Generative Feedback – Glade Holman

Summary
In our debut episode, we speak with Glade Holman, Managing Director of Park Li and Founder of LearningBridge, about his ideas around Generative Feedback and his passion to change lives with the help of 360 survey instruments and the team working behind him.

Glade Holman

Since 1987 Glade has consulted, coached and provided training in the areas of strategy, leadership, organizational development, service leadership, change management, and cross-cultural management for companies such as Procter & Gamble, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., VISA International, GlaxoSmithKline, MetLife, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Philips Semiconductor among others.

Glade has also been employed periodically by the FBI to serve as a strategist and linguist in investigations and cases dealing with Asian street crime. Fluent in Thai and Laotian, he has served as an interpreter in federal courts and in a variety of business settings.

Glade has also worked with not-for-profit organizations such as the US-Vietnam Trade Council and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the Church, Glade developed programs to screen and train professionals to be sent overseas at the requests of foreign governments for technical assistance and humanitarian aid.

Glade has successfully designed, led and implemented change initiatives focused on strategy formulation and implementations for many of our global clients, particularly within the financial services industry. A recent project included creating and institutionalizing a process to continually renew the organization’s strategy and build out strategic leadership skills across the organization.

Glade graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University with a BA in Philosophy and Asian Studies. He completed a Master of International Affairs (MIA) at Columbia University with a concentration in International Business. Glade is currently an adjunct professor at New York University Wagner School of Public Service. Glade has also lived and worked extensively in the Asia Pacific region including several years in Thailand and Taiwan.

Troy Blaser (00:05):
Hello everybody. Welcome to episode one of Simply Feedback. This podcast is brought to you by LearningBridge. Each month, in the Simply Feedback podcast, we bring you interesting conversations with professionals who are passionate about developing current and future leaders with the power of feedback. Our guest today is Glade Holman, who's one of the founding members of LearningBridge. He has 20 years of experience working with senior executives at global firms like Procter and Gamble, Citigroup, JP Morgan, VISA international, Glaxo Smith Kline. The list goes on and on. I've been able to work with Glade for a long time. He's passionate about using strategy as a leadership tool. He really likes to work with individual leaders on how to combine the human dimension of leadership along with an analytical dimension and as part of that work, he's very good at using feedback as a foundational starting point for growth and development. So Glade, it's good to have you with us today for this first episode of our podcast. We're excited to have you as a guest.
Glade Holman (01:05):
Thank you. I'm excited as well to have to opportunity to share what experience I've gained over the last 20 years and hopefully it'll be engaging for us all.
Troy Blaser (01:13):
Glade, I've heard you talk a lot lately about this idea of generative feedback. Can you just give us an overview of what you mean by generative feedback?
Glade Holman (01:21):
There's a lot going on in the dialogue in the blogosphere, in the leadership journals around what type of feedback we should focus on for folks. Should we be giving folks positive feedback and that's where we should focus it, make it only strength-based or should we give folks the, you know, here's the feedback that you really need to hear because there's a red flag and it's a derailer for you. So I'm going to focus on a constructive feedback and there's a debate going on. What's the balance between the two? What's the ratio? How do you make things work? And some people are very adherent to one side versus the other. And for me, I'm not as interested in who wins that. What I'm more interested in is feedback that actually generates positive change. And so feedback that has an impact in the future that benefits the person who receives it. And so when we talk about generative feedback, that's what I'm focused on. Whatever the time, I don't care if it's negative, if it's positive, if it's constructive, if it's right or if it's wrong, if it's fair or unfair, we focus on how you take whatever feedback that is, whatever adjective you would apply to it and change it to something that will generate benefit for you in the future regardless of the type that it is. So how do you as a receiver make that feedback generative meaning it produces that positive change in the future versus focusing on was it strength based or weakness based, was it right or wrong? Was it helpful or unhelpful? Whatever adjective there jettison it. We're going to focus on generative feedback, feedback that makes a difference to you in the future.
Troy Blaser (02:58):
So are you working then with the person receiving that feedback? It's, it's almost like a mindset for that person. Because you were saying independent of the feedback that's given, whether it's positive or negative, you're saying how can we turn that feedback into something that generates growth and change in a positive direction? Is that right?
