The Vector View on the Management Mirror©: Assessing Senior Executive Teams

June 18th, 2015   •   no comments   

Introduction

Back in 1994, J. Robert “Bob” Carleton, one of the Founders of Vector Group, received a copy of an article in The Financial Times (London) from the head of British Airways WorldCargo titled “Top dogs bark up the wrong tree” by Christopher Lorenz. Lorenz reported on a study of senior team perceptions of themselves contrasted with the perceptions of those working for them, including the line “most senior teams would benefit from taking a close look in the mirror before blaming those below them for the company’s problems.” (Lorenz, Financial Times, 1994)

Lorenz’s article starts out:

It is time top managers admitted the truth. Most of them are indulging in a convenient but simplistic fiction when they repeat the standard mantra that the biggest barrier to radical change in their organization is front-line employees or, more often, middle management. The reality is frequently much more painful, that the most intransigent group is top management itself.

In a few high-profile cases over the past couple of years, this has become so obvious that outside directors or institutional shareholders have been forced to have the top man removed. Notable examples include Digital, General Motors, IBM and Kodak in the US, and Midland Bank in the UK. (Lorenz, Financial Times, 1994)

The most telling quote from the article was “As the top team directs all its attention to the minions below, it does not even recognise that it has a problem itself.” The head of BA WorldCargo jotted a little note to Bob consisting of three words, “Interesting little piece,” initialed, and dated it 6/9/94 six days after the article came out. At the time, Bob was heading up a transformational project at WorldCargo to improve all processes while implementing a new business strategy on a global basis. The leadership team faced some profound challenges in leading the charge.

This marked the beginning of Vector Group designing a process for assessing senior management teams. The culmination was the Management Mirror©. Bob began to ask some provocative questions of the leadership there including “Do you find all too often you are not fully achieving strategic key results and strategic goals for your company? Are priorities misunderstood, or do they seem to change the farther down in the organization you go? When you look for answers to why things are not happening as intended, does your senior team quickly blame others within the organization, perhaps someone across the table? What would a “mirror” held up to your senior team reveal about you, your team, and the collective impact on the implementation of the business strategy and organizational culture?”

The concept for the “mirror” came from a simple observation: A mirror does not lie—the blemishes and warts as well as the beauty are there for all to see. The mirror reflects a reality few senior executives have ever experienced, forcing a top team to take a more realistic look at the impact of its day-to-day behavior on the organization and do something about it.

Assessment of the Senior Executive Team

Life at the top of the house for senior executives is quite a different reality than for other organizational members. Their reality is about power, influence, politics, success or failure, money, results, marketability, relationships, operations, formulating strategy and making high-level decisions. Those who sit at the executive table did not get there just by chance. Drive, desire, determination, people savvy, connections and perseverance got them to the table. Confidence in one’s own proven skills increases with continued successes and a willingness to change personal behavior decreases at the same time.

Observers might interpret that confidence as arrogance, overconfidence, self-importance single-mindedness or even condescension of others. Taking these highly confident and highly competent executives and placing them on a team of other executives creates a group dynamic bringing additional difficult challenges. Members of the senior executive team affect the organization individually and collectively by their behavior. We often use the analogy comparing an executive walking through the organization to the wake of a boat going through water. There is a ripple effect of the executive’s behavior on the entire organization trailing behind the executive. These ripples clearly affect even those people with whom he or she never comes in direct contact.

While there is real potential benefit to the executive and the organization in assessing individual executives, there are also some real obstacles preventing an accurate assessment. A number of assessment tools exist including psychological testing, personality inventories and multi-rater surveys (360° feedback) but these prove inadequate when dealing with the effect of not only individual but also collective executive behavior in a specific organization at a specific point in time. Along with the multitude of skills an executive has, he or she has other skills in denying, rationalizing, minimizing or just explaining away the results of such assessments.

