Often when working with our clients, particularly with senior leadership teams, we help them with the one-to-one debriefs; the session where you share the feedback with the recipient for the first time.
During this session, as well as getting a balanced view of the 360 feedback, the hope is that they will begin the process of creating a ‘Personal Development Plan’ or PDP.
This will highlight any strengths that could be better deployed, and naturally any development areas they wish to work on.
Whilst this is an invaluable exercise for the individual leader, there is an opportunity beyond this to work with the whole leadership team in unison and create a ‘Team Development Plan’ as well.
By aggregating the results of all the senior managers in the leadership team, we can see the wider picture of development needs; ideally this report, should be shared just as one would share an individual’s report i.e. Face-to-face with the group.
In this way, you conduct a ‘group debrief’ and together they can see their collective strengths and development areas, before collectively agreeing how to tackle their development areas.
This is an important step, because whilst individually they could simply attend to their own development, it wouldn’t necessarily address issues that exist in the space between people.
The use of aggregated reporting with 360 degree feeback helps raise levels of awareness beyond the individual and highlight issues that ripple outwards across teams and often company wide.
We hear much today about what the environmental cost is around manufacturing, flying, food production, etc – It struck me that there is a parallel here to 360 degree feedback which provides a glimpse of the ‘environmental cost’ of our own behaviour.
It has become clear that it is not enough for companies to make vast profits for shareholders whilst dumping toxic waste in nearby rivers; the ‘What’ was being achieved but the ‘How’ was creating terrible fallout.
As employees, it is often the case that whilst people are achieving their goals or targets, how they go about it can come at a cost to their immediate environment; the office, their colleagues, their family, etc.
360 degree feedback provides the ideal opportunity for respondents to indicate what the fallout is of certain behaviours they see as that person goes about achieving the ‘What’.
The ‘How’ becomes important, because without succeeding in both areas, you cannot have a sustainable model for success.
I heard this quotation recently which is attributed to Winston Churchill:
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up & hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
It struck me how such an event can happen in the context of 360 degree feedback; a recipient of 360 can be faced with multiple ‘truths’ which are unveiled in their 360 report – they discover something new about themselves; a behaviour of theirs observed by others but perhaps not noticed by themselves, a realisation of the impact they have on others, be that positive or negative.
It is in that moment, which may be in the face-to-face debrief around their report, that the real opportunity presents itself – the opportunity to reflect on that ‘truth’, look it into it, assimilate it into their world view, and consider how it might be useful to them in how they fulfil their role in the future.
Without providing recipients the time, space and support to reflect on their 360 feedback, as offered in a debrief, then there is every chance that they will hurry off as if nothing happened.
A recent article in Forbes had above title (but without the bit we added in parentheses), so naturally it piqued my interest which is what such provocative titles are designed for.
I often find in articles which take an extreme position on a particular topic or organisational practice, it is because the author has had a poor experience; that appears true here too.
Their experience of 360 feedback was where it’s use was for performance review and promoting people; whilst 360 feedback can inform these processes, such purposes can lead to abuse of something primarily designed to raise an individual’s self-awareness and assist in their personal development.
It isn’t really suited to evaluate or pass a verdict; as well as creating anxiety in the recipient, the feedback provided by respondents often misses the mark as they are more concerned of the consequences for the individual, as opposed to writing good quality feedback which is genuinely helpful.
If we want 360 degree feedback to benefit both organisations and individuals, we have to stay true to the purpose it was designed for; it’s no use saying the hammer we have is bad at banging screws into the wall!
Where I do find myself in agreement with the article, is where it broadens out it’s perspective to the concept of building trust and relationships in an organisation – the author argues that with high trust and good quality relationships, we can talk to each other, offer feedback, give context, etc – we don’t need to wait a year to give feedback in a 360 feedback programme.
