We are running our next webinar on the above topic on January 26th at 1pm in conjunction with Shorebird RPO.
Meaningful Conversations is a framework which enables Line Managers at any level to conduct effective Performance Management conversations whatever their purpose; be that setting objectives, giving feedback, coaching, appraisals or 360 feedback debriefs.
At the end of this webinar, you will:
- Understand what Performance Management really is and why it’s so important.
- Be introduced to the ‘Meaningful Conversations’ framework as a guide to conducting effective Performance Management conversations.
- Appreciate what is the mindset and the core communication skills required to conduct a Meaningful Conversation.
- Have reflected on your own style of Performance Management conversations and considered some changes you could make immediately to improve.
This webinar is aimed at anyone who has to conduct Performance Management conversations with team members in their organisation and will appeal to all those in a management or senior positions.
If the event is fully booked, a waiting list will be opened up, so you can still register your interest to attend and/or be invited to a re-run of the session at a later date.
We hope you can join us for this or a future event.
We have been exploring working with Lancaster University – we completed three projects with them in 2015 – and I was in recent discussion with them on productivity. It is an area that I suspect some of our law firm clients could work with the university on the research they are currently conducting. I read over a brief that was sent to me and was immediately struck by how useful productivity is as a lens for lawyers – particularly the partners that we tend to work with. A simple definition of productivity within the brief is
a measure of the amount of output (goods and services) obtained from a certain amount of input (labour, materials, energy, etc.), or how well various resources or inputs in the organization are used to achieve the planned or desired results (outputs). At the simplest level, improvements are engineered by either increasing the numerator (output) or decreasing the denominator (input).
When working with partners who need to become ‘more productive’ the general tendency is to work harder and so increase the input. The focus is actually on producing more rather than being more productive. This can be culturally bred into the partner after years of being measure on input (hours billed). It can be a quantum leap of effort to look to reduce the input and instead focus on delivering improved results from a more sustainable effort level. Client demand, organisational measurement processes, personal characteristics, office norms all conspire against a focus on productivity and instead condition a response to work harder and longer.
The well publicised UK productivity gap indicates this is a wider malaise. Our 360 debrief discussions with partners and other senior members of organisations often indicate that personal and organisational productivity is a key focus. It is certainly something we will be exploring further.
In a recent meeting, John and I were asked what we saw as the key trends in 360 degree feedback / performance appraisal. We came up with two ‘off-the-cuff’ and I would add a third below.
The first is a desire for continuous feedback to be included within the performance management cycle. Often attached to millenials brought up on social media and feedback sites such as tripadvisor this is our most common current discussion point. Perhaps not too separate from the age old mantra that discussing performance is ongoing rather than an annual event the challenge for Bowland and others is to reflect this drive in a considered manner that improves feedback as well as making it more frequent.
The second is 360 feedback being integrated into the appraisal process. Many, if not all, of our clients now include some element of “feedback from others” into the appraisal cycle. We see this driven by team structures that no longer have the line manager able to review/comment on all performance and a desire to bring the “how” of behavioural feedback into the standard “what” of performance objectives. At Bowland we have long had the technical capability to support this. The interesting area for us over the coming years is retaining a developmental 360 as a distinct exercise from an appraisal from a range of sources. The two conversations tend to be different and the process should be.
The third and final trend we are seeing is a welcome focus on the conversation. Our meaningful conversations model that looks to assist all managers deliver on the purpose of their conversations while building up trust within the relationship has reflected this focus. Clients are seeing with absolute clarity that whatever the process, however frequent it may be, the best managers hold the best conversations with their team. Accordingly we should focus on supporting that meaningful conversation as much as on the process that leads to it.
Often when working with our clients, particularly with senior leadership teams, we help them with the one-to-one debriefs; the session where you share the feedback with the recipient for the first time.
During this session, as well as getting a balanced view of the 360 feedback, the hope is that they will begin the process of creating a ‘Personal Development Plan’ or PDP.
This will highlight any strengths that could be better deployed, and naturally any development areas they wish to work on.
Whilst this is an invaluable exercise for the individual leader, there is an opportunity beyond this to work with the whole leadership team in unison and create a ‘Team Development Plan’ as well.