Glade Holman (03:15):
Yeah, absolutely. And so there are things you can do as the giver of the feedback that helps the receiver make that feedback be generative. But there's also things you can do as the receiver of it. I'm in control of what happens with that feedback and I can turn whatever type of feedback into generative feedback if I can follow that right mindset that you're talking about. So it has an equal focus on the giver and the receiver in the way in which you kind of receive it. I'm very passionate about helping the receiver because I don't always get the opportunity to influence how someone gives feedback.
Troy Blaser (03:50):
Sure.
Glade Holman (03:50):
When I'm talking to somebody, I get the opportunity to help them figure out how to receive it. And if they can receive it in the right way, it'll benefit them and it'll turn to their, you know, future progress, growth and development that will put them in a space where they can thrive and flourish regardless of the feedback. So I'm really interested in that, helping that person make that transition to take the feedback to a generative spot regardless of how it's delivered.
Troy Blaser (04:16):
So if I'm going to be receiving feedback and maybe you were coaching me on that, what are some ways that you would set me up to receive that feedback in a generative the way.
Glade Holman (04:25):
You used the word mindset earlier on and it is the mindset that you bring to the experience of receiving feedback that's going to determine if you can make it generative or not. One of the things we know and probably everyone here has an experience with, is that receiving feedback can be a high stress kind of moment for folks. Giving feedback can be a high stress moment for folks. And when you're in a heightened stress situation, that's not always the best place to be when you're trying to figure out what will benefit you in the future. So what happens, right? If I'm going to give you a piece of feedback and you're worried about it, we know that a threat response is going to trigger a blood flow shift in your brain and the blood flow shift in your brain is going to go from the front of your brain. That prefrontal cortex where learning happens, where reflection happens, where the ability to even think about the future happens to the core of the brain, the lizard brain that folks will talk about where the amygdala is, and that amygdala is going to trigger a threat response. And the same way as if a leopard just jumped out in front of you, the blood's going to drain from that prefrontal cortex where the reasoning happens and your body's going to be prepared to respond to an immediate threat for survival. And that's going to be a fight or flight response. And it's that defensive mindset that's going to derail us from being able to make the feedback generative, which is useful to us in the future. So how do you avoid having that false alarm trigger? Because guess what, the feedback that you receive in the work environment, it's not the same as a leopard pouncing on you because the conditions that led to that feedback existed before you received it and they're going to be the same tomorrow. Even if you don't receive it, there is no immediate threat and our brain doesn't get the difference of that.
Troy Blaser (06:10):
So does just being aware of that as I come into analyzing my feedback report, does that help stop it from happening?
Glade Holman (06:18):
It certainly does. And the idea of recognizing the biology behind it, right, that there is a false alarm that gets triggered. Oftentimes when we receive feedback and if you see that happening, you want to take steps to avoid it because we know that once the blood shift to the amygdala, it can take up to 20 minutes for it to go back to the prefrontal cortex there where you can actually do the reasoning with it. So sometimes it is stop, respond, take a deep breath, give it some space, let the blood flow and return, remind yourself that it's not a life or death situation here and keep it in the front of the brain. So that's certainly acknowledging it upfront that it's a possibility. Recognize when it happens and then what are some strategies you can do perhaps to kind of keep it from happening is the other spot where we focus on.
Troy Blaser (07:08):
Are there some quick tips for those other strategies as well?
Glade Holman (07:12):
Yeah, I think the first one, you know you mentioned already and that is to recognize it's not life or death. It's a false alarm thing that come on at feedback. By the way, when you receive it, you know, oftentimes I'll talk about normalizing it with someone. So if I'm looking at a 360 report and it looks like this person's got really bad marks from say their manager, and I know that's going to probably trigger a response in them that's going to make it very difficult for them to accept the feedback. The defense mechanisms are going to kick in. What do I try and do when I talk to that person? Well, the first thing I'm going to do is say this, you're not the first person to get this kind of feedback and you won't be the last one to get this kind of feedback. And guess what? It also doesn't mean you can't be successful on where you are. What it does mean is you've got some insight to a blind spot and guess what? Everybody has blindspots, me included. It's impossible for us to see them. And we can talk about leopards being unable to change their spots, but they might be able to see them for us as if you are a human being, just like a leopard has spots, you have blind spots, full stop. It happens. You have them and guess what? You can change them. But only if you see yourself through somebody else's eyes. So the experience of receiving this feedback around a blindspot you have that might trigger a threat response is natural and it's something you should welcome because that's how you identify them and can start to address them. So it's not life or death. It's normal to have them. There is no red alarm going off. It seems kind of funny to say, here's some feedback that's really useful for you. And the first thing I do is say, Oh by the way, it's not that important. You know?
