Feedback on Feedback

Posted by Richard Moran.

It was an honor to be asked to be a guest lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business by Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer. Jeff is a distinguished professor in Organization Behavior and best selling author of Managing With Power and What Were They Thinking?

He is a professor that wants his students to understand the realities in today’s organizations and I was there to tell stories about those realities.  He called me a “war correspondent” about life in the work world.

Not surprisingly, the two sections were full of the bright, ambitious, poised students one would imagine at the GSB.  I was there to speak about power how it can be used and abused and they were there to learn.  The basic premise I wanted to convey was that in most organizations power comes from relationships.  The strength and depth and number of relationships often dictate one’s power base.  The more the relationships, the better.  The higher the relationships the better.  This concept is one that organizations like Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and the Davos crowd at theWorld Economic Forum have long recognized.

There were no debates in the two sections of the class about the power that relationships can generate or that competence counts for more than credentials.  Where there was debate was over the concept of feedback.  A student asked about one of my early books, entitled, Beware Those Who Ask for Feeedback and the debate went on from there.  When it comes to feedback I operate from two basic hypotheses.

The first is that, in general, people can accurately assess their own performance.  Key phrase here is “in general”. While watching a youth soccer game recently, a boy who was maybe five years old, ran out of the game with the declaration, “I sucked!”  Immediately, a group of adults coddled him and said, “No, you were great, Johnnie.”  But I had been watching other players beat Johnnie to the ball and score around him.  Johnnie was right, he had sucked and he had accurately assessed his performance.  When I give a speech I know how I believe I know how I performed.  When I handle a situation, I know whether it was the right way to handle it, in my mind.  Of course, what I tell my boss or my wife about it may be different, but in my heart of hearts, I think I know.  The sports metaphors for this hypothesis are legion.

The second hypothesis is that when people ask for feedback, they are really looking for affirmation, not criticism. When your spouse comes out of the bathroom and asks, “How do I look?” be careful before you say anything other than a positive.  After a speech when your boss asks you, “How did I do?” only say it was a bomb if you have another job lined up.  Don’t believe me, try giving negative feedback in either situation.  There are exceptions to the rule.  There are those people who honestly want feedback, but those are often the people who want to move their performance from a level 8 to a level 10.  Those are the people who know how they performed (see thought #one above) but may want to be told they performed really well, no matter the reality.

Even in an official performance review, I believe people know how they performed and they are testing if the reviewer agrees with the assessment.  In any case, the one who is reviewed believes he/she is right.  And in that same review, any negative feedback will be heard but want people want to really hear is how well they are doing.

It is a rare manager, and always a good one, who is self aware enough to understand performance perceptions and provide direct and helpful feedback to all.

No doubt, doctoral dissertations and major studies have been performed on both hypotheses but through the School of Feedback Follies I believe I am right on both hypotheses.  Trust me on this one.



Cameras to the Left of Me, Cameras to the Right of Me…

Posted by Richard Moran.

Rhetorical question….When does technology detract from a special event?  Much has been written on the topic and we are approaching the condition where it never detracts or always detracts.  There is very little left in the middle.

We are digital people and it can be a good thing.  We love our cameras, webcams, iphones and all devices great and small.  Usually.  There are times when one wonders if the devices have taken over the event.

During the exhilarating broadcast of the Obama Inauguration, Tom Brokaw was filling time and said, “I wish I had the digital camera franchise in

Washington this week.”  He was right, the cameras were everywhere.  It seemed the only one without a camera was President Obama and Michelle.  If I had been lucky enough to attend, I am sure I would have taken a camera too and wished I had a better lens or that I had read the owner’s manual.  Nonetheless, I wish that there had been just a few less digital cameras and devices, at least around the podium.  We were watching people take pictures of an incredible event as much as we were watching the event. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Like most people I know, I was thrilled by President Obama and his presence.  I was moved to tears by his speech and the hope he has instilled in the country.  The crowd was inspirational too and I wished that some of those kids using their digital cameras to take photos from miles away had huge telephoto lenses.  I know they will be posting those photos all over Facebook to prove they were there and that it was cold.  What surprised me and had me wondering about the cameras, was all the people so close to the President who were taking photos.  As he came down the stairs on the main platform, I saw Senators and former Vice Presidents whipping out their little digitals for the photo op.  I saw members of the new and old Cabinet trying to figure out whether to look at the big screen on their camera or put their eye up to the little viewfinder.  The cameras were everywhere.  I was expecting Chief Justice Roberts to take out a camera and take a quick one while he was doing the swearing in.  I was worried that a Secret Service Agent would whip a camera out of a shoulder holster.  No worries there.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the official photos and see the photos of all the photo-takers.   In fact, with all the Official photographers there, why do the luminaries even have to worry about photos?   Did they want to prove they were there?