The barriers to top executive assessment are as much real as perceived. Top executives most often have had many years of highly successful performance. Thus, they do not perceive a need to change. They have been positively reinforced in their behaviours by the success they have enjoyed. Executives also have a fear of changing those behaviours to which they attribute their success. Even when their behaviours are beginning to result in less success, executives typically respond by pushing harder at the behaviours they feel led to their success, even though it may be exactly those behaviours that are no longer effective. (Guinn, 1996)

As described earlier, the senior team is different and needs a unique feedback system to deal with the combination of individual and collective (group) behavior. Simple questionnaires will not suffice. A multiple-choice questionnaire about observed behavior utilizing Likert scales, for example, is obviously not sufficient when you really consider the possible and potential impact of executives. Their visibility and resultant impact far exceeds their direct conscious and intended impact upon others.

When people are in a spotlight as executives are, they are the focus of attention and other people formulate impressions often at extreme distances. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best. “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” We always tell our clients with regard to management behavior the following truths about how people lower in the organization interpret things about them as management:

● It is what you say and what you do not say.
● It is what you do and what you do not do.
● It is what you prioritize or do not prioritize.
● It is in what activities you engage or not engage.
● It is the time you spend at work or the time you do not spend at work.
● It is with whom you spend time and with whom you do not.
● It is about what they perceive, not about your intent.

In short, organizational members derive messages from anything and everything the executive does or does not do. Executives cannot turn their influence (in one sense) off and on.

Part of the dilemma in assessment of senior executive teams is the need to quantify impressions and resulting behavior, even from those that have no routine or regular contact or even proximity, to each executive. Our experience tells us that at lower levels in the organization, executive “team” perceptions may dominate more than individual impressions of executives. The executive team is oftentimes more identifiable than the individual executives who are members of the team. The “team” often takes on a life of its own in the eyes of organizational members.

We often hear that “perceptions are reality” and the real issue here is how other organizational members perceive the senior executive group and what actions, if any, ensue based upon those perceptions—regardless of the intent of the executive. Again, the wake of the boat moving through the water is a good analogy of the executive moving through the organization. The executive faces forward and he or she moves through the company and pays little attention (purposefully or not) as to what happens as the wake touches others or how they see it. The little things add up like, who does the executive talk with? To whom does the executive say “good morning?” Whom does he or she appear to ignore? What does he or she say in meetings with staff?

How effectively are organizational intent and direction communicated to everyone in the organization? What is the focus and effectiveness of strategic direction coming from the Executive Suite? If there are formal corporate values in the organization, do they provide real effective guidance in deciding what actions to take? This approach goes well beyond the standard 360° feedback process. It requires a qualitative data gathering effort generating multiple examples and stories which in the end allows little to no latitude for denial, rationalization or other forms of avoiding or hiding from the feedback.

There is a uniqueness about senior management. It is very different at the top. For executives, individual behavior has a ripple effect throughout the organization that goes far beyond themselves and just their direct reports. Simple requests, casual inquiries, or even routine day-to-day behavior of senior management that is not intended to communicate anything to anyone else can have significant and often unintended impact on other parts of the organization without the senior manager ever being aware.

As an example, the Operations Manager at British Airways WorldCargo, a man of high energy and strong opinion, had the habit of pointing his index finger at the person to whom he was talking to emphasize his point. Since the rest of his hand remained closed, it appeared as if he was shooting the person with an imaginary pistol. Some found this humorous, but most saw it as aggressive and angry. All found it disconcerting. The Operations Manager was very unaware of this behavior, or its effect on others.

The larger and more far flung the organization, the greater the potential for executives to be very unaware of unintended impact upon the behavior of some staff. In one of the major Asian markets, the company was significantly less successful against a major competitor than anywhere else was.

It was a real puzzle as to why this was happening until the Management Mirror turned up the data that the people in that location found out (indirectly) that the number two person in operations in the company was married to the Global Marketing head of the competitor in question. The people on site combined that bit of data with other “rumors” on the organizational grapevine, added in local custom, and concluded that they had to moderate their competitive behavior towards that competitor to avoid angering the Executive half way around the world. From the local team’s perspective, they were being sensitive to perceived needs of a very senior member of the Executive team.

