Managing Up: How to Do it Successfully

One thing we have learned from years of administering 360-degree feedback assessments is that people can be perceived in vastly different ways depending upon who is giving them feedback. People receiving a 360 assessment benefit from understanding the different perspectives provided to them from various groups. As a 360 company, we have seen the benefit of understanding gaps in perception and how to close those gaps. One troubling gap that 360 participants occasionally see is a gap between how they see themselves and how their manager sees them. When coaching an individual with lower scores from their supervisor compared to everybody else, we have conversations about the importance of managing up.

Many people may feel—in a perfect world—that the concept of managing up would not exist. Most people want to assume that any difficulty, hardship, or success they encounter would be noticed and recognized by their managers without having to say anything. People may also wish to have complete trust from their managers to make impactful decisions without having to check in. In reality, even the most dutiful and trusting managers will have difficulty fully recognizing and buying into the efforts of their employees without help.

5-15 Reports: Your Success is Your Manager’s Success

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, created a system of managers gathering reports from their employees each week. He called them 5-15 Reports. Each week employees take 15 minutes to write about their current work, progress, challenges, and general feelings about how things are going. Managers then take 5 minutes to review each report. Managers then create their own 15-minute report to send to their managers, incorporating the information in the reports from direct reports. By doing this, information flows upward in an organization, and employees keep leaders informed about and bought into what is going on. You can use Patagonia’s system for upward feedback as a template for managing up.

Assume your manager cares about your ability to successfully navigate and manage your work. Your success is your manager’s success. This means, like Yvon Chouinard, most effective managers will care about critical aspects of your job. Using the Patagonia system, you might think about what sorts of things you ought to consistently communicate to your manager. You might also think about how and when you should communicate those things. Here are some ideas:

  1. Major or impactful decisions you have made or will make
  2. Challenges or roadblocks you are facing
  3. Progress you have made on major projects or initiatives
  4. Your personal accomplishments

Let’s look at each of these categories and examine why and how to communicate them to your manager.

Major or Impactful Decisions

Your manager is ultimately responsible for your performance. A major part of your performance will be based upon the decisions you make. That does not mean that communicating every decision you make to your manager is part of effectively managing up. In fact, for the most part, you should work to build enough trust from your manager that most of your work decisions will be made without their knowledge or consent.

Choosing which decisions to communicate and which decisions to keep to yourself is more art than science. Here are some questions you might ask yourself before determining whether to communicate a decision to your manager.

  • Would your manager disagree with the decision you made?
  • Does the decision have significant impact on profit or loss in your area?
  • Does the decision directly impact other departments or leaders of other departments?
  • Are you having difficulty making the decision?

Simply communicating decisions to your supervisor does not qualify as managing up. You should communicate these things with the purpose of building buy-in from your manager, and to solicit support for the decision you have made or will make. You might also communicate prior to making the decision to make sure your manager’s opinion is considered when you ultimately make the decision.

Challenges or Roadblocks

Part of managing up is informing your supervisor of the challenges you face. You do this for two reasons. First, when you inform your manager of a challenge or roadblock, you also invite them to help solve the issue. Your supervisor likely has authority or relationships you do not have. Communicating challenges allows your manager to help solve the problem before it drags on for a long period of time.

The second reason to inform your boss of challenges is to make sure they understand what could prevent you from delivering optimal results. Ensuring that your boss knows the degree of difficulty you experience is a critical part of managing up. Without that context, your manager may unfairly judge your performance to be unsatisfactory. The key to presenting any challenge or roadblock to your manager is to do so with a solutions-oriented approach. You may solicit recommendations from them, but you might also think about providing your own recommendations for how to clear the roadblock.

Progress on Major Projects or Initiatives

As you manage up, remember that your boss also needs to manage up. Equipping your manager with the information they need to effectively communicate with their managers or peers should be a part of your managing-up strategy. Your boss needs to understand the progress you are making on major work projects or initiatives, so they can communicate that progress to other stakeholders in the organization. By regularly communicating progress on major projects, you proactively hold yourself accountable to the timelines and milestones you set for yourself. You also provide your boss the opportunity to provide input and to support what you are doing.

Accomplishments

As you can imagine, managing up effectively requires that you find ways to appropriately inform your manager of your accomplishments. Many people struggle to walk the balance between keeping their managers informed of successes in the workplace and coming across as overly pompous or arrogant. While nobody wants to be seen as overly arrogant, you might think about how being a little loud and proud about your accomplishments might positively impact your career and your relationship with your manager. So much of the narrative that is built about you in your organization comes down to anecdotes. Other people form opinions about you based upon a few meaningful stories. You can gain experience by overcoming obstacles and accomplishing great things, but you can’t build your reputation unless other people know about those accomplishments.

