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The role of #Marketing in an #agile #startup

Agile as a mindset

Technical startups are wriggly creatures, especially those that are grown in the wild, outside of larger corporations. The stereotypical bootstrapper with a vision will be unable to lay out any accurate roadmap for the business, technical development or marketing roll out. Why? Well, simply because they cannot predict what it will be in 6 months from the day they commit and pull the trigger by setting up a company.

And as my co-founder and CEO (at Movebubble) Aidan Rushby often reminded me,

it’s just about starting the journey!”

Once committed to a vision, there is an understanding that the journey is likely to change. In fact it’s pretty likely that you will have pivots, big or small along the way. Whether you are changing the product or marketing direction your journey will be fluid. Your value proposition malleable whilst you figure out what really does work, and what really does offer value to your customer. Now I speak more from a software/website development startup perspective but I would imagine that the same is true for hardware too.

So how does marketing deal with this constant state of flux? Good question.

Lets go back a little and look at what marketing was.

Marketing was the demonstration and monetization of value.

Having just written that sentence down for the first time since I learned it on my MBA I can actually see how flawed it is. The ‘demonstration’ of value to me implies that a business should show, advertise and sell its benefits and features, highlighting how this is valuable to customers. Now this is still true, in part, for those businesses that know how their products deliver value and are effectively a marketing led organization. But in agile development startup environments, unless you’re delivering something with IP, then you’re solving social problems, communication problems, integration problems, and the business is ultimately (and should be) product led. This is correct because you are ultimately testing and failing every day, building more of what people use more of, and less of what people use less of.

Until there is demonstrable value being delivered from the product, the role played by marketing is exhausting and incredibly difficult. It is not for the faint hearted, but if you understand the role of marketing in a startup you can add a phenomenally powerful competitive advantage to the business. Now i have limited experience to many, but it feels like this is a rarity in the startup world. I think that people view marketing in a startup exactly the same as performing marketing in a more established business. Before the ever-illusive product-market fit marketing is in a perpetual state of change, always in catch-up as it tries to re-communicate the shifting value proposition. This can be truly exhausting, and I can talk from experience on this one.

The strategic role of marketing in a startup

 

It was however only when I truly began to understand my role as the strategic arm of marketing within the business did I begin to get that it was about supporting the business at it’s current stage and not sticking rigidly to an MBA text book. I know people talk about it all the time, but the key is to learn to tell a narrative. Turn marketing into a storytelling machine. The reason is not what you might expect. If you are telling a story, the plot is allowed to change. It is expected to change actually, and in doing so becomes interesting. What marketing must learn to do is manage change. It must become comfortable in motion, and very specifically build processes, strategies and hire people to manage this movement.

There needs to be an understanding that what we are doing today will be irrelevant tomorrow. It is becoming much like agile development, however agile marketing is unable to check the rendering of a story on a screen, and must instead analyse both quantitative and qualitative data to understand whether it is on course.

Programmatic Marketing

So what processes am I specifically talking about? Well, there are many but for me it is about speeding up the time between knowing whether something is working or not. It is about automating reporting metrics that are important to the business and being able to take action every single morning to move the needle back in the right direction. The more you can turn the function of marketing into a machine, the more marketing can do its job of leading change and growth from within the company. Because ultimately I think that marketing’s new role in startups, is to be able to lead a group of people to work together and pull in the same direction.

Marketing as the change agent

Marketing has so many channels open to it today, that it is impossible to ‘do’ them all. But what is not impossible is to establish a set of process, from the bottom up, that empower your team to test and make decisions to ultimately guide change.

 

 

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Follow the leader, both in reality and in thought. How to change minds and ensure the uptake of new business models. #thoughtleadership

I have just started to read a big book. A very big book. Avinash Kaushik‘s Web Analytics 2.0 and i must admit i am hooked! I am not entirely sure how i have become quite so interested in the frameworks, mechanics and methodologies of disseminating metrics to acquire valuable insights for businesses and decision making but i have. “Who would have thought?” as my mother might say! As suggested in my previous post What is Agile Marketing, the ability for teams to quickly and confidently alter course based on real data drives us to improve on failure; over and over and over. I think it is this attitude toward a continual state of team learning that makes us all lean a ‘little bit analytical’ these days.