Troy Blaser (08:52):
I was going to say for a while there you had me feeling pretty good because everybody gets feedback like this. It's normal. But then you were saying we all have blindspots and nobody can see their own blind spots. And so now I'm getting anxious because I'm wondering what are my own blind spots, right? I'm going through the emotions with you.
Glade Holman (09:09):
Yes, that's true. And that's very natural to do and to recognize it, right? So that's the first thing for me is to like normalize the feedback. It's not going to kill you and you're not the first person to receive it, nor the last. And guess what? Many people receive the same feedback and turn it into something that's generative. And that's what we can do for you is we can turn it into something that's generative, that's going to put you in a better space than where you are. So the first thing I do is normalize it. The second thing I'll do is depersonalize it. There's a similar but different. The depersonalizing really has to do with the idea that guess what? This feedback that you're going to receive today is a small slice of who you are. It's not a label that you're going to wear on your head as you go about your life. It is a one time perception. A single time at point you are a dynamic person. Well beyond the experience where you're receiving feedback. It is not defined who you are. It defines a perception that exists out there. It does not attach your core identity, but it does not attack who you are. And if we let it attack that, again, we're into the threat response. Again, we don't have access to our higher functioning around our brain and where we cannot think and plan for the future and we've lost it. So it's normal to get this kind of feedback. This feedback doesn't define who you are. It gives you insight into the impact that you have on a given individual. It doesn't tell us anything about what your intentions were. It just gives you insight to that impact, which can only be useful to you because that impact exists whether you know it or not. So we did personalize it for them. So those are two things that are very helpful up front.
Glade Holman (10:44):
I'd say the last one I've alluded to it that I would emphasize there are many others and that is to when you received feedback, keep it about the future, keep it focused forward. So in other words, it's normal to get feedback. It doesn't define who I am and it's gonna benefit me in the future for what I do next time I've learned something about the way I impact others and I can use that as data to help me in the future, have a better result or a better outcome than what I might've had if I didn't know that. So if I always keep it about what I can do in the future rather than how I did in the past, kind of that measuring up, am I a failure or not a failure? That's not the question. It's okay, what can I do next time? So even if the feedback like I said was wrong, was right. What is fair or unfair? It can still inform what I do about the future. Generative feedback, core element, focus on the future.
Troy Blaser (11:42):
I really liked that. It reminded me, I've seen this often as I've prepared reports for people. The report will have verbatim comments and there's often some advice given, you know, don't worry about exactly who said any particular comment because that's in the past. Don't worry about who said it, but rather take it, how can I use this going forward to change my behaviors, change my actions rather than trying to go back in time and figure out exactly who said what.
Glade Holman (12:08):
Yeah. The longer you spend looking back, the less likely you are to move forward. I want to transition really quickly from the feedback of here's what the past tells me to here's what I can do in the future. Everybody has a desire to be someplace new and different perhaps in the future than where they are today. I mentioned the core biology of what happens when a threat response is kind of triggered and that's natural. There's also another natural kind of need and desire that's endemic to who we are as human beings and that's the desire to grow and develop. If we can keep that need that everyone has to grow and develop forefront of our thinking. When I receive feedback, it's very helpful. You know, if I don't get it at work, I'm going to go have a hobby, right? That's why I pick it up. I try and add something or I'm going to remodel my kitchen or I'm going to listen to this documentary or I'm going to pick up this book or I'm going to have this conversation with somebody. It's a core human need to grow and develop and we can lean into that with generative feedback and lean away from I'm going to survive or die. So I want to tap into that natural part of you. A human being is and that means future-focused cause grow and develop is in the future of where I want to go.
Troy Blaser (13:25):
I like it. I wanted to come back to something you mentioned in generative feedback and this idea as a feedback receiver. There are certain things that I can do to make sure that the feedback is generative for me, but I think you mentioned also there are things that a feedback provider can do to give feedback that's generative. Are there some things that you can talk about there?
