A Coaching Power Tool created by Dhruva Sen
(Executive Coach, INDIA)
All of us struggle to maintain alignment with our core values, ethics, and principles. Despite all our stated beliefs, we face opposition and restraining forces and these sometimes make us do things that are contrary to our missions and intentions. There are deeply embedded habits and changing them requires a high degree of self-awareness and regular feedback to our performance. Feedback helps us to overcome the pulls of the past-habits formed etc. These pulls also create a delusion of our selves which feedback helps to overcome.
In the corporate context, the two most common methodologies adopted for eliciting and sharing feedback are the 360-degree feedback system and assessment/development center.
Both the systems focus on behaviors demonstrated around defined competencies (which provides the relevance) and the behavior indicators, which defines the behaviors wrt a specific competency. The other common part is that both are multi-raters and use multiple sources of data(tools/role set touchpoints). This increases their objectivity. Both the methods assess the extent of demonstration of competency on a scale of the rating where the extremities are defined as not demonstrated to extremely well demonstrated.
The differences lie in the fact that 360-degree sources data from multiple stakeholders which could be internal or external. Internal stakeholders are typically the role set members i.e subordinates, peers, and bosses. (singular or plural), and the external stakeholders are the customers and the vendors. The participant normally chooses who would give feedback. The assessment/development center method on the other hand looks at the behaviors demonstrated during a simulated activity like group exercise, role play, etc.
Once the data is obtained, the feedback process sets in. The service of a trained external consultant is sought as the employee would then be more forthcoming in his interaction. Feedback follows a structured methodology and the objective is to facilitate the development of the individual around the behaviors specific to a Competency. The behaviors in 360 degrees are per se work contextually while for assessment/development center it is around the behaviors observed by trained assessors through the activities chosen. (Assumption is that the activities chosen would mirror the work context and makes it knowledge agnostic).
Aiding the process is a psychometric instrument which is the individual’s preferred response to a variety of situations which again demonstrates the demonstration of competency. The feedback process is meant to be 2 way and is exploratory. The trained feedback provider would not only look at what is evident and but also the not so evident. Sharp Observation is the key. The model which is normally deployed is the Johari window named after Joe and Harry. A pictorial depiction of the window is as follows: http://media.ove.cybermage.se/2010/01/johari-window.jpg Public Knowledge is the open arena and also the blind spot while Private knowledge is the hidden or facade area and the dark area which is unknown to both.
The feedback process while primarily focussing on the blind spots also touches upon the facade arena. Data for blind spots is obtained from observations of various stakeholders(360 degrees) in the work context and observational data of assessors (assessment/development center) and for the facade area, it is normally from the Psychometric tool.
An interesting insight from this process is that a bye product of feedback is that the magnitude of the arenas alter-Open arena increases in size while the rest decrease. Development initiatives become more meaningful and as Marshall Goldsmith calls it “the road to Damascus” moments or aha moments create the shifts. These are invaluable and rare moments that make us aware of deep-rooted beliefs and blocks.
Types of feedback
Solicited feedback-seeking views, opinions, and critique. The challenge lies in that we may get what we ask, depending on the way we seek feedback. Eg. If a boss asks his team, tell me how am I doing? All may say positive things. But, if the question is flipped and we ask “how can I do better “or “ What can I do differently?”.
The chances of securing authentic data increases when instead of asking value-laden and close-ended questions, we ask more open-ended questions, and with a greater focus on improvement. How can I do better? This demonstrates commitment towards improvement and the power relationships do not interfere.
Unsolicited feedback –described above through assessment/development Centre or 360-degree feedback. The challenge lies in our self-awareness and also in the way feedback is shared. Getting defensive or lowering self-esteem will only adversely impact the feedback giving/sharing process. Also, the feedback provider has to completely trust us and be certain that there will be no adverse consequences of sharing the feedback.
During meetings, we pick up a lot of data points if we are observant of the messages conveyed through the subtle shifts in body language. This can also be during our normal one to one interaction process. This kind of feedback is very objective and at times much richer in content compared to feedback being shared on one to one etc. We can pick up signals from eye contact i.e whether the other person is looking into the eye or not, intensity brought in during handshake, positions we take while talking (often it is leaning forward towards authority), awareness of the attention people bestow when we are speaking, how we are greeted, etc.