Now I have only read the first few chapters but one thing that has struck a chord with me already is that one (or a business) can be armed with all the tools under the sun and yet still fail to deliver on changing those frameworks, mechanics and methodologies that I have alluded to earlier in this post. If you cannot instil a change of ‘mindset’ (or will) in your customers or colleagues then you are doomed to the status quo. This is the power of leadership i suppose, and perhaps from where the coined term “thought leadership’ has emerged. Emergent internal team leaders, business leaders and businesses themselves have to be able to take colleagues, team members and customers in directions which were not immediately obvious or comfortable, physically and emotionally.

So this got me thinking about the process of altering mindsets, and how one might go about this. As a business leader myself (a co-founder of Movebubble) I am tasked with changing the mindsets of those looking to move house around the world. It is my role to push, position and illustrate an alternative method to achieve the same goals. With this new venture we are taking on an old, heavy and wealthy adversary; an adversary with real authority and ‘apparent’ knowledge. And in the mind of the prospect, this is the ‘status quo’, the way things are done… unless we can change that.

Daniel Kahneman has written of something called the Theory Induced Blindness in the acclaimed Thinking Fast and Slow, in which individuals are blinded to an obvious truth (albeit in hindsight) simply because of an official and generally accepted theory stating otherwise. People seem unable or unwilling to challenge it. In particular he talks of Daniel Bernoulli’s theory of economic utility, in which an individuals’ utility (or happiness) can be easily calculated based on wealth (see the graph to illustrate this below).

 

Kahneman goes onto to argue that this is in actual fact not entirely true, and that it does not take into consideration where you have come from, i.e. your relative starting position of wealth. I would also add into this that people don’t act rationally most of the time which is one of foundations of economic utility theory. Kahneman introduces the Prospect Theory, which does take into consideration the relative starting position to calculate utility.

“Well that obvious Logan!” I hear you shout.

My point is that for approximately 200 years, scholars, intellectuals and other economists believed Bernouilli’s theory was true almost without question, because it was an official theory. And the longer it went unchallenged the more official it became. They themselves had Theory Induced Blindness.

It reminds me, in part, of the Milgram experiment, where subjects of a psychology test were asked to administer potentially lethal electrical shocks to other volunteer subjects, simply because they were being told to do so by authoritative people in white official clothing. This recurrence of an ‘official line’ seems to be important in making people act irrationally. Our societies and cultures are shaped by our anthropological background as a species, and hasinstilled a sense of respect for authority, which we perhaps feel uncomfortable in challenging.

I work in the Real Estate and Technology Sector (Realtech) therefore I am able to comment on this sector more ably than any other. It feels to me, that the Real Estate and Private Residential Lettings market has Theory Induced Blindness, or as i am going to call it Business Model Induced Blindness. People are unwilling to (or have not to date) look outside the current models in play; but once they do the alternative will seem to have been so apparent;

“Why has this not existed before?”

is a common statement that i come across in my daily work life. This implies to me that this alternative ‘unagency’ or ‘customer collaborative’ model (as being used by my company) is, in hindsight, so obvious.

Even Mark Earls, author of Herd (officially one of my favourite books on ‘group think’ and ‘herd mentality’) talks about this power of authority, and how people are willing to listen to, trust and undertake tasks given to them because the ‘giver’ is an authoritative looking figure. Perhaps this is why Real Estate agents and brokers wear suits and drive fancy cars. I am sure that web developers with hoodies and beards instills less authority!

So, i am finally getting to my point, in that we can enact change in the market place, in any market place as entrepreneurs and startups by taking real positive action. It is up to us to be authoritative, perhaps even in areas where no one has authority. I am beginning understand that this leadership, whether of the tangible or thought variety, is the key to altering the mindset of colleagues and customers. Firm, consistent and constant messaging and communication thereof is the key to moving people into a new mindset or way of thinking.