Glade Holman (13:45):
It's kind of the same principles, but I think the most important one if I'm going to give somebody feedback is to keep it future focused, which means I'm giving you this feedback for the benefit of you like Troy, imagine that I have a moment with you and I say, Hey Troy, I've been watching you over the last couple of weeks. I've really seen some very interesting things about the way you do your work and I have some ideas that might actually help you in the future to grow and thrive the way you want. Would you be interested in hearing some of those ideas? So I've immediately couched it in the future and in the benefit for you, and I might even say I'm not sure of where you want to go, but they might be useful to you. If they're not, that's okay too, but I'm going to keep you in the driver's seat as the receiver because when I feel out of control, I trigger the threat response. I lose the ability to think rationally, so I'm going to offer you feedback, but I'm going to give you the opportunity to accept it and use it or just to accept it and say, interesting and move on. You get to decide what to do with the feedback. When I offer it to you, you're in the driver's seat, it's future-focused. Let them know it's up to them to decide what to do with it. It's not about measuring and assessing as it is about actually helping them grow and develop for the future.
Troy Blaser (14:58):
I love it. In the relationships that we have, even outside of work, personal relationships, we give feedback all the time and I think that's a fantastic thing to keep in mind to keep it generative. Is there a particular time that you can think of when feedback has really affected a particular individual in a, maybe in a unique way or in a transformative way as they've received feedback and you've had a chance to work with them?
Glade Holman (15:22):
Sure. I mean I think one of the objectives that I have whenever I start to work with an executive and it has feedback involved is to create a point of inflection. If they're trending down, I want to turn it to where they trend up. If they're trending up, I want to make it to where they trend up even steeper given that might be what the individual is actually driving for. So I can think of examples of where it's trending down and we actually find the chance to kind of make it go up. And actually sometimes those are the most rewarding opportunities for me. I remember working with a very senior executive at one of the global banks, very much on the fast track brought into the organization because he was seen as a high flyer. The organization has about a year and a half experience with the individual and they're saying, I think we made a mistake. We may have put this person into this spot maybe a couple of years too soon. And how do we undo this? That's the conversation that's going on in the organization. The individual has a 360 feedback and by the way, the individual's thinking, when they brought me in, they were praising me. They were bringing me all this kind of stuff that you're exactly who we want. They wooed me in here with promises of opportunities for my career to kind of really accelerate. But I've been here 18 months now and things aren't looking quite so rosy. So what do I do? Gets the 360 feedback.
Glade Holman (16:41):
The 360 feedback actually confirms the narrative in the organization. We had high expectations. The individual's trending down. We actually have started doing some head hunting outside of the organization. The individual's actually started doing some, where might I go post this? It's not working out here. When I engage with them and just through a probably an hour and a 15 minute conversation around the feedback in the survey, getting him to take the data was there, understand the blind spots and think about what I could do next time for future focus. Helping him make that shift rather than to say, this organization is a loser. It's their fault, not mine, but to say, let me take what I can learn a future forward with it. It started the transition for him to actually develop a track record of accepting and acting on feedback. The executives that I see that succeed at the highest levels of organizations, the one core characteristic they have in common is their ability to receive accept and act on feedback more than giving it more than all this analytical stuff. It's that ability that sets apart those that go as high as they want and those that actually derail. And so for him, he did make that shift and we did look at blind spots and we did open up to the idea that he could grow and improve and and address this. And by so doing he could actually be successful.
Glade Holman (18:04):
So we identified one thing he could do with his manager, we identified one thing that he could do with his peers and we identified one thing that he could do with his direct reports that would demonstrate this pattern of accepting and acting that would be visible. Cause I want to create a point of inflection, not just for their trajectory but for the eyes of the organization when they look at him and see his progress. I want them to see that shift too. So we said, what can you do that shows you accepted the feedback, which sometimes means I'm going to be humble. All right, I'm going to acknowledge, which I don't want to do because I've got an ego. You know, I'm a high powered executive here, but the most important thing for him to do is to accept feedback and visibly demonstrate the ability to act on it. I was able to catch up with him several years later where he had exceeded his expectations, not only at that organization because two years later he had achieved what they wanted and was sought after by headhunters, ended up going to another firm at even a higher level of the organization, which met all of his career desires in terms of both of what he had in terms of the opportunity to be successful in his job and also care for his family with the kind of compensation he's looking for. But he'll go back and tell you the one turning point was right there. I learned to accept an act on feedback and make it visible to others that set him on a path to achieve what he wanted to and how he wanted to flourish in his career.