Members of the organization often ascribe characteristics or priorities to the position and not the person currently in the position. Executive wants, needs and business priorities are subject to interpretation—and often misinterpretation. This impact can resonate and dramatically affect business results, for better or for worse. Middle managers will drive things that they think an executive wants.

Additionally, the higher a person rises in an organization, the less likely he or she will have access to unfiltered information about his or her behavior, and its impact on organizational performance. Many subordinates are hesitant to voice views or opinions candidly and honestly that they feel their boss may not like to hear. When information is passed on it is often done so delicately that the message is not heard, especially when the information is about the manager’s or senior team’s behavior.

“Senior executives certainly need feedback but “leaders seldom get the kind of feedback that can enable them to change the behaviours that everyone in the organization whispers about behind their backs. Giving executives such feedback is most often perceived as a career-limiting move. The result is that the organization limps on being less than its potential, or the inevitable crisis arises and the executive derails.” (Guinn, 1996)

Claude Lineberry, another one of our founding partners, shared a wonderful example to illustrate this phenomenon. In a focus group at an automotive frame plant near Detroit, a frustrated supervisor summed it up clearly. He said, “We tell them that a new policy or procedure is pure horseshit for us down here who have to implement it, but by the time the message gets to the guys at the top, they think we called it chocolate pudding and they are dining on it!”

The Senior Team as a Team

Management at the top is a collective enterprise. The fact that a senior team or group exists at all is proof that it takes a number of people working together to deliver the results for large organizations. All too often, these teams are teams in name only. Senior executives are often unwilling to become team players. They fight for and defend their own turf, and work their own political agendas, often forgetting that executives at this level have two hats to wear. The first, which almost all understand, is the functional hat—dealing with and championing their department or division. The second is that of being a business advisor to the CEO for the whole organization. They must have the ability to rise above the particular function they may be responsible for and advise the CEO about the overall well-being of the total organization. The functional role often overshadows the successful fulfillment of the business advisor role and the organization suffers.

Additionally, members of an organization observe how the top people behave. Individual and group behaviors exhibited by members of the senior or executive team are subject to interpretation, and a variety of perceptions are made and conclusions drawn. One senior manager’s behavior can call into question the judgment and effectiveness of the entire senior team.

Questions arise around how much commitment there can be in a senior management team that allows one of its members to behave inappropriately, manage ineffectively, or ignore the impact of their part of the organization on others. If the senior executives do not seem to care about the company, why should anyone else? Top managers who are not consistent in word and deed about leadership and management of the organization contribute to the inability of the entire organization to achieve required business results.

The Management Mirror: A Description

The BA WorldCargo 5,000 person operation was languishing in spiraling costs and failing in its global strategy to deliver cargo as promised. We led an organizational analysis determining driving causes. We conceptualized and implemented a multi-faceted series of interventions including the Management Mirror geared to improve processes, improve profits and force down costs. This effort was a key part of turning around the British Airways freight division reversing a 10-year record of high cost and meager profits. We drove for results from the shop floor to the executive suite gaining the full commitment of organizational members and improved cargo delivery 200%.

All too often efforts to help a senior executive team become more effective through traditional teambuilding and feedback activities fail miserably. Practitioners may not recognize the unique challenges that the CEO and members of his or her team face in their functional, cross-functional and organization-wide roles and responsibilities. Traditional 360° feedback may provide some useful information but these instruments fall far short in uncovering not only the overt but also the covert impact, not only the intended but also the unintended, and not only the individual but also the group’s collective impact of senior management behavior on the rest of the organization.

The Management Mirror is a process that explores the full complexity of executive impact in-depth and ties it all directly to the organization’s business needs and strategy. Since the Management Mirror process is by definition provocative, it focuses dramatically how perceptions of senior management behavior aids or impedes accomplishment of desired business results. Done properly, the collected data on each senior manager is – by its individual uniqueness, depth and breadth – irrefutable and is as immune as possible to what we call, “creative reinterpretation.” The whole process forces a level of disclosure and interdependency top executives have seldom experienced.

