This morning I read an article in the September 2012 issue of Chief Learning Officer about how Monsanto is using the 360 feedback tool to assess the capabilities of its leadership. Monsanto is a multinational conglomerate that specializes in bioengineered agriculture. Through strategic manipulation of seed supplies and regulatory measures to prohibit farmers from collecting seeds from their own crops, the company is systematically putting small farms out of business. In this endeavor, the company’s leaders need no improvement. Monsanto funds research conducted at land grant colleges across the United States. Funds which keep people employed make it easy to tow the company line into communities which are supported by these colleges. I’ve heard representatives from these colleges use terms like organic extremist to describe their neighbors who prefer less manipulation in their diets and have personally witnessed the arrogance of such “educators”.
What interested me about this article was the use of the 360-degree feedback survey. This tool is commonly used to assess and improve leadership in large corporations such as financial institutions. The idea is to survey an individual’s peers, direct reports, and managers and use the findings to identify strengths and weaknesses. In theory, it is an excellent tool. But, in reality what happens is peers don’t want to give each other feedback that might look good on a performance appraisal and possibly hand a promotion to the competition, direct reports fear giving honest feedback will result in a less than favorable performance appraisal, or worse, the beginnings of documentation used to terminate their employment. Senior managers cannot be bothered with regular interaction, much less take the time to complete survey questions for which they don’t have a clue how to answer. Yes, these things happen.
How is a biotech corporation like a financial institution? Here is a clue; source control. Ask any mortgage-backed securities trader the best way to manipulate a market and they will tell you, source control. Our economy is currently on the back side of this very crafty manipulation tactic. Without a view of anything beyond their own personal gain, Wall Street executives found a way to get into every aspect of the home mortgage business and even when it became toxic at every level, they still refused to take a hard look at their actions. If you sell anything, financial services, seeds or umbrellas, controlling the source of the supply and the conduit for that supply, it’s a win/win for greedy bastards. Of course there are willing participants at every level. Workers trying to earn a living and support their families, ambitious professionals trying to climb the corporate ladder, players trying to get while the gettin’s good and escape with a golden parachute, and yes, the elusive
greedy bastard corporate executive trying to decide whether to vacation with his wife in Maui or with his mistress in Aspen.
How’s that for a 360 degree view?