Sharing anecdotes about the things you accomplish will help build your brand with your supervisor and with others in the organization. Informing your manager of your accomplishments provides them with positive anecdotes about you that can be shared with other people in the organization. You cannot manage up effectively without regularly informing your manager about your accomplishments.

Conclusion

The perceptions of critical stakeholders around you have significant impact on your ability to succeed. One of your most important stakeholders is your manager. You can significantly improve your manager’s perception of you by effectively managing up. You can manage up most effectively when you consistently communicate the right things to your supervisor at the right time. Create a regular process for yourself to keep your supervisor informed and appropriately involved. Managing up will improve your managers perceptions about you, and it will help you move your career forward.

Infographic: 13 Terms Every HR Manager Should Know

Download the PDF of this infographic

Whether you are new to the world of Human Resources or a seasoned veteran, here are 13 terms every HR Manager should add to their tool belt.

  1. Culture: a set of values, norms, beliefs, and understandings that is shared by members of an organization and is taught to new members as the way to feel, think, and behave.
  2. Tool/Lever: A technique, activity, or approach within a model to achieve a desired result.
  3. Artifact: An object that explains or provides information about a culture.
  4. Model: An approach, framework, or methodology for understanding or changing culture in order to improve the experience (Organizational Development), which then leads to employee engagement.
  5. Survey/Listening Device: A research activity designed to measure or ascertain an aspect of the experience.
  6. Survey item/question: the most granular level of listening; a query to measure a small segment of the experience.
  7. Behaviors: Observable actions/activities that demonstrate (or signify) a person’s or an organization’s level of attainment within a Competency.
  8. Employee Engagement: The employee’s emotional response to their employee experience.
  9. Leadership: Individual or organization-wide decision-making that addresses VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity)
  10. Competency: Mastery of a concept (theme or leadership area) by the effective application and use of KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities).
  11. Structural Devices: A defined and preconceived organizational process or system that helps develop or maintain an organization-based competency or individual competency within the larger culture.
  12. Theme: A codified abstraction that describes a particular area within a culture that can be understood from person to person and from organization to organization.
  13. Analytics: The application of data science principles to enhance our understanding of the experience and to reduce noise, complexity, and ambiguity.
  • Key metrics are combined data points to provide greater clarity
  • An Index is a composite metric (compound measure – multiple metrics added together).
  • AI/Machine Learning/Statistical methods are advanced tools used in analytics.
Employee Engagement Survey

Leverage Your Circle of Influence to Improve Employee Engagement

Cross-department collaboration

The concept of the Circle of Influence was made popular in Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, released in 1989. In the chapter describing the first habit, Be Proactive, he explains how people respond differently to factors that are in their Circle of Concern, Influence, and Control.

Many people tend to think of factors that are either within or outside their control. The Circle of Influence provides a third important alternative to help expand our impact, especially as it relates to employee engagement.

Your circle of influence
  • Circle of Concern: Reactive people tend to get distracted by things that are outside their direct control, or Circle of Concern. These are things like the weather, a pandemic, or the economy.
  • Circle of Influence: Proactive people focus their efforts on things they can potentially impact in their Circle of Influence. These are things like work procedures, perceptions of others, and the foods their children eat.
  • Circle of Control: These are things that can be controlled directly like personal work performance, how managers schedule their employees, and the food we eat.

The idea is to spend more time focused on things in the Circles of Control and Influence and less time worried about the Circle of Concern. Additionally, by pulling some items over from the Circle of Concern into the Circle of Influence, we are likely to have a greater impact.

Locus of Control

Covey’s ideas expand on the concept of Locus of Control developed by American psychologist, Julian Rotter, in 1954. Rotter argued that those with an internal locus of control believe they have more power over the outcomes in their lives based on their decisions and actions. They view getting an A on a test a result of their hard work and study. People that have a strong sense of internal locus of control tend to be more proactive and focused on their circles of Control and Influence.

Those with an external locus of control feel that they are at the mercy of outside factors. They attribute failing a test to poor instruction from the teacher or bad test design. People with an external locus of control are more reactive and focused on their Circle of Concern (external factors).

Team Exercise to Reduce Stress and Increase Confidence

Managers can use this model of Control, Influence, and Concern with their teams to problem-solve and prioritize work. For example, if the team is experiencing high workload or navigating a complicated change, sorting their concerns into the three circles helps to reduce stress and increase confidence. The exercise involves having each team member write their ideas and concerns on separate sticky notes. After discussing each idea, the team decides together where to place the notes in each of the three circles: Control, Influence, and Concern.

This exercise’s purpose is to empower the team by helping them realize they have more control or influence over their concerns than previously thought. Maybe a concern is outside their control, but they discover new ways to influence it. Those on the team with a stronger internal locus of control can help those with an external locus of control see more possibilities. The act of identifying team concerns, describing them, and organizing them helps to decrease the stress these concerns cause and creates an actionable path forward.