Troy Blaser (19:27):
That was a real point of inflection for him.
Glade Holman (19:29):
Yeah, definitely.
Troy Blaser (19:29):
Switching gears for just a minute. You've worked with organizations in different industries as well, financial services or pharmaceutical or other industries. As you work across organizations, what are some of the challenges that you see for the talent development folks inside of a company to really bring feedback into an organization?
Glade Holman (19:49):
Any of us that's lived inside an organization know that an organization has its own culture, which often overrides any other kind of culture that might be around them. When I think of an HR professional that says, "Hey, I know we need to have an environment of feedback that's embedded in our organization and it's not there today. How do I make that happen?" One of the things most of those folks are dealing with is that traditionally feedback has not been used to focus forward. Feedback has been used to measure the past and decide how to give someone a bonus or to give them recognition or to withhold a promotion or to offer them a promotion. And so there's this idea that feedback is used for the individual to limit sometimes what their potential is in the organization or to justify why they're not moving forward. And so it's a measure and assess mentality that maybe was really dominant over the last couple of decades in HR, inside large organizations. And that stigma of feedback being used to mete out punishment and reward makes it very difficult to use feedback for grow and improve. And so how do you help the organization shift the mind from assess and measure to grow and improve is the key challenge I think in HR executive has to address, and there's a lot of fundamental elements that may have been embedded in the organizational culture towards this idea of pay for performance that sounds really alluring, but actually might work against growth and development and put people into a threat response to feedback and actually demoralize them and de-incentivize them more than helping. That's not to say that that feedback model needs to be thrown out completely, but recognize it probably only inspires a very small subset of the organization. And if you want to have an organization that learns and grows, you got to change the mindset around the use of feedback. And that is we all need it. And that's not just used here to meet out reward and punishment. It's used here to help you find ways to grow and improve and thrive and flourish. And that's what we're about as an organization. So it's a mindset shift that has to happen inside the organization. If you're going to do that. And if you're an HR executive, challenge to make that happen. When you think, well, how do I change the whole culture?
Glade Holman (22:09):
My advice is start small. Start with one set of executives, start with one 360 tool and use that tool not for measure and assess, but for grown. Improve. And as you build up experiences of individuals having feedback provided to them to grow and improve and thrive, that spreads and then the demand increased. A quick example, we did that with one organization where they had that same struggle of feedback's always been used only in terms of maybe the formal setting of a performance review and it was used to basically to say why you got your raise or didn't get your raise or why you got a bonus or didn't get a bonus. And that really worked against this idea of grow and improve. And so we started with a 360 that they designed internally, we helped them with a process to have individuals use that in conversations with their manager, never focused on grow and improve rather than how do I reward you one at a time. And it took the first cycle and then the second cycle and we started to get enough folks involved. We went back and asked the organization after the individual raters had actually participated in that, would you like a similar experience? And the ratio was about one to three or one to four. For every one person receiving that feedback, there were four or five more raising their hand saying, Hey, I want that opportunity too, so the demand for feedback was fostered inside the organization because of the experience they saw in people receiving it and acting on it. And they were asking for it now in the same way. So it just kind of started to snowball across the organization and it's starting to filter into now influencing how they do that formal performance review.
Troy Blaser (23:41):
I love it. Well, this has been a fascinating conversation for me. I've learned a lot myself. If people want to know more, what should they do next? What would be an appropriate next step for someone who listens to this podcast and wants to continue the conversation with you?
Glade Holman (23:56):
I personally would always welcome a conversation around generative feedback. I'm passionate about it. I happy to explore it with others. HR professionals, executives, consultants. It's my area where I think there's the greatest opportunity to make a difference. It's real for individuals and organizations and it permeates beyond the organization, into your personal life. So I always welcome that. A direct email to me, a conversation, a comment. Let's do that. Let's engage.
Troy Blaser (24:24):
Fantastic. I love it. Well, the conversation has been great today and I personally have enjoyed working with you. It's been a lot of fun to have this conversation, but also to work with you over the years. So thanks very much for your time today. And I'm sure we'll have conversations in the future.
Glade Holman (24:40):
Thanks, Troy. I enjoyed it immensely myself. Look forward to continuing the conversation.