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Our musings on making 360 degree feedback fantastic
A previous article, “Be a transformational change agent: four levels in managing resistance (Part 1)” described the first step in managing resistance: listening, making safe and deep questioning. This will often ease the path and open up conversation for profound contribution and coaching, but it may not be sufficient. You may need to go to Level 2. Here it is – a second excerpt from my book “360 Degree Feedback: A Transformational Approach”.
Let’s assume there is something interesting in the feedback you have for them and they are truly appreciating the significance of this, even after your best attempt at exploring and questioning. This level is about encouraging them to consider and feel the true impact and potential consequences.
Why is this such a good idea? Well, in my observations, it is a key step in transformational processes. There is a very basic premise that assumes that people do things for good reasons. Everything anyone does, they do it for what seems like a good reason to them. Others may consider them totally daft of course and you can have a situation where literally everyone around you thinks something different from you so even if others think you should do something differently you will have good reason not to. If you did not have good reason then of course you would do things differently. There is a logic in the way people work. If you truly get into the logic you can attempt to unpick it but people are very well tuned to preventing anyone in to mess with their logic. They like their stories about themselves, they are deeply vested in keeping them as they are as their whole lives are built on top of them – why on earth should they change them? So, they need to see that there is sufficient at stake, there is a significant impact that is worth a re-evaluation. And anyway, who is anyone else to say that they should indeed change their views and thoughts about themselves – it is their call. So, key to this stage of managing resistance is your being firmly and clearly in a position where it is totally ok for them to be where they are. Then they will feel they have choice.
So you need to bring two things to this stage – a clarity and exploration of what is at stake and with what the consequences might be and a freedom to choose options and stay as they are (and then they will feel they can choose a new way too). This latter point can be quite scary and difficult to accept for many consultants and HR people – the clearer you are about how bad this current situation is for them, the harder it can be to grant them the option not to change. Be brave, have a go with this approach – let go that you have any right or permission to have opinions about how other people manage their lives and all sorts may emerge – you may be surprised at how easy this is and how useful it can be!
CEO of a City investment bank was “testing out” the 360 degree feedback process as he wanted everyone else to do it. His data was strong and good across the model with highlights in dynamism, specialist expertise and dealing with complexity but it did have some low ratings in the area of listening and openness to others’ ideas. There were also lowish ratings from his direct reports in terms of motivation and engagement. We explored the data fast and he seemed to understand it well and openly. He could even see the possibility of a link between these two low areas but his response was “Well, that’s my style. If they can’t keep up I need to move on and don’t have the time to work any other way.”
Time to engage stage 2 so I asked him “What is the impact of this style (using his terminology) on your ability to drive a supremely successful business (the previously agreed goal)?”. The response was more considered – he thought and eventually said “Well I guess it’s not great is it? But what can I do about it?” and then followed a full exploration of what was behind this “style”, what the crucial moments really were for his people and what alternative strategies he could realistically deploy. He ended up clearly wanting to test out a few ideas with his PA to see what she thought which resulted in him holding Friday lunchtime sandwich sessions which gave everyone in the office a chance to talk with him and the other senior leaders. Result!”
“What is the impact of X on your goal of Y?” This is a really simple question that can change everything. You can see that you cannot even ask it if you have not got a clear agreed goal to refer to though – hence why this step in the Discovery process (described earlier in the book) is critical. If ever I don’t have a goal to refer to (very rare these days) I find myself totally floundering at this stage and just get more determined to pin down that thing that they want.
Sometimes the participant does not see the impact on their goal in anything other than an “It’s OK” type of light. This may be because it genuinely had been OK up to now. In fact this is a key aspect of reality that is worth acknowledging as it is true – the 360 degree feedback automatically refers to the past (opinions from before now) and, given they are actually alive and employed right now, it must have been OK. So it really does take an openness of mind to be willing to see that maybe it is not ok for the future. They need to be reassured that things can be different as this will stop them relating to it as not OK.
One question on impact may be sufficient but sometimes that doesn’t quite work and you need to work a little harder in this level of intervention. Here is an example of a tougher one:
The FD of a telecommunications company in the Home Counties was doing a 360 degree feedback alongside his Board level colleagues (just to encourage them?) and his data had significant low ratings relating to listening and managing conflict constructively. This was coming from colleagues and reports, less from his boss with whom he had a positive relationship (although he thought the CEO was too soft).
Stage 1 meant he understood the data and he was actually quite amused by it. If anything this was encouraging him to think less of his colleagues: “Well, they are weaker than I thought – they shouldn’t be shy in coming forward with their views!”. I asked the Stage 2 question: “How does this impact your chances for promotion to Group FD do you think?” and he was clear it made no difference.
I then asked the secondary level question: “How does it leave your colleagues then?”. This stopped him and he thought about it and eventually came back with “I don’t know”. I was then able to point him to the report where there was feedback on exactly this issue which was that his colleagues were asking him to intervene and guide them more proactively. I then connected this feedback to the potential impact on the business and his ability to be an inspiring leader as a Group FD. Then we could discuss what could be done.
Getting to “I don’t know” is a good result in this stage – in any stage. A position of curiosity and not knowing is a healthy one both for you and them. You can then add in hypotheses which is a useful way of moving towards an opinion or judgement without be too definitive. You can then look for more data and information to see if these hypotheses fit. As an aside, this is a useful technique to use if your participant has interpreted feedback in a particular way which you think might be wrong – see the following example:
“They are saying this about my listening because we had a big row about cutting costs the other day.” You think “Hmm, not sure about that” and you say “Well that is one hypothesis to explain it. Are there any others? I can see one you might want to consider”.
After waiting for their reflection you might then offer yours: “Any chance it could be because you do not rate your direct reports” views particularly as that could leave them feeling like you aren’t interested in listening?”. If he does not see this then you can still leave this second hypothesis on the table for checking back to later: “Well, let’s see if there is any data later on which will confirm either of these – you may even have to ask them directly to find out the real answer”.
This stage takes just one carefully selected question or a few choice questions and as you can see, it can take your participant to a whole new perspective on their data and their future. You can always tell that this is working from their reflection or a change in how they are holding themselves. They may sit back, or come forward. They may cry. They may look a little wet-eyed. The point is that the shift only happens if they feel the impact. If they simply talk about it in the same manner as they have previously been talking then they may only be seeing it intellectually. You may need to make it safer and more reassuring for them to allow them to get it emotionally. This is where the transformation occurs and these emotional reactions may then need to be supported and managed carefully… more about that later.
Even though this stage has a good success rate and generally does work, it is not guaranteed as resistance can kick in to prevent people to seeing and feeling the consequences but do not worry, there are further stages at your disposal, to be published in our next article.
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