic, whose photographs will never appear on a hoarding, are also potentially the visionaries of the towers.

We'll return to them in a moment.

Feedback Does Change The Picture

People sometimes ask me and my colleagues, with apprehension, whether 360-degree feedback might provide some dissatisfied worker the opportunity to hurl abuse at the boss. Could it undermine the very structure of the workplace, the respect, the deference, that holds people metaphorically under their bosses?

The answer is that in extremely rigid workplaces, such a possibility exists.

In settings where truth cannot be told without repercussions, frank feedback can change the equation. Wherever people's wisdom has been ignored, dialog can shake things up. The towers of power will not tumble, but they will be changed.

Which is exactly why progressive companies use 360-degree feedback. They want to encourage the free flow of ideas. They want their leaders to understand how effective their efforts are, not just hear easy platitudes.

They value a workplace of continuing growth. They trust an open atmosphere, where information flows freely, not restricted to certain authorized channels.

They recognize that such a workplace has a major competitive advantage.

They also realize that those who best know the skills and weaknesses of managers are often the very people who report to them.

Feedback Trumps Rigidity

Glance again at the construction workers, as they clamber into the bus, looking forward to a cleansing shower and dinner.

Most of them would never think to abuse Mr. T or Mr. C., their Visionaries.

But if someone offered them an opportunity for anonymity, they might be willing to say whether their leaders appear to understand the needs of the work site.

Whether they are treated decently.

Whether they are safe.

Whether anyone listens to their suggestions for improvement or greater productivity.

Feedback can help towers rise a little faster. It can increase their profitability. It can improve the quality of workmanship, meaning fewer costly complaints later.

And it can increase the satisfaction of labor, both for workers and for bosses.

That's how the construction workers can be truly visionary.




Well-Meaning Company Shoots Manager In Foot

by tbentley

A few years ago, a leading company asked us for help with their 360-degree feedback process. To everyone's surprise, it was neither lifting morale nor inspiring the participants. Quite the opposite.

The company had invested generously to design the perfect feedback system. The crowning glory - supposedly - was that it delivered the final report directly to the employee's desktop, thus maintaining perfect confidentiality.

And that was the problem.

Picture it. The report arrives on the employee's screen: beautifully-designed, comprehensive, and frank. This is a pure and private moment for reflection.

Happily, the feedback reflects the employee to be a smart and skillful worker.

But on page 9 there's a comment from a peer, who says the employee's communication skills need work. It's an honest observation, delivered without hostility.

Guess which piece of information arrives like a kick in the stomach? Which opinion keeps the employee awake that night?

Over the next few weeks, for no obvious reason, the employee's morale slips, and productivity slides. Depression sets in, accompanied by anger. "I bet no one else got such a bad report." "Who said that about me, anyway?" "If they don't think I can communicate, that's their problem."

It's an over-reaction, of course. But it's all too human, and when people are isolated, entirely predictable.

Fortunately, there is a readily available solution. No more direct-to-desk delivery.

Ditch the exaggerated privacy. Make sure everyone receives their 360 report in the company of another human being.

The ideal person to hand over the report might be an experienced 360 coach, or an HR,­ OD, or training specialist.

But in many organizations, that job belongs to the boss. She or he asks a few straightforward, positive questions. "So, how do those comments in the report strike you?" "What areas do you think you need to work on?" And "What are you already doing really well?"

Employee and manager spend a few minutes creating a self-development plan for the year to come. The employee exits the debrief with a sense of support and self-confidence.

That's the kind of human encounter that determines whether the 360 process provides a bullet in the foot, or a dynamic boost for everyone.




The Law Of Two Slips

by tbentley

The weather during the past few weeks has been icy and mean.

I was out for my usual morning walk, striding along with great confidence, when suddenly I found myself on my hands and knees.

I think of myself as a pretty stable guy, so I didn't enjoy that closeup view of a slippery sidewalk. But I brushed myself off, and kept going.

Three days later, I was walking down our frozen back lane. A car was backing toward me, but the driver spotted me and stopped. Good thing too, because next moment I was lying on my side on a treacherous stretch of ice.

The driver put her head out the window and asked, "Are you OK?"

"Oh, I'm fine," I replied cheerfully, as I struggled to my feet, not far from her back wheels.

Learning Gradually

Physically, it was true: I was fine. But inside, I was mad!

Why did it take two hard falls, negative feedback from my sore wrists and hip, plus a close encounter with the back end of a car, before I adapted my over-confident gait to my wintry circumstances?

And what, you might be asking, does this story have to do with 360-degree feedback?

Well, there is no doubt that you will get abundant positive results from your very first use of 360. Many participants will study their reports and make positive changes right away.

But there are plenty of people in your organization who, like me, have to receive feedback two or three times before insight entirely overcomes their obstinacy. It takes a while to recognize that they can make changes, and be the better for it.

Consistency And Growth

360-degree feedback is not a flashy, one-time intervention. To get full results, it needs to become part of the culture, part of the organization's strategic plan.

Only then, will all the benefits of feedback become available to your participants. Relationships between key players will become more trusting and supportive. The entire organization will function at a higher level.

As in any human development process, you have to be committed for the long haul. It's a law of nature.

Me? It took two slips, but I've learned to walk more sensibly. (And I'm sure looking forward to springtime!)




360 And Backfire Shock

by tbentley

Remember the last time you heard a car backfire? It probably scared you. "Who's shooting at me?" People have the same kind of fear about feedback.

We've all seen individuals suddenly, without warning, explode at someone with whom they're upset. If that's feedback, it certainly gives feedback a bad name. It's frightening.

So if you're planning to bring 360-degree feedback into your workplace, there's reason to wonder whether people will embrace it, or run for the hills.

The key answer to that concern is two words: executive leadership.

Feedback Vs Culture

Let's face it, frank feedback is not valued in every organization. It feels safer to tell people whatever we guess they want to hear. If we see an individual going off the tracks, it's tempting to avert our eyes and say nothing.

And it's definitely more comfortable not to hear loud scary noises from other people about changes they think we should make.

That's why organizations formalize feedback. It allows them to control it, with feedback coming from only one direction, from responsible manager to subordinate.

When you invite feedback from all directions, it can be a shock to the organization. People get anxious about what they will hear.

Responders worry about crossing the thin line between honesty and brutality. And they wonder whether they'll be punished for being frank.

Ask Your Leaders To Lead

So if you want employees to give their trust and dedication to feedback, your leaders must put their reputations to work.

They should take every opportunity to explain that feedback is not the flavor of the month, but a policy that will make the workplace more productive and satisfying.

Generally, 360-degree feedback is most successful when the first people to use it are the executive group. That provides more credibility than a thousand well-crafted memos.

And when leaders talk about their own experience with feedback, it has tremendous positive power: "I got feedback from the people around me. I thought it would be upsetting. But they told me honestly where I needed to improve my skills, and now I'm working on it."

Hearing that, even employees who are easily frightened by loud noises, are likely to give 360-degree feedback an honest try.




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