5 questions to ask when deciding what style of 360 Degree Feedback report you should use

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In 360 Degree Feedback, the graphical style of report is key to the success or failure of the programme.

Displaying data in a 360 report

Too dense with meaningless data, and the recipient can come away overwhelmed, with no idea of what to make of their feedback.

Too high level, and again the recipient can come away bewildered and with little insight into what specific skills they have or what development is required.

360 report style and the debrief conversation

In either event, the style of report drives the debrief conversation – it guides the debriefer and recipient to consider what is laid out in front of them; so it’s important to decide up front how you want to present the graphical feedback or rated questions.

5 questions to ask

Here we offer 5 questions to ask when deciding what style of 360 Degree Feedback report you should use:

1. What is the purpose of the 360 Degree Feedback programme? Developmental? To benchmark?

2. What sort of debrief conversation do you wish to have? One which raises self-awareness? One which draws comparison with others?

3. What level of anonymity do you wish to have in the process?

4. What data would be most helpful for the individual?

5. What data would be most helpful for the organisation?


A guide to 360 Degree Feedback reports

We consider these questions in our free guide ’36o reports; what works, when’ – if you would like a copy then simply email us at info@bowlandsolutions.com with the guide title as subject header and it will be sent through with our compliments.



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Busting Urban Myths – Comments in 360 Degree Feedback

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Guest Post – Feedback in Law Firms; Why it’s so unpopular (and how to change that)

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We are delighted to share a guest post this week from Jamie Pennington of Pennington Hennessy, a behavioural change consultancy working within the Professional Services sector.

In this post, Jamie considers what are some of the barriers to successfully embedding the critical process of giving and receiving feedback within a law firm, and what is needed to overcome these.


Although most firms utilize some form of appraisal system, within many the exercise falls short of the transformational, motivational experience that the founding fathers thought it would be.

Why is that?

Mainly because getting feedback is a part of a process, not a stand-alone activity.

The term “feedback” comes from a mechanistic view of the world:  we do something, get the feedback on the outcome, and then correct our course.  Again and again. 

In the ideal world it’s like captaining a yacht – you’re never entirely on-course, because the wind and waves are constantly changing, but by getting constant feedback the Captain can tack left and right to ensure that the boat is never far off course.  If reaching your desired destination requires certain behaviours amongst your crew, ensuring that they are present and improving makes sense. The annual appraisal was designed to be akin to the yachting mid-course correction as it allows the more experienced lawyer to let the more junior one know how things are going.  Its lack of success can be explained:

  • Lawyers dislike giving feedback
  • Lawyer’s experience of getting/receiving feedback has been other lawyers, so they have only been in awkward meetings.

There are professional organisations who undertake the whole feedback exercise on a professional level.  Bowland Solutions have written well on this subject in their post ‘Why do lawyers like 360 degree feedback?’ 

The reason I think these external exercises can work are:

  • The feedback is run externally.
  • The feedback is not just top down – it’s side to side as well as bottom up.
  • The people running the feedback have done it before for other firms – and lawyers love an expert.
  • The feedback from the exercise is conducted by someone who is good at giving feedback, not just focusing on the negatives.
  • The whole exercise has a purpose.

The last point is crucial.  Feedback must be anchored in a wider framework, so that the firm knows what it intends to do.  Any feedback exercise – even the annual appraisal – takes up a huge amount of energy, both physical and emotional.  Yet, when I asked a group of lawyers how much they would have paid (in their own money) for their last appraisal, nobody thought it worth any money.  In fact one lawyer offered money to avoid having it.  It’s the apparent uselessness of the exercise (for those on the receiving end of the exercise) that creates the barrier, not the content.

A firm needs to begin with the end in mind:  “What is the purpose of the feedback?”, and crucially “How would your firm know if the feedback exercise had achieved its intended outcome?”.  In simple terms, what happens next?  Without a next step, you have made the cardinal mistake of raising expectations without a means of meeting them.

So What?

Before you engage in a feedback exercise,  ask yourself the question “When I know the answers, what are some possible next steps?” then tell the participants what it’s for before you begin.  Give the context, and you’ll get the commitment.  Don’t presume they know.  (Do you know why your firm does appraisals?).  If you only tell them to take part you’ll get something between compliance and stubborn resistance.

Jamie Pennington


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Performance Appraisal; it should be more than just a grade

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I was struck last week, as many people were, by a teacher’s letter written to pupils at a Primary school in Lancashire after their Key Stage Two test results.

The letter can be seen in full on the BBC News website here and goes to the heart of our target driven culture which seems to pervade many aspects of our lives, from education, to public services, and the workplace.

In short, this heartfelt letter reminds pupils that their grade, is not the only measure of them worthy of note; it fails to capture their unique talents for languages, poetry, creative endeavours, nor their characteristics of trustworthiness, kindness and thoughtfulness.

A grade will tell you something, but not everything; if you want to realise people’s potential then you have to have meaningful conversations which encourage, build confidence, and create rounded individuals.

Don’t focus on the number, focus on the person.


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360 Degree Feedback completion rates; what should you expect?

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When it comes to 360 degree feedback projects with our clients, we are always looking at completion rates; as well as deciding on what makes a quorum, and how hard to chase respondents, all at the same time.

What is a good completion rate? 