This is true and desirable, but these wishes, and a having structured 360 process, are not mutually exclusive – good quality written feedback, brought together into one report, and shared with the recipient during a face-to-face debrief where they can pause and reflect, is simply another means to the same admirable end.
No, I’m not going to actually tell you the content of my son’s school report! It was fine and other than him feeling it was ok to open it before sharing it with us the process was all good.
For those of you without children at school, school reports now contain a lot of numbers. After many years of confusion, my wife and I recently got the hang of whether a 4a was better than a 4b and then they changed the system to something called APS … no idea what it stands for. So, Euan (my son) has been targeted for the year with moving up at least 5 APS points in each subject.
So, let’s say in Maths he was 28 last year, then his target would be at least 33. And in this report we are told his current level – let’s say it is 32.
And we get a grade for Effort and a grade for Organisation. No words.
We have a lot of data in the school report. We get 3 of these reports a year and we get one parents evening where we have 5 minute appointments with each of his teachers.
5 minutes after reading his report I could give you the gist of it but I couldn’t remember one number. I know roughly the grades for effort and organisation but couldn’t remember which ones applied to which subject. Its not that I don’t care it is that there was an overwhelming amount of data.
But I remember the conversations with most of the teachers (the ones I can’t remember are the ones where the teacher concentrated on the scores/grades and national averages for those scores) from his last parents evening two months ago.
If you ask most parents what they hope for for their children at school it is that they enjoy it. Yes, we hope our children do well and we support them in getting the best out of themselves but every parent went to school once and so all of us want to know “do they have friends, are they engaged, do they contribute, are they happy”. If a teacher told me “Euan is doing really well; he tries his hardest, works well with his school friends, and always engages with every lesson” then I can’t ask for much more. I can then review the data in that context and it could suggest to us areas he needs help with. But the data alone tells me very little.
What interested me most in our conversation with Euan is that he is engaged with the number. He wants to be a “33″. I do wonder whether the system is starting to train children (future employees) to go for the target rather than focus on the actions that lead to success.
It’s a pleasure to share some insights this week from one of our associate coaches, Emily Taylor, of Green Grass Coaching, who specialises in career and development coaching; in this post, Emily suggests a way in which we can review feedback that accentuates the positive:
When I was a child I had an autograph book. Apart from once queuing (with some trepidation) to get Darth Vader’s signature, it was mainly full of messages from friends and family. My Grandma’s message to me was this (apparently an old Maori proverb):
“Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.
I was struck by its optimism and ever since then the idea of having a positive outlook has always stayed with me. I have come to see how the more you focus your attention on the positive things, the more likely you are to notice them. I also recognise how appreciating these can help you to see further positive possibilities and even create more ‘sunshine’.
I am interested in how people apply this concept in their working lives; how we use the idea of focusing on the positive in order to develop performance (in individuals, teams and businesses) and how we use it to guide our decision making.
Long after my Grandma wrote this message, I came across the theory of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a method of problem solving pioneered by Cooperrider & Srivastva, Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s. The essence of this approach is a belief that the questions we ask are never neutral; they help us to move in the direction where we focus most persistently. Rather than looking at ways to ‘fix a problem’ (asking questions about what isn’t working well, what is wrong or weak) this approach looks at how to ‘accelerate or enhance’ by asking what is good or working well in order to discover new or untapped opportunities.
The slant of the question influences our perceptions, feelings and motivation to change….
If our focus is largely on the less good or negative elements, will positive change and development always be an uphill struggle? Also, how many people can see or hear 10 great things and then feel deflated and fixated by just one perceived bad thing?
I am not suggesting that all negative elements be ignored, rather that the angle taken to review and evolve it can help determine the outcome. In fact, I have witnessed great benefit had by individuals who received apparently negative feedback and were inspired to make positive behavioural changes as a result. There were a number of ingredients that enabled this:
the recipients were hungry to learn
the person helping them review their feedback was skilled in coaching and asking AI questions to explore and discover meaning, value and potential
the overall focus was positive and forward thinking
It is often this last point that really helps someone to galvanise their self-belief, motivation and action. For example, try asking yourself this positive line of inquiry in relation to your career:
What do I enjoy about my job – what inspires me?