This might perhaps sound obvious. Drone on and on about your ideas and eventually people will follow… no no not at all. You miss my point. One has to become an authority on that subject, find the knowledge that is not common, and share with the world. People won’t always like what you have to say, in particular the incumbents, but be sure to shout loud and clear from the digital rooftops that you really do know what you are talking about and that people should follow. Be willing to learn that knowledge with your customers, and even your competitors. Because if you are truly going where no one has gone before as an entrepreneur then knowledge on that subject will be few and far between. It is up to you to find, and communicate this through your comms and content strategies.

Thought leadership is a state of mind, and it begins with you…

 

Disruption, industries and perhaps a tell tale sign from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)

This may sound like a contentious and argumentative blog article, however it is merely written with the hope of stimulating a dialogue. The residential lettings industry is changing, evolving into a new ecosystem with new players and new challenges for both owner, renter and those businesses that serve them. As the landscape shifts like quicksand under our feet, old players and incumbents will go through the stages of disruption, as laid out in the Classic Disruption Cycle by Elad Gil.

classic disruption cycle

Taken from TechCrunch

These include:

Overconfidence

In this phase of the disruption cycle the traditional model thinks that the ‘newbies on the block’ are nothing more than young upstarts. A flash in the pan and that nothing could ever shake their hold over the status quo. There may be some simple regulatory action here, similar to when UberCab was made to change its name to Uber.

Sudden Collapse or #massmigration

This is the moment, when the incumbent realizes that they are on slippery slope to ruin. Massive migration occurs, and they lose a vast, sizeable chunk of their customer base quickly. This is the phase when others see others using the new service, and therefore think they should use it. I suppose this is the idea of social and peer reinforcement, or herd marketing as highlighted by Mark Earls in his book ‘Herd’. This is one of my favourite books by the way, some great insights.

“I’ll have what he’s having”…. is one of my favourite examples of this, and one I hear all the time in various forms.

Look at Airbnb and how quickly it spread around the world as more people knew others that had used the service.

Too little too late

This is the stage when the incumbents do what they should have done in the overconfidence phase. They try to save the situation, with innovations of their own but by this point they are already out of date and way too late!

Ongoing Decline

This is the stage when the older model of doing business is no longer relevant. It has been superseded with new customer expectations and better customer service.

So why does this matter, I hear you cry..?!?!? Well we think that we (Movebubble) are somewhere on this Disruption Cycle, with incumbents taking aim at anything new and regulatory bodies such as the Association of Residential Lettings Agents feeling the need to advertise on UK mainstream…(ish) television. Now this last point seems particularly odd, and I wanted to shed some light on ARLA for all of our trusted owners out there.

I felt I needed to gain some greater insights into ARLA and what it is like working at the sharp end of the industry. So I asked my co-founder Aidan Rushby about his experience and opinions on the subject. Some might not like his view, and for that I apologise. But without challenge how can we ever progress. It is our alternative viewpoint, that will after all likely challenge the status quo, which will always cause friction and disagreements along the way. Just to give you some context I am co-founder and CMO of the same business (Movebubble), and although this article does mention our business, it is in no way intended to be a sales pitch at all.

The words below are an executive summary of our discussion, and I really hope that this generates a dialogue around this subject. So please let me know your thoughts and comments.

Interview Executive Summary (05.01.14) with Aidan Rushby, CEO of Movebubble 

Most lettings agents will be proud to announce that they are members of ARLA, and are likely to even have ARLA stickers in the windows of the agency shop. It does sound impressive, but what does it really mean?

ARLA stands for “The Association of Residential Lettings Agents” and on the website it reads:

“The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) is a professional membership and regulatory body for letting agents and letting agencies in the UK. ARLA recognized the requirements of the residential lettings market were so detailed and specific that a separate organization was required to promote standards in this important sector of the property industry.”

Now don’t get us wrong, this does sound great but what benefits does this produce for owner and the renter (aka landlord and tenant)?

I have previously worked within the residential lettings industry for around about 7 years, and have an opinion on this that I had wanted to share, as it may be a little unorthodox.

There are some great things with ARLA, such as the requisite that all agents operating under ALRA must maintain valid Professional Indemnity Insurance to ensure that ARLA member’s consumers are protected from errors or omission made by any agency. ARLA members also agree to comply with all the professional standards outlined in ARLA’s Byelaws and Code of Practice, demonstrating their dedication and commitment to high standards in Letting Agency. Great stuff.