A Manager’s Circle of Influence on Employee Engagement

DecisionWise research shows that managers have a strong influence, maybe the most important external influence, on their team’s engagement. In the largest study of its kind, we reviewed employee survey results from 22 companies comparing the engagement levels of 2,300 managers to the their team’s engagement (18,913 rank-and-file employees).

We first measured the overall level of engagement for each individual using a set of research-based anchor questions from their annual employee survey. We then grouped managers and employees according to their level of engagement into four categories: Fully Engaged, Key Contributors, Opportunity Group, and Fully Disengaged. Then we compared the engagement level of managers to the employees they lead.

a graph of how your circle of influence leads to engagement in the workplace
  • The first group shows the team profile for 808 Fully Engaged managers. We found that 36% of their employees were also Fully Engaged, 48% were Key Contributors, 12% were in the Opportunity Group, and only 3% were Fully Disengaged.
  • For the second group of 1,154 Key Contributor managers, the level of fully engaged employees drops to 24%. That’s a 33% difference compared to the fully engaged managers.
  • For the last two categories of Opportunity Group and Fully Disengaged managers, only 14% of their employees were fully engaged.

The research shows that fully engaged managers are more likely to lead more engaged employees. More importantly, the percentage of fully engaged employees decreases 61% from Fully Engaged managers to managers in the Opportunity Group and Fully Disengaged categories.

Several questions arise from our research, including the following. Do more engaged managers put off a more positive vibe that is contagious to their employees? Or do more engaged managers practice more engaging behaviors that influence their teams? Our data set does not provide direct answers to these questions, but it shows that the personal engagement of managers does not solely reside in the Circle of Control. It indicates that a manager’s personal engagement expands into the Circle of Influence, even if they are not aware of it.

Engagement MAGIC Elements and the Circles of Influence

Now let us take this a few steps further. DecisionWise research shows that there are five related elements of employee engagement. These elements are: Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection. We can think of these as cultural nutrients. When we see high levels of engagement, we find these nutrients to be present, helping to promote strong employee experiences.

Managers have an influence on these nutrients more than others. Let us examine the amount of influence managers have in each of these areas and the behaviors they can promote and use to expand their influence.

Where the MAGIC elements fit into your circle of influence

Meaning

Employees experience meaning when their work has purpose beyond the job itself. Since meaning is determined personally, managers do not have direct control over how it is experienced by their employees. Yet, managers can help employees see how their work is meaningful. For that reason, we place Meaning on the edge of a manager’s Circle of Influence.

Here are some things a manager can do to help employees find meaning:

  • Include company values in team discussions.
  • Help to align personal values of employees with the mission of the organization.
  • Share the vision of the company in a way that is accessible to all.
  • Set goals and objectives that challenge and excite the team.

Autonomy

When employees have the power to shape their work and environment in ways that allow them to perform their best, they experience the autonomy element. Managers have direct control over how much autonomy employees have in their work. To increase autonomy, managers should:

  • Delegate both routine and critical tasks.
  • Allow subordinates to own and complete their work.
  • Hold people accountable for results.
  • Empower others with the resources and authority they need to succeed.

Growth

Employees grow when they are stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional progress. This nutrient straddles the circles of Control and Influence. For example, if an employee is not proficient in their role, a manager might require they attend training to develop the needed skills (Circle of Control). Other employees may be happy at their current skill level and have no desire to increase their capacity. Managers can then use their influence to promote strong behaviors.

Growth promoting leadership behaviors include:  

  • Provide candid feedback to others in a way that facilitates improvement.
  • Hold frequent development conversations with direct reports.
  • Seek to understand the career development goals of team members.
  • Provide challenging tasks and stretch assignments to team members.

Impact

Employees feel that they have an impact when they see positive and worthwhile results from the work they do. Managers play a role in the amount of impact employees feel from their work. Managers can increase the sense of impact for their employees in several ways:

  • Regularly recognize and show appreciation for the contributions of others.
  • Use accurate and consistent measures for success.
  • Set high standards of excellence for serving customers.
  • Help others understand how their work contributes to the organization’s success.

Connection

When employees feel a sense of belonging to something beyond themselves at work, they feel more connected to their teammates, boss, and the organization. Managers can cultivate a stronger sense of connection for their employees by focusing on these behaviors:

  • Understand and show sensitivity to the feelings of others.
  • Show concern for the well-being of team members.
  • Facilitate activities that create openness and cooperation.
  • Promote a culture where all team members feel safe to contribute.

Challenge: Expand Your Circle of Influence

People tend to view their world in binary terms- things are within or outside their control. They create a small Circle of Control and become discouraged by the mountain of things they place in their large Circle of Concern. This lessens their influence and creates a sense of helplessness.