By aggregating the results of all the senior managers in the leadership team, we can see the wider picture of development needs; ideally this report, should be shared just as one would share an individual’s report i.e. Face-to-face with the group.
In this way, you conduct a ‘group debrief’ and together they can see their collective strengths and development areas, before collectively agreeing how to tackle their development areas.
This is an important step, because whilst individually they could simply attend to their own development, it wouldn’t necessarily address issues that exist in the space between people.
The use of aggregated reporting with 360 degree feeback helps raise levels of awareness beyond the individual and highlight issues that ripple outwards across teams and often company wide.
One of the major trends for us over the past few years has been the inclusion of feedback from a range of people as part of the performance appraisal process. From a software perspective we have an integrated system so it may be that we see more of this because competitor’s don’t have the same capability but it does look to be a broader trend in the market.
If we look back 10 years, 360 feedback was something quite specific. There were strong arguments in research and practice that it worked best when it was developmental. It was built around competencies and behaviours and was something quite different from appraisal. We continue to consult, debrief, and provide the software for “360″ but is it the same as the performance appraisal activity?
Often, as short hand, 360 feedback is used to mean any feedback that is received from a range of people. So, we too will refer to a client’s appraisal system making use of 360 feedback. But, I wonder did we lose something in the merger?
Gaining input into the performance review process from a range of people often makes sense. Organisational structures, geographical locations, team-based and project based working all mitigate against the manager having the full picture. Yet, the feedback has a different context when it is linked to appraisal and particularly when it is linked directly or indirectly to remuneration.
There is something attractive in the idea of receiving developmental feedback – that you have asked for, wish to receive, understand the purpose of and all intend to be developmental. You can set up systems, processes, people all geared to the leader/manager being well positioned to receive the feedback, accept it, and draw out actions and commit to them. You can consider all of the recent neuroscience research on feedback and set the process up accordingly.
Appraisal/performance review is a valid process considering performance at work against goals, targets, business values, etc. It is often structure to suit the organisation. As I’ve said, gathering feedback from others on that performance makes sense but it is not what 360 feedback is in its most effective form.
The answer … do them both! Gain feedback on performance annually however you see fit and in whatever way works best. Gain developmental feedback for leaders separately at a different time of the year. That way you have two conversations at different times of the year with a different focus. Of course there will be overlap but better to have two highly meaningful conversations with overlap than miss out on the real benefits of 360 feedback.
We hear much today about what the environmental cost is around manufacturing, flying, food production, etc – It struck me that there is a parallel here to 360 degree feedback which provides a glimpse of the ‘environmental cost’ of our own behaviour.
It has become clear that it is not enough for companies to make vast profits for shareholders whilst dumping toxic waste in nearby rivers; the ‘What’ was being achieved but the ‘How’ was creating terrible fallout.
As employees, it is often the case that whilst people are achieving their goals or targets, how they go about it can come at a cost to their immediate environment; the office, their colleagues, their family, etc.
360 degree feedback provides the ideal opportunity for respondents to indicate what the fallout is of certain behaviours they see as that person goes about achieving the ‘What’.
The ‘How’ becomes important, because without succeeding in both areas, you cannot have a sustainable model for success.
I heard this quotation recently which is attributed to Winston Churchill:
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up & hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
It struck me how such an event can happen in the context of 360 degree feedback; a recipient of 360 can be faced with multiple ‘truths’ which are unveiled in their 360 report – they discover something new about themselves; a behaviour of theirs observed by others but perhaps not noticed by themselves, a realisation of the impact they have on others, be that positive or negative.
It is in that moment, which may be in the face-to-face debrief around their report, that the real opportunity presents itself – the opportunity to reflect on that ‘truth’, look it into it, assimilate it into their world view, and consider how it might be useful to them in how they fulfil their role in the future.
Without providing recipients the time, space and support to reflect on their 360 feedback, as offered in a debrief, then there is every chance that they will hurry off as if nothing happened.
Focus on your strengths – they’re what got you where you are. Easily said, harder to do. When debriefing 360 feedback the majority of executives will “hunt the negative”. Finding the criticism in the report and either moving defensively against it or wrestling with it to see how they can improve. But you didn’t get to be the senior leader because of your weaknesses, you got there because of your strengths. Building from your strengths rather than over-focusing on your weaknesses makes sense.
