The concept of 360º feedback is deceptively simple: Obtain performance evaluations from a variety of different sources. One of the most common methodologies is to have all direct reports complete a questionnaire about a supervisor and the supervisor also completes one about each of them.
Almost everyone agrees that there is a direct correlation between the accuracy and reliability of the responses and the length of time the respondent has known the person whose performance is evaluated. However, there are sharp differences of opinion as to whether the respondents should be anonymous or identified. The trend now seems to favor the latter as organizations become more transparent. As in other debates, both positions have merit but I prefer that respondents be identified and so indicate that to clients who retain me to conduct a 360 feedback program. Ultimately, of course, it is the client’s call, not mine.
Whether or not respondents are identified, here are the essentials of a 360º feedback program:
1. All of its objectives must be positive and carefully explained in advance to everyone who participates.
2. Respondents should express honest opinions without fear of retribution and to offer constructive criticism that will be beneficial to those evaluated.
3. Responses should be processed by an independent third-party who is viewed as objective, fair, neutral, and trustworthy. That person should be well qualified to identify any consensus of opinion and suggest its possible significance.
4. Recipients of the feedback must be receptive to constructive criticism and both willing and able to take appropriate action, based on what the feedback suggests.
As indicated earlier, I think the concept of 360º feedback is deceptively simple. Effective design and execution are not. If done well, it can generate a wealth of information of incalculable value, both to the organization and to individual participants.
If those asked to participate do not trust each other, there are other, more serious problems that must immediately be addressed.
Yesterday, I presented my synopsis of the provocative book The Black Swan: The Impact of the HIGHLY IMPROBABLE by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This was requested by a large, Dallas-based international company to launch their lunch & learn sessions for 2010. The CEO had mentioned the book at a yearly planning meeting, and all of the folks wanted to know just what the book was about.
Well – here’s the book in a phrase: “nobody knows anything!”
And one of the specific points in the book is that we get really good at facing down yesterday’s problems today while remaining amazingly ignorant about what the next problem might be. Here’s a key quote:
What did people learn from the 9/11 episode? Did they learn that some events, owing to their dynamics, stand largely outside the realm of the predictable? No? Did they learn the built-in defect of conventional wisdom? No. What did they figure out? They learned precise rules for avoiding Islamic prototerrorists and tall buildings… The story of the Maginot Line shows how we are conditioned to be specific. The French, after the Great War, built a wall along the previous German invasion route to prevent reinvasion – Hitler just (almost) effortlessly went around it. The French had been excellent students of history; they just learned with too much precision. They were too practical and exceedingly focused for their own safety.
We do not spontaneously learn that we don’t learn that we don’t learn…
So, the book was on my mind when late last night I watched the 2000 movie Thirteen Days, the somewhat fictionalized/dramatized account of the Kennedy Administration in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is a gripping story, even though we already know the outcome. In the movie, President Kennedy refers back to the great Barbara Tuchman book, The Guns of August. Here is the section from the movie (you can find the script here)
Last summer I read a book. The Guns of August. I wish every man on that blockade line had read that book.
The President moves over to the GLOBE by his desk, spins it, stopping in on Europe.
THE PRESIDENT (CONT’D)
World War One. Thirteen million killed all because the militaries of both alliances were so highly attuned to each other’s movements and dispositions, afraid of letting the other guy have a theoretical advantage. And your man in the field, his family at home, couldn’t even tell you the reasons why their lives were being sacrificed. Why couldn’t they stop it?
The President’s fingers turn the globe. It stops on North America. Kenny and Bobby listen.
THE PRESIDENT (CONT’D)
And here we are, fifty years later. One of their ships resists the inspection. We shoot out its rudder and board. They shoot down our planes in response. We bomb their anti-aircraft sites in response to that. They attack Berlin. We invade Cuba. They fire their missiles. We fire ours.
In the movie, the President basically argues that we don’t really learn the lessons we should learn from the conflicts, the mistakes, the wars of yesterday.