What is the nature and effectiveness of the management that comes from the executive suite? This approach goes far beyond the standard 360º feedback process. The overall process allows no place to hide. Each senior team member shares his or her individual data with the rest of the team, including the CEO’s data. It is by definition comprehensive, detailed and personal, sometimes disturbing, and always highly effective. A common statement shared by participants when this activity is completed is, “This is the single most beneficial thing that we have ever done.”

The Management Mirror provides a level of clarity and understanding of how others perceive senior management and what is happening as a result far beyond what most managers have ever experienced. We generally accept the idea that in organizations the higher a manager gets in the management ranks, any potential feedback on his or her behavior becomes less frequent and less candid. This process breaks those norms rather dramatically.

The Management Mirror, unlike prepackaged surveys and assessments, does not force fit the data or the questions asked in a standard or fixed approach. It is a process, not a product and as such, we customize it to each organization that employs it. It does not assume everyone is doing the same things. It does not assume all executives are supposed to act in one particular style or way. It responds to individual styles and business priorities of each member of the senior team and reflects the impact of their behavior on the ability of the rest of the organization to accomplish the organization’s strategic goals.

The Management Mirror is a sequential process, beginning with in-depth interviews with the CEO, each senior team member who reports to the CEO, and each team member’s direct reports (skip level). To this basic one-on-one interview process, we add focus groups, consisting of representative core samples of the rest of the organization’s functions. We also add customers and suppliers to the mix if appropriate and needed. Consequently, the Management Mirror gathers data from 100% of the CEO’s direct reports, 100% of their direct reports, focus group samples further down into the organization and key external stakeholders. The resulting data are anecdotal and quantifiable, current, and focused on key business issues. This forms the basis for very powerful feedback to the senior team, individually and collectively.

The data is a reflection of the sum total of impact the senior team has on performance throughout the organization—intended and unintended. It reflects, in a very direct and literal manner, the net result of the senior team’s presence, their behavior and the overall effect upon the members of the organization. The data is less about conscious or intended behavior but more about what is perceived and how interpreted into action, or lack thereof.

The Management Mirror reflects how effectively senior management communicates the organizational strategy and business priorities to the organization’s people and how their individual and team behavior facilitates or impedes achieving desired results. In essence, the Management Mirror focuses on the fact that management behavior at the top of the organization is more about direction, motivation, guidance and influence, and less about the planning, supervising and allocation of resources which particularly in larger organizations is more closely associated with middle management.

How the Management Mirror Works—Initial Steps

Before the process even begins, it is imperative that the CEO briefs his or her team as to the purpose of the Management Mirror. There are no secrets. There are no hidden agendas. The purpose of this intensive and contentious effort is to make senior management fully and very aware of how their behavior, individually and collectively, affects the organization and the results it achieves.

The Management Mirror is a seven-step process beginning with in depth interviews with the CEO, each senior team member who reports to the CEO and each team member’s direct reports

The opening interview with the CEO begins at a ½ day and could very well go longer in capturing the CEO’s views on the business as a whole—the strategy, the direction, the priorities and why they are where they are. Particular focus is on how he or she wants to accomplish the strategies—potential markets, targets, and internal emphasis. The CEO then examines how each function relates to the overall strategy and what role each function plays in the grand plan.

Once the current business situation is covered, the interview shifts to gathering information about those executives responsible for carrying out the business—those who report to the CEO. The consultant interviewer asks the CEO about personal views/perceptions of each manager as head of a particular function or process. Questions examine the reporting relationship, relationship with peers, relative contribution to the management team, and individual leadership and management behaviors.

Finally, the interview ends with the CEO describing his or her view of the senior team as a team.

Discussing the business situation first, and relating all questions to the accomplishment of the strategy, provides a very business focused response. The Management Mirror forces the CEO to think about the team and its members as they relate to the current situation and key business issues, with any personal characteristics or commentary secondary to the business needs. It is rare for the top executive not to comment that “this is the first time in ages (if ever) that we have thought about the operation is such a detailed and exhaustive manner.”