I was reminded of this in a BBC article on Joe Root – the upcoming star of England cricket. Here is a quote from him
“When I came back from Australia, I realised a lot of the time out there I was trying to work on things I wasn’t too good at – and putting all my energy into that, rather than spending more time strengthening the stuff I am good at.”
Now, I’m sure he didn’t stop tackling weaknesses but if you’ve made the England team as a cricketer playing a certain way then there is an awful danger that a coach has you focus on your weaknesses and those weaknesses invade your thoughts and confidence. His coach at the time (the now sacked Peter Moores) instead led him to build from his strengths.
Here is a quote from the Managing Director of an advertising agency who used us for debriefing 360 degree feedback
“I’ve been privy to several 360 experiences during my 30-year career, and this one topped them all by a long shot.
Not only did I walk away embracing a few key actions to help ensure our agency continues to flourish, but also I thoroughly enjoyed the debrief conversation, appreciated the perspective, and valued your insights.
I especially respected the concept of going from one’s strengths – as I’ve seen how 360’s can derail easily on a side-item or so. Indeed, you and your process have a wonderful way of focusing on the important stuff!”
Not often you can link a future England captain’s development to that of a US marketing agency director!
It really is a pleasure to share this guest post, written especially for us by Jan Hills at Head Heart + Brain, and which delves into what neuroscience has to offer in respect of deepening our understanding of, and capability to have, meaningful conversations:
Of course we should all have them. Meaningful conversations I mean. But how do you make sure you do? Frequently, conversations linked to performance are anything but meaningful. Either too stiff and staccato, following some set piece format HR have provided and you being too worried to go ‘off track’ in case it gets out of control or a bit meandering where half of what you wanted to say never gets said.
We think there are a number of elements to ensuring conversations are meaningful. On the surface the formula is simple ensure there is a clear purpose and high trust. Oh great that’s sorted then! But how do you ensure that? The ideas below use our understanding of the brain, yours and the person’s you are trying to have the conversation with. Both brains need to be engaged and in the right stage to make the conversation meaningful.
The other person’s brain
You need to consider how the employee or colleague is going to feel: imagine where they are on the subject and how they will react. Whether that’s getting the results of their 360, reviewing their annual performance or just agreeing goals.
Most people assume this kind of empathy requires them to feel the same feelings as the employee. This is known as “emotional empathy,” meaning an instantaneous body-to-body connection with the other person’s feelings. It involves tuning in to another person’s emotions and requires the ability to read facial, vocal and other non-verbal signs of how another person feels, moment by moment.
Research shows this type of empathy depends on our tuning in to our own body’s emotional signals, which automatically mirror the other person’s feelings. Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls the brain areas that create this type of empathy the “we” circuitry. This is the mentalising system which helps us think about and understand others’ motivations, goals and feelings.
Not that kind of empathy
In our view is this is not the kind of empathy to activate when you are planning or engaged in a meaningful conversation unless it’s with your lover or someone you hope will become your lover! Its not terribly helpful in business and especially when there are some difficult messages you need to deliver.
This is what sets off the panic alarm. Feeling the feelings of the other person triggers a classic threat response: “Don’t want to go there!” Which puts you into avoidance mode, or calls for a lot of mental energy to override it in your limbic brain.
Redirecting that energy takes resources away from your prefrontal cortex, your rational planning and goal focused part of the brian. Which is why even the best-organised person can end up having a muddled conversation, with evidence being forgotten and a generally chaotic result.
The right kind of empathy
Instead, what’s more helpful is for you is to take on the other person’s perspective. You need to engage your curiosity, rather than your emotions, with the other person’s reality.
This has been called “cognitive empathy,” or perspective-taking, and is what we typically describe as being able to see the world through other people’s eyes, or “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”
Cognitive empathy is mind-to-mind, rather than body-to-body, and gives us a mental sense of how another person’s thinking works.
This way of thinking about another person’s perspective gives an understanding of their view – it can tell us how best to communicate with that person: what matters most to them, their models of the world, and even what words to use – or avoid – when talking with them. Using similar expressions and words builds rapport and avoids misunderstandings.
