Good, bad, ugly of 360 degree feedback

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I have taken the title of this post from a post by Susan Heathfield on About.com.  You can read the post here.  I agree with the whole of this post and it is a great summary of what can go well with 360 degree feedback and what can go wrong.

By avoiding the “bad and ugly” of the third page of Susan’s post you would go a long way to a successful 360 feedback implementation.

I also like the reference to managing people through pointing out what they are good at, rather than focusing on weaknesses.  Those of us who have “taught” a child to ride a bike will know that it is a fruitless exercise to repeatedly tell the child what they are doing wrong.  The challenge they face is they have no experience or knowledge of what the correct way of riding the bike is.  So, encouraging them when they remember to put their feet down after they have stopped rather than telling them the problem with putting feet down early works a lot better. And “go faster” and “stop wobbling” doesn’t help them at all!

The output from 360 or from performance appraisal can too often be viewed as highlighting weaknesses.  Most of us are as much in need of being told what we are doing right – so we can repeat it and enhance it – than of being told where we are going wrong.

Brendan

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360 degree appraisal system

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Over the past few weeks, I have been working my way along Bowland Solutionsapproach to implementing 360 degree feedback.  I have now come to the online system element of that approach.  I’m not going to cover how to select an online 360 degree appraisal system.  I’ll cover that another time as I don’t want to corrupt this exercise with a sales pitch!

So, instead – I’ll cover how to get the system to work for you.  We see the system’s role as a supportive one – it only exists to help the process, it must not become the end itself.  So, you are looking to

  • make it simple
  • ensure the only time spent by people is on completing or reviewing feedback rather than clicking all over the place
  • make error checking easy
  • remove administration tasks / make them easier
  • improve reporting and make it more timely

Most everything else is fluff.  So, when we are implementing the system phase, we work off a simple checklist of what needs to be done and we strip the system functionality down to this level.  The less noise the better.

If you have this level of simplicity then there should be no training requirement.  I repeat, there should be no training requirement on the system.  Those days are gone – no-one tells us how to use Google or the BBC/CNN websites.

For a service like ours there is no real IT project to implement.  The only area to take care on is ensuring that emails will get through firewalls/spam filters.

We do suggest that you pilot the 360 implementation if you can.  There are unlikely to be technical issues, but this does offer the opportunity to change wording of questions, instructional text, and review process.

Otherwise it should be a matter of getting the emails sent out and off we go.

If you are working with a system that requires installation then we would recommend a full project initiative.  Your supplier should assist you with that.

Next up in the series : training.

Brendan

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360 degree feedback in a law firm

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Law firms are of particular interest to Bowland Solutions – as well as being an important client sector for us, they also have provided some of our most interesting and thought-provoking discussions on best practice.  I was recently invited to write an article for the Staffordshire law society – we have now published this on our website, and you may wish to refer to it.

The article is “360 degree appraisal in a law firm” and can be found on our 360 degree feedback and performance reviews articles page.  The article covers the three greatest concerns of law firms when implementing 360 and gives our view on why 360 feedback is particularly well suited to a law firm.

Brendan

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360 degree feedback and a high achieving law firm partner

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“I’ve only got 45minutes, so can we get straight to the point?” said Charles, the head ofcorporate law as he strode into the room. The “point” to which he was referringwas our meeting to go through his 360 feedback. The “point” that he actuallywanted to make was that he didn’t really want to hear the views of others.

Coaching thishigh achieving City law firm partner had proved challenging for the last 4months. Asked by the firm’s Managing partner if I “could help to sort him out”,I had struggled to engage in a change process. Charles was admired by the firmfor his talent in winning millions of pounds of fees with new clients. Butthere had been staff losses and dissension in Charles’s department. Charles hadapparently to change his style.

It was clear fromthe outset of our coaching sessions that Charles had no real intention ofchanging. My observations were brushed aside. He told me that his colleagueswould have to “take him as they found him”. Charles demonstrated all the traitsof the ultra alpha male with a few of the more extreme lawyer’s attributes thrownin – highly analytic, intimidating, quick witted, highly (superficially)confident, impatient, opinionated and focusing on flaws in other people andtheir views.

What’s more, Charlestypically didn’t like exploring emotions – “I don’t do emotion –emotions can’tbe controlled!”. Yet it was clear that Charles was actually highly emotional infrequently talking about his anger, frustration and – in his very occasionalweaker moments – his insecurity.

Charles was eventuallypersuaded to agree to a 360 feedback session. In typical fashion, he wasimmediately dismissive of any negative comments. He also spent the first fiveminutes trying to work out who hadbeen less than glowing in their opinions of him. Here, however was feedbackthat Charles could not ignore. Here was written data with examples of hisbehaviour being repeated across his department. There were well argued remarksbacked up with facts.- a benefit of 360 work with lawyers is that their writtencomments are clear and supported by strong evidence.

Gradually,Charles’ curiosity in the feedback was engaged. He began to understand that thestrengths that he thought were so important were damaging to his colleagues (andto himself). A common comment was that Charles was a very poor listener – tothe extent that many in his department had stopped talking to him – “Charlesonly listens to respond”, ”I’ve stopped talking to Charles – I am not importantenough fro him “ “Charles is only interested in his own clients”.

For the firsttime in 5 meetings, Charles’ defences were lowered. I turned the screw (a bit).This was an opportunity that might not come again! I suggested a FIRO assessment( more data/evidence) to help Charles understand his needs for control (high)and openness (low).

Charles thoughtthat he should acknowledge the feedback at his next departmental meeting. “Doyou think that is enough?” I asked Charles. “On reflection – no. I will makemore time for people. I will tell people that I appreciate them “.

We’ll both seewhat happens. Will Charles revert to type? The first signs are promising but one 360 appraisal does not lead to acomplete personality change. One thing is clear – without a structuredapproach, Charles would probably never have started to “listen” to his co-workers.Appealing to his curiosity about data was crucial to any breakthrough. Charlesmay even admit to having emotions soon!

This is a guest post for Bowland Solutions by Nigel McEwen.  Formally a managing partner of a top 100 law firm, Nigel is now an executive coach who works with clients in the accountancy, legal, manufacturing and financial services sectors.  To contact Nigel, please add a comment to this post.

 

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Basic rules for competency frameworks in 360 degree feedback

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 Here are some rules of thumb to help out if you take on the task of creating a competency framework for a 360 degree performance appraisal.

  • Less than 12 competencies per role
  • Cluster the framework for ease-of use
  • Contain both definitions and examples to aid understanding
  • Tailor off-the-shelf frameworks where you can.  Re-inventing the wheel is highly unnecessary for a lot or roles
  • Create a forward-looking framework.  What behaviours does the organisation want/need rather than what do they currently have
  • Seek out best practice in each area

There are some great technical resources around how to write the statements which are too detailed for here.  Let me know if you want further advice in this area.

Brendan

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Designing a competency framework for appraisals

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I have been working my way through the stages that Bowland Solutions’ recommend our clients go through when setting up a 360 degree appraisal.  Here are my notes on creating a competency framework.  They apply to both 360 and standard performance appraisal.

There is some great material around on how to write competency frameworks, so please accept this bullet point list as the summary it is intended to be.  It will have been sourced from other parties over time and supplemented with our own experience : CIPD is the best place to start.  Writing a framework is a skilled, time-consuming job.  So, here goes :

  • Start with your values and stated strategy – look to existing materials and language
  • Get directors, or senior management to express their desired behaviours
  • Seek to identify best practice in each area
  • Involve managers and staff, outside of HR, in design and implementation
  • Keep it simple : use straight-forward language
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Train people in how to use, understand, and assess against the competencies

Of course, at the end of this process you only have a framework.  We believe the process of generating the framework is of great value, but the proof is in the eating.  How it is used in performance appraisal, 360, training, recruitment, etc, wil determine how others value the framework.

Brendan

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Numbers of ratings in 360 degree appraisals

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I recently wrote on the rating scales in 360 degree feedback .  One recent, interesting development we have had with a client is the number of ratings affecting the distribution of scores.

The client uses a 7 point rating scale.  One effect of a 7 point rather than 5 point scale is to bunch the scoring together.  So, the difference between rating points is much smaller.  This is not necessarily an issue but it is something to consider up front (we are changing our standard process as we speak).

One solution to this is to score from -3 to +3 – a suggestion from the client concerned.  I’m not necessarily advocating this approach and we have a general concern at Bowland Solutions around using averages/scores anyway.  But, this does solve this problem if you need it solving!

Brendan

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360 degree appraisals and the financial crisis

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A passing thought given the current situation where performance amongst traders, investment bankers and all, has been to date deemed successful when the short-term profit target has been met…yielding great results for the individual and organisation alike.

However, as has now transpired, this was success built on a house of cards; the long-term result has been catastrophic.

With 360 degree feedback, the very process of putting in place competencies or standards of acceptable/desired behaviour, can help ensure organisations move towards sustained success, not just short-term results.

It shifts the focus on ‘results above all costs’, and moves to an emphasis where it is just as important to measure ‘what’ an individual does and ‘how’ they do it.

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360 degree appraisal and coaching

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A couple of interesting stats from Coaching at Work .  The first – and most relevant to Bowland was that 70% of coaches surveyed used a 360 degree feedback tool to support their clients.

This marries with a previous post I wrote on measuring ROI in coaching which quoted a research paper that Nigel McEwan of Ridler & Co had written.

Another interesting statistic was that 98% of coaches ran face-to-face sessions.  The article noted that in the US the majority of coaching is handled over the phone. 

We always prefer to handle our debriefing sessions face-to-face … in part because seeing the reaction of someone to their 360 degree appraisal report can be enlightening.  We do toy with phone-based as it is more efficient use of time.  But is it more effective?

Brendan

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360 degree appraisal comments from law firms

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Last week I was struck again by the richness of the narrative that you see from our law firm clients.  Oddly, I had been writing an article on 360 degree appraisal in a law firm the week before – still to be published; I’ll link to it when it is.

We have always worked with a number of law firms and one common theme is the care taken over the narrative comments that are provided in the feedback.  I believe good feedback comes from precise, unambiguous comments that are transparently fair-minded and back up the rating scales.  You would expect lawyers to write well but I don’t know that I would have expected them to write in this field so well.

When debriefing 360 degree feedback the narrative comments are crucial in allowing you to interpret the rating scale responses.  For the recipient of the feedback it is incredibly useful in drawing out why a certain response has been given.  Law firms are my recommended sector for anyone looking to investigate what makes great feedback.

Brendan

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Closing the loop – After the 360 degree feedback debrief

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It is accepted that 360 degree feedback and performance appraisals are only of use if something happens as a consequence. Typically, this takes the form of a ‘Personal Development Plan’ (PDP) which details what development actions are going to happen for the individual in question.

It is absolutely essential that the recipient of the feedback completes this PDP – this sounds commonsense and almost too obvious to mention, but sometimes we see the manager, coach or HR person take the PDP and begin to fill it out on the behalf of the recipient.

The act of completing the PDP is a very important step in the 360 process; the individual, by their own action, commits to change – whether this be through different day-to-day behaviours or by deciding to attend a new training programme.

Let the recipient ‘close the loop’ and they will stay the course and make the changes.

John

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