Telling it straight in 360 degree appraisal

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A quote from Graham Alexander, Author of The Grow Model in CIPD’s Coaching at Work. 

“If someone asks where the photocopier is, tell them.  Don’t say, ‘ if you knew where it was, where would it be?’”

I had to smile.

Anyone who has coached – or who has debriefed 360 degree appraisals – has struggled with this one.  I’ve been so caught up in not giving advice and letting the recipient gain their own understanding that I’ve found myself not stating facts or clear points.  It is a lesson to us all and I shall remember this simple pithy quote the next time I am giving 360 feedback.


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Who needs training in 360 feedback?

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We often work with training organisations who use 360 feedback as an input into the design of a training programme.  More often now, we are working with organisations who recognise that the 360 itself requires people to be trained.

Training can assist recipients, respondents, and managers in getting the most from the process.  I learnt this particularly from observing how Peter Hyde, a partner of ours, ran 360s in a financial services organisation.  Peter was, as ever, very thorough and offered workshops for respondents that helped them to provide the best feedback possible.

We were so impressed by Peter’s approach that we asked him to author a training programme on how to give 360 degree feedback and delivering that training is now part of our offering.  I don’t believe it is essential that formal training is given to all participants but I do believe that a clear communication and training plan will yield the best results from the process.

Another of our clients, in the manufacturing sector, runs 360s for 1,600 recipients.  They provide supporting literature and, I believe, some open workshops as their route to lifting people’s abilities.  What they don’t do is leave it to chance.

Effective training can really lift the quality of 360 feedback – and through demonstrating the organisational commitment to the process it can also generate an uplift in conversion rates.


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Choosing an online 360 degree feedback supplier

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I know – this is a slightly odd thing to write about.  But, I came across an article in CIPD that discussed 360 degree feedback.  Within it is a section on Choosing an online 360 feedback provider.

I’ve repeated that section below.  It’s a useful aide memoir and I suspect a number of people who visit our blog or website are trying to achieve this task.  Hope it helps.

Here is their text ….

“Search Google UK for ’online 360 feedback‘ and you’ll get over one and a half million matches. There is a huge selection of providers, and no doubt each will do 360 feedback slightly differently. In choosing a provider, it is important to ask the questions that will result in a system that fits your business, and complies with regulatory requirements and best practice.

  • Is it an easy, step-by-step process, with clear guidance and online help?
  • How flexible is it? Can it use your competencies? Can you choose the rating scale? Can you add your branding, extra supporting information and help pages? Will it cope with the number of users anticipated?
  • Is it easy for recipients to own the process, by requesting their own feedback, designing their own questionnaires, being involved in selecting, briefing and following up their respondents?
  • How useful are the feedback reports?
  • How much administration is involved? Does it minimise the opportunity for human error, and allow those that do occur to be quickly corrected?
  • Does it run on the Internet or on an intranet? If the latter, is it compatible with existing software, how will it be affected by changes or upgrades, and what are the maintenance overheads and security implications. If on the Internet, do people have access, and if not, what is involved in setting up access.
  • How responsive is the provider to requests for changes?
  • How is confidentiality protected?
  • Does the supplier offer strong information security? The ISO/IEC 17799 Code of Practice for Information Security Management6 establishes guidelines and general principles for organisations.
  • How accessible is the system to people with disabilities? The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) requires service providers to ensure the services they provide are accessible to people with disabilities. The DDA requirement applies to services delivered via the Internet and it applies to all businesses and all public sector organisations.”

Now, I don’t think the list is perfect, but if I were choosing an online 360 degree feedback provider then I would have much of this list in my criteria.


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360 degree feedback development plan

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I’m not actually certain that it is essential to draw out an action plan from 360 feedback.  I believe that the key benefit from 360 feedback is the increase in self-awareness that it brings.

However, in many cases, drawing a personal development plan from the feedback is both desirable and required.

We recommend that a development plan contains the following.

  • An identification of your areas of strength and weakness
  • Against development areas
    • What you are going to do on a day-to-day to improve them
    • What one-off actions you may take
    • 3 goals (good old SMART goals!) and the steps you are going to take to achieve them
  • Against strengths
    • What you are going to do on a day-to-day basis to build on them
    • What one-off actions you are going to take

This structure brings a balance to the 360 degree feedback which can be lacking – it asks you to consider how you are going to build on your strengths as well as your development areas.

If there is going to be a development plan then it goes without saying that a structure should be in place to review it, check progress, and update it.  And can we suggest that repeating the 360 after a 6-12 month period is the best way of assessing whether behaviours have changed.


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Writing good 360 feedback

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360 degree feedback and performance appraisals both depend on the ability of respondents (often the line manager) to write great feedback comments.

I have been handling a number of debrief sessions recently and was interesting how reliant I was on the narrative feedback section of the 360 to give me an insight into the feedback.  That led me to consider again – what makes good feedback?

Here are my thoughts on how to write comments when you are a respondent on 360 feeedback

  • The feedback should illuminate how you have scored a particular section.
  • The feedback should provide some evidence or examples that illustrate the impact of the behaviour
  • The feedback should generally be dispassionate – emotion often obscures meaning when read later
  • The feedback should be relevant and timely.  Rarely is it useful to be reminded of an event 12 months ago
  • The feedback should be concise and to the point.  Needless background information loses the message
  • For me, I think feedback is better in the first person.

Many of us will have attended courses where we are advised that the best way to give feedback is to have a “When you ….it …..”.  E.g. When you are dismissive of a plan it results in your direct reports no longer bringing ideas to you.


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Development themes for 2009 – Back to basics with leadership and performance management

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There was a rare moment to pause last week and consider what 2009 holds in store business – given the overwhelming opinion and evidence that organisations will find trading conditions somewhat tougher next year, there will be an inevitable culling of certain training&development spend.

What will remain will invariably be prioritised and spent on development activity which is seen as adding real, immediate value to the business – there will always be an eye on building the long-term capability of the business, but less so at this moment in time.

Developing great leadership capability should always be a focus, and in these times, many of the current leaders will be facing unprecendented change and turbulence, the like of which they haven’t seen before in their tenure – in order to succeed, they will need to learn how to deal with this different situation effectively, engage with their employees and steer them through the ‘downturn’ as painlessly as possible.

Companies will need to carefully assess what leadership competencies, skills and knowledge their require, be that through 360 Degree Feedback or other processes, and develop in a very targeted way.

Similarly, in difficult times, the need to work efficiently and effectively becomes paramount – Line Managers will have to get to grips with performance management and ensure that they are getting the best from their team.

With the wide opinion that managers are lacking in this discipline, some straightforward, ‘back-to-basics’ performance management and appraisal training would be a useful tactical approach to adopt.

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Feedback in the 3rd person?

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I have been working through a series of 360 degree feedback reports.  As ever, I have been concentrating on the narrative element.  And something struck me for the first time – having read a lot of 360 feedback reports!

People write about the recipients in the third person – “he, she”.  It is like they are telling the system (I guess that is who they are telling) about the person involved.

So, I read “Jane often criticises in public” or “She often criticises in public”.  The odd thing is that the recipient is going to read this report – and they are going to read about themselves in the 3rd person from people they know very well.

Would it not be more personal to write “You often criticise in public”.  Does the move to 3rd person reflect the anonymity that is perceived in an online 360 degree appraisal solution? 

I think that when reading your report the comments being in the 3rd person can soften them somehow – often a good thing – but it is odd that everyone, almost without fail, and without any instruction to do so writes as if they are telling someone else the feedback rather than the person themselves?

Might try a different form of wording on a questionnaire one time and see if it changes the responses.


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360 Degree Feedback in the Education Sector

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I recently read this interesting blog post that had the author sharing their 360 feedback which was part of a qualification process to the position of Principle/Head Teacher.

It was a clear example of the value which can be derived from such feedback and I noted two key points:

1. … “However, the real value of this type of exercise is thecomments that are left by the respondents”.…this is always in our opinion where the true value of 360 feedback can be found – ratings point to where there is an issue to discuss, but the narrative provides the rich detail that allows you to explore what is actually happening.

Which brings us on the second point, which is:

2. Averaging really can lose the truth within the feedback given.

I posted last year on this practice, and it’s worth citing the joke again to highlight why averaging doesn’t really help:

Three mathematicianswere off hunting in the woods one day looking for pheasant – as they saw onenearby, the first mathematician took aim, fired and missed just to theleft of the bird. The second mathematician then took aim, fired andmissed just to the right of the bird.

At that point, the third mathematician put his gun down, and exclaimed “Well done gentlemen! On average, I think we hit it!”.

As I looked at the table of average ratings in this post, it showed the ability for one rater to skew a result and show a seeming ‘downturn’ in performance.

Much better to see what each different relationship group rated, and ideally how  each  individual rated, so that you can see if there is consensus, polarisation, etc.

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360 feedback : when to show the report

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I am about to run a series of 360 debrief sessions for a client.  As we are managing the service in this instance we follow our standard process.

Prior to the meetings, I will review the report, look at the balance of responses, draw out potential themes and spend a long time reading the narrative sections.  At the meeting, I will hand over the report allowing the recipient time to skim read it and then start to discuss it ensuring that the recipient understands the 360 feedback and the report.

This route of handing over the report during the debrief session rather than in advance can be controversial.  Why do we choose it?

Well, on balance we believe that

  • a 360 degree appraisal session is powerful and merits care
  • non-verbal responses to the report identify areas for discussion and areas of potential concern
  • understanding the report is the most important thing.  A debrief session offers the opportunity to ensure understanding is reached.  A prior reading mitigates against this

Handing over the report in advance of the session (or, not having a 360 feedback session at all) leaves the first impressions of the report to be formed by the recipient without any input on context, feedback on reaction, or challenge on misinterpretation.  It might be ok, but why take the risk?

I’m looking forward the feedback sessions.  I’ve mentioned before that Bowland Solutions are finding themselves brought in for the whole process more often and it is always rewarding to see the benefits of 360 feedback and not just the process.


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Training for Line Managers in the art of Performance Review

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We have been running a one-day programme for over a year now which helps our clients conduct effective 360 degree feedback debriefs.

I have spoken about this critical phase of the 360 process before, and how with a new understanding of the actual purpose of the debrief, coupled with some common-sense skills, it can be an invaluable experience for the recipient.

Recently, we have noticed more and more that we are having conversations about how we could similarly help Line Managers in conducting performance reviews.

Not unsuprisingly, as with 360 degree appraisals, an online system is not enough – there has to be a good understanding of what the purpose of the performance review is, and what fundamental skills are required for a constructive outcome.

Without skilful handling, an appraisee may find that an online system has simply made a unproductive process more efficient!

There have been a number of quick polls in various HR magazines, which highlight how organisations feel that their Line Managers are poor at performance management and appraisals; the effect is recorded on the other side of the coin too, with employees feeling that their Line Managers often fall short of their expectations.

With this in mind, we have now decided to complement our online performance review solutions with a new training programme “Conducting Effective Performance Reviews” – as with the 360 programme, it is a one day programme and marries some essential theory with some tailored role-play.

This fits with our ethos that if you can encourage individualsto have meaningful conversations, be they Line Managers with staff, Directors with the organisation or team members with each other, then ultimately better choices can be made and performance can improve.

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New 360 degree feedback book from the “Center for Creative Leadership”

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A quick post to recommend some new, essential reading for anyone involved in or considering 360 Degree Feedback – it has been published this year by the ‘Center for Creative Leadership’, a pioneer of 360 Degree Feedback and very much an authority with detailed research which helps with the ongoing debate on its use and impact.

The title is “Leveraging the impact of 360 Degree Feedback” by John W Fleenor, Sylvester Taylor and Craig Chappelow.

It is a great addition and couples some new thinking alongside established principles, with supporting case study and research material to illustrate what works and what doesn’t.

Look forward to more conversations around this new text very soon.


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Bowland Solutions’ directors get 360 feedback

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At a recent get together, we worked on an open format for 360 feedback for the directors (and one brave volunteer).  We didn’t use a system – shock horror – instead we wrote strengths and weaknesses on sticky notes.  Here is how we did it.

Everyone wrote strengths and weaknesses on separate sticky notes.  They wrote who the feedback was for and who was giving it.  The only rule was that you had to have more strengths than weaknesses (I think we settled on development area as the phraseology).  Those getting 360 feedback had to write feedback on themselves also. 

We then placed the feedback on a table (alongside the chair where the recipient was sitting).  All respondents then read the feedback that had been provided by their teammates- if they agreed with it, they ticked it…if they disagreed they put a cross…and they left any other feedback blank.

The recipient then read their feedback.

What could they see?

A great set of narrative feedback from a range of people.  They could see if that opinion was shared by others, was isolated, or contradicted.  After the meeting we could check out with the people who gave the feedback what they had intended by their comments if we were unsure.  And we produced an action plan which was shared with all participants.

We passionately believe in 360 degree feedback and this was one of the routes that we have used it – I learned a great deal from both being a recipient and through the challenge of being a respondent.  We’ll probably use rating scales again one day but it was very interesting how powerful just getting narrative feedback was.

We have talked about enhancing our 360 feedback software to support this process … but I have a sneaky suspicion that sticky notes are too clever for us!


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Debriefing 360 degree feedback

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Over the last month or two I have been writing about our standard 360 degree feedback process.  I have finally arrived at the most important part of the process – indeed the reason you should be undertaking the whole initiative.

An effective debrief is a crucial element in 360 feedback.  The report – in whatever layout and format – should have brought together the feedback of the various respondents.  The recipient of that feedback needs guidance on the report, assistance in understanding the feedback provided, and often support in drawing actions from that feedback. 

The debrief is so crucial that I will draw out a number of separate posts that cover our suggested best practice.  If this area is of particular interest to you, can I suggest you go to our main blog page and in the right hand panel (you may need to scroll) there is a search option … type “debrief” in there and you will get various articles we have posted.

For now – here is a bullet point list of our structure for a debrief which is derived from a training course we run for in-house for our clients or as an open course for other interested parties.

  • Introduction and welcome
  • Explain the purpose of the debrief
  • Get the recipient to briefly describe their role
  • Briefly describe how the report is structured
  • Hand over the report and invite the recipient to skim-read it
  • Ask for their overall reaction
  • Review strengths
  • Review potential development areas
  • Identify actions
  • Agree next steps
  • Ask for feedback on the 360 process and the debrief

The most controversial element with clients is whether to hand over the feedback report before the debrief takes place.  We believe best practice is to hand it over in the debrief session – a topic for another discussion.


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Coaching return on investment

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Coaching and 360 degree appraisal have an obvious link.  Nigel McEwen of Ridler&Co kindly sent through their survey in trends in buying executive coaching.  I’ll comment on it myself in a subsequent post, but for now can I recommend that you visit their site and get a copy of this excellent report yourselves.


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Peer-to-Peer 360 Degree Evaluation at Google

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A recent article on the CIPD website gave an interesting insight into the approach to management within Google.

With their relatively flat structure, the concept of line managers taking primary responsibility for team members performance is overturned in favour of more peer-to-peer evaluation.

They value fellow team members both providing feedback on each others performance and helping to identifying solutions to any issues which arise.

This approach supports their desire to work as a ‘High Performing Organisation’ and we would naturally advocate that this type of peer review, which is a founding principle of 360 degree feedback, is a crucial element to high performance.

The ability to measure, modify behaviour, improve and review performance continuously is fundamental to any organisation wishing to perform at the highest levels in a sustained way.


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Should there be censorship in 360 Degree Feedback?

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After the furore regarding the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand Radio 2 incident, we wondered if there was ever a place for censorship within 360 Degree Feedback?

Should comments be relayed verbatim in the report to the recipient?

Or should HR (or some other mediator) be allowed to edit or censor the comments before they are published?

We would love to get a discussion going, so please do feel free to comment (without censorship of course!).

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Reducing costs in performance reviews and 360 feedback

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It has been very noticeable as we have entered a recession that there has been a change of language from ‘developing’ and ‘investing’ toward ‘cost reduction’ and ‘saving’. 

It affects Bowland Solutions in how we present ourselves on our website, in our marketing materials and in a lot of our presentations.  Often we have to capture interest in a split second and so we have to capture the current mood but I do believe that the phrases are not mutually exclusive and we need to take care.

One of the great benefits of putting 360 degree appraisal or performance review on-line is that it reduces an administrative burden.  The assumption being of course that you were going to enter the exercise anyway.  The annual performance review is pretty much set in stone for most organisations, and so the cost-saving angle is obvious.  360 feedback is less set in stone.  My argument is that through a sensible investment in a cost-effective solution a good return on investment is achievable.

Let’s look at 360 feedback.  Costs are going to range from £10 per respondent to £125 per respondent depending on scale.  Even allowing for some set-up costs it is hard to believe that a manager with heightened self-awareness and understanding of the impact of their behaviours will not improve their output by this scale of investment.  There is a strong business case for developing managers through these tools.

During tight financial times it is essential that we use cost-effective measures and tools to support people in their development.  Not getting feedback when times are tough is not something most managers would welcome and we need to ensure we make a strong business case for their development.


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