Be sure to check out  http://www.arla.co.uk/about-us/why-use-our-members for more information

From my experience owners (aka landlords) and renters (aka tenants) do not get any tangible benefits from utilizing agents that are members of ARLA. It is so easy to become a member, pay the membership fees required, put a sticker on the shop window and voila..! You are now a ‘Bon-a-fide’ ARLA representative. What’s more, an agency has to have only one registered individual per branch to display that ‘all important’ sticker and give the impression that the branch is a registered member.

Online letting agents like Rentify even have the ARLA logo on their website. This seems very odd as they don’t even conduct viewings and surely thus can’t follow the code of practice. They also allow owners to upload properties for free, without even seeing the property. Considering the statement below, as found in the Code of Conduct, it would appear that to be an ARLA representative you have to qualify all descriptions of the property to be true and reasonable.

G. II  A Member must take reasonable steps to make sure that all statements, whether oral or written, about a property are accurate and not misleading. In particular, reasonable care should be taken when describing property as Unfurnished, Part Furnished, Furnished or Fully Furnished so that applicants are not misled as to what fixtures, fittings etc might be included.

Therefore, how can Rentify adhere to ARLA’s code of conduct? We are not sure that they do but perhaps this is another post altogether… I digress.

Even one of the most successful lettings companies in the UK, Foxtons, chooses not to be a member of ARLA. Is this because Foxtons fail to find any added value from being a member, either for themselves or their customers?

So lets talk about the ARLA examination process.

In order for you to become a vetted ARLA representative, and be able to speak with authority you have to undergo a grueling set of examinations that only the bravest, smartest and most qualified can pass. Apparently.

I have been there and done them, and got the ARLA tee-shirt.

I picked up the required book, read for half an hour and passed the 4 examinations. I was only 24 at the time. Easy. Now I was apparently qualified to advise owners (aka landlords) on perhaps their most valued investment. My employers would confidently declare that I was the man to talk to when it came to advice about being a property owner and the trials and tribulations of renting out a property. In hindsight, I feel that this was very far from the truth. Another business of which I was aware, even allowed its representatives who were not ARLA qualified to claim they were and give advice as such. Mmmmm…. Dubious. In my 7 years as Branch Manager I was never contacted by ARLA. Not even once.

Another more recent point of notice.

Interestingly there has been a new ARLA television campaign, and this is no doubt to drive awareness and acquire more customers i.e. lettings agents.

But I wonder if there is a slightly deeper and more pertinent reason for this new channel of marketing. There is renewed vigour to regulate the industry, and perhaps ARLA are trying to reinforce the ‘need’ for the agency model and thus their own position within the market. No agency model, no ARLA!

I think that they should be focusing on managing their membership more closely, so that all ARLA registrars are offering validated benefits to the end users rather than showing off with large TV adverts.

I feel that ARLA, (and for that matter any non market-driven or Government intervention), infact prevents innovation in the industry with strict, archaic and immoveable requirements. Hence why Movebubble is not a member of ARLA. This is for several reasons. The first being that it is not an agency but rather a trusted community marketplace (or customer collaborative platform #coined) centered on the rental agreement. Secondly, innovation is stitched into our very nature as a business, and to voluntarily adhere to any restrictions would seem detrimental to our future success.

In all I think this is a sign that we are already in the Overconfidence stage, and rather than the business model and businesses therein innovating and coming out with new solutions for the end users, they are simply cranking up the ad spend, and applying the band aids.

How long will this strategy last..? Lets put it this way, I would not want to own a lettings agency right now.

Contextually Relevant Marketing aka CRM – coined (ish) #blog #marketing #digital #branding

I was sat in a meeting the other day, talking about software requirements. And we began talking about ideas of branding and how ‘advertising’ has changed. Its no longer about repetitive bombardment from billboards and placards. Advertising in my opinion does not do ‘maketing’ justice. Marketing is about demonstrating the core values of why you do business and ensuring alignment with customers. Its not about blag or smoke and mirrors. Its about well timed, relevant content and engaged communication to ensure maximum comprehension and efficacy. Its about being human. Scott Stratton talks a lot about this. Definitely worth checking out and finding on twitter too @unmarketing . So stop advertising and start talking.

