Wisdom from The Invisible Spotlight: More on Discovering your Impact

QUESTION: I just read your recent blog on feedback. You seem to find employee surveys and feedback instruments suspect. Yet in our organization, 360° evaluations for all levels of management are common. Could you elaborate on your jaundiced view of them?

ANSWER: I wouldn’t go so far as to say our take on these overpriced, overused, limited value instruments is “jaundiced.” Let’s just say we think they’re overpriced, overused, and of limited value.

Most feedback instruments are pre-printed questionnaires distributed to a manager’s superiors, colleagues, and subordinates. They include multiple choice and forced ranking questions and maybe some space for a personal comment or two.

The completed forms are software-scored, and the scores are compared to a pre-defined “database” of management characteristics. A “profile” of the manager is created by finding matches between the manager’s scores and the database characteristics. Then a “narrative” is generated based on the matches.

All very objective and standardized. These instruments can be comprehensive in coverage, the scoring is free of human bias, and the results let you compare one manager to the next.

Here’s the problem: The stock questions and response choices limit the profile’s depth and individuality. These instruments are designed with uniformity and ease of analysis in mind so they tend to be formulaic, sometimes bordering on a horoscope! 

They can’t get at the unique attributes and tendencies that an individual manager exhibits on a day-to-day basis in real life situations. The profile might, for example, classify a manager as “Verbal” and “Extroverted,” but it can’t know that he talks too damn much in meetings or has all the answers ready before the questions have been asked or communicates with an arrogant tone or dismisses ideas with which he disagrees. Furthermore, these packages typically can’t define an improvement strategy with any specificity.

If you really want to know how you’re doing as a manager, try foregoing quantification in favor of individualization and depth. Over 35 years, we’ve found that one-on-one interviews conducted by neutral third parties with a manager’s superiors, colleagues and subordinates will yield far richer and more detailed information. Confidential interviews – run either by a trusted, even-handed professional within the organization or from the outside – encourage people to speak more specifically, reflectively, and forthrightly about a manager’s strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, habits and impacts. When a profile based on this type of information is presented to the manager in an intelligent, respectful way, his or her ability and willingness to make day-to-day behavioral adjustments increase enormously.

So… jaundiced? Not really. Just realistic about what actually helps real managers have the most positive impact on their relationships in the unremitting glare of the invisible spotlight.


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