The next phase of the data gathering is to conduct interviews with each of the senior team executives. There are four general parts to these interviews:

1. Gathering perceptions of the CEO’s and his/her priorities;
2. Gathering perceptions of the senior executive’s own function or process and its relationship to the strategy;
3. Gathering the senior executive’s views of the other functions; and,
4. Gathering views of the senior team, collectively and individually.

Specific questions used to gather information might include such things as:

● What is it like to work for the CEO?
● What is he/she like as a boss? Please describe his/her strengths, weaknesses and relationship to customers.
● What do you need to do to be on the CEO’s “good side?”
● What advice do you have for the CEO?
● How effectively does your function align with the strategy?
● What are YOUR priorities?
● How do you view the other individual contributors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do you have advice for anybody?
● What are the dynamics of the senior team? What are the internal issues? Working or not?

These interviews usually last three to four hours or longer and reveal a great deal of the inner workings and dynamics of the top team. A common comment at the end of these interviews is “We really covered everything, you didn’t leave anything out!”

These interviews continue with all the direct reports of the top team members. We use many of the same kinds of questions relating to the CEO and their own manager, as well as their perception of their own function and how it ties to the strategy. We may ask specific questions pertaining to current key issues: How do you define quality in your function? Who is the customer in your function? What does your manager expect of you and your function? These “skip level” interviews also allow for comments on, and perceptions of, all the other senior team members (with whom they have any perceptions) including their strengths and weaknesses.

The final part of the data gathering is to conduct focus groups on down through the organization. Focus groups consist of 12 to 15 people plus 2 consultants. The number of focus groups per functional area depends entirely on the complexity of each function. We gather data from each function to represent accurately all of their primary business activities.

The focus groups get more into day-to-day activities. Priorities of management get as much attention as in previous interviews but the question now is to ascertain what management is doing that helps or hinders daily routine. It is here that we often find incredible amounts of time and labor spent, supposedly at the behest of senior management, which has little or no influence on the accomplishment of the business strategy.

A poignant example: the new CEO of a global airline soon gained a reputation for his amazing ability to understand and retain enormous amounts of detail about all aspects of daily operations. At his weekly senior team meetings, he would ask very specific and detailed questions of the members of his senior team such as “Tony, Flight 555 to Sidney was short three meals in business class on Tuesday. Why did this happen and what have you done to make sure our flights are properly catered?”

Usually, the queried manager could not answer on the spot—or attempted a vague answer that the CEO rejected as unacceptable. This resulted in members of the senior team and their staff spending part of Wednesday and most of Thursday in preparation for the anticipated Friday morning meeting with the CEO which they commonly referred to as “The Inquisition.”

When, in conjunction with a Management Mirror intervention, we told the CEO about the hundreds of hours that went into preparation for his weekly meeting, he was shocked. At the start of the next meeting, he announced that he was aware of what had been happening and wanted it stopped. “It is clear to me that not everyone has the thirst for detail that I do,” he said. “I don’t expect you to. I expect you to run your functions effectively, and I will no longer expect answers on the spot. What I do expect is for you to go to the people on your staff and get back to me with an answer to my question as soon as possible.”

The CEO got his specific answers in a more reasonable period, they recovered hundreds of staff hours, and the dynamic of the Friday meeting changed, moving to a strategic level.

Focus group discussion questions include such things as what they do, their needs, comments on the competition, who they feel their customer is, what do their customers want/need, and how top team priorities translate into day-to-day activities. The focus groups describe how the business really works and gets to what the regular members believe about the organization, the management and the business itself and how this affects what they do on a daily basis.

Next Steps

Once we collect the data, we analyze it and we apply some quantitative techniques to the content of the interviews, such as frequency counts, Q sorts, calculation of mean scores on focused surveys, etc., but most of the analysis focuses on the narrative of the qualitative data. The essence of the Mirror is that it must be upfront and personally, relevant— and vast arrays of numbers and computations detract from the powerful, personal nature of the messages and allow for “creative reinterpretation.”

