Question: I am using a 360-degree feedback report with one of my clients. How should I translate the results into a behavioral development plan?
Answer: With the greatest of care, even when presented with the simplest of feedback. Always validate your raw data and never try to modify any behavior without understanding its full business logic.
"It's the best coaching work I've ever done," she says brightly. "Dr. Fink, I just have to tell you about it."
We're sitting at an airport coffee bar having unexpectedly bumped into each other between connecting flights. Matilda is the most logical, systematic, and intense person I know. Now that she's absorbed in telling her story, I casually take the opportunity to bite into my double cinnamon. Fortunately American Airlines is going to enforce a time limit on this conversation.
Matilda tells me about Frank, the sales director at a medium-sized company. Apparently Frank is a saint except for one major flaw.
"All the data agreed," she says. "Seven people said exactly the same thing. Three different psychometric tests confirmed identical deviant behavior: Frank's great; he just gets distracted in board meetings. He'd turn up late. While the rest got busy talking big issues—like the move to the new building—there was Frank sitting in the corner cuddling his laptop and answering emails. He'd frequently wander out of the meeting, sometimes for as long as 20 minutes, to place some phone call. It drove the rest of them nuts. Naturally, as a great salesman, Frank was always polite. Just absent. As they all said, distracted.
"Everyone around him agreed what was needed—get Frank fully engaged in board meetings. He'd become Mr. Perfect and I'd get to be recognized as a great coach."
Matilda pauses, eyebrows raised, an expectant expression covering her face. Perhaps she's seeking sympathy or my permission to go on? I manage to respond with suitable ambiguity: my body language could equally be taken as a sign of collegial consent or pure contentedness with my delicious Danish.
"So we get straight to work. Of course, he resists at first. Don't they all? He puts up all kinds of stupid arguments about how he's indispensable; he's the rainmaker; how important he is and so on. I wasn't surprised—his profile indicated he had too high an opinion of himself. And his favorite color is yellow! Can you believe that? Most people go for something bold: red, blue, even green. But yucky yellow? Howd'ya figure that?"
I explain that nature has made the human eye most sensitive to yellow, which is why it's used in warning signs. Yellow indicates action. And also danger.
"Anyhow we eventually agree on our coaching contract and arrange the sessions. One hour every Tuesday and Thursday over two months. Half of the meetings had to be on customer premises because that's how Frank likes to work—close to his clients. After eight visits, I'd done it. I'd checked all the boxes. I'd fixed Frank."
"You fixed Frank?" I want to check the factual accuracy of her assertion. "Yes, that's right," she informs me. Matilda confirms that Frank had been well and truly fixed.
"Oh, yeah," she says, "fixed for sure. At the next board meeting Frank turns up right on time. No laptop. No cell phone. Not only that, Frank joins in the discussion. Better than that, he leads it."
She pauses to grab my forearm just as I'm about to raise my cup. She looks directly at me, and I notice her eyes welling up. What she is about to say is sure to be profound. Her measured words arrive slowly.
"Frank made a real contribution." A teardrop. She waits for some response. I close my eyes and nod sagely. "What was that?" I ask in my gravest tone.
"They were discussing how many basins to put in the new men's washroom," Matilda continues. "The finance guy wanted to penny-pinch and suggested they install only two. But Frank, I am so proud of Frank...."
She falters, clearly overcome with emotion. The grip on my arm tightens. A full flood of tears streams down her cheek. It's now apparent that I won't be drinking for quite some time.
"Frank made the case for three. He acknowledged that the initial outlay would of course be greater, but successfully argued that with more available basins people would spend less time in the washroom. The small one-off capital investment would pay for itself almost immediately, improving productivity each and every day on an ongoing basis. Not to mention the hygiene factors, as the HR director put it.
"They voted with Frank. Unanimously. Frank got them their extra basin. The chief executive told me afterwards that Frank put forward the most compelling proposition he'd ever heard; it went to the very heart of the business's key performance indicators."
With this release of tension in her narrative, the restraint on my arm relents. My coffee has a definite Colombian tang to it.
"So you must be pleased with the outcome," I suggest tentatively. Matilda fumbles with her purse.
"Not exactly," she says. "Although it's the best work I've ever done, I'm not sure if I'll get paid for it."
"You don't think you'll get paid?" I ask in astonishment. "Why ever not?"
Matilda pulls a flight ticket from her bag.
"Well, it's kind of strange," she ventures, "but on the very same day as the board meeting, Frank's biggest client wants to place this huge order, one that might save the company. So she calls Frank's assistant to clear up one final detail. It turns out that her query is trivial, and normally Frank would have had no difficulty in booking the sale on the spot."
"Didn't Frank's assistant interrupt the meeting so that he could come out just to clinch the deal?" I ask in sheer amazement.
"Of course she did," says Matilda, "but after all my intensive training to prevent him getting distracted in board meetings, Frank flatly refused to take it. At the moment the call came through, Frank was talking toilets. Now they're in liquidation."
Matilda gets up to go as the New York flight calls.
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© Laurence S. Lyons. Laurence S. Lyons identifies himself as the author of this work. Illustrations © Janet Schatzman 2007. The "Dr. Fink" character and "Dr. Fink's Casebook" story title are proprietary to Dr. Laurence S. Lyons. Each "Ask the Expert/Dr. Fink" article is released under license to WABC under 'temporary copyright' limited to a one-time eZine publication.