What am I really good at?
What attracted me to the career I am in or the company I work with?
What are the possibilities for me to develop further or become more fulfilled?
If success was guaranteed, what bold steps would I take?
Asking these powerful questions can help steer you (and in this case your career) in the direction you really want to go. Think how much more inspired and proactive you are likely to feel using this appreciative route as opposed to “what do I hate about my job, what irritates me most, what am I least good at”.
When next reviewing your own feedback (or helping someone else to review theirs), try to focus questions on your strengths, what themes you are noticing, what assumptions you could test, where you add most value and how you could further apply this to benefit you/your customers/the business. Consciously frame questions with the possibility of positive change, learning and creating forward movement….and let any shadows fall behind you.
Emily Taylor, Green Grass Coaching
I am a fairly keen cyclist (a MAMIL – middle aged man in lycra). Like many cyclists I use www.strava.com to record my rides. Strava has rather taken over that world and provides you with a massive amount of data after your ride. Essentially it gives you feedback on the ride you did. As well as telling you general stuff like the average speed for the ride and how long you rode for, it will take sections of the ride (segments) and tell you how fast you rode it, how that compares to other times you rode that segment, and how it compares to others (everyone and your friends) performance on the same segment.
Anyone who uses Strava will tell you that this feedback can become obsessive. And it certainly motivates you at times to ride harder than you otherwise would have done. I’ll leave the question of whether it makes the ride more enjoyable for another time.
What really interests me is that sometimes the feedback Strava gives isn’t helpful at all. Sometimes you under-perform against your peers or your own previous efforts and sometimes you over-perform without any relation to the effort that you made. The issue is that Strava doesn’t have anything to tell you the context for your ride. At a simple level it doesn’t tell you
- What the wind was like, for you or the others
- Whether you were riding in a group or alone
- Whether this was your focus for the ride
If you were a coach discussing the data from Strava with a rider then, before you leapt in to give your opinion, you would need to get this context. You may need to ensure the rider wasn’t overly critical of themselves, or you may need to ensure they weren’t complacent with a seemingly good performance. You would need to listen to how the rider felt during the ride, what they were looking to achieve, any obstacles they hit along the road. Only when this was complete would a real assessment be complete and some goals or targets for the future be based on useful feedback.
We receive a lot of data now. Our appraisal processes and feedback systems are full of feedback. But context is everything. And the person who knows the context best is the person themselves – although they may need a coach or trusted person to help them look at the data objectively.
360 degree feedback can become complicated. Often there are some tricky things to think through. What is useful when you are putting together a 360 feedback project is to have some key points to focus on and to test your solution against. Our three are:
- Ask the right questions
- Follow a well-structured process
- Have a great conversation around a great report
If you check whatever 360 feeedback process or service you devise against this list then you will do ok. Are we asking the right questions? Is our process well-structured? Are the people involved going to have a great conversation around a great report?
Our free guide to the left of this blog expands on these – but don’t lose track of these simple requirements.
We are delighted to be co-hosting our next event in London on Thursday 30th April with QV Career Counsel, specialists in executive coaching, where we introduce a new structured and integrated approach to 360 degree feedback within a professional services environment.
Having completed a recent research project on leadership development, in conjunction with Lancaster University Management School, we found that it unequivocally identified the need for 360 degree feedback to be appropriately supported:
“A 360-degree appraisal without debriefing, coaching and follow-up activities will harm the organisation using it. 360-degree feedback programs are only a start of an organisational capacity development process.”
“Debriefing is especially important in helping recipients accept the validity of the feedback, experience minimal damage to self-esteem, focus on positive behaviours that should be continued, and select key challenging behaviours on which to improve.”