Managers can use the Circle of Influence model to help themselves and their employees uncover ways to relieve stress, take more ownership, and have a more positive impact in their relationships and organizations. The next time someone expresses frustration due to factors outside their control, listen to their concerns and then try helping them think of the many areas they can influence.

“Leadership is influence. If people can increase their influence with others, they can lead more effectively.”

—John Maxwell

Podcast: How to Influence Others as a Manager

In this episode, Charles Rogel and Jefferson McLean discuss one of DecisionWise’s core leadership competencies: Influencing Others. They will be diving into the definition of what it means to influence others, whether as a leader or a peer, and how to identify who the influencers in your organization are using a 360-degree assessment.

Best practices for how leaders can use their influence with purpose and improve the employee experience include:

  • Build rapport within relationships
  • Become an active listener
  • Demonstrate commitment to your team

How to Influence Others as a Manager Transcription

Charles: Hello and welcome to the Engaging People podcast. My name is Charles Rogel. I’m a Senior Consultant here at DecisionWise. Our presenter today is Jefferson McLean.

Jefferson: Hey, glad to be here.

Charles: Jefferson is our Director of Studies and Research. I am constantly bugging him with questions about our survey data, and he’s very helpful at giving me good insight in terms of employee survey results and the other data analysis we’re doing with clients.  Today we’ve got an interesting topic – we’ll be doing a series of podcasts along different leadership competencies that we measure on our 360 surveys. The one we’ll be talking about today is Influencing Others. So, Jefferson, I guess before we jump in, I want to set this up, talk to me about how we’re defining that and what we measure around that topic.

Defining Influence

Jefferson: Yeah, totally. So probably the easiest way that we could do this is go straight to the dictionary. Merriam Webster defines influence as the power to change or affect someone or something without directly forcing those changes to happen. So, one way that I really like to think about it is if you walk outside during the middle of the day, you can see the direct sunlight coming from the sun. But if you walk out in the middle of the night and it happens to be a full moon, you can see the indirect light from the sun that’s being reflected on the moon. That’s what we’re looking for with influences; that indirect effect that you’re having on someone or something to bring about some type of change.

Charles: Excellent. And how do we typically measure that? So, we measure that on our 360’s and we tend to have kind of an angle as it applies to leadership influence.

Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. So, we use four items, the first one being, “communicates in a way that inspires others to change attitudes or behaviors,” and that goes along with the definition that we just gave, as well as “makes well-reasoned, persuasive arguments.” That’s how articulate you are and your persuasion. The other two items that we use are “trying to control for things that you should not do” when you’re trying to influence and that is the next item, “avoids manipulation and coercion when engaging in conflict” or “gains support of others without relying on personal position or status.” One of the reasons why we don’t want to influence through manipulation, coercion, personal position, or status, or rely too heavily on your status is changes happen in the organization all the time and once that status has gone, then that influence or opportunity to influence is also gone.

 Charles: That’s a good point because the word influence has a lot of baggage associated with it because of those reasons.

Jefferson:  Exactly.

Charles: So, let’s talk about the importance of influence. Why does influencing others matter as a leader?

Jefferson: Okay, great question. There’s a lot of broad, general topics that we could go into, right? If you’re able to influence as a leader, you’re able to change the environment, hopefully in positive ways. As a leader, you often have ideas that you want to progress or maybe strategic decisions that need to go forward, but you’re not necessarily the one who’s going to be implementing those decisions. So, you really need to help influence those who will be implementing it. You can reduce obstacles through influence, and you can often get around office politics through it. But there’s a lot of this downstream effect of influence that I don’t believe we really think about a lot. The fact of the matter is you’re influencing people, whether it’s purposeful or not.  At DecisionWise we conducted a study where we took couple thousand managers from half a dozen organizations or so, and we looked at the relationship between the managers level of engagement or overall perceived happiness and job and their teams. We found that when managers were engaged, we found 87% more than expected number of fully engaged, direct reports. But when they’re disengaged, we found 75% more than the typical number of fully disengaged direct reports. So, there’s this relationship between the manager being engaged and involved and happy and positive and their subordinates..

Charles: ..kind of feed off of it.

Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. They feed off of it. But the real surprise that we found was when we took a look at the manager’s manager or a director. We found that when the director was fully engaged, that there were 49% more fully engaged people on the individual contributor team than we would expect.

Charles: So, if you skip a level down, they’re still influencing engagement.

Jefferson: Yeah. 49%, that’s almost half more than we would expect to find, so that’s pretty big. If that director is fully disengaged, then skip a level down, we find 40% more disengaged individual contributors.

Charles: Interesting. So, the level of excitement and passion you have towards your job even if you’re not actively trying to influence people still has an impact.

Jefferson: Yeah. So, it then becomes this idea that if you’re going to have influence, you might as well try to be purposeful about it. It might as well bring about some change or some good or some benefit to yourself, your team, and the organization in general so that people can feed off that.

