360 degree feedback in Barbados

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I wish this article was going to be an announcement of a new client (or even business venture) of ours that I was about to lead. Unfortunately it is a reference to a google alert I received announcing that the Barbadian civil service is about to introduce 360 feedback.
Other than a wry smile at what Google thinks I’m interested in (perhaps it was Barbados rather than 360 feedback!) I scanned the article and found that “It will present opportunities for officers to be counselled and to be provided with any relevant feedback and in worst case scenarios for performance improvement plans to be implemented to address issues of poor performance”. Now in an article of barely 500 words, with just two quotes, the focus from the 360 introduction is on the potential of performance improvement plans.
If I were involved in that 360, I would be hesitant. I would be slightly suspicious. I would alter my feedback on others, and I would approach my own 360 with caution. It may be just the way it is reported but rather than suggest recognition, learning, training and development plans that may follow the 360 we select a negative outcome. That some people through a performance management process may require “improvement plans” is fine and a likely outcome in a large organisation. But I wouldn’t introduce a method of gaining feedback from colleagues with that as the backdrop or main commentary.
Now, if only the civil service of Barbados would read this and invite me over to consult on a better way!


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Getting my own feedback

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In line with being a director of business that focuses on feedback I was looking to get some of my own.  Rather than pick my own questions I asked Peter and Vicky, who report to me, to take a look at our generic competency framework that our clients can use and pick out the competencies that they would like to give me feedback on.  I asked them to pick 6 or 7 and said I would pick ones that I think are relevant as well.  My idea is that I will then sit down with them and discuss their feedback on me on these competency areas.

So, I opened up our competency framework and started working my way through.  Almost immediately I wanted to ask Peter and Vicky to give me a few months before I get their feedback.  The simple act of reading over behaviours – most relevant in some way – reminded me of what I should be doing more of.  It wasn’t that I particularly saw things I couldn’t do (though they may have a different opinion on that!)more that I didn’t do them often enough.  The simple act of reading and reflecting raised my self-awareness.

So, could we save ourselves some trouble and just send managers a list of what they should be doing and ask them to read it?!

Here is what would then be missing.  First, my reading of the behaviours was part of a process and so I was attentive to it because I knew feedback was coming.  Second, my own reflections lacked power.  They were useful but within days I had forgotten my thoughts and motivation to change was drifting.  And finally, they were only my thoughts.  And much as I find it hard to accept – I may be wrong.  I need additional perspectives both on performance and the impact of how I am.

So – still need to get that feedback!



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How to get over a 95% completion rate on your 360 – advice that survives

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We first published this blog post in 2007!  We have just completed a series of 360 debriefs for a US based client’s executive team and they hit a 99% completion rate which had me reflect on completion rates again.  The advice that follows is exactly as it was in 2007.

“A number of our clients approach us because they have had a poor experience with 360 feedback and yet they still see it as a tool that will offer effective feedback for their team or organisation. One of the key issues they face is that they cannot get enough people to complete the feedback.

Here are some of our hints and tips that we provide people on ensuring they hit a high completion rate.

Let me get the “you would say that, wouldn’t you” one out of the way. We recommend you put the 360 online. Bowland Solutions provides online 360 degree feedback so there is no surprise there.

Now, lets get a list of reasons why this will help and what you need to do to increase that feedback rate.

  • Make sure the questions, the branding, the reports, the communications are all tailored – don’t use some off-the-shelf set of questions and standard set of reports. People spot quickly that this is not quite right for them.
  • Keep the questions limited to just what you need to get the feedback required. As a rule of thumb, something like 30 questions is often right. [Note, the client described above had 32 questions]
  • Keep the numbers giving feedback to a sensible amount
  • Watch out for the peer group – they often have the most feedback to give.
    • Limit to 3 peers per recipient
    • Consider asking the peers a subset of the questions
  • Communicate why this is a good thing
  • Give people enough time to complete – we recommend 3 weeks
  • If you can – make the recipient the person in control of the process. That way they will chase down their respondents for you.
  • Chase them by email
  • Chase them by email again
  • Phone them

We hit 95% completion feedback rates – not every time, but often enough to know that it is readily achievable.”

Would I change any item of that advice?  I would probably reduce the number of questions further again and add narrative questions in their place.  For the recent executive group there was a general willingness to complete the feedback as they were the most senior people in their respective organisations – for lower level groups I would look to reduce to nearer 20 rating questions if possible.



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The 360 degree feedback your organisation and team are ready for

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John sent me over a link to an article from Australia where a consultant/coach lambasts anonymous 360 degree feedback. You can read the article here – be warned, he is unusually angry!

We often read highly principled articles on 360 feedback (and for that matter performance appraisals). The implication of such articles is that there is a right way and no other way. And, if you are incapable of performing the process in the right way then you should be ashamed of the muddled thinking you are now following.