This clearly transfers to the business world. We try to fix today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions, and we assume that tomorrow’s problems will be like yesterday’s problems. Then, when a Black Swan flies into our face, we are surprised, astounded, unprepared. Taleb says this: you won’t know what the next Black Swan will be, but you should know by now that there will be a new Black Swan coming at you soon. When it arrives, don’t be surprised. Simply say, “there’s our next Black Swan.”
Innovation – An Inventor has to Show us the Way (a thought on the upcoming arrival of the now mythical Apple Tablet)
Slate.com’s Farhad Manjoo has an interesting read up about the arrival of the Apple Tablet, expected soon: The Flat Computer Society — Everyone’s ecstatic about the Apple tablet. But what are we supposed to do with it?
Here is a line from the end of the article (emphasis added):
I’m not saying Apple won’t succeed. I’m simply puzzled about its course—but that, of course, is how all great innovations are greeted. Steve Jobs likes to say that customers don’t really know what they want until some inventor comes along and shows it to them. What’s the point of an $800 machine that lacks a keyboard? I’m not sure, but I’m hoping Apple will show me.
I like that thought. And that’s why inventors and their inventions are innovations are so much fun.
For a look at what the Apple Tablet might be like, check out this mock up of a Sports Illustrated issue on a device that could be like the Tablet.
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Five Ways to Lead With More Compassion
Seeing others for who they really are, in their splendor as well as their shortcomings, requires conscious effort. And it is work that is well worth doing — from a personal and professional perspective. As you renew your leadership agenda, be sure you renew the working relationships necessary to make it happen. To do so, put the following in action:
[Here are three of the five.]
• Assume the best in others. Everyone comes to work to do the very best job they can. Beyond what you see at work, they are someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother, mom and dad. They pay taxes, coach their kid’s soccer team, and cook meals for neighbors in need. If someone wants to turn right when you want to turn left, it isn’t that they “don’t see the big picture,” “are unmotivated,” or “disorganized.” Most likely, they have goals, pressures, and experiences that differ from yours.
• Understand what makes them tick. It constantly amazes how we live in the world of “me” and try to collaborate and influence people we hardly know. If you want to develop strong working relationships, you need to humanize others by understanding their background, dreams, job objectives and obstacles (email me to get a copy of a stakeholder analysis worksheet that I use with my clients).
• Serve their needs. You have to help others before you can ever expect that they will help you. Go the extra mile and do the unexpected extras. Help them, praise them, share with them, and introduce them. Make sure they see their reflection in your leadership agenda by incorporating “what makes them tick” in shaping the “how” and “what” of your plans and approaches.
Labeling people puts them into ugly little boxes and constrains the possibilities that might arise from the relationship. At the end of the day, casting negative attributions on the behavior and character of others only serve to limit you.
Break through labels by shifting your mindset. Substitute humility for hubris. Replace conviction with curiosity.
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Cramm is the founder and president of Valuedance. A former CFO and CIO, she is an expert on IT leadership. She is the author of 8 Things We Hate About IT.
Corporate logos probably offer some of the best examples of symbols. The McDonald’s golden arches, for example, and Nike’s Swoosh. Newcomers include the Energizer bunny and the Aflac duck. Older examples include the Star of David and the Nazi swastika. One of the oldest symbols is the cross.
The meaning of a symbol, of course, is based on perceptions that vary among those who observe it. McDonald’s golden arches offer a case in point. For some people, they symbolize relatively inexpensive food, fast service, consistency, and clean restrooms; for others, “junk” food that is a major contributor to obesity and related health problems.
Each person is a symbol and, as with corporate logos, meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Until they died, my aunts and uncles called me “Bobby” whereas to my grandchildren, I am an elder.
Here’s a question to ponder. If those who know you best were asked, what would be the words most frequently used to describe you?
Are they the same words you would associate with yourself?