Identifying Influencers Within an Organization

Charles: So, we’ve been conducting employee engagement surveys for 26 years now. Lately we’ve added some additional analysis, or a section to the survey to measure or try to capture the number or identify the number of influencers within an organization. We call it the organization network analysis. Do you want to explain how that works and some of the research that we’re finding there?

Jefferson: Yeah. So, the organizational network analysis or what I call ONA, what we’re really trying to do is go in and identify the hidden influencers in an organization. What I mean by that is in any organization, you have individuals who will automatically be influential, right, because of their position in the organization or their hierarchical status. But there’s an informal structure to the employees of, “Hey, who are you going to go to for information?” Or “who do you find is really motivational?” or “who helps you with change efforts?” And those are the individuals that we trying to identify. And what it becomes is at the end of a survey, we’ve got three spheres of influence that we look at, the first being an Expert. These are the individuals who usually are hubs of information, whether that is specialized information or more general information that’s really vital to you or your role or the organization. They might be really good at problem solving..

Charles: A lot of experience?

Jefferson: ..yeah,a lot of experience, perhaps they’ve been there for a long time  or perhaps they hold advanced degrees. So that expertise can come in multiple dimensions, but it’s who you go to really, when you need help. The second one is Change Agents, and those are individuals who aren’t necessarily in leadership positions, but who, you know, have political or social credit we’ll say, in the organization to be able to pull others along. So those might be individuals who you find, more often or not, people go to talk about others or to….

Charles: ..roll out initiatives sometimes are involved. I think in some of the committees or other kind of initiatives that are going on in an organization to roll out changes. Their influence is interesting because they tend to be a little bit more maybe creative or assertive in how they’re positioned, as opposed to an Expert, where less assertive people go to them, Change Agents kind of push more things.

Jefferson: Yeah. Almost the concept of a social butterfly, but with purpose. The last influencer that we take a look at or sphere of influence that we measure is Mentors, those who are role models, career development, similar to Experts, right? Well, I guess they’re more of a hybrid between Experts and Change Agents, right? Because they’ve got some expertise so that they can be a mentor. They might not necessarily go and seek out people to mentor, but they could, but it’s often individuals who are more advanced in their careers who have a little bit more life experience and who others feel comfortable and safe going to for help and advice.

Charles: Yeah. And this is interesting because as we’ve looked at this and I’ve, and I’ve done this with a few organizations and looked at the breakouts, people aren’t necessarily too surprised when they see the list, you know, cause we’re able to kind of  depending upon the number of mentions an individual gets as an Expert or Change Agent or so on, you can see kind of the hubs or how it kind of plays out in the organization. And we always say, be sensitive to the workload, the amount of projects these people are on because they can burn out pretty easily if you’re not careful in managing their environment. But when you’re thinking as a manager, look at these categories. Think of yourself as a manager, are you an expert that people go to? Do your people rely on you for help? Are you helping to drive change in the organization? And then are you really trying to be a mentor to them as well? In terms of career development, those are all kinds of ways you influence effectively in an organization.

Jefferson: One of the things to also think about is as you say, these individuals who are identified as key influencers in your organization experience burnout. Those feelings, that emotion, it’s contagious. Like we talked about earlier with managers being engaged and finding their direct reports being engaged. So it’s really crucial that if you are an influencer or that you’ve identified influencers in your organization to really take care of them And I think that management is often the place where we’re talking about overburdened overload, how do we manage all these different tasks and responsibilities? And then what’s coming to me and I want, I want, I want, I want and trying to make sure that your influence is always purposeful and positive towards what end goal you’re looking for.

Charles: I think it applies to the manager’s team as well, because you probably have experts or change agents or people on your team, and you might tend to give them more work and projects because you know, they can get it done and they have the expertise, but then again, they get overburdened, and workload increases burnout. So, you have to spread the load. You have to be sensitive to those people.

Jefferson: Yeah, definitely.

Best Practices for Influencers

Charles: All right. So, let’s change gears a bit. We wanted to set this up and define and talk about the different aspects. Now we want to get into what can you do as a manager to be better at being an influencer and exercise some good behaviors in this area. So, what kind of research do you have for us here?

Build Rapport within Relationships

Jefferson: Looking at an HBR article by Dr. Laker and Patel, who are professors from the Henley school of business, that’s in the United Kingdom, they have an August 2020 HBR article, where they talk about different types of influence and at the end, they give a really good summation of things that you can do as a manager. One of them is to build rapport with the people you want to influence. If we go back to those four items, right, that we use to measure influence in our 360 assessments, two of them are directly related to what type of relationship do you have? And you really want to make sure that that relationship before you start to influence, or before you start to try to sway someone to the left or to the right, you need to build that solid foundation of the relationship on trust. Spend lots of time asking them questions, really get to know them, make sure that they feel heard and listened to. You want to make sure that you strengthen those interpersonal connections. One question they suggest asking that can be really powerful, especially when you’re new to management, is what have your past managers done that you’d like me to do or not to do? Even just going through and finding out those individual preferences is going to automatically help someone else be like, “Oh, this person cares about me. They want me to succeed. They’re looking for ways to make my work experience better,” And that’s going to help you when you go and try to influence, whether it’s their day-to-day decision or to bring about a change.