The answer is simple but not always helpful!  You need enough feedback to give the recipient a rounded set of responses.  We believe the minimum you need is 7 responses.  1 manager, 1 self, and 5 from others.  So – if you have asked for 8 people to respond then you need to get near the 90% mark.  As we have mentioned in previous posts, we are seeing increasing numbers of respondents, and so 75% may be fine.  These numbers answer “what is enough” – they do not answer “what is great”.

What do our clients achieve?

Our clients regularly hit 95% completion rates.  We believe this has great benefits to the process.  It indicates value, it suggests the correct people have been selected and those respondents value the feedback they are giving.  It demonstrates commitment and sets the standard for another year.  Last year, a client achieved 97% completion for 1,200 360 degree appraisal recipients.  That’s over 10,000 appraisal forms completed.  They’ve consistently hit those sort of numbers over a number of years now.

What helps high completion rates?

As well as Bowland Solutions ensuring that we provide a very easy-to-use system, I believe the high completion rate is because the 360 degree feedback is used as part of an overall HR process which is valued by all concerned.  And, in particular, it leads to a set of training outcomes that are rigorously followed up on.


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Busting Urban Myths – Performance Management

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Busting Urban Myths - Performance Appraisals No.2

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Get control of your smartphone

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There was a main BBC news story yesterday that noted that managers on average work more than one additional day per week “unpaid”.  Within the article was one of the first national commentaries I have seen on the pressures that come from smartphones; “Smartphone technology has added to pressures to work, with some managers “obsessively” checking email outside of office hours, Mr Elvin said.”

Now, the smartphone is of course not the issue.  It is simply a technology and a very useful one at that which allows you to work in a manner much more convenient than before.  But, it is a technology that came at us in an unplanned way and our embracing of the flexibility has often led to obsessive checking.  It is very common for us to hear in 360 degree feedback sessions of people checking their phone on waking (often because the phone is used as an alarm) and then there being one last check of the email before going to bed at night.  Add in the checking of emails on trains, walking between meetings, over dinner, etc. and this “always on” approach to work leaves little time for reflection, rest and clear thinking.  I’m not sure any of us would have set our lives up this way if we had the chance to plan it.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater though.  Let’s look at some suggested best practice.

  • Don’t use your phone as an alarm – waking up to a flashing light signifying a new email is not ideal.
  • Set a time in the morning when you will “check in”.  Your family may have an idea of when this should be!
  • Turn off the flashing light that signifies you have a new email.  Let’s be honest, an hour never passes without a new email arriving so what is it really telling you?  You can turn off notifications on all of the major phones.
  • Set a time in the evening when you have stopped work and will no longer “check in”.
  • Don’t reply outside of work hours unless a response is required outside of work hours.
  • Have a work email account and a personal email account.  Now you can check your personal email without seeing the work stuff.  Very handy at weekends and during holidays.
  • “Reply all” is the devil’s work.  Stop it now.

The smartphone should be a productivity tool.  It has the potential to be a fantastic one.  But if the actual result of the smartphone is that it creates endless interruptions and distorts priorities then that isn’t productive and you should give yourself a break and get control of it.




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Heading ‘True North’ with 360 Degree Feedback

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In a recent project we were asked our opinion as to when to share an individual’s 360 degree feedback report; we have always stated a firm belief that this should happen in a face-to-face debrief.

I used the analogy sketched above to explain our thinking on this – If the report represents some kind of ‘True North’ for an individual, a balanced view of both the positive and the negative, then our role as a debriefer is to guide someone along that route heading North.

If they receive the report beforehand, they can travel at an angle, veering away from True North very quickly as illustrated in the image on the left hand side, focusing on particular bits of feedback (usually the ‘negative’ feedback as they would see it), and ending up more and more remote from the balanced view which we wish to help them see.

This leads to a debrief session, where lots of energy and time is expended trying to pull them back to True North; it can be exhausting, and with limited time, leave them some way off where they should be.

Better to guide them on their journey; yes, they will still inevitably tack left and right from True North, but only marginally, with your help to bring them back onto the path.


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Busting Urban Myths – Performance Appraisals

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Are you being reasonable?

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Our media relies to a large extent on unreasonable headlines.  They take an extreme end of a spectrum of responses to an event or new piece of information and suggest an exaggerated likelihood of an unlikely outcome.  Without getting too political; in recent years we would have been flooded by every Romanian through the opening of borders, lost every job through increases in working legislation, coped with extremes of weather of biblical proportions and either been the best or worst footballing country in the world based on one match result.  Our media is often unreasonable.  I wonder sometimes if it is contagious into other walks of life.  I often here people being unreasonable to each other at work.

Amidst the hysteria, most people are reasonable judges.  Indeed our legal system relies in part on the idea of what a reasonable man (perhaps updated to gender neutral language now) would do in a given situation.  When under duress though a number of us act unreasonably.  We lose perspective.  We make unreasonable requests of others and we have unreasonable expectations of situations.

Reasonableness is a great test of a given situation.  During the noise and strain of work, of targets, of meetings and pressure;  asking “is this reasonable” and even more importantly “am I being reasonable” is a great grounding.  It could certainly apply at home!

In Bowland’s line of work it is useful to ask – is this objective reasonable?  Are the expectations of this manager reasonable?  Would a reasonable person in this role with this training be expected to perform at this standard or better?

We all carry around with us a great dose of common sense.  I’d challenge us all to use it a little more often and be reasonable in our thoughts and actions.


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