The CEO receives a detailed debrief on how he or she is perceived by the next three levels of management, the messages he or she is sending (intended and unintended—overt and covert) with information on the consequences—what happens because of these perceptions. The consultant and the CEO discuss the relationships between the intention, the actual behavior, the impact and the strategy. This discussion culminates in an understanding of the desired impact of the CEO’s behavior and how to best proceed in getting there. During this meeting, the consultant and the CEO additionally review results of the data gathering for all other members of the senior team.

Detailed debriefs then follow for each of the senior team members. These follow the same format as for the CEO but focuses exclusively on the impact of their individual behavior. In neither case do we hand a written report to the CEO or senior team member at this point—that comes later. The intent at this time is to achieve maximum understanding of the gathered information.

A verbal report with the executive taking personal notes provides more focus on listening and understanding rather than defending, explaining, or otherwise avoiding the message. They must fully understand what the data is showing about how people are reacting to them. Good, bad or indifferent, based on fact, falsity, or interpretation, the people’s perceptions are what they are, and affect their behavior. The management team must understand and manage perceptions and resulting behavior for the overall good of the organization.

The consultant provides the context for the statements made and conclusions drawn about the executive by those reporting to them. The context includes the atmosphere, the tone, the way in which the people said the statements, examples, and how these related to other statements. The consultant doing any debrief will have personally completed at least half of the interviews for that particular senior team member. The executive, by his/her very nature, confronts the consultant on the data many times during this process and the consultant must be thoroughly knowledgeable and confident in the data and able to, at any point, launch into a series of “chapter and verse” examples.

In these debriefs we often utilize the fine art of the blunt statement and challenge. If the executive continues to play down or deny any of the information the volume of delivery is not increased, but the bluntness and level of challenge are. As in “All ten of your direct reports participated in the Management Mirror, and six of them think you’re a jerk (and here’s why), three think you’re doing OK, and one refused to answer. How does this situation help in accomplishing what you need?” While this is not a process built for comfort, we built it for unequivocal clarity. It is not necessary that the senior manager receiving the feedback likes it, but is rather critical that she/he understands it and most importantly the business consequences that follow.

The Written Report

A consultant delivers the written feedback report to the senior manager a day or so after the verbal debriefs. The report contains an overall summary of topics discussed. It serves as a general review, a check on their own notes, and is a copy of the report that they know the CEO has received about them. It includes a narrative description of them as a leader/manager as perceived by those below them, and information as to how effectively they communicate messages on various aspects of the strategy such as quality, customer focus or product development. The emphasis is on day-to-day behavior, the perceptions that they create, and the resulting impact on the work performance of others.

A couple of excerpts describe the tone and feel of the Feedback Report:

“Your Priorities (for the CEO)

When asked what your top 3 – 5 priorities are, your 13 direct reports generated a widely divergent list of 28 different items. They gave ten different items the number one position. Ten different items were also in the number two spot including seven different from the first ten. The number three spot generated another five additional items. This is a long way of saying that you effectively have no team agreement on priorities.”

When asked what animal your behavior suggests to your direct reports, they described the following menagerie:

● Definitely not a bunny
● Rhino (strong, thick skin, shortsighted, nervous, easily provoked)
● Vicious dog (might lie quietly, might attack)
● Cape buffalo (aggressive, can show compassion by backing off from the kill)
● Lion (loud roar, unpredictably aggressive)
● Elephant (capable of wreaking havoc without knowing it, intelligent, family oriented, kind)

The flavor of the Individual Feedback Report is very different from what executives encounter in other management surveys or 360° feedback reports, and much harder to deny. The language is direct, clear, focused on performance and the business, and data based. Given the scope and thoroughness of the data gathering, it is also irrefutable. The perceptions reported are the current perceived reality; the only questions remaining are how to change those perceptions where they do not aid in the achievement of desired organizational results.

The Event

After all the debriefing interviews have taken place, we schedule a meeting for the entire senior team. We recommend this as an offsite meeting over two and a half days or more depending on the organization, size of the team, and what issues may be evident. This senior team event has specific components required for its success.