Charles: Yeah. And this is important, talking to your manager. So, managing up, how do I have that indirect influence? But I think it also applies across departments like your peers that you work with. You know, a lot of times we don’t pay too much attention. We have trouble with collaboration between teams. So the more you can do to also say, “Hey, what can I do?”, you know, “What do you see me as doing in my role that can better assist you helps to build that trust and then allow you to then have greater influence in decisions?” and things like that.

Become an Active Listener

Jefferson: Yeah, I completely agree. And that goes really well into the next step that they bring or next suggestion, which is to become an active listener rather than a transmitter. I think it is often so easy, especially when we’re in leadership or a new collaboration effort to walk in and to go, “Okay, I’m going to listen at the beginning and then, okay, I’ve listened now. It’s time for that. Then dah, dah, dah, dah, we’re going to take care of all these things.” But what you really want to do is maybe put aside that bias and continually try to practice some active listening based off of consistent communication so that you can really understand on an ongoing basis, how are they doing? What’s going on? What’s the water temperature of the team or the department that we’re working with? And one of the crucial aspects of that active listening is you absolutely have to act on what you hear. Not just, “I, listen, I hear you. Okay. Thank you.” And then you go shut the door and you’re think, I’m going to do whatever I want.

Charles: Right? Right. Thanks but no thanks..

Demonstrate Commitment to Your Team

Jefferson:  Exactly. You need to take that advice, that input that they give and act on it and be clear on making sure that they understand: I heard you, I went and thought about it and these two or three steps are what I’m doing because of that conversation. The last one that we’re going to talk about is that they suggest to commit to your team. This is one that we find often in our employee experience data, right? Individuals want to make sure that they’re in organizations and they’re on teams where they know the team and the organization is on a pathway to success. If you, as an influencer, do not believe you’re on a pathway to success, then either you need to use that influence to get everyone on that pathway to success or perhaps abandon ship. But if you really want to be influential, you need to show that commitment to the team. You need to show that, “Hey, we’re going to get through this together. I’m here. I’m committed. I’m in here for the long run, not just passing ship in the night.” And one of the ways that you can really help is to share your vision of success. You know, here’s what we’re doing as a team. Here’s what we’re doing as a department. Here is our vision for success, but also here’s your specific role, right? And here’s what important part you can play in the success, and really use that opportunity to influence them, to see the big picture, see their role in it. And then let them go and fulfill that role in the way that they see best.

Charles: This is a tough one too, because sometimes managers are split. Like there’s a decision that’s made, they have to go with it. They might not agree with it. And then they have to deliver the bad news to their team and support management, right? So, they can’t just undermine and throw them under the bus and say, “Well, this is what the boss said, we have to do it.” And so, in a way, you’re trying to play both sides and you’re trying to do it sincerely. You have to deal with some integrity. Without just saying, “Hey, you know I believe in this”, or whatever. So, I think it’s important to be honest, but also show that, “Hey, this is the direction we have to go. Here’s how I think we can navigate it the best. Here’s how I’m trying to support you as a team. And here’s the pushback I’m giving to management as well.”

Jefferson: That’s an interesting situation that you bring up because it happens often and in the academic literature, we call that a necessary evil, something that a manager has to do, that’s going to benefit the company overall. Have to do layoffs, have to do a promotion, have to fire someone. But you’re causing harm to another individual. So, the great question for managers then is, “Well yeah. I want to use my influence, but hey, this is an emotionally really difficult message for me to deliver”. One recommendation that’s come out of the academic literature to deal with those necessary evils – when management hands you down, you have to enact this, there’s no other way to do it – is to, prior to going and talking to the individual to whom you have to deliver the news to, is to take a moment to be by yourself, calm down your own emotions, and think about it from a large perspective. What our research at DecisionWise has shown is if you can tie whatever that hard decision is back to the mission and goal of the organization, not in a “Hey we’re promoting so-and-so and not you because our vision is that they’re way more awesome”. Right? You don’t want to put it like that, but you do want to say, “What we’re looking for here at company XYZ are leaders and managers who are going to be able to fulfill these following competencies….”, dah, dah, dah, dah, and then tell them those competencies. And “we decided to go with someone else”, and then give them a roadmap of things that they can do, once again, going back to that commitment to your team here, things you can do to get over this slightly discomfortable, unfortunate situation. And then you’re using your influence in the moment. That’s really, I would say really impactful because those types of moments hopefully don’t happen every single day. You don’t want to be passing down those necessary evils all the time, but if you use your influence in key moments, the stickiness of it, it’s going to last for a long time.

