Ask An Expert January 2015

Q:  I am working as an outside consultant with a small organization, using the Leadership Practices Inventory® 360, and they’re concerned about confidentiality issues.  Senior leadership explained the purpose of 360 feedback and their interest in learning what they needed to do to improve. They assured everyone that no attempt would be made to identify any respondent individually. I also spoke to the confidentiality that is inherent in the online/web-based platform.  We have included some optional open-ended questions, which seems to be causing some concern even though I reminded everyone that I would be reviewing all of the comments, removing gender references or anything that might give a clue to the identity of the author. Some significant skepticism and distrust remains. Should I eliminate the open-ended questions? Is there other advice you can offer on how we might combat this level of mistrust?  

A:  Trust is always an issue whenever we ask for feedback, or provide it to others for that matter. Trust is earned and it takes considerably more effort to build it than it takes to lose it. Unfortunately, it is fairly common that lack of trust is a primary issue within teams. In fact, it is often THE core issue, frequently disguised as “lack of communication” or “conflict issues”. When trust is low, critical communication does not occur, goals are not properly set or adjusted, and organizations fail to fully leverage collaborative and interdependent relationships.  Lack of trust can create a downward spiral that must be addressed.

Once negatively impacted, trust is often improved by clear evidence that demonstrates that it is safe to trust again. Recall the Peanuts cartoon strip where we were amused by Lucy’s ability to continually convince Charlie Brown that she would not pull the football away at the final moment. Unlike Charlie, team members are not so easily fooled. Take the opportunity to use the LPI360 feedback process to support “trust building” dialogues among team members. In addition, here are a few other thoughts based on my own experience using the LPI360:

1.    Don’t eliminate the open-ended questions. This is rich data, particularly providing a context for understanding people’s feedback.  Handled correctly, this information can positively impact trust and enhance learning.

2.    Edit the questions based on Appreciative Inquiry principles.  For example, “Please describe what this leader does to increase the level of trust in the organization.” The LPI360 is flexible, allowing you to create and use customized open-ended questions.

3.    Use the Group Assessment capability in the LPI360 Online administration system to generate the page that shows the composite data for your selected group. Facilitating a discussion around the Group Assessment can positively impact trust and help identify developmental opportunities for the culture and team, rather than focusing on any one individual.  Pose questions like, “Which behaviors at the group level are contributing positively to the trust level in our organization?”  “Which of the less-frequently observed behaviors, if increased, might contribute to increasing trust in the organization?”  

4.    Be sure you have the LPI Facilitator’s Guide. It incorporates best practices to maximize positive outcomes from the use of the LPI.  Another quite helpful resource is A Coach’s Guide to Developing Exemplary Leaders.

5.    Use the LPI360 with the same team approximately 12 months in the future. Side-by-side comparisons are very helpful to assess progress and developmental growth, and sustain trust.

6.    In addition to any team LPI360 debriefing sessions, I’ve found that a one-to-one LPI coaching session is very effective in helping individual leaders capture a deeper understanding of their feedback. Where trust is low, “classroom” style debriefs are often less effective than 1:1 discussions.

Bruce Leamon is President of Leamon Group, Inc. and a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge.  With 20+ years of executive experience with a Fortune 100 technology corporation, he has served on the faculty of one of the world’s top executive coach training institutions and has worked extensively facilitating complex corporate alliances, transforming teams, and developing both individuals and organizations with measurable results. He can be reached at bruce@leamongroup.com.

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