Degrees of anonymity in 360 degree feedback

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In discussing our potential involvement with a leadership 360 process with a new client, anonmity of feedback was raised.  It is a regular topic often influenced by the culture of the organisation we are speaking with, the personal experiences of the key stakeholders, and the belief systems of those involved. 

The key decision is normally whether responses should be anonymous on a report – both the behavioural rating scales and the narrative responses.  Sometimes this drives a decision process on how people’s respondents are selected (and whether you can see who has and who has not responded on you).

I see some core principles here; the more open the feedback the better; anonymity should not be used to allow people to give feedback that they would not give face-to-face, and a game of “who said that” is no good for anyone.

I also have some core beliefs that I apply across all organisations we work with; from large banking organisations, through retail operations to law firms.

When giving 360 degree feedback, respondents nearly always

  • Are more considered than people expect
  • Are more honest and truthful than expected
  • Rarely, if ever, write something that would hurt the recipient
  • Take the responsibility of giving feedback seriously
  • Would not mind the person knowing that they wrote the feedback

This may come about from the effort we make on communicating the process of a 360 with our clients.

I always recommend that reticent organisations start with a relatively high degree of anonymity and then carefully move to openness.  This reduces fear – particularly that of key stakeholders and ensures a safe introduction of 360 degree feedback.

Bowland Solutions’ online 360 degree feedback system handles varying degree of anonmity and openness in reporting.  Flexibility is crucial in moving organisations through to an open approach to feedback.


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Problems for Cagney in appraising her peers

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We recently acquired Sky+ .  As an example of unintended consequences, we are now building up a great archive of Cagney and Lacey repeats.  It turns out this is my wife’s favourite programme of all time.  So, we were watching another “classic” last week.  Cagney (not the one married to Harvey) had recently been made sergeant and the Lieutenant asked her to complete the annual appraisal on her colleagues / subordinates.

What followed was a classic list of stereotypical responses to the appraisal process.  Bearing in mind this was recorded in the 80′s I had to smile at some of the predicaments Cagney found herself in.

Half of the people immediately started to ingratiate themselves with her.  Victor (muscular guy who always makes a play for Cagney) being the worst example.  It turns out that under the appraisal system, Cagney has to rank the people in order.  This creates a tension.  Initially Lacey is ok about the whole process as she “trusts Cagney to be fair”.  This ends badly though as Cagney feels then need to be harder on her friend so that noone suspects her of favouritism.

What is the point of these ramblings?  Well, one it is to show that over a 20 year period the wrong way of doing an appraisal hasn’t changed.   Also,  that the human condition – even when dramatised in a US sitcom – hasn’t changed a great deal either.

To get appraisal right you have to set the system (by which I mean process rather than online system) right.  If you don’t then you set everyone up to fail.

Getting online appraisal systems right is something we work very hard to achieve.  Whether for a 360 degree appraisal or the annual appraisal it is the process that will matter….then the people can be free to “do the right thing”.

Right, back to the next Cagney and Lacey!


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Comparison reporting in 360

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We often get asked to compare two sets of 360 degree feedback – normally this year’s against last year.  We have a general aversion to using numbers in our reports so we like to avoid bar charts and other averaging mechanisms.  I’ve written before on the futility of someone saying they are 68% at Managing People.  And it gets worse if you start arguing that you have gone from 60% to 80% at Leadership. 

But it must be useful to compare one year with the last.

In working with one of our 360 clients recently, we came up with two options. 

This example retains our favoured block report style which identifies who said what.  And simply overlays the various years.  This is simple and powerful.

We also tried out a spidergraph report.  Although the averaging still gives cause for concern, I have to say that this report is graphically appealing and at a competency level gives a very effective high level overview.

While we are limited graphically here, the two charts give a simple method of comparing high level movement.

It is often Bowland Solutions role to draw out the best practice in this area and I believe we are working up some great solutions.  As ever, we always recommend using the rating scores as a method of highlighting areas.  The real 360 degree feedback will remain in the narrative section of the report.


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Competency Frameworks – Designing from scratch

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Our projects with clients involves as much work before we implement an online 360 degree appraisal system, as it does afterwards – in the latter case, we offer training in how to conduct effective 360 debriefs, executive coaches to conduct 1-2-1 debriefs, and ongoing support, maintenance and modifications.

The work we do beforehand is very often designing the actual competency framework from which the 360 feedback questionnaire will be derived.

We will work from first principles to ensure that the competencies against which the individuals are to be assessed by adhere to some key criteria:

Tailored to the organisation in question
Although many common themes may run through a competency framework, we believe it is far better to create the behavioural statements from scratch, rather than simply lift them from a generic framework.

Derived from the business strategy
The starting point must be to understand the organisational aims and goals – the strategy highlights those competencies which will be important to the organisation going forward.

Culturally congruent
The competency framework should reflect both the current and desired culture of the organisation; it must be informed by the values too – the behavioural statements illustrating those values in action.

There is often a lot of information to be collated at this stage, but carefully collected and analysed, the framework will start to appear quite organically.

Over the years we have realised that this stage is probably more important than the technical implementation – you have to get ‘buy-in’ and for that to happen people have to see the relevance of what is being asked of them.

More to follow on this…but for now, I am going back to the design board!


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