We are in the process of revamping our website and our marketing collateral to better reflect our ‘brand’ within the field of online 360 degree feedback and performance appraisals.
As we discussed this topic, it became clear that we had evolved considerably since the early days of Bowland Solutions - not just in what we could offer our clients by way of solutions, but also in what we valued ourselves.
It was apparent that we all held a deep rooted belief in the power of feedback for individuals, and that given quality feedback, individuals would on the whole make better choices – choices around how they should develop themselves and/or improve their performance in the workplace.
This then lead on to another belief, which was that it was when there was a meaningful conversation about that quality feedback, between the individual and a skilled coach, mentor or line manager, that those choices would be even better still – the process of sharing the feedback with someone who can guide the individual through from understanding the feedback to taking action was crucial.
And so, a set of statements began to crystallise, which we feel captures what it is Bowland Solutions is really about…..not just a provider of online 360 degree feedback solutions and alike, which is part of what we do, but rather a believer in the whole process of creating foucsed questionnaires, quiet systems and insightful reports all geared to make meaningful conversations happen.
I have spoken before about the purpose of the "debrief", that is, the meeting when the 360 degree feedback is shared with the feedback recipient in a face-to-face session.
During a recent training session around "How to conduct an effective 360 degree feedback debrief", which we run with many of our clients, I noted again that many delegates approach the debrief believing they have to ‘solve’ the issues raised in the report, or have to get the feedback recipient to solve the issues there and then.
They move straight to resolution mode, effectively stepping through the ‘GROW’ model of coaching or some such equivalent.
Of course this is valid at some point in the process as you try to help them create a ‘Personal Development Plan’ (or PDP), but far more valuable time should be spent doing two key things before moving to goals and actions, and they are:
Raising Self-Awareness and Encouraging Responsibility
The feedback recipient needs time to understand the feedback and then accept it – without these crucial steps, any attempt to get them to committ to an action plan is doomed to fail.
I thought I would share my own metaphor about 360 degree feedback reporting which I used with a client recently when they expressed an interest in having ‘averages’ for the ratings.
They perceived that this would make life easy for the reader and for managers trying to get a quick handle on how someone is ‘performing’ against a certain competency.
However, as we talked about what the purpose of the 360 degree feedback was, which we agreed was to provide an individual with some detailed feedback that would help them change & improve, then they could see that averaging wouldn’t help in this regard.
I attempted to illustrate my point with the story of 3 mathematicians off hunting in the woods one day looking for pheasant – as they saw one nearby, the first mathematician took aim, fired and missed just to the left of the bird. The second mathematician then took aim, fired and missed 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 well as getting a mild laugh (!), we agreed that averaging for the purposes of generating a meaningful conversation isn’t always the best way as it just doesn’t give you the real story…..
An interesting article from Psyblog recently which discusses why people avoid the truth about themselves; naturally this idea resonates with 360 degree feedback where perhaps not ‘the truth’ but certainly a series of different ‘truths’ are presented to an individual in their report.
Three key points emerge as to why this might be; the first being that it asks people to challenge their existing beliefs about themselves, ingrained over time and perhaps in the absence of feedback. Evidence suggests that we are often looking to substanstiate our beliefs and find information to support our view rather than undermine it.
It is often similarly said about people’s choice of newspaper; it isn’t to inform and shape their worldview, it is there to support one already in place.
The second point refers to the fact that challenging one’s own beliefs can be painful or at least uncomfortable emotionally; not something we are programmed to run towards, we prefer to avoid unpleasant emotions.
Finally, and this is what 360 feedback should prompt, it requires us to take action; modify a behaviour, change a daily habit, stop doing something, etc.
So feedback offers us challenge, but a real opportunity to affect change, as it is a surefire way to have some ‘home truths’ presented to us.
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 of 360 degree feedback and do it anyway!
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?