HR Management & Compliance

Who’s Got Your Back?

Employment law attorney Michael Maslanka reviews Keith Ferrazzi’s book Who’s Got Your Back.

Author of the ubernetworking book Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time Keith Ferazzi’s latest book  Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success–and Won’t Let You Fail argues that the the value of life is in candor and honest relationships. But many people can’t get there, for reasons rooted both in our reptile brains and in corporate policies.

Who's Got Your Back? by Keith Ferrazzi
First, let’s look at the reptile brain. Ferrazzi says people maintain carefully constructed self-images and resist hearing or seeing anything that disrupts those images. Why? “Part of the reason we don’t want to hear the truth is that we have a fear that it will metastasize through our entire being . . . If I am wrong about this one thing, I could be wrong about everything!”

In the face of this dilemma, Ferrazzi counsels calm. After all, he reasons, we are all right about some things and wrong about others. I agree: Pulling on one thread does not unravel the entire shirt or dress.

Turning to corporate policies at work: How dumb are exit interviews? He says that when employees are on the way out, they are not likely to tell tell the truth because they don’t care anymore, they’re teed off, and they don’t want to burn bridges.

My viewpoint? I like exit interviews but only if I think employees are leaving to work in violation of any noncompete agreements. Departing employees often lie to cover up their intent, so a well-crafted exit interview can yield good ammunition in an injunction suit.

Ferrazzi’s other target? 360-degree reviews, in which subordinates rate their bosses, but the reviewer’s identity is kept secret. A behind-the-back assessment is just an opportunity to stick it to the boss. When lobbed from the bushes, a legitimate complaint transforms into a gripe borne of resentment, not facts. (Hey, we are all human and would all like take a shot at those with power over us.) He nails it:

The real damage is that 360-degree reviews let organizations off the hook by reinforcing the idea that truth is just too painful for people to hear outright. It’s as if airing the bad news in a team environment would be too dangerous or humiliating.

Ferrazzi notes that he received a post on his blog from a reader who, in his reviews, cuts to the quick and asks his boss, who is giving a traditional performance review, two questions: “What am I doing that you want me to stop, and what am I not doing that you want me to do?” Is that genius or what? I say again: genius.

Ferrazzi says to go ahead and do a 360, but do out in the open, with people talking face to face in a culture of caring candor. When someone tells you XYZ, realize that you are in charge of the criticism. Ask questions that probe deeply, such as, “Could you tell me more?” or “What have you seen me do that leads you to believe that?” He is right: 360 reviews done in anonymity with people shooting from the bushes are useless.

Ferazzi provides good advice all around: Be candid, be transparent, be open. Great book.

Michael Maslanka is the managing partner of Ford & Harrison LLP’s Dallas, Texas, office. He has 20 years of experience in litigation and trialemployment law attorney Michael Maslanka of employment law cases and has served as Adjunct Counsel to a Fortune 10 company where he provided multi-state counseling on employment matters. He has also served as a Field Attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.

Mike is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as a “Texas Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly and Law & Politics Magazine in 2003. He was also selected as one of the best lawyers in Dallas by “D” Magazine in 2003. Mike has served as the Chief Author and Editor of the Texas Employment Law Letter since 1990. He also authors the “Work Matters” column for Texas Lawyer.