It begins with a Business Brief; the CEO discusses the current situation—the state of the business itself. Setting a business-focused atmosphere centers the team and creates a touchstone for what follows. The CEO then shares the results of his or her individual data with the rest of the top team. It is important that the CEO leaves nothing out and that the results be presented warts and all. Sometimes we offer advanced coaching to assure that the CEO’s brief is an effective model, setting the tone for the rest of the team. After one particularly effective presentation by a CEO, a senior manager quipped, “Now we have to follow that?”

Each of the senior team members follow in turn sharing individual data, asking for help, giving suggestions to others, providing input and, most importantly, talking about his or her data in relationship to the overall business situation. Nothing hides and all the information is on the table. The consultants who did the interviews and debriefs are present to insure that each member of the executive team omits nothing. All the energy that the executives previously expended in posturing or trying to keep things hidden is no longer appropriate. This team event, spanning several days, forces a level of openness and disclosure that many top executives have never experienced.

Each individual senior manager builds an action plan as to what to do in terms of changing the way that others perceive him or her and the impact that current perceptions have on the organization. The group comes to consensus on desired senior team mission, vision, values, norms and acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, how they will support and challenge one another, and how they will call each other on violations of agreed behavioral contracts. The behavioral contract incorporates team and individual issues. A final Business Review answers the question of how the results of the Management Mirror analysis tie to the overall business.

Follow-Up

We recommend two final steps of the Management Mirror that include conducting follow-up review of individual and team performance monthly for the first three to six months after the team event, and conducting an abbreviated and focused follow-up Management Mirror a year later to check on progress, recalibrate and take corrective action as required.

The investment of time and resources in a Management Mirror as described is significant. The return on that investment will be largely determined by the commitment to take positive action in response to it, and perhaps most importantly, following up as individuals and as a team on a continuing basis. Done properly the return will easily be a multiple of the cost.

During this period, the Management Mirror process will be an agenda item for all senior team meetings, where each manager discusses actions taken and results achieved. The Senior Executive Team must establish and review formal and informal success measures and revised action taken based on the results. Follow-up and monitoring are vital to receiving a positive return on the investment in the Management Mirror.

Causes for Failure

The Management Mirror is certainly unsettling to the status quo, but is a highly effective method of getting senior executives to sit up and take notice of potential for greater effectiveness individually and collectively.

The Management Mirror is primarily an enabling activity, giving an executive team the ability to refine and hone their impact far beyond what is normally possible due to the thoroughness of the data—data about their impact to which they had no exposure previously. It is quite problematic to manage things about which you are not aware. This process alleviates that void.

The Management Mirror requires the full support and commitment of the CEO or equivalent top executive if done at a divisional or functional level. Without visible follow-through, this type of effort will not only fail to give a return; it will most likely make things measurably worse. This is not a neutral activity. It will uncover things that will require visibly dealing with or the message will be that those things do not matter.

The senior team itself must be ready for a Management Mirror. The team and its members must be aware of and at least a bit frustrated by the knowledge and misgivings that things are not as they should be. The business situation must be sufficiently challenging so that the team and its members are concerned, and willing to try to improve things. They must have worked together long enough to have at least some behavioral history with one another. Without an appropriate level of readiness, the Management Mirror could become a wasted exercise that will raise expectations of the regular organizational members through middle management but fail to have perceptible impact thereby having a detrimental impact upon operations.

Some Caveats

We must point out that more often than not a Management Mirror results in one or more members of the team in a new assignment, or leaving the organization. The results of the Management Mirror affect the composition and membership of the team, relative effectiveness of individual team members, and their relationships with others on the team as well as their direct reports.

We strongly recommend utilizing the Management Mirror only with intact teams that have been together long enough for them to have at least an initial read on each other. Each team member needs experience with the others to provide the best observations on behavior. Trust and interdependency builds from that baseline experience of working together during the senior team meeting and is often one of the first important steps in building the kind of trust and interdependency characteristic of high performing senior teams.

