In recent years more and more organisations have started to use 360 Degree or what is also called Multi-Rater Feedback. They may be being used as part of a leadership development programme or as a regular input to appraisals/personal development plans. Whichever approach you take one things will always be consistent – there will be a lot of work both for the individual and all the people from whom they seek feedback. At times one person may have 8-10 surveys to complete for colleagues all in the same timeframe and when work pressures have never been greater this is a huge investment and demand on our time.
So is it really worth it? How useful is the feedback? Does it help to improve performance? And if so how can we reduce the pain-or at least increase the lasting benefits of these efforts?
The ‘Bad’ & the ‘Ugly’
Over the years we have come across some approaches to 360 Degree that we would consider ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ and we have certainly been told about the poor experiences others have experienced.
- Own up – who said this? How a feedback receiver deals with their feedback is hugely important – especially for next time people are asked to complete a survey. We unfortunately do know of one senior manager who locked their team in a room for an hour until they found out who said what…
- Scratch my back… Increasingly we see examples 360 Degree feedback being included as part of the appraisal and salary process. This may well be an appropriate process however it is important to understand its limitations. A story that springs to mind comes from a senior leader who was complimented by their boss on the incredibly high ratings she received from all her feedback givers. As she recounted, this was not surprising as she had carefully selected and nurtured her selected feedback givers for several months. As she said, she realised that this might not be the most useful feedback in terms of her own development but there again if her bonus was going to be impacted by the survey she was going to manage the outcome as proactively as possible!
- Confidential v open? This is the first question we get our clients to consider – ie who actually gets a copy of the feedback report? We have heard of one survey which was set up as being for purely development purposes with final feedback reports only being given to the individual. Then the company decided that it was ‘a shame’ to limit the use of such powerful information which would be useful in identifying talent so they moved the goal posts and made the reports available to managers and HR! As you can imagine it took a while to rebuild confidence after this.
- Where’s my feedback? It can be a huge disappointment when an individual gets limited response to their survey, especially if the missing input is from their manager, and if this happens it can be a serious impact on their working relationship going forward. For this reason we encourage those asking for feedback to make their request more personally rather than to rely solely on the ‘survey process’. People are more likely to respond when they are asked personally for their commitment and support.
Even the Good ones can disappoint
Of course, unlike the stories above most surveys are robust and implemented in an ethical and professional way. But even when this is the case there is one story we hear from people time and time again.
These come from the many managers and professionals who have simply received a written report without any explanation, support or follow up. They are often left with frustration and a whole series of unanswered questions;
- What am I supposed to conclude from this?
- What do the ratings really mean?
- What should I be focusing on first – my strengths or weaknesses?
- What am I supposed to do with this now?’
- OK so I know what I need to focus on but how do I practically start to change and what do I need to do differently?’
Overall there can be a feeling of wasted time or ‘so what?’ A lot of time and effort may seem to have been invested in a 360 Degree process that is never linked to real action and change. It can become a corporate tick-box exercise with little or no link to their business success or as a way to improve their performance.
Achieving ‘Good’ results with 360 Degree
We have been using 360 degree feedback with our clients for many years and we know that one size does not fit all. There are many options to consider in terms of the type of survey used, its construction and the way it is managed – which we will save for another article on another day…
However, based on our experience the most critical factor for ensuring success is the quality of support each individual receives. A Feedback Coach can turn a ‘corporate exercise’ into a meaningful development activity that can deliver real results for both the individual and the business as a whole.
The Role of the Feedback Coach
Someone needs to be available to support the individual – because most people won’t act on something that they don’t understand. A good quality feedback report will have a lot of depth and substance and it is important that the individual really understands how to interpret all the data. A Feedback Coach can explain the scoring and fine detail and then help the individual to make sense of their feedback. Here are some examples of why this is vital…
- Good News / Bad News. Many people reading their feedback have a tendency to focus our attention on the ‘bad’ feedback. Yet there has been extensive research suggesting that the top 10-15% of managers and professionals achieve this level of excellence by focusing on their strengths and making those strengths world class. Individuals need to be encouraged to look at their ‘good news’ and find ways in which they can leverage these strengths in other parts of their work.
- But there is so much to change! There is a limit to how much development individuals can manage at any one time. If their action plan is too long then there is a real danger that no change will take place; ‘when everything is a priority nothing is a priority’. We need to focus on a shortlist of areas that are really important to success in the current role – or where we can get some quick wins. This will increase the probability that individuals will actually take action and stay motivated to develop and improve. Obviously a 360 Degree tool that helps prioritise the importance of each competence area as well as the performance rating can help here.
- Making change stick – personal change is tough – it is hard work and we need follow-up and support to help the change to stick. In the early days the Feedback Coach can help to give this type of support and encouragement – but perhaps more importantly they will help individuals to set up their own continuing feedback and support so that they stay focused. Obviously there are tools that can help here, including Greenbank’s own Prompt! tool
Finally, after the 360 Degree feedback process is complete we always encourage individuals to go back to those who made a contribution and at the very least say ‘thank you’. Let them know that their feedback has been taken seriously and incorporated into your future plans. You don’t have to share all details of your feedback but if you let others know that the time they invested was worthwhile they are far more likely to take part in future surveys.
Click here for information on Greenbank’s approach to 360 Degree development.