On 2nd March 2012 Simon Walker, Global Lingo’s Non-Exectutive Director, talked to the assembled audience at TEDx Portsmouth about how using social feedback technology can drive performance. Simon is also Director at my360plus an online 360° feedback system for business. This is a great talk by Simon, it’s well worth a few minutes to sit and listen.
Professional transcription of Simon’s TEDx talk
In addition to the video we’ve also provided a full transcript of the talk which is posted below. If you prefer you can download a PDF of the transcript.
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Using ‘Social Feedback’ Technology to Drive Performance – Simon Walker
Well good morning. I have been reflecting on some of the things that Katie was saying. This morning, someone asked me what I did and, when I said that I lived on my wits, I think I interpret that as having a portfolio career.
Today, what I want to talk to you about is this concept of ‘social feedback’. That is the idea of using online social media-like systems in order to promote personal development by encouraging the giving and receiving of feedback.
What I would like to do is explain some of the ideas, research, and elements that drive this and explain to you and share some the work that myself and my colleagues have been doing. I want to then finish off just looking at where we think this is going, what the opportunities are, and perhaps what some of the downsides are as we go forward.
Who here does not use social media? Hands up. Okay, that is pretty reasonable. It is fair to say that increasingly the vast majority of us use some form of online social media, whether it be one of the networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, or so on. We could be sharing other bits of content and commenting on things on YouTube and Flickr, or any other platform that we quite like.
What we are noticing is that, obviously, people are using that. However, what we are also noticing is people are increasingly having intimate conversations. What I mean is those sorts of difficult conversations; the sort of conversations that perhaps we have traditionally shied away from. I was reading some comments on a YouTube video the other day where someone was saying, ‘I watched this clip and it made me feel better because my parents are going through a divorce’. Then this whole stream of other stuff came from these other users giving them advice and support – to complete strangers. I think, particularly the younger you are, the intimacy of the conversations and exchanges that people are willing to have online is increasing.
Organisational point of view
From an organisational point of view, what we are noticing is that organisations are trying to support their people in their personal development. They are doing things at the top end. They are sending them off on courses. They are giving them fantastic executive coaches. They are sending them to business schools. They are perhaps giving them technical and functional training that is completely aligned to what they are doing. However, increasingly, at the bottom of this pyramid, the tools are now out there for us to learn almost anything. If you have a question in your head, or you want to learn about a particular topic, you can Google it and you can get some great materials and resources out there. Not only that, you can socialise your learning in terms of asking questions to people in your network. ‘Has anybody ever done this before? Can anybody point me in the right direction?’ Again, increasingly, people are doing that.
The middle area
So, the idea of this social feedback concept is to perhaps be in this middle area where we are mashing up the content, the methodologies, the good practice, the research that goes into the top end, together with the ideas and the ways that we are working with social media-like content.
Goldsmith and Morgan study
How do we know that this idea of sharing stuff in a network is actually going to improve your chances of developing as an individual? It turns out that all sorts of research are out there and there is a particularly large study by Goldsmith and Morgan.
This was nothing to do with online; they took real interventions. They looked at 11,000 coaching interventions where the delegate gathered some feedback from a network – from the people around them – they interpreted that feedback, they then chose a goal – something they wanted to work on, something they wanted to improve on – and they then socialised that goal. They shared that goal with people around them. Morgan and Goldsmith then came back after a period of time – six weeks, eight weeks, whatever it was – and looked at the relative improvement on that chosen development goal, specifically looking at the levels of peer follow-up that that person had enjoyed.
What you can see here, in the middle bit, is the perceived change on this development goal. You can see that after eight weeks, if the co-worker did no follow-up, there was a small improvement, a small shift over to the right. However, as you would expect, perhaps it was not as much as it could have been. Then they looked at a group who had had a little follow-up, and of course it has moved a little bit further to the right. Some follow-up: it is going over in the right direction. Frequent follow-up: even further on. Then you get to this consistent and periodic follow-up where – no great surprise – you get the best possible improvement in that development goal. What we know about technology is, unlike human beings, it is really good. Technology is really good at consistent and periodic because you can program it to do these things. So, you can see that there is some hard evidence here to show that this sort of idea might work.
Developing the system
About 18 months ago, my colleagues and I got together and we asked ourselves the question: what if we could replicate that kind of environment that that study was looking at? What if we could gather information from an individual’s network – their peers, people they work with, people they work for, and so on? What if we could then present that information in a way that they could make sense of it, and perhaps give them some guidance and coaching to enable them to choose a development goal? Then, importantly, when they have chosen a development goal, what if they could then share that with the network – the people who had already given them the feedback – and then support that network with comments and suggestions to enable that consistent and periodic follow-up?
Before we started, we thought about what such a system should include and what core principles we should follow. The first principle we decided was really important. We are talking about quite intimate personal conversations and it is probably not appropriate, unless you have a particular personality type where you want to share everything, to broadcast on Facebook that you are working on building your confidence. Maybe that is not really what you want to do. With this principle of it being the individuals, the delegates, and indeed the network around you, who can opt in and control whether they are involved in this, it should not be a burden on the people who are being asked to give feedback. However, it is equally important, for the person who is sharing this quite intimate part of their lives, that they feel that they are in control.