Anyway i digress ever so slightly… So we spoke of Customer Relations Management Systems (“oh the joy i hear you shout”). CRM we then thought could mean something else, and we explored the idea of ‘Contextually Relevant Marketing”. I am sure this is not coined here, i just thought it was really cool and i wanted to blog about it. The idea that a brand should be engaging with you at the right moment, with the right content. The lines between customer and company are blurred these day, and i think those companies that cannot leverage this ability to engage will always fall short of the mark. I believe that most companies dont get this, they still act on the opposite side of the fence to the customer. The problem is, there is no fence anymore. Be your company.

Just some sunday afternoon ramblings having watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon. Fair play.

Nature vs Nurture. Leadership…?

I am sat in my MBA class leadership and change management, and we are discussing can leadership be taught and learnt, or are you born with it? Discuss….

 

Simon Sinek gives a great talk on #Leadership from TED TALKS. @simonsinek @TED_TALKS

Why do some leaders and organisations inspire and some dont?

Simon Sinek offers a great talk with Ted Talks about ‘Why’, not how and what. Looking into the Law of Diffusion of Inspiration, and talking of ‘Crossing the Chasm’ to mainstream acceptance, Simon’s talk is well worth giving 18 mins of your time for.

Get the ‘How’ right, and you get the rest. Simon talks of communicating with the Innovators and Early Adopters and you get toward the 100th monkey syndrome. You reach the tipping point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on this link to see the source of this image from Andre Ivanchuk.

Make sure you watch this, as i feel its very interesting when looking at getting new products and ideas into the market, and blows most ‘mainstream’ marketing companies out of the water. WHY WHY WHY!!

The World Economy in Crisis: Debt, Double-dip, Employment Outlook. What Happens Next?

A friend of mine from the University West Of England Executive MBA course just sent me this fantastic youtube video, of Boston University’s School of Management’s first event in the Dean’s Speaker Series. Entitled “The World Economy in Crisis: Debt, Double-dip, Employment Outlook – What Happens Next?” it kind of describes it all.

The Panelists included:
Jeffrey L. Knight, Head of Global Asset Allocation, Putnam Investments
Lawrence Kotlioff, Professor, Department of Economics
Michael Salinger, Professor, Markets, Public Policy & Law
John Zhao, CEO of Hony Capital

Boston University School of Management Dean, Ken Freeman, moderated the event.

http://management.bu.edu/

Be sure to watch this video, as it gives some great insights into what the great minds of today, are suggesting we do for tomorrow. I will aim to give this video some more time on this blog as some great concepts are talked over. I found it very inspirational, and almost a challenge to go and make ‘it’ work. But for now, here is the video….

Jeremy Rifkin talks about the need to evole into Homo-empathicus

The RSA Organisation is a true inspiration to myself, with many lectures and articles from some of the best intellectual minds on the planet. Jeremy Rifkin is one such mind, and is a bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet. In this lecture he explores the evolution and development of empathy and the ways in which this has profoundly shaped our development as a species and our social interaction within communities. Mr Rifkin calls for a more empathetic world, one where we can extend our empathy outside of our blood line, religion, and nation to include the entire population of the world, the animals within it, and the environment itself. He claims that the 6.8 Billion people of today (now actually over 7 Billion) are decendents from 2 individuals, ie we are all family. In the words of Rodney King;

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

As we have evolved our consciousness over time, from the early hunter gatherers, to the coffee drinking shoppers of today, we have expanded our levels of empathy to include people further and further afield. Taking Haiti as an example of the state of Global Empathy reached following the devastating earthquake there, Jeremy Rifkin suggest that we can evolve further using technology to communicate and spread the word. He believes we can evolve into a more empathetic species, called Homo-empathicus where we are concerned and feel for all people of this world and the world itself. Without this development, he states, we are doomed to self-destruction. Mr Rifkin calls for the beginning of a global debate to bring about empathic socialability and to begin to rethink the institutions (educational, political, commercial, societal) to promte a more empathetic world. And i suppose in short, this is what the RSA Organisation stands for.