And that pays off in many ways, including reducing your uncertainty about how the conversation will go: a major factor that can get in the way in a meaningful conversation and trigger your colleague’s or employee’s threat response because they unconsciously read your uncertainty as incongruent with your words.
And there is another type of empathy which can usefully be deployed.
“Empathic concern” taps into the brain’s circuitry for parental love, and helps people get in touch with their feelings of compassion, and express their care for the other person. Best deployed once any difficult part of the discussion is complete and the next steps have been agreed: this is when you let your employee or colleague know that you’ll support them.
The other person to focus on is, of course, you.
We’ve covered some of the ways in which the right kind of empathetic preparation can help people manage their threat response in our CORE video.
As a starting point you need to understand, and possibly challenge, your own mind-set. If you have a fixed mind-set, you basically believe “someone can either do it, or they can’t,” you are never going to find it worthwhile conducting a difficult performance review or 360 feedback session. “What’s the point – they’ll never change” will be what you are thinking.
You may also need help in challenging the common business belief that a good manager will keep emotion out of this process. But science has shown suppressing your emotions is likely to make things worse rather that better. It increases the response of the amygdala the brain’s emotional centre.
One way of managing emotions rather than suppressing them is to learn reappraisal skills. We find that with a little practice, you can reappraise why the conversation needs to happen and why it needs to go well. The insights from perspective taking preparation can help in this.
Giving a poor performer a warning may seem cruel, but leaving them to lose more confidence as they struggle on in a role that’s not suited to them is even harsher. Giving tough messages about 360 feedback is hard, but letting the newly appointed team leader flounder puts the whole team in jeopardy.
And lastly, learn to tap into the mental and physical state that’s going to work best for you in the conversation, and learn to monitor this state in the moment. Taking a few seconds to think about the state of mind which will serve you best; remembering a time when you were fully in that state and re-experiencing it is all it takes.
You’re not going to be able to introduce an instant yogic understanding if you are not used to being attuned to your body. But very simple exercises like power poses or relaxing the shoulders can be instantly helpful, and you can use these simple techniques in everyday situations and not just the conversations you know are important or which you’ve been dreading the most.
Jan set up Head Heart + Brain to change the way leadership and capability development is designed and delivered. With a Masters in the Neuroscience of Leadership she’s the driving force behind our brain-savvy approach.
Before Head Heart + Brain Jan ran her own successful consulting business and was COO at an investment bank, so brings a huge amount of experience to the table in leadership and dealing with practical business issues.
Jan is author of Brain-savvy HR: a neuroscience evidence base and Brain-savvy Leading: neuroscience tips and tools
A recent article in Forbes had above title (but without the bit we added in parentheses), so naturally it piqued my interest which is what such provocative titles are designed for.
I often find in articles which take an extreme position on a particular topic or organisational practice, it is because the author has had a poor experience; that appears true here too.
Their experience of 360 feedback was where it’s use was for performance review and promoting people; whilst 360 feedback can inform these processes, such purposes can lead to abuse of something primarily designed to raise an individual’s self-awareness and assist in their personal development.
It isn’t really suited to evaluate or pass a verdict; as well as creating anxiety in the recipient, the feedback provided by respondents often misses the mark as they are more concerned of the consequences for the individual, as opposed to writing good quality feedback which is genuinely helpful.
If we want 360 degree feedback to benefit both organisations and individuals, we have to stay true to the purpose it was designed for; it’s no use saying the hammer we have is bad at banging screws into the wall!
Where I do find myself in agreement with the article, is where it broadens out it’s perspective to the concept of building trust and relationships in an organisation – the author argues that with high trust and good quality relationships, we can talk to each other, offer feedback, give context, etc – we don’t need to wait a year to give feedback in a 360 feedback programme.
This is true and desirable, but these wishes, and a having structured 360 process, are not mutually exclusive – good quality written feedback, brought together into one report, and shared with the recipient during a face-to-face debrief where they can pause and reflect, is simply another means to the same admirable end.
No, I’m not going to actually tell you the content of my son’s school report! It was fine and other than him feeling it was ok to open it before sharing it with us the process was all good.
