Call 610.688.7400 or email us

Lawyer Brain Blog

Subscribe to Lawyer Brain Blog feed
Updated: 1 hour 29 min ago

Supercharging Multi-Rater Feedback

Sat, 01/05/2013 - 14:25

This is the time of year when a lot of law firms administer multi-rater feedback surveys—these can include “360-degree feedback” or simply “360’s”, as well as peer reviews and upward evaluation surveys. What they all have in common is that an individual receives feedback from multiple raters.

Multi-rater surveys can accomplish several goals at the same time:

  • They can provide important feedback to the individual “ratees” (i.e, the feedback recipients).
  • They can provide the raters an opportunity to be heard
  • The aggregated results can provide actionable feedback to firm management about important behavioral issues that may need attention

Some law firms take a minimalist approach to these surveys—they run the survey, gather feedback from raters, and then simply send the feedback report to the ratees (usually partners) and leave it to those partners to interpret their own reports.

While this approach is quick and efficient, it can significantly sacrifice effectiveness and result in little to no behavior change.

To achieve the maximum payoff for your investment—for example, if you want the feedback to be maximally effective, or you want to foster behavior change, or you want the raters to feel like they’ve definitely had their voices heard—then consider taking the following two steps in addition to merely administering the survey:

(1) Gain buy-in at the time that you build the survey, and

(2) Provide meaningful coaching and strengths-based feedback at the back end.

Buy-in: Surveys have a powerful impact on people—on both those who give feedback and those who receive it. For the givers, they can raise significant expectations about potential changes in the ratee’s behavior—and they can also arouse concerns about retaliation, confidentiality, and related fears. (Not all feedback is “bad”, but lawyers tend to pay more attention to the negative.) For the feedback recipients, it can create a potent discrepancy—between “how I thought I was behaving” and “how others see me behaving”, for example, or between “how I see myself” and “how others see me”.

However, the degree of impact will be minimal if the survey participants had little or no involvement in the creation of the survey. When firm management simply announces that a survey is going to take place, and sets it in motion, it’s seen as something that “they” are doing.

Consider how much more powerful it can be to involve the potential raters and the potential ratees in the actual design of the survey from the outset. This small additional step can yield an enormous advantage—participation leads to commitment.

In other words, when the raters and ratees have had a hand in discussing the survey, thinking about its purposes, contributing ideas about what should be measured, and weighing in on some of the design choices, then when the survey actually takes place, these participants will be much more inclined to accept its legitimacy and to take the entire exercise more seriously.

Strengths-Based Coaching:  When a feedback report is provided to an individual without any coaching, the individual is left to make sense of the feedback on his/her own. Inevitably, human nature takes over, and most people will skim the positive feedback quickly and then linger on and resist the negative feedback. Lawyers do this more readily than most people.

Lawyers are trained to hunt for flaws, problems, and weaknesses. In my experience, when a ratee receives a feedback report at the end of the survey process, s/he almost always focuses on the “bad news”—for example, the first place that most lawyers turn to is the narrative comments that contain any criticism.

This is quickly followed by coming up with reasons why any critical comments are invalid and must be dismissed or ignored. This defeats the purpose of the exercise.

A good coach can help the feedback recipient make sense of the feedback in a way that is open-minded and constructive. The coach can help the recipient use the feedback to improve performance, attain desired goals, or adjust behavior.

The most effective coaching emphasizes the feedback recipient’s strengths. There is a growing body of scientific research showing that employees who focus more of their attention on their strengths, and how to leverage them, realize greater increases in performance and report higher levels of satisfaction than those who focus primarily on their weaknesses.

Focusing on strengths does not mean that weaknesses are to be ignored. Rather, it’s a question of emphasis. Research shows that it is more effective to spend about 75% of your time focusing on how to improve strengths, and 25% on how to manage those weaknesses that are so dire that they actually are interfering with your performance. (Lesser weaknesses can be safely ignored—when someone demonstrates a superior strength, others tend to overlook moderate weaknesses altogether.)

Bottom line: The most effective multi-rater feedback systems involve potential raters and ratees from the outset and seek their input in the design of the system. And the most effective way to deliver feedback is by using a coach who employs a strengths-based approach.

As usual, if you have comments or questions, please post a reply.

© 2012 LawyerBrain LLC  -  All rights reserved

Losing Weight and Keeping It Off

Sun, 12/30/2012 - 10:49

Although I usually write about leadership, change and resilience, today I want to address weight loss. I know it seems unrelated to the preceding topics, but there’s actually a connection, which we’ll get to in a minute. My main reason for writing this post is to respond to all of my clients and colleagues who have asked me how I lost weight and kept it off. Here are the details you’re looking for:

For most of my adult life I’ve been active, and have followed a pretty healthy diet. But over time, bad habits gradually took over and I gained over 90 pounds over my normal weight. Lots of miles on the road, big meals at various events, long schedules with little time for exercise–it all added up over time and I just wasn’t paying attention. By the time I got determined to do something about it, losing weight seemed like an impossible task. I tried various things, but could never really figure out how to make any headway. This was very frustrating and unpleasant, but it just felt like it was beyond my control.