Here is the way we approach it.

Feedback is a good thing. If you already have truly open feedback between all parties through strong, regular, meaningful conversations then the only reason to run 360 feedback is to provide a consistent structure and there is no need for anonymity at all. We have a client who names all respondents on the feedback.

If, however, you have imperfect leaders and an imperfect culture then the feedback process should meet your organisation where it currently stands. From there, it can move forward as feedback becomes a more natural and open process. For some organisations this requires high anonymity and careful 360 debriefs that support the recipient in accepting the feedback in a positive light and deciding how best to act upon that feedback. This may not be a perfect, textbook, 360 process. Indeed it contains some flaws. However, it is the feedback process that the organisation and recipients are ready for. It is the process with the best chance of success and it is the one that can be built upon the future with anonymity reduced as all participants gain confidence.

Through careful consideration of questionnaire design, process, reporting, and handling of debriefs we can support an organisation in delivering the feedback process it is ready for. Surely better to do that, than dismiss the process because it isn’t textbook perfect?


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5 tips on 360 degree feedback questionnaire design

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The work we  often now do before any 360 degree feedback system is delivered to our clients, is designing the 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; here are 5 suggested considerations:

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.

In the design process we simply ask ‘What is the organisation’s Vision/Mission/Strategy?’ and ‘What behaviours does this suggest we require of our leaders?’.

Culturally congruent

Similarly, the competency framework should reflect the desired culture of the organisation; it must be informed by the values too – the behavioural statements illustrating those values in action.

Relevant to the role

A final set of questions should be asked in this design process which dig into the role of the 360 degree feedback recipient themselves, to ensure that the questionnaire is truly relevant to both the organisation and the individual.

We would enquire ‘What should this person be doing and how should they conduct themselves?’, ‘What observable behaviours distinguish individuals in this role?’, ‘What does ‘great’ look like?’.


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.

It’s good to then have any draft framework validated by a sensible cross-representative sample of people within the organisation; ideally, some of the proposed recipients should have an opportunity to feed into the design process too.

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.




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Why do lawyers like 360 degree feedback?

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The subject title is of course presumptious that lawyers do enjoy 360 degree feedback.  After working with 360 feedback for so many years and working with so many law firms I can confidently say that lawyers enjoy the debrief session from 360 degree feedback.  It may be something to do with the way we handle that session and the way we go about 360 feedback here but I think some of it is the type of person a lawyer tends to be.  So, here goes with the genuine, but slightly light hearted, reasons why…

They are self-motivated learners

Most lawyers – certainly senior lawyers – are inquisitive and self-motivated.  They want to improve and while 360 feedback may be a bit more touchy-feely than learning law they generally have a desire to learn and improve which makes them great candidates for 360 feedback.

They like talking about themselves

Culturally – particularly in the UK – this can be seen as a negative.  For 360 feedback it is actually useful.  Listening to feedback about yourself, discussing that feedback with an impartial 3rd party and reflecting on yourself is somewhat egocentric and at times narcissistic.  For the 60-90 minutes of a debrief session it is very useful if the subject of the session enjoys talking about and reflecting on their own actions and ways of working.  In our experience, lawyers are good at that.

They recognise their own value and impact

This can of course be taken too far (and sometimes is).  But, partners and senior lawyers generally accept that their own impact is significant and improvements will deliver bottom line benefits.  Through an experience of valuing (charging for) their own time this can be second nature.  This motivates them to listen and to look to make changes.

Their failings are more obvious to others than themselves

The most common issues we see for lawyers revolve around allocation of their time, effective delegation, new business activity and handling of stress.  There are of course others.  But for these common issues others are best placed to 1) describe the impact of the undesired behaviour and 2) give permission/confidence for the change required.  Many lawyers have built a way of working and handling the pressures of the role over many years and have a belief system rooted in that way of working.  Believing that a real change can be made requires others to both point it out and give confidence that the changes can be made.  To receive this feedback – and particularly the permission to change from those they trust – is often a great break through for the lawyer.

Law firms like to do things properly

Our law firm clients genuinely wish to handle 360 feedback properly.  And so they take care to think through what is going to lead to the best conversation for each lawyer.  They are able to invest in the process and each lawyer to give the greatest chance of success.  Each lawyer then benefits from being part of a well thought through, properly run process.

Our thoughts…

Debriefing articulate, often confident, intelligent individuals is equally challenging and rewarding.  After the initial 5-10 minutes of establishing confidence in the process and ourselves 360 debrief sessions with lawyers are invariably open and enlightening.   Whether the executive group, the partners, promotion candidates, or identified high flying associates; all lawyers benefit from 360 feedback and enjoy it when it is handled well.



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