For those of you without children at school, school reports now contain a lot of numbers. After many years of confusion, my wife and I recently got the hang of whether a 4a was better than a 4b and then they changed the system to something called APS … no idea what it stands for. So, Euan (my son) has been targeted for the year with moving up at least 5 APS points in each subject.
So, let’s say in Maths he was 28 last year, then his target would be at least 33. And in this report we are told his current level – let’s say it is 32.
And we get a grade for Effort and a grade for Organisation. No words.
We have a lot of data in the school report. We get 3 of these reports a year and we get one parents evening where we have 5 minute appointments with each of his teachers.
5 minutes after reading his report I could give you the gist of it but I couldn’t remember one number. I know roughly the grades for effort and organisation but couldn’t remember which ones applied to which subject. Its not that I don’t care it is that there was an overwhelming amount of data.
But I remember the conversations with most of the teachers (the ones I can’t remember are the ones where the teacher concentrated on the scores/grades and national averages for those scores) from his last parents evening two months ago.
If you ask most parents what they hope for for their children at school it is that they enjoy it. Yes, we hope our children do well and we support them in getting the best out of themselves but every parent went to school once and so all of us want to know “do they have friends, are they engaged, do they contribute, are they happy”. If a teacher told me “Euan is doing really well; he tries his hardest, works well with his school friends, and always engages with every lesson” then I can’t ask for much more. I can then review the data in that context and it could suggest to us areas he needs help with. But the data alone tells me very little.
What interested me most in our conversation with Euan is that he is engaged with the number. He wants to be a “33″. I do wonder whether the system is starting to train children (future employees) to go for the target rather than focus on the actions that lead to success.
It’s a pleasure to share some insights this week from one of our associate coaches, Emily Taylor, of Green Grass Coaching, who specialises in career and development coaching; in this post, Emily suggests a way in which we can review feedback that accentuates the positive:
When I was a child I had an autograph book. Apart from once queuing (with some trepidation) to get Darth Vader’s signature, it was mainly full of messages from friends and family. My Grandma’s message to me was this (apparently an old Maori proverb):
“Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.
I was struck by its optimism and ever since then the idea of having a positive outlook has always stayed with me. I have come to see how the more you focus your attention on the positive things, the more likely you are to notice them. I also recognise how appreciating these can help you to see further positive possibilities and even create more ‘sunshine’.
I am interested in how people apply this concept in their working lives; how we use the idea of focusing on the positive in order to develop performance (in individuals, teams and businesses) and how we use it to guide our decision making.
Long after my Grandma wrote this message, I came across the theory of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a method of problem solving pioneered by Cooperrider & Srivastva, Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s. The essence of this approach is a belief that the questions we ask are never neutral; they help us to move in the direction where we focus most persistently. Rather than looking at ways to ‘fix a problem’ (asking questions about what isn’t working well, what is wrong or weak) this approach looks at how to ‘accelerate or enhance’ by asking what is good or working well in order to discover new or untapped opportunities.
The slant of the question influences our perceptions, feelings and motivation to change….
If our focus is largely on the less good or negative elements, will positive change and development always be an uphill struggle? Also, how many people can see or hear 10 great things and then feel deflated and fixated by just one perceived bad thing?
I am not suggesting that all negative elements be ignored, rather that the angle taken to review and evolve it can help determine the outcome. In fact, I have witnessed great benefit had by individuals who received apparently negative feedback and were inspired to make positive behavioural changes as a result. There were a number of ingredients that enabled this:
the recipients were hungry to learn
the person helping them review their feedback was skilled in coaching and asking AI questions to explore and discover meaning, value and potential
the overall focus was positive and forward thinking
It is often this last point that really helps someone to galvanise their self-belief, motivation and action. For example, try asking yourself this positive line of inquiry in relation to your career:
What do I enjoy about my job – what inspires me?
What am I really good at?
What attracted me to the career I am in or the company I work with?
What are the possibilities for me to develop further or become more fulfilled?
If success was guaranteed, what bold steps would I take?
Asking these powerful questions can help steer you (and in this case your career) in the direction you really want to go. Think how much more inspired and proactive you are likely to feel using this appreciative route as opposed to “what do I hate about my job, what irritates me most, what am I least good at”.