We do not usually recommend that internal personnel undertake this activity. It is extremely difficult for internal people to solicit the kind of candid information necessary for the Management Mirror process. Internal people are part of the organization, and therefore subject to the organization’s biases, beliefs and political process, making objectivity in collecting, analyzing and reporting the data almost impossible. Additionally, the information gathered throughout this process is powerful, highly personal, and often just plain uncomfortable to hear. It is not something that an executive wants shared with internal people. Internals do not want to know about these things since it potentially creates awkward relations with senior people.

However, even hiring consultants to do this type of work requires some extra caution. Because of the kinds of issues discussed, senior practitioners who are confident, seasoned, experienced and perhaps a bit “long in the tooth” should conduct this process. When I presented this topic at the American Society for Training and Development International Conference and Exposition (ASTD-ICE) in 1996 and again in 2001, part of the feedback I received was that I made it clear that the Management Mirror process would pose challenges if conducted by inexperienced or even experienced internal consultants. Many in the audience did not seem pleased that they would not have a clearly defined linear process that was easy to do. Doing a Management Mirror is neither for the inexperienced nor for the faint of heart.

In summary, the Management Mirror is a potentially uncomfortable but high gain way of saying to the organization’s top management: Here is what you are doing and how your people perceive your actions. Here is what your people and others in the organization are doing because of those perceptions. Here is how the perceptions of your individual and collective behavior as the top management team impact on day-to-day organizational performance, and achievement of results. How are the team and its members going to manage this reality?

Always remember the words of Walt Kelly’s comic strip character Pogo, who once said
“We have met the enemy, and it is us!”

A Personal Postscript

We have conducted the Management Mirror for a number of client organizations. Described as a high wire act, it does entail some risk for all. The senior executive team must be ready, willing, and able to assimilate the information and act on it. If they do, it can pay off big time.

“To create insight and awareness of the need to change, the executive leader must first receive feedback. Seldom is there someone within the company who has both the skills and the credibility to give such feedback. Even when such feedback is given, gaining the executive’s commitment to change requires being able to demonstrate a clear link between the new desired behaviors and enhanced effectiveness in achieving results.” (Guinn, 1996)

I also remember fondly the work we did in publishing the original article. Bob, who designed and carried out the initial Management Mirror, immensely disliked writing back in those days but Claude and I both knew we needed to publish this methodology. Claude graciously gave me top billing because I actually authored most of the paper and I remember, too, how proud he was to brag to his aging mother that he successfully got a four-letter expletive published in a British journal in the anecdote he added (the “chocolate pudding” reference). Ultimately, The Emerald Literati Club selected both of us as “Highly Commended Award Winners” for writing one of the best papers published in our chosen field.

With Bob, we developed and assembled a comprehensive book plan for a proposed book entitled Management Mirror: Getting beyond Traditional 360° Feedback to Accurately Assess Top Team Impact on the Organization. Admittedly, we did not follow through on writing the book at that time. With our involvement in the HP/Compaq merger (2001-02), and the subsequent writing of Bob and Butch’s Achieving Post-Merger Success: A Stakeholder’s Guide to Cultural Due Diligence, Assessment and Integration the Management Mirror book dropped off the backburner. If enough people express an interest in this topic, we may have to rethink our priorities and publish a book after all.

©Vector Group, Inc., 2015

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions.

Cheers,

Gary

Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at gcraig@vectorgroupinc.com. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure all align to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at http://www.vectorgroupinc.com or call us at (800) 566-0877.

References

Gary W. Craig & Claude S. Lineberry, Management Mirror: Helping Senior Management Teams See Their Own Reality, Industrial and Commercial Training Journal, MCB University Press, West Yorkshire, England, Vol. 33, No. 7, 2001, pp. 242 – 248.

Kathleen A. Guinn, (1996),”Assessment techniques for top executives”, Career Development International, Vol. 1 Issue, pp. 9—14

Christopher Lorenz, (1994) “Top Dogs Bark Up the Wrong Tree,” The Financial Times, 3rd June 1994, p. 12

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