Charles: Yeah. It builds trust. It ends up being a positive.

Jefferson: Exactly.

Charles: Yeah. So, it’s interesting. So, in all three of these, as we kind of summarize and say, well, what am I supposed to do? Well, it’s about relationships and building rapport, about being a more active listener, and then showing more commitment to your team. It differs in terms of how you influence up, down, or across the organization as a manager, so you need to apply these principles in different ways.

Jefferson: Yeah, definitely. Situation matters and context is everything when it comes to influencing.

Charles: Excellent. Well, Jefferson, this has been great. Anything else you want to add as we close?

Jefferson: You know, the only thing that I would add is that one of the key things I think, that you really want to be conscious of with influence is make sure that everything you do is purposeful. Once again, going back to that idea of if I’ve got this negative attitude or feeling, that’s just as contagious as the positive attitudes and feelings, so make sure you’re influencing purposefully on what you want to.

Charles:  Right. Where’s my mindset right now, before I try to act.

Jefferson: Exactly.

Charles: Good point. Great. Well, Jefferson, thank you very much. Everyone else, thank you for joining us. And we look forward to having you join us on a future podcast. Thanks everyone.

How 360 Degree Feedback Helps Organizations

development-centered leader

For many, a 360-degree feedback assessment is a go-to tool to help individual leaders in their personal development. Indeed, millions and millions of leaders have benefited from understanding how their colleagues perceive and experience them in the workplace. Some, however, do not realize that 360-degree feedback helps organizations as an excellent data source to help leaders better understand their workforce.

To be clear, we are talking about using aggregate results only—not individual scores. Examining scores at the individual level would break confidentiality. Examining aggregated data, however, does not break confidentiality and can help us see trends as they occur across different divisions or groups.

This article will explore how talent professionals and other leaders can use existing 360-degree feedback programs to gain insights into key organizational areas, such as their company’s culture, training opportunities, and succession planning needs.

Engaged employees

How 360 Feedback Helps Company Culture

Because organizational culture is influenced most by its leadership, aggregate 360-degree results provide unique insight into how leaders think and what matters most to them. For example, in one company we found that overall scores were high in the areas of results orientation and performance management. This translated into a culture where micromanagement was high, and innovation and creativity were low (also shown in the 360 results).

In this instance, 360-degree aggregate data was available to senior leaders to assist them in shaping company culture by helping them think through the leadership competencies that were vital to their success and those which were distracting. Senior leaders were then able to focus on establishing and measuring those competencies that mattered the most to them. As Peter Drucker would say, “What’s measured improves.” 

How 360 Feedback Defines Training Needs

The second area where aggregate 360 data can help an organization is by assisting leaders in defining training calendars and programs. When analyzing aggregate 360 results we might see, for example, that managers generally scored poorly on “Delegates both routine and critical tasks or responsibilities.”  This trend, however, may not necessarily mean that leaders need further training in delegation techniques. Instead, by looking at other competencies and behaviors in the combined reports, we learn that what we are seeing is really an indicator that managers need to learn how to better coach their direct reports and that there is a general lack of trust throughout the organization.

When analyzing multiple 360 feedback reports, rather than simply viewing individual questions, we can see a story emerge from the data. These insights can then be used to create training plans that address the latent problems that exist within most organizations.

woman reviewing her 360 results

How 360 Feedback Improves Succession Planning

Our third area centers around how 360 feedback helps organizations improve their succession planning. With succession planning, we may want to see individual scores—but be careful. Individual 360-feedback results should only be used for succession planning if participants understand up-front that their scores may be used for this purpose. Even then, individual results should only be used to confirm what the aggregate data is telling us.

With 360 feedback group data you will be able to see the characteristics of your high performers. For example, do they primarily excel at managing change? If this is the case, then identifying those that handle change well (early in their careers) may be a good way to start winnowing a field of high performers.    

On the other hand, if your established high performers generally score low on decision making, then you may need to think about how decisions are made within your hierarchy. Are leaders actually empowered to make decisions, and what other steps might be taken to shore up this weak point?

Conclusion

Many companies conduct 360 assessments but do not fully utilize the potential of their aggregate 360 data. We have found that some of the most powerful insights come from understanding your leadership profiles and leadership competencies, which can best be derived from group 360 data.  Also, knowing what your best leaders are doing and how that is different from your average groups can be vital.

In summary, aggregate 360 data is a rich source of organizational analytics and should be regularly analyzed to provide leaders with the data points they need to improve their culture, training, and succession planning activities.