When next reviewing your own feedback (or helping someone else to review theirs), try to focus questions on your strengths, what themes you are noticing, what assumptions you could test, where you add most value and how you could further apply this to benefit you/your customers/the business. Consciously frame questions with the possibility of positive change, learning and creating forward movement….and let any shadows fall behind you.
Emily Taylor, Green Grass Coaching
360 degree feedback can become complicated. Often there are some tricky things to think through. What is useful when you are putting together a 360 feedback project is to have some key points to focus on and to test your solution against. Our three are:
- Ask the right questions
- Follow a well-structured process
- Have a great conversation around a great report
If you check whatever 360 feeedback process or service you devise against this list then you will do ok. Are we asking the right questions? Is our process well-structured? Are the people involved going to have a great conversation around a great report?
Our free guide to the left of this blog expands on these – but don’t lose track of these simple requirements.
We are delighted to be co-hosting our next event in London on Thursday 30th April with QV Career Counsel, specialists in executive coaching, where we introduce a new structured and integrated approach to 360 degree feedback within a professional services environment.
Having completed a recent research project on leadership development, in conjunction with Lancaster University Management School, we found that it unequivocally identified the need for 360 degree feedback to be appropriately supported:
“A 360-degree appraisal without debriefing, coaching and follow-up activities will harm the organisation using it. 360-degree feedback programs are only a start of an organisational capacity development process.”
“Debriefing is especially important in helping recipients accept the validity of the feedback, experience minimal damage to self-esteem, focus on positive behaviours that should be continued, and select key challenging behaviours on which to improve.”
“Coaching is also a central part of 360-degree appraisal; it is the key for personal development. A coach can help further motivate employees who receive positive feedback from various sources, while helping the recipients of negative feedback formulate a workable strategy for performance improvement. Thus a coach can be the difference between a healthy coping reaction and learned helplessness.”
The underlying message is that the insight gained through the 360 feedback process isn’t enough; it needs to crystallise into action.
It is with this research and key observation in mind that we have come together with QV to share a new integrated approach which explains how to effectively combine 360 degree feedback with promptly delivered, focused coaching, to ensure sustainable development of your leaders and alignment with your organisational goals.
This event is aimed at senior executives from financial and professional services and those with responsibility for executive development within their organisation.
If you are interested in attending this event, then please contact me for more information directly via email – firstname.lastname@example.org - it is free to attend but there are a limited number of seats available.
A brief note to share our delight to be sponsoring the ‘Excellence in Learning & Development’ category at this years HR in Law Awards which is taking place on 7th May 2015.
We have been successfully working within the legal sector for many years now, helping firms successfully implement 360 degree feedback and performance appraisal process through online software, consultancy and debrief services.
In that time, we have forged long-standing relationships with many of HR professionals who continually prove themselves to be integral to the sustained success of the firms they work in; we wish them every luck in these awards.
The closing date for entries is this Friday 6th March, so if you do wish to showcase the great work you have been doing, it’s not too late!
“Creating the partner & firm of the future”
To listen to the webinar, simply copy & paste the link below:
360° feedback is a tried and tested methodology for allowing individual lawyers to get extensive feedback on how they are perceived , for HR and L & D to generate data which will support firm-wide development interventions, and which if correctly implemented, will enable the firm to understand a true “the state of the nation” insight into how it’s structure, processes and culture drive behaviour.
In this one-hour webinar John Rice of Bowland Solutions and Jamie Pennington of Pennington-Hennessy, explore the history, process, and benefits of 360° feedback. The webinar will include real examples of what firms have done to make 360° feedback successful, and what to do to maximise return on investment.
By the end of this webinar we will answer these questions:
- What is 360° feedback and how does it connect to performance appraisal?
- Why should you use 360° feedback? What are the benefits to individuals & the firm?
- When should you use 360° feedback? Timing is everything.
- What are the common concerns raised when implementing 360° feedback in a law firm? And how should you handle them effectively?
- How should you implement 360° feedback? What are the 4 key steps to follow?
- Which law firms have successfully implemented 360° feedback? What can you learn from them?
Whether you’re considering 360 degree feedback for the first time, or if you wish to make your next 360° feedback programme more effective, you’ll find this webinar interesting.
To listen to the webinar, simply copy & paste the link below: