I recently presented to the senior executive team at a prospective client, with a view to allay their fears around the idea of introducing 360 degree feedback for the first time.
It reminded me that for many organisations, the concept is quite alien to them, and with this lack of knowledge of what it is and how it works, there is an understandable fear that needs to be brought into the open.
I had anticipated many of the questions; how do you handle anonymity? Who should choose the respondents? Who will see my report? To a large extent, their concerns diminished and they became more open to the idea as we progressed.
However, I realised that there would always be some fear that would remain until they had actually been through the process – but like nervousness before a presentation, that little bit of fear is no bad thing….it can help to focus peoples attention on the need to do it right, to be sensitive to everyone involved and to work hard to ensure it is successful.
I am pleased to say that they have decided to proceed with us and I know that they will not be cavalier in their approach having taken time to feel the fear and do it anyway!
I thought I would have my Tony Blair moment there, reminiscent of his famous ‘Education, Education, Education!’ speech all those years ago. We are often asked how our online 360 degree feedback process should be positioned within an organisation, and our answer is always as above….it is a tool to aid development.
As soon as the process is interlinked with Performance Appraisals, there is a real danger that the value of the feedback from others will diminish, as people try to temper their ratings & comments, fearful of the impact that any negative response may have on that individuals appraisal.
Similarly, and more importantly in my mind, the feedback recipient themself may be too generous in their self-evaluation rather than truly assess where their strengths and development areas are, again fearful of the effect it may have on their performance rating; this misses out on a great opportunity for honest reflection leading to positive change.
So, leave it as a development process and always have a separate meeting to the appraisal with the recipient to discuss their 360 degree feedback, with the sole objective of them understanding what they are brilliant at ….and not so brilliant at!
About twice a week we get some paper forms from a client that we review. Often we consult on how the forms or designed and of course we regularly are asked to quote for an online 360 degree feedback solution or a performance review system . Our solutions are interchangeable but there are pros and cons to whether we consider the forms to describe a 360 or an annual appraisal.
The reason this is an issue is that increasingly we are seeing multi-rater feedback (usually an academic’s phrasing for a 360) being used in an annual appraisal. A good example is law firms who wish to get feedback on how various pieces of work (matters in the lingo) have been performed over the year. Those matters will have had different lead partners who should be invited to comment on the individual’s contribution.
I like to keep 360 degree feedback and performance appraisals separate in my mind though. I consider a 360 degree feedback to be behaviours driven – and be essentially developmental in nature. An appraisal is more around ‘what got done’ with a 360 considering how it got done. That a performance appraisal may have some elements that require more than one person to input on them is a secondary issue.
Although this is only terminology it does matter to recipients of 360s or performance appraisals that we are clear on the purpose. In particular, where you are asking for feedback from peers and direct reports everyone needs to be very clear on how the information they provide will be used.
I know this sounds like a modern update on the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman joke….alas no punchline here, as I was merely refelecting on the terminology that clients specify when we implement online 360 degree appraisal systems with them..
We will have many discussions around whether the term ‘Peers’ is correct, or if ‘Direct Report’ is appropriate, and what we mean by ‘Line Manager’?
Inevitably, the direct report term finds favour, it is factual in so much that it denotes someone who ‘directly reports’ to the feedback recipient, and is less controversial than ‘subordinate’.
The term ‘Peers’ will sometimes be changed to ‘Colleagues’, with an additional prefix to denote if they are ‘Internal Colleagues’ or ‘External Colleagues’…a valid distinction if the external colleagues group can offer an opinion worth separating from the internal ones (which they usually are able to!).
Line Manager denotes that person who has direct supervisory control over the feedback recipient day-in and day-out….they may well have another manager who they report into, but this will often be in relation to a specific project – there can, as in the words of ‘Highlander’….be only one….
The terms given to all of these respondents is as important as the rating scales terms, or wording of the question, or guidance text in the invitation email – it should all be thought about and reflect the culture of the organisation.
We always work very closely with our clients to ensure they give consideration to this; why go to all the trouble of implementing a tailored online solution, if you don’t shape it to suit you?
I was facilitating our 1 day training programme, "How to conduct effective 360 feedback debriefs" earlier this week and was struck by how difficult it can be for the person debriefing the feedback recipient to avoid going into ‘resolution mode’ before truly allowing the recipient to understand what their report is telling them.
The debrief, as we see it, has one fundamental purpose and that is to ensure that the recipient comes away with a balanced and complete understanding of the feedback and what it is saying to them – without this, all attempts at trying to address those areas which require development goals are seriously undermined.
When the debrief lapses into the debriefer ‘telling’ the recipient what they saw and what they think the recipeint should do about it, it becomes harder and harder for the recipient to truly see for themselves what the feedback means to them and they do not take real ownership of any suggested actions given to them.
The skills of debriefing are quite different to many other 1-2-1 interactions and that is why we are always keen to offer training to our on-line 360 degree appraisal clients – it’s not just about the software!
When Bowland solutions are bidding for a new client the features (and benefits for the marketeers amonst you) clearly are important. Although we would shy away from being described as a product supplier, our online 360 degree appraisal system does have to stand up to the competition from the more traditional suppliers. So, we have a stage of "can the system do this….?". Today I want to briefly discuss an area for which the answer is "yes, but do you really want that?".
Putting a 360 online – or even a performance appraisal – helps reduce the administrative burden and that is a good thing. But, in an effort to reduce the burden, you shouldn’t lose the human element. So, yes our system can send emails to people all of the time reminding them of what they need to do next, and yes we can email line managers to remind them that they need to conduct appraisals. But, our most successful clients, with the highest completion rates and the lowest burden are those that leave the feedback recipient – or the appraisee – with the responsibility of getting their feedback completed.