“Coaching is also a central part of 360-degree appraisal; it is the key for personal development. A coach can help further motivate employees who receive positive feedback from various sources, while helping the recipients of negative feedback formulate a workable strategy for performance improvement. Thus a coach can be the difference between a healthy coping reaction and learned helplessness.”
The underlying message is that the insight gained through the 360 feedback process isn’t enough; it needs to crystallise into action.
It is with this research and key observation in mind that we have come together with QV to share a new integrated approach which explains how to effectively combine 360 degree feedback with promptly delivered, focused coaching, to ensure sustainable development of your leaders and alignment with your organisational goals.
This event is aimed at senior executives from financial and professional services and those with responsibility for executive development within their organisation.
If you are interested in attending this event, then please contact me for more information directly via email – firstname.lastname@example.org - it is free to attend but there are a limited number of seats available.
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!
Both John and I are alumni of Lancaster University … Bowland college to be precise. And so, we have been delighted to have been working with some of their MA in HR and Consulting students over the last few months.
The students have looked at our 360 best practice; including surveying some of our clients, reviewing our processes, and looking at the latest theories around 360 to give us advice on where we can improve. It has been a great experience both in terms of having a fresh look at Bowland but also to work with students with such a keen interest in delivering a great service. We are still digesting the 126 page(!) report that they have provided us with. But here is a public thanks from Bowland to Wes, Mabel, Alexis, Sebastian, Ying, and Maeve for all of their efforts. We will be updating our own practice and advice based on what they found.
If you have read any of Lance Amstrong’s interview with the BBC, or even just picked up the headline (I would cheat all over again if we were back in 1995) you can’t help but be struck by the culture and values of cycling at the time that Armstrong was at his peak. Armstrong is a very interesting character and potentially an extreme of his type but you can read many autobiographies of cyclists of this era (David Millar’s probably being the best) and you will find they took drugs…clearly not all of them…but many, many of them. The rules said one thing, the culture and values said something else.
This Sunday in my son’s rugby match one of the kids backchatted the ref over a bad (and it was bad) decision. The result … a 5 yard penalty and his coach telling him to keep his mouth shut. The culture of rugby dictates you are respectful of the ref. If you want to see this in action in the professional game, then read about the French national coach dropping his star player for sarcastically clapping the ref after he was sent off. Any parent of a child who has played football will tell you it is different. The culture is different.
While cycling clearly needed rules, and clearly needed tight drug testing it has had a culture of drug taking for years. Indeed some of the older cyclists are almost revered for it. Interestingly, recently the Astana team of current Tour de France champion Nibali has had a series of failed drug tests but the authorities haven’t found it within themselves to ban the team from competition. Culture change takes many years.
In the work place we have seen this in banking, utilities, and politicians. Following each scandal there has been a clamour for better regulation (usually more regulation) and rules. But do we really think there were a lack of rules or did the people lack values?
In an increasingly complex workplace I would suggest that peer pressure, norms of working, and values are the only hope that leaders (or the public) have of the employees acting in the way they would hope for and expect. The thought that you can add to the rule book is both naive and impractical. My old company HSBC appears to now have legions of people in “Compliance” making sure the rules are seen to be followed. Indirectly we are all now paying for these additional costs but it is unlikely that it is form filling that will stop the next banking scandal.
Open discussion, open feedback, peer review against a set of values, behaviours, and cultural norms are only one piece of how you get this to work but they are at least as important as the rules. Armstrong knew the written rules, he knows them now, but he would have cheated in 1995 even knowing what he knows now. It was the culture of the time and his personal values didn’t stand up to the test.
On a a reasonably long car journey yesterday I was flipping between radio channels. As I’m of a certain age Radio 2 and Radio 4 were featuring more prominently than they would have previously done. On Radio 2 was a discussion on the dangers of sledging and on Radio 4 was a discussion on levels of inequality.
