“Can I give you some feedback?” It’s always a scary question, as we tend to assume (based on past experience), that the feedback is going to be bad. This might also be why 360 assessment, where your manager, direct reports, peers and other stakeholders give you anonymous feedback on your work performance, can sometimes be met with the same fears as this question. Or maybe it’s because it is often used in the wrong way, such as giving feedback to someone that has been underperforming, and hasn’t been given feedback from anyone, and the manager wants to do a 360 to manage them out of the organisation.
When used in the right way, 360 degree assessment is a great way to gather valuable information about an individual’s work performance from a variety of sources with different perspectives. 360 doesn’t replace informal feedback, as this incidental in the moment feedback is critical for ongoing learning and development, but it can be a valuable way to solicit feedback that the individual may not otherwise receive.
If you’re going to do it, you need to do it right, so here are the top tips on how to do just that:
Make sure you are measuring relevant work behaviours. If your organisation has its own competency or capability framework, customise your 360 assessment so that individuals are rated on competencies relevant to your organisation and their role.
Be clear upfront about how the information from the 360 will be used, and make sure that that is the only way it will be used! This also includes being upfront about who will have access to the results. There is often a fear that 360 results may be used to manage someone out of the organisation, or to assist with a restructure, hence why people can be fearful of being involved in this process. 360 assessment results are best used for development, and this means not only looking at areas of ‘weaknesses’ or areas for development, but also key strengths and how these can be leveraged in the role and in their team.
Keep it anonymous. 360 assessment is used to look at trends in the data and to compare differences between groups to help understand work performance. Individuals don’t need to know “who said what” as this can lead to singling out the feedback providers and focusing on them as a person, rather than focusing on the behaviours that have been observed.
Include a measure of potential, such as a personality assessment. This adds depth to the data and the subsequent discussion arising from the results, as it allows you to look at where there is alignment, or non-alignment between an individual’s current level of performance and their potential and what this means in terms of their development. For example, what does it mean if an individual has really high ratings on the 360 for leadership, but doesn’t actually enjoy leadership as indicated in the personality assessment? Could this be an overused strength that they don’t enjoy anymore? Or a learned behaviour that takes more effort for them to sustain? And what impact does that have on them? You can see how the answer to these questions will result in different outcomes in terms of the development for that individual.
Engage a psychologist to give the feedback to the individual. Sure, the individual can read their own report and draw their own conclusions about what it means for their development, but to get the most out of the report (and to make sure they don’t just focus on the ‘negative’ comments and low ratings as most people tend to do!) having a qualified, experienced party that is external to your organisation can help the individual explore the results more openly and candidly. We then get the Manager and HR to attend towards the end of the meeting so that the individual can share what they got out of the results (in terms of their key strengths – don’t forget about the strengths! - and areas for development), and what they would like to focus on developing. Their Manager and HR can then share their views, and agree on a way forward.
Make sure that the individual is kept accountable to the development objectives agreed upon. Sure, it’s great to look through the results and discuss what it all means, but it’s pointless if nothing happens! Once the development objectives have been agreed upon (1 or 2 is ideal, any more and it’s likely that nothing will happen!), make a time for HR to follow up with the individual to help track their progress and keep them accountable.
Despite its somewhat bad reputation, 360 assessment when done well, can be extremely valuable. I’ve only ever had 1 person cry during a 360 feedback discussion, and it wasn’t because they were disappointed with the results, but rather because they were humbled by the amazing comments people wrote about what a great job they were doing. They really appreciated having their hard work and effort acknowledged by others in this way, and it meant a lot to them that the work they had put in was seen as being of an exceptionally high standard and that they were truly valued by their team.
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