Contributors: Charles Rogel and Matthew Wride

Webinar: 360 Feedback Coaching Best Practices in 2021

Date: Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Time: 1:00 pm Eastern / 10:00 am Pacific

Presenters:  Dave Long, Christian Nielson

Cost: Complimentary, with free registration

During this webinar, we’ll share the best methods for debriefing and coaching from the results of a 360-degree feedback survey. HR professionals will learn how to coach individuals, interpret individual and group reports, and guide the development planning and follow-up with participants.

This webinar qualifies for SHRM and HRCI credit.

Why 360-Degree Feedback is Important for Senior Leaders

Contributors: Charles Rogel and Matthew Wride

As leaders rise through the ranks of their organizations, they tend to receive less feedback about themselves and their performance. This tendency is attributable to the dynamic where colleagues are afraid of displeasing those in leadership positions above them. Therefore, they give less than frank feedback on a leader’s performance, and the feedback they do provide tends to be shallow and superficial.

This tendency is a large part of why 360 feedback is important for senior leadership. 360-Degree Feedback assessments do a good job protecting confidentiality, which gives feedback providers the chance to be more candid in their evaluations. Honest feedback is vital in helping a leader understand how others perceive and experience them in the workplace and allows subordinates the opportunity to improve the organization by speaking truth to power.  

3 Ways 360-Degree Feedback is Vital

When a 360-degree feedback program is administered correctly, there are three clear benefits for advancing senior leaders:

  • Increased Self-awareness: Senior leaders can gain a better understanding of what particular areas to focus on with behavioral statements to guide feedback.
  • Increased Accountability: By inviting others to give you feedback, a virtuous cycle of genuine interest and accountability is formed.
  • Increased Performance: Seeking and giving honest feedback with the intent to help each other grow and get better helps build connection among an organization’s core leaders.
A Manager Giving Feedback To Your Employees

How 360-Degree Assessments Work

During the 360-degree assessment process, the leader, along with his or her peers, supervisors, direct reports, associates, customers/clients, and other stakeholders (like board members) rate the leader on a specific set of behavioral statements. These behavioral statements are associated with leadership competencies that are crucial to ongoing and upward success.

By using behavioral statements, feedback gathered during a 360-degree assessment tends to be more useful as raters are more apt to know when they experience positive (or negative) behaviors as compared to a process that simply asks raters to give unstructured feedback and suggestions. For example, answering the question, “What can Emily do to be a better leader?” is far more difficult than evaluating whether Emily exhibits a behavior such as, “Remains accessible and calm in times of stress.”

Using 360-Degree Assessments with Senior Leaders

It is unlikely that leaders have reached their positions in an organization by behaving in a random way. They intuitively have some understanding of appropriate leadership behavior and probably have a good idea of their own strengths and needs. However, as leaders progress and are successful, they may assume they have the formula figured out. They start to over-rely on their strengths and sometimes they fail to see when their leadership style needs to adapt and grow to meet market changes, cultural changes, and changes in employee sentiment.  

It has been suggested that humans are the only animals capable of self-deception. 360-degree feedback is a disruptive process that will help a senior leader stop, take a breath, and re-evaluate what is working and where changes would be helpful. 360-degree feedback helps us uncover our blind spots, and we may even find we have strengths we did not know we had.

Feedback’s Virtuous Cycle

When we ask others to give us feedback, we send an implicit message that they matter. We signal that we value their thoughts and ideas, and that we are humble enough to accept and use them. In addition to this benefit, when others give feedback in a 360-degree assessment process, they become invested in the process of our improvement. Thus, subordinates and peers are more likely to continue to support a leader’s development when the senior leader consistently asks for their feedback, acts on their feedback, and follows through with them afterwards. Hence, a virtuous cycle has been established.

Conclusion

When senior leaders ask for and effectively use feedback through a 360-degree assessment process, they are perceived as more authentic and genuine. We see them as wanting to grow and improve. Their willingness to be vulnerable helps others feel like they belong to a culture that values ongoing improvement, something leaders want the entire organization to mirror for the benefit of its stakeholders.

In the end, seeking and giving honest feedback with the intent to help each other grow and get better helps build connection among an organization’s core leaders and those that work with them. Leaders who have experienced the 360-degree feedback process find that it is one of the most influential leadership development experiences in their careers and does more for their professional growth than any other single activity.

Podcast: Including Voice of the Employee in Returning to Work

In this insightful conversation, Dr. Tracy Maylett, and Matthew Wride discuss key employee experience concepts to consider when bringing your workforce back to the office. They touch on how to use employee feedback to give front-line managers the data insights they need to manage a successful transition.

As we are returning to work, there are several factors to consider:

  • What are your employees’ individual needs?
  • Have any moved to a different location that may require continued WFH?
  • What is the best way to communicate the changes?
  • How can you measure their response?

Learn about these topics and more in this week’s podcast!