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Which Way Is Up? Ask Compass – Volume 3

By Jordan Birnbaum, ADP Chief Behavioral Economist, Talent Activation

Volume 3 in a series of new insights from Compass

Welcome back to the third installment of Which Way Is Up? Ask Compass, in which we examine the leadership and collaboration behaviors that are measured and coached by the product.

Before diving in, this week we’re going to consider the accuracy of feedback provided by assessments in general, and consider the implications. When we receive feedback, it’s not only about us. It’s also about the person providing it. In fact, research indicates that roughly 50% of the feedback we receive is actually about the person providing the feedback, and not about us. This is referred to as the idiosyncratic rater effect.

Let’s consider an example. I, as a leader, could demonstrate identical behavior around recognition to all my employees. And yet Employee #1 could give me high scores for recognition, while Employee #2 could give me low scores for recognition. How is this possible? In this case, Employee #1 may have very low needs for recognition, and therefore my behavior is quite sufficient. Employee #2 may have very high needs for recognition, and therefore my behavior is insufficient.

So, what does this say about the accuracy of the feedback we receive from human-based assessments? That it is not an accurate and objective measure of our performance, especially when it comes from less than 20-25 people. At best, it’s half accurate.

But does that minimize the value of this feedback? Not at all. It merely requires that we understand that the feedback we receive is relevant both for assessing our performance and for understanding the inherent needs of the people providing us with the feedback. From that perspective, it could be argued that in some cases human-based feedback is even more useful than feedback that is perfectly objective and accurate. Because it lets us know what our people need from us, and that is extremely valuable.

LEADERSHIP – I receive effective coaching from my manager when I need it.

Many leadership experts believe that coaching is the single most important skill to manage a team effectively. Given what we know about employee engagement, it’s hard to argue against the point.

Consider two extremes of managerial style. Authoritative and prescriptive managers will usually rely on issuing orders and micromanaging to generate the results they seek from the team. However, this undermines the long-term motivation of the managed. People have fundamental needs for autonomy (deciding how they will accomplish their job) and mastery (demonstrating their value through their performance and achievements). Authoritative managers interfere with both these fundamental needs.

A hands-off manager will usually allow their teams to run themselves, only stepping in whenever a major problem arises. This presents a different set of challenges. To remain engaged, people need to develop, improving old skills and learning new ones. They need to feel they are supported, understood and appreciated for the work they do. A hands-off manager is usually unable to fulfill these needs, leading to long-term engagement problems.

The sweet spot (or “Goldilocks Zone”) is the coaching manager. Coaching managers are able to create an environment in which the people on their teams can experience autonomy and mastery, but also receive the guidance, support and development they need in order to remain engaged over the long-term. And a manager who is an effective coach usually enjoys sustained outstanding performance from the team.

Coaching is not easy. It requires a sense of trust, an understanding of individual learning styles, patience, and the necessary underlying knowledge and experience. Fortunately, these are all skills that can be developed, so that virtually every manager can become a more effective coach.

COLLABORATION – Takes on enough of the workload.

One of the more universally frustrating experiences at work is to collaborate with someone who is perceived as a “social loafer” (aka someone who doesn’t take on enough of the workload). Even worse, this type of behavior can easily become contagious as new social norms are established. As such, it’s very important that organizations take steps to avoid these types of outcomes.

One of the most common reasons that a collaborator fails to take on enough of the workload is that he or she is already far too busy. It can be very helpful for collaborators to share their existing workloads at the outset of new collaborations. This can help set clearer expectations about the “fairness” of individual workloads, and avoid some of the more demoralizing aspects of the experience. It may also help for organizations to be more mindful about the collaborations it initiates. Was there a consideration of how this collaboration could affect other projects? Is the group of collaborators the right size, and does it have the right mix of people in terms of skills and expertise?

After all – why do we collaborate in the first place? The division of work and integration of expertise create more timely, efficient and effective outcomes. A failure of someone to take on enough of the workload undermines these crucial benefits, and separately creates morale issues that could have far-reaching effects. Fortunately, this can be avoided through more careful planning at the organizational level, and more explicit communications at the individual level.

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