It’s not my nature to give in. I have a very tenacious side to me, and I was determined to find a way to get back to my trim self. In 2008, two events influenced me. First, my parents were both starting to decline in health, and their fragile mortality served to remind me more vividly of my own. More significantly, my sister, who lives on the opposite side of the country, and whom I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, came East for the holidays and it was obvious that she had lost a lot of weight. That was a wake-up call to me–the combination of “possibility”–if it’s possible for her, then it’s possible for me–coupled with musings about mortality plus a little healthy sibling rivalry, led me to re-focus my attention on my own health. But focus alone is not enough. I needed a plan.

By happenstance, I was browsing in a bookstore the weekend after my sister’s visit when I stumbled upon a book by Judith Beck which outlined a system for weight loss and weight management based not on a “diet” in the traditional sense but rather on a well established psychological model called “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy” or CBT whose main premise is that you can regulate the behaviors that influence your weight by regulating your thinking patterns. Dr. Beck is a Ph.D. psychologist ( and one of the leading experts in CBT. Her father, Aaron Beck, invented the technique over 40 years ago to treat depression. One of his insights, and a key principle underlying the method for both treating both depression and weight is that emotions drive behavior, but thinking drives emotions. In other words, when you change how you think, it changes how you feel. Thinking and feeling are not “opposites”, as we often are told, but rather they are complementary functions that work together in the brain.

What does this have to do with weight loss? There are many elements to Dr. Judith Beck’s system, but for me the key element has been the importance of tuning into what she calls “sabotaging thoughts” that precede the unhelpful choices that I make. For example, if I am at a client dinner and the server places an appealing dessert in front of me, I used to eat it without even giving it a second thought. Dr. Beck will tell you that before the fork hits the chocolate cake, your brain first serves up some type of internal statement–some “self-talk”–that basically justifies or even goads you into tucking into the tasty treat. Here are some of the key steps that I learned and put into action:

  • First, set really clear goals about losing weight or staying trim and to connect them to larger, more personal values and desires about the kind of life that is important to me, and to read my goals every single morning, rain or shine.
  • Next, tune into that internal voice and become aware of and stay mindful about what the voice is saying. We all have such a voice, but many of us don’t hear it or we hear it and don’t pay attention to it. Anyone can learn to tune into that voice and become mindful of what statements it’s making in your head right before you commit an unhelpful behavior. So “awareness” is the first step–easy to say, but for some, not so easy to do.
  • Next, create an “antidote” statement for each such sabotaging statement. Every time I hear my brain saying, “Oh great–I love chocolate cake”, or “I know I shouldn’t have this, but I’ve worked really hard today and I deserve it”, I have a ready answer that I deliver to my own brain. In other words, you fight fire with fire–talk back to your brain. As lawyers, this part should come easy–it’s what we’re trained to do. You basically have to fight back against your “inner opposing counsel.” (Thanks Paula Davis-Laack for the great metaphor.)

There are many other steps involved, but the preceding three are the main ones that helped me start and, more importantly, stick with, my plan. Since 2008, I’ve lost 98 pounds and kept 93 of them off. In the process, In addition, I’ve created new habits around eating and exercise because habits are much more successful in weight management than willpower can ever be.

I hope this brief story, and the Beck website (and her latest book, The Complete Beck Diet For Life ( ) will inspire those of you looking to manage your own health, and will further provide the details about how I did it. Bear in mind that weight loss is a very individual process, and it seems to work differently for every person. This method succeeded for me; it may not succeed for you. But for those who are unaware of the method, I hope that by providing this information, you at least can give it a try. Please note also that when I began my efforts, I both consulted with my physician, and I engaged a nurse to call me once a week so I could tell her my weight, blood pressure, and other vital signs as I progressed The weekly progress call was also a motivator and a reinforcer. I recommend you do the same if you go down this path.

So how does this all connect with leadership, change and resilience? In at least two ways–the cognitive model I’ve been referring to can be useful both as a tool for being more effective in leading and inluencing others, and as a tool for leaders to manage themselves.

Leading others: The law firm leaders I work with almost always want to influence others in some way. There are many ways to help them do that, and almost all of them can become even more powerful by understanding the principle noted above–that “emotions drive behavior, but thinking drives emotions”. By doing so, a leader is better equipped to pay attention to the most important levers of change, and to understand how and why those levers work. It’s a very powerful principle.

Self-Management: In addition, leaders need to both take care of themselves and be role models for others. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in their excellent book The Power of Full Engagement, make the case that people in general, and leaders in particular, need to be fully “engaged” physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The approach to weight management that I have described here actually combines all four types of engagement. I think that you’ll only really understand what I’m trying to say if you use this CBT approach yourself to master one of your own personal goals–it works not just for losing weight and alleviating depression, but for a range of other self-management tasks. Give it a try.

As usual, if you have comments or questions, please post a reply.

© 2012 LawyerBrain LLC  -  All rights reserved