Marshall Goldsmith calls the process “observing with judgment” when a pattern emerges. We can do this only when we are in the silent mode i.e. we are not absorbed in our self-talk. Road Blocks in the feedback process: In real life, while we readily accept positive feedback and are more than willing to share more data, it is the negative feedback we often respond with our defense mechanisms. Common responses emanate from Shock (owing to surprise), Anger (owing to disappointment/irritation), Resistance, and Acceptance. We tend to accept feedback which reinforces our self-image and rejects inconsistent feedback. A lot of care has to be taken so that the individual’s self-esteem is protected and a positive climate is created for considering areas of change. The focus should also remain on the data and not on “who” has said but “what” has been said. This is especially true in 360-degree feedback. It also helps to focus on patterns rather than isolated observations, which are more of an outlier. “Shoot the messenger” is a common syndrome to negative feedback.
In the case of successful people, the problem becomes manifold. They do not want to hear negative feedback and feedback providers are reluctant to share negative feedback with them. There is a huge delusion about their achievements and no matter howsoever we focus on the task, they would retort with data showing great results.
There is also a concern typically heightened in 360 degrees, when Organizations choose the feedback provider, that the person giving the feedback is not conversant with the challenges involved in the participant’s role. In the reverse scenario, there is always a danger of data contamination as there are cultures where people are reluctant to share shortcomings especially when it is not anonymous. Maintaining relationships or having superficial congeniality is paramount.
The transition from good to great is not something easily felt when an outsider shares data. The other issue around feedback is that it focuses on past data or lag indicators. Sharing negative feedback becomes a major issue because it is focussing on the failed past data and it is reinforcing the failure. We can’t change the past; we can only architect the future. With negative feedback, energy to architect the future diminishes as the participant perceives it as a criticism notwithstanding all the precautions taken.
It also tells us what to change but not how to change. This is not to state that feedback is not important. Without a system of feedback, we would not be able to have any gap analysis and this would put brakes on progress.
As the name suggests, it focuses on the future and more importantly in creating the future. This is unlike, feedback, which focuses exclusively on the past. It indicates a desired future behavior or path to a goal. Feedforward provides information, images, etc. exclusively about what one could do right in the future, often in contrast to what one has done in the past. The feed-forward method of teaching and learning is in contrast to feedback because it focuses on learning in the future, whereas feedback uses information from a past event to provide reflection and the basis for behaving and thinking differently. How do we create the future? We create it by
a) asking for suggestions for the future,
b) listening to ideas and
c) just acknowledging.
Just to share an example.
You might want to improve your listening ability. This is something that would make a change to your life.
- Share your goal with all whom you are in touch with and ask each of them for two suggestions for your future that would help you achieve a positive change in listening. What are the behaviors I need to demonstrate which would meet my objective of being a good listener? He might respond, do not interrupt when someone is speaking irrespective of agreement/disagreement.
- We listen to the ideas suggested attentively. We do not judge or filter or critique. Listening without judging is the key.
- We acknowledge every provider of ideas.
- We act.
Feed-forward: Uniqueness and advantages
- It lets go of the past without being too much consumed by it.
- It focuses on the solutions and not on problems or where we went wrong.
- It forces us to ask and this expands the circle of influence
- Enhances relationship and stake in each other.
- Avoids situations which may give rise to defensive behaviour. Feedback can reinforce stereotypes. People have little reasons to take feed-forward personally.
- No threat or pain in the process.
- It avoids driving by looking at the rear window which traditional feedback process does.
- Fosters and promotes us to ask and in this process enlarges our touch points.
- Avoids situations where successful people find it difficult to seek data on where they went wrong or people find it difficult to share to successful people where they went wrong. Often, available data does not provide any clue for that.
- Instead of asking where we went wrong, it is easier for successful people to ask how do we move from good to great?
- Data shared is very specific and easier to act. It forces us to think hard before suggesting way forward.
- We can change the future but not the past.
- It helps us to envision and focus on a positive future not a failed fast. This way we increase the chances of achieving greater success in future.
Timothy Galloway in his “inner game of tennis” talks of letting go of judgments and trusting oneself with detached interest. He goes on to say the benefits to your game come not from analyzing the strokes of top players, but from concentrating without thinking and simply letting yourself absorb the images before you. Absorption of images comes from envisioning which is an important element of feedforward.
Feed-forward being futuristic oriented meshes in very well with the concept of Coaching. While feedback can provide us some past data on performance, it does not lead to any significant shifts. Feed-forward, on the other hand, is improvement-oriented. The key to its success lies in powerful questioning and hereinbelow some suggested questions are provided. Possible feed-forward questions in Coaching Context.
- What are some things that you do well with respect to managing the team?
- What are the areas you need to improve on with respect to managing the team?
- What improvements would you like to see in the way you influence key stakeholders?
- What can help you in your developing yourself professionally?
- What changes would you like to see in the way you communicate and interact with your team and peers?
Marshall Goldsmith: “ What got you here, will not get you there”. Timothy Gallway: “Inner game of tennis”