I believe that unless the individuals within the business world begin to function with a higher level of morality and empathy towards others and with a better social vision that we will see a period of Global Destabilisation that will rock our species to the core, and will cost the Global Economy untold Trillions and set us back into the dark ages. Many people believe that Milton Friedman, the prophet of Free-Trade, to be an evil man but i feel this is a vast oversimplification. I am aware that he was involved in some dubious dealings and that his theories have caused hardship for many around the world, but i aim to look at his economical ideology rather than the results of such ideologies. But he once wrote;

‘our minds tells us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power’. 

Although in this he was talking about the centralised government, and the need to ensure a more de-centralised base for political and governmental power i believe this can be applied to a concentration of wealth, as it is easy to see that economic power can lead to political leaning and thus enable monopolies of power and self-interest. We, as business people, need to ensure that we are able to view anothers situation and seek empathy for that person so that we can share the resources of this world and promote freedom around the globe.

As ever, a truly enlightening and thought-provoking lecture from the RSA Organisation.

For another post from the RSA Organisation about motivation please click this link.

Please let me have any comments you have, so that we can aim to develop conversations and debate over this topic.

 

 

Mixed Market Economies… do these offer the future for economic sustainability?

There are two competing primary kinds of economic system in this world, Command Economies and Market Economies.

Command Economies function with a form of economics that is directed by a centralised government. Rules and regulations are imposed by this government to regulate the way in which goods and services are supplied.

Market Economics, are driven by just that.. the markets and Private Enterprise. There is little or no restriction imposed from any centralised governance, and the businesses are left to their own devices. The reasoning behind this system is that if the market wants a product it will be seen as a demand and thus supplied. Historically this form of economics has offered far more sustainable economic growth, and far more individual and business freedoms. This Private Enterprise System is effectively based on Capitalism and Competition.

In addition to this Private Enterprise system, there are also planned Economies where a centralised body decides on business ownership, profits and resource allocation. This is a version of Command Economics. One of the most famous forms of this economical policy is Communism which states that all property and business is owned equally by all (ie the State), and that a strong central government dictates what goods are supplied at what level and price.

In Marxist theory, “communism” denotes the final stage of human historical development in which the people rule both politically and economically.

There is another economic system called Socialism. Socialism is an economic system characterised by predominantly privately owned businesses, and the State owns and controls what is believed to be the most important industries for the nations needs such as fuel and telecommunications. The Governments are also responsible for a variety of ‘national need services’, such as transportation, waste removal, unemployment benefits, free national healthcare. In order to sustain these large state expenses, large income taxes are applied. This results in a particularly non-dynamic economy, as entrepreneurs are not incentivised to start businesses due to large parts of their profits being removed through Government taxes. Socialism is a combination of both Capitalism and Communism.

Many of todays economies are actually a mixture of both planned and market economies, and these are referred to as Mixed-Market Economies. Followers of Milton Friedman, will not agree with this form of economics, as they are true advocates of the Free Market theory and that markets will ultimately balance themselves out and offer the best and most fair situation for all.

In the UK, USA and around the world the Free Market System was introduced throughout the 1980’s and beyond. Gordon Brown introduced his ‘light touch policies’ throughout London’s Financial Sector as both London and New York competed for the top spot for The Global Financial Capital. However, as has been proven, this light handed fiscal policy and the de-regulation of the Banking Sector resulted in the worst financial collapse in human history.

Although, one has to ask the question as to whether it was the free market system that failed, or the ethics of those taking the risks. Perhaps with a higher moral path, this free trade system would work and the markets would be able to balance and regulate themselves. However, for this new moral code to take effect the human species would have to undertake a huge social change immediately and perhaps have some form of ethical awakening. Realistically, this is not going to happen as this form of social change takes many years to implement and take root. What we require is leaders within the business and political realms to act with a higher level of ethics, and to take responsibility for their actions. I believe that theoretically the free market system might actually be the best and most efficient system for economic development and growth, but i feel that looking purely at a rising GDP should not be the only bench mark. We need to look for and strive to attain a lower level of inequality and higher standards of living. We live in a world that is not a perfect petri-dish to test economic policies and so some initial regulation is required of key sectors so that ‘Joe Blogs’ does not suffer in a quest for a rising bottom line in a resource restricted world.