At the luncheon immediately following the swearing-in, I spotted Cindy McCain on her blackberry while standing six inches away from Al Gore and a host of other dignitaries.  I wondered who she could possibly be texting that was more important than the people around her.  Was it the baby sitter to see if everything is all right?  That might be an excuse but I doubt the baby sitter was of concern to her.  There she was at probably the most historic event of her life and she is looking down thumb dancing rather than talking about global warming or at the very least, the

Arizona Cardinals.  If she was taking photos it might have been slightly more excusable, but not much. 

The behavior is everywhere.  I went to a reception not long ago where the honoree was over in the corner on his blackberry.  Who was he pinging?  I can see a day where grooms will be taking photos of the bride while she recites her vows.  I can see a day when the quarterback will be taking photos of the defense while on the field.   I can see a day where …there are very few places where the camera isn’t there already.

Be present or be in the moment are sentiments that are worthy of heeding.  If the camera makes you a spectator instead of a participant, leave the photos to the people who are getting paid to take the shots.

Long ago at a Bonnie Raitt concert the crowd was going wild for an encore.  The stadium was full with forty thousand fans, each calling her name. She came back out, strummed her guitar a few times and said, “It’s not like I had something better to do.”

Sometimes there is something better to do than to text or take the photo.


Down Turn Opportunities

Posted by Richard Moran.

Down Turn Opportunities

As a young boy I spent time with my Grandfather, trotting along behind him as he told stories.  He was a story teller and a character of the first rank.  To all of his grandsons, and there were a lot of us, he was fascinating.  He would raise pigeons in his garage, have guinea pigs running around in his back yard, bury fish heads under his tomato plants and eat fried eel for lunch and share it with us.  The stories he would tell often had to do with the “Great Depression”, as he called it.

We would drive around in his old DeSoto and he would point out giant houses right on the ocean and say, “See that house?  During the Depression I could have bought that house for $2,000.00 but I didn’t have it.”  We would drive by a big Cadillac convertible and he would say, “See that car?  During the Depression a guy wanted to give me a car like that but I couldn’t afford the gas, so I didn’t take it.”  The list of deals that he missed was long and grew longer as he grew older.

The word depression roams the front pages and conversations every day now and has a double meaning.  There is the comparison and reference to that Great Depression of my Grandfather’s time and the mood of anyone who reads their 401K statements or labors in the auto or financial services industry.  As in, “I am suffering from depression because I feel like we are about to enter a depression.”

If my Grandfather was around today he might say, “Don’t make the same mistakes I made.  Times may be hard but don’t miss the opportunities that these times can create.”

It is a story I have been repeating lately as the waves of worries about the economy keep on coming.

It means take advantage of prices, take advantage of the time you may now have available, plan for when things come back.  Here are some opportunistic activities for this down time that might help the glass at least look half full:

  • Look for a job #1 :  Test the waters.  Then you can tell your kids how hard it was in ’08-’09 even for a real talent like you.  Troll on and you will get a sense.
  • Look for a job #2:  If you are one of the many who don’t have a choice about looking for a job, and there aremany don’t hide it.  You have lots of company and you might make new friends. 
  • Look for a job #3:  Try something new.  This might be the time to convert from actuarial work to zoo keeping or go back to school to get that degree in preservation.  Look on the job site at for helping jobs.
  • Look for a job #4:  When you see what the rest of the market looks like you might learn to love your boss who continues to invade your cubicle space.
  • Keep a glass of water on your desk.  Fill it half way with water and don’t let it evaporate. Gin or vodka might be an appropriate and handy substitute. 
  • Buy a house or two.  Eventually the real estate market will come back and you can do your part to make it happen.

  • Hit the romance key.  Some old movies and TV shows managed to make the Great Depression seem romantic. Christmas gifts were simple and presented with love.  (Think your kids would like a string of dried cranberries?) Think lucky romantic thoughts for this downturn.

There will be opportunities in this “special” time, just like there were for my Grandfather.  The trick is to discern which will be the really good ones that you can tell your grandchildren about.