Initially the sledging discussion was with someone from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Other than a slight concern that we had lost the plot (bicycle helmets for sledging!) the discussion has data and insights built up from some expertise in the subject.
On Radio 4 I was later into the debate and already into the public contribution.
It was at this point that I became a little exasperated. On both channels the public were calling in with their views. And while their views were stridently held and even at times interesting I couldn’t help but wonder what was the point of me listening to views of non-experts on the subject. Invariably both discussions included one anecdote that the opinion giver extrapolated wildly from. That opinion was of course valid and honestly held but it wasn’t possible to tell whether this was an isolated view or one more generally held. It was the equivalent of a pub conversation. At times fun but not overly illuminating on the subject.
In 360 feedback we often say that everyone’s opinion is valid. In collating the narrative comments we ask the recipient to take on all of the feedback. But it is of course important that the respondents are useful reviewers of this recipient. Though not expert feedback givers, they should through exposure to the recipient over a period of time have built up a balanced view of them so that they can give balanced, useful feedback. The selection of respondents is going to be critical to how the report is formed and its content. A good reminder to all of us to spend longer explaining who makes a good respondent in 360.
We are very pleased to share this latest case study interview with Paul Ward, Managing Partner of Pantheon, a private equity firm, with whom we successfully delivered a 360 degree feedback programme across its global partner population.
In the interview, Paul shares his experience of the project and highlights how they:
- Defined the key aims of the 360 degree feedback project
- How they succeeded and overcame challenges along the way
- What value partners took from the face-to-face debriefs
- How they used the insight from the data & debriefs to deliver firm-wide benefits
- Advice for professional services firms considering 360 degree feedback
“We found working with Bowland on both our Performance Appraisal and 360 Degree Feedback projects very constructive. Their approach did not feel formulaic in any way. It felt tailored to what we needed and we didn’t feel pushed in a particular direction.
It was very much a conversation that led to the right outcome, so our experience has been very positive with their support making a signiﬁcant difference and improving the process that we went through.”
Paul Ward, Managing Partner, Pantheon
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This question is prompted by a recent project where I was handling the 360 degree feedback debriefs. Taking aside any
As I read through the report in preparation, I could see there were plenty of respondents, from each of the nominated categories; such as peers, direct reports and line manager (of which there were interestingly 2 of in this case) – all of them providing a lot a rated feedback against all the rated questions.
However, the challenge arose when it came to looking at the free-text comments in support of the rated questions above – the line managers had made no comments…
Now with one line manager that would be difficult enough, but with two line managers, who from the way they had rated the questions, differed in opinion quite considerably, the ability to understand what was going on was reduced significantly.
It reminded me how important it is to communicate with respondents and train them in how to give good, constructive feedback. It is not enough to simply rate a statement, particularly if it is at one end of the scale or the other – narrative must be encouraged at all times – it allows the recipient to fully understand the impact of their behaviour, through the use of examples and evidence.
We can implement checks within the system which provide ‘pop-up’ boxes to encourage people to fill in the free-text comments section, but at the end of the day it must be through clear communication and framing of how the 360 degree feedback process works to best effect, that will establish the good practice of adding narrative and ensure that the whole story emerges.
Without it, the feedback can become a blur of graphics which tells only half a story; like a good novel with the satisfying ending missing.
A brief, but as always noteworthy post from Seth Godin on plasticity – can you change? It’s sometimes the case when we debrief individuals around their 360 degree feedback report, that familiar themes emerge; there are no surprises for them, it’s expected, they have heard this feedback before.
If the primary aim of 360 degree feedback is to be a catalyst for change, then one might argue that there is the truth of it; we cannot change – that our story is set and cannot be written differently.
The other view as expressed in Seth Godin’s post would be that we can change; it’s just hard, but the biggest challenge isn’t the work to be done in changing a habit, tempering a behaviour, learning a new skill, etc. but in simply believing that you can rewrite (and keep rewriting) your story.
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!