360 Degree Assessment Surveys, are they an accurate form of feedback, or just bad data?

As i begin to prepare myself for my Executive MBA at University West of England, i have started to research my course and the topics i might very well study and discuss. This blog is a place for me to begin to understand more of these topics and try to engage with others about such things and effectively increase my learning.

As i have been looking through organisational structure and management i have come across a tool that offers managers ‘apparently’ objective feedback on their ability to manage that can be used at all levels within a business. This is called a 360 Degree Assessment Survey, or the Full-Circle or Multisource Assessment.

This assessment tool, allows organisations to gather feedback and information on a specific employee from managers, co-workers and those that report to the individual. It is apparently objective, and gives great insight and data on a specific individual within a specific job role by asking a set of questions about this individual and allowing a space for comments and feedback under a range of headings such as leadership, vision, clarity, work ethics, performance management, communication and many others.

The organisation can utilise this data to look at how an individual is viewed by his/her self and of all their colleagues around them who have undertaken the survey. It is, effectively a managers reality check, and a method for increasing self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses as perceived by others.

At first glance, this might very well sound like an interesting and useful tool. I don’t doubt that perhaps, within the correct organisation this information can be used to shape an individual so they become more effective at their role so long as no one becomes defensive or concerned about giving frank and honest feedback. And a lot of statistical data does point to this being a great tool… but…

I have just read a blog post by Marcus Buckingham that talks of a fatal flaw within the very fabric of this assessment tool, and how they can do more good than bad (if the organisation is not careful).

‘And yet I still think all but a very few 360 degree surveys are, at best, a waste of everyone’s time, and at worst actively damaging to both the individual and the organization. We could stop using all of them, right now, and our organizations would be the stronger for it.’

Marcus has some good point in his article, regarding the questions asked. How can someone give feedback objectively… really? Because surely their response is in some way related to their position and opinion of the assessment’s subject? Marcus states pretty clearly that the data garnered from these are in general.. bad.

‘No, my beef with 360 surveys is more basic, more fundamental. It’s the data itself. The data generated from a 360 survey is bad. It’s always bad. And since the data is bad, no matter how well-intended your coaching, how insightful your feedback, how coherent your leadership model, you are likely leading your leaders astray.’

And the last things we need from these surveys, is the take the leader in the wrong direction. That is the ultimate ‘no no’ and a waste of valuable time and resources.

Typically the survey breaks down core competencies into questions about behaviour that apparently encompase these. If we take communication as a core competency, and the evaluators use the following question;

‘Is Logan a good communicator?’

Your answer to this, will actually tell us more about you than of Logan. If your answer is ‘yes, Logan is a good communicator’ this simply indicates that Logan is a better communicator than you. And if your answer is ‘No, Logan is a poor communicator’ it could simply mean that Logan is a worse communicator than you. This could be said for all answers to questions that are asked in this way. It is based on the relative skill set of the person answering the questions to the relative skill set of the person we are asking about. And Marcus argues that no matter how much bad data you get it will always remain bad data.

‘Again, this sounds right, but it still doesn’t hold up. Each individual rater is equally unreliable. This means that each rater yields bad data. And, unfortunately, when you add together many sources of bad data, you do not get good data. You get lots of bad data.’

So, is there a solution to this? Everyone can answer a question based on their own experince, emotions and feelings, and thus be subjective. So why not ask questions that allow people to answer subjectively. A better question to ask about communication might be;

‘Do you understand Logan’s verbal instructions?’

The answer to this can be yes, or no and will give more accurate feedback because it is based on the way you specifically feel about the question.

These tools can be very useful, and the best leaders will be able to use them correctly and take good information and feedback and use this to develop. However, it can obviously be very easy to structure these incorrectly and point the leader in the wrong direction.

Be careful, think hard before implementing these forms of feedback survey otherwise you may be doing more harm than good.

If you have any thoughts on this, just comment as i am keen to hear what people think.

If you wish to read the full article by Marcus Buckingham follow this link.

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December 2017
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