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O’Melveny & Myers LLP is working to develop a feedback culture by encouraging colleagues to give, receive, and request feedback more frequently across all levels. 

Research shows that traditional feedback and evaluation processes don’t always work for women, minorities, and Millennials. O’Melveny has already begun to make changes to its performance review systems. But to have a truly sustainable impact, firm leadership aims to create a culture of feedback. 

“We see this as an underpinning,” said Mary Ellen Connerty, Leader of Diversity and Engagement. “Our attorneys and staff were requesting more frequent and in-the-moment feedback, and the annual process alone wasn’t meeting their needs. We wanted to introduce a simple feedback model that everybody understood, could adopt, and that would help us all be more courageous, direct, and clear in seeking and receiving feedback.”

Working with a consultant, the firm developed a two-part training module for both attorneys and staff. The modules emphasize the importance of giving and receiving feedback in performance and career development; address some of the barriers to successful feedback; and guide people in using the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) feedback model originally introduced by the Center for Creative Leadership (see below).

“Using the SBI model, you very clearly define what the situation was, the specific behaviors you observed, and how they impacted you,” Connerty said. “If you’re using the model correctly, you should fall right in that sweet spot of giving clear and correct feedback without being judgmental or doing any harm.”

The SBI Model (L) was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. The Ladder of Inference (R) was developed by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris and used by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. 

While the modules were broadly designed to help people communicate well across differences, there are also components that specifically address diversity. For example, employees learn about the Ladder of Inference (see above), which shows how assumptions and beliefs can have a significant impact on how we interpret data and situations and jump to conclusions, particularly in feedback situations that involve diverse individuals.  

Connerty also said the firm is mindful of how a culture of feedback is essential to retention: “Meaningful feedback, which is succinct, specific, and can be delivered quickly, is essential to the growth, development, and engagement of each of our colleagues. We cannot afford to miss opportunities to provide direct and candid feedback that will help people thrive at the firm.”

The firm timed the program’s launch so that people would be able to use the SBI model and other new skills in their annual evaluation discussion. The firm will do follow-ups to stimulate the culture change, and hopes to see an impact in its next engagement survey. In the meantime, Connerty said they are beginning to hear “SBI” in their lexicon, a sign that it’s already beginning to become a part of the OMM culture.  

For more information, contact Mary Ellen Connerty, Leader of Diversity and Engagement at O’Melveny & Myers, at meconnerty@omm.com


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