They sit next to most of the people who are giving feedback to them and so having a system send an automated message loses something rather than gains it.
I have a range of interests in todays post. My wife owns and manages Endon Kindergarten; a children’s nursery in Staffordshire. She was interested in getting 360 degree feedback for her management team.
Now family loyalties didn’t stretch to us setting up a fully customised solution for just 4 managers. And frankly, she didn’t want to design a competency framework from scratch. I do however believe that 360is valuable in smaller organisations and for this reason we built a “pay as you go” online 360 called www.myOwn360.com .
Over time I’ll share a range of feedback I had through this process but the key one I want to share today is that although people may be nervous of a 360 particularly in a small, close-knit team it works very, very well. The management team found it highly valuable. Like in a larger organisation it is a real commitment of time and effort to do it properly but the value you will gain is significant.
We have learnt a great deal from building this solution that we have transferred over to our main online 360 degree appraisal solutions . I learnt that 360 is effective in many different organisations.
I have to honestly say that if you can avoid this you should. 360 degree appraisal should be about development rather than judgement. Getting a score from it and having any direct link to pay distorts the process
On balance I believe a 360 linked to pay is better than no 360 at all. Here are some of the issues to consider though
- You are probably going to need a score (a problem in itself)
- It would be best all round if you excluded the self appraisal from the score
- It will require managerial oversight over who the respondents are
- Include narrative feedback within the 360. This will assist all involved – as it always does – in getting context for the behavioural ratings
- Consider a non-line based debriefer – external if you can afford it – so that you still get value from the debrief. If it is the manager who is debriefing then the recipient is going to find it hard to not concentrate on the score
We have been providing online 360 systems for some time now and I am getting more requests to link to pay than ever before. This really is to be avoided if at all possible as it detracts heavily from the 360 degree process. An alternative option is to seek feedback from multiple people as part of the annual performance appraisal.
I posted an entry before which discussed what the role of a ‘debriefer’ is – a debriefer being the person who sits down with a recipient of a 360 degree appraisal cycle and shares the results with them face-to-face.
I suggested that the role of such a debriefer was to act as an intermediary between the recipient and their feedback report – with this in mind, I considered what the key skills of such a person should be.
Before the session begins, a debriefer should prepare adequately for the session itself – they require the ability to analyse the report in isolation and begin to assess what the themes are that are emerging, patterns that repeat, ratings and comments that differ between different relationship groups, e.g. do the peers believe something very different to the direct reports or boss?
Once into the debriefing session, the debriefer needs to be able to place the recipient at ease sufficiently such that they feel free to express themselves – I find this no different in many respects to any 1-2-1 interaction, but the key difference I feel is that the recipient understands the nature of the session i.e. what YOU are there to do, and that the conversation is confidential – if it isn’t you must say this though.
Establishing some position of trustworthiness is critical to being able to support the recipient through the process.
Not unsuprisingly, listening is an essential skill – actively listening to the recipient and gauging what it is they are really saying will provide you all you need to move constructively through the session.
A temptation is to think about what you are going to say next; how to solve the issue, offer advice, move to action or simply to ask another question…..resist all of these! Listen and you will know what it is the next step..
Asking questions is another key skill, but proably warrants another post, so I am going to leave it fo now!
On the train today, I read an interesting article in The Guardian which discussed whether you could trust your manager. I turned to thinking about how this rather fundamental question affected 360 degree appraisals.
The obvious response is "this is why we need anonymity in 360s". But, I actually see it quite differently. If you do not trust your manager then anonymity is but a side issue. You are not going to trust their response to your own 360 and you are not going to trust them to not run a "who said that" campaign on any comments you have provided on their 360.
Although most of our clients do take a ‘responses are anonymous’ approach to 360 I believe that the people completing 360s have more knowledge and understanding of the culture of their organisation and the approach their manager will take. An enlightened manager will get good, constructive feedback and an authoritarian, untrustworthy manager will get guarded feedback and the degree of anonymity offered by any 360 degree appraisal system will only affect the openness of the feedback at the margins.
It’s a 5.6 from the Russian judge
The benefit of averaging in 360s has been likened to the removal of rogue scores from ice dancing competitions. Take 9 scores, remove the two extremes and average the rest and noone can deny Torville and Dean the gold (am I showing my age!). But is this valid for a 360? Aren’t we interested in why two people scored at the extreme? Wouldn’t we be better reflecting back the detail of the feedback rather than averaging out the variety?
Itseems that people like numbers – it gives clarity. Bosses like to feelit is getting to the nitty gritty of someone’s performance. I’m not sosure.
First – you lose something. If three people say I am poorand three people say I am fantastic then being told that overall I amaverage simply isn’t correct and, worse, is misleading.
Second -the average isn’t correct. It assumes that people evenly score on therange. But, particularly us Brits, people don’t like scoring at theextremes….so, when they do, it needs to carry more weight.
Third – 360 degree feedback is meant to give you a rounded opinion, a range of feedback. Leave the detail in, is what I say. If you feel a craven need for scoring or grading then leave that in the annual performance appraisal.
Andfinally, the conversations from the 360 if you do have scores are often painful. They startwith "I’m 3.7 on Leadership and 3.6 on Customer Service, so I need towork on Customer Service". The precision of numbers is misleading.
Together with colleagues, I set up a Bowland Solutionsto give companies a chance to handle 360 degree appraisals effectively and efficiently.Our recommendation is always that the feedback report should give asimple representation of what has been said and keep numbers away. Ifthere is a driving need for a score – then use something like aspidergraph / radar plot to show an overall picture but don’t create scores for eachbehaviour.
Find out more about online 360 degree appraisal systems with Bowland Solutions