The next principle that we looked at is that, if we are going to use this technology to help this consistent and periodic feedback, the communication between the system and the individual needs to be supportive. We need to give some ongoing coaching to the delegate. We need to give some help and support to the network to tell them what to look for; give them some hints and tips so they can actually focus their feedback and help specifically on that individual and the development goal that they have.
Whilst it is a technology solution, we should not necessarily be hung up on the channel. Human beings take information and communicate, and have a whole range of different preferences. Clearly, face-to-face is really important. We should not be hung up on the technology. In the system that we wanted to create, we wanted to, of course, do it by email and online but equally to encourage people to have those face-to-face conversations. Grab people round the coffee machine, send carrier pigeons – I do not care – but just have those sorts of feedback conversations.
The last principle we looked at was that the system needs to be able to help people choose their goal. Right at the beginning, we need to gather objective feedback on what people are doing. The choice of methodology or framework, in order to give some objective feedback, then enables us to be supportive. If we know the concept or construct we are looking at, the behaviour that we are looking at, we can then be supportive in the advice that we give people. We chose a well-respected behavioural framework. For the first system that we developed, it is behavioural framework – looking at people’s behaviour – with a whole body of work behind it that we know correlates to superior performance. More importantly, we know that it is particularly important in what we are calling ‘the new world of work’ in terms of things that are ever-changing and increasingly volatile.
What we have done
What have we done? We have a system that is up and running already. We get people to nominate their network. We then send invitations out to this network asking them to fill out questionnaires. I am sure some of you have done 360-style assessments in the past. They are very similar to that. We then gather this information together. We use very clever algorithms to compare the data we get against the framework that we are using to underpin it. That then produces a profile. People can the drill down into that and they can get some coaching for the particular behaviour they are interested in and the particular level that they are at. Then they are encouraged to choose a development goal which they then select from a list. That is all working.
The next stage
Now that we have our test harness in, the next stage is where people, at the end of that process, say, ‘I am going to choose. I am going to work on my influence’ or whatever the goal is going to be. It then says, ‘Look, when you got this feedback from Fred, they very kindly offered to give you some ongoing feedback. Would you like to share your goal with them?’ They say, ‘Yes, okay, I will do that’. They choose the people they want to share it with. Those people then get sent emails, in this first instance, which say, ‘You very kindly gave John Smith some feedback. He has chosen to work on whatever it might be. You can help him by looking out for x, y and z. That is really good. Can you be supportive? You can take him to one side, pat him on the back, say job well done, send him a quick note, or indeed post some feedback on our system. Equally importantly, if you see him doing any behaviour, that he should not be doing, that is eroding the thing that he is trying to work on, it is okay to take him to one side and steer him in the right direction. He really wants to know.’
Ultimately, we have a system that works. It effectively has your main homepage, or profile page as you would have in Facebook, where you can see the recent feedback posts, you can give and receive feedback from others, you can re-test yourself and see whether you have improved on your development goal over time and look at your reports. We are making it all look pretty at the moment so it looks a bit better than that in the real system.
Where are we going with all this? We are looking at using other platforms. We are looking at doing a mobile web app. More importantly, I think there are clever things that you can do.
Using the whole network
You can look at the whole network. You can look at the communication that is going across this network and perhaps get some interesting information about what is going on in the organisation. What are the sorts of thing that people are having feedback conversations about? There are some data to be looked at there. Additionally, you could perhaps look at the people who are pivotal in giving people feedback. There might be some people who are giving lots of feedback but also useful feedback. That is interesting to know. You might even want to reward it. Many others have coaching and mentoring as a target, a goal, that was set by our organisation. Here is a way of actually tracking that.
Of course, people might then want to gain the system. They might want to just give feedback, and it might be any old feedback, but again we can use the technology ideas. You could adopt an eBay-like principle where, not only do you receive feedback from other people, you can rate how useful that feedback has been given the number of stars. There are all sorts of ideas that we can look at.
Of course there are some downsides. Those of you who have already used 360 feedback will know that there is this concept of rater fatigue. This is people getting too many invitations, and emails, to do things. Again, with this opt-in principle, we need to enable people to switch stuff on and off. However, we can be smarter than that as well. We can use algorithms and the technology – a bit like Facebook does so that you do not get every single post that every single person in your Facebook network sends you – so we can have some sort relevancy algorithm that actually only bothers a certain number of people if they already have a lot of feedback to give to people.
Possibilities: emotional intelligence
We think that there is a whole bunch of things that can be done. It is not just limited to behaviour; we are also looking at other dimensions of human performance. For example, we already have a prototype emotional-intelligence 360. One of the problems with normal emotional intelligence-type diagnostic tools is that it asks what you do. However, if you have really low self-awareness, then everything else is meaningless. If you were to actually start using the network to say, ‘How did this person make you feel?’ that is valid data. Therefore, we have some ideas about stretching it into other dimensions of human performance.
We think our systems, and other systems like it, will increasingly be important. They are fantastic at maintaining that periodic and consistent feedback that we know helps people improve their performance. From an organisational perspective, it will help create a developmental culture because you are constantly encouraging people to have those conversations. Our dream is that people will be using these types of systems as readily as they are sharing a joke, inviting people on Facebook to have a drink, or anything else that we use social media for. We think these systems will develop over time. We hope we are at the forefront of that, and we very much hope that one day some of you will be using the systems that we are developing. Thank you very much.
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