360 Feedback? Naturally.

"In my last job I had no feedback in 6 years. Maybe I should've been happy that my manager seemed happy. But did he care about my development? I don’t think so."

"I hate 360 feedback. It's so unnatural. No-one tells the truth for fear of recrimination."

It doesn’t have to be like this!

In an ideal world we would all seek, give and receive feedback, openly, person to person, quite naturally. (In fact we often do; we don't realise we are. In every glance, phrase and gesture. It's just not explicit so the message isn't always clear). But that’s not the case in many organisations where feedback conversations just don’t happen, or when they do, they're neither effective or motivating. Yet feedback is essential if we're to learn, adapt, grow, and succeed. 

Yes, 360 feedback sometimes gets a bad press. But if there isn't a feedback conversation culture, I think that well considered 360s can pave the way for the longer term, where better conversations about strengths, weaknesses and performance can happen. 360 gets people talking about their own and others' development. It gets them thinking about how to give feedback well offline, from how they plan it through to the words they use. The more it's used the less scary it becomes. Natural even. It can become "the way we do things here". And then in time the 360 process can be replaced with conversations on every level about great performance.  

We all have a part to play in building a feedback culture. Here are 9 things to consider when you're the one who's invited to give 360 feedback:

1. Planning your feedback helps it to be balanced. Think about the person over whole year and not just the past month (nor the recent spat you had with them!) Write a list of the person’s strengths and positive qualities - things you appreciate and value about them, and then the same with their weaknesses or negatives - as you see them. Try this format:

  • Strength / positive behaviour or weakness / development area

  • When / where you see it used and what effect it has

  • What could they keep, start, or stop doing, or do more or less of?

"Jon is really co-operative with wider stakeholders. I see it on a daily basis; in particular when he leads special projects, consulting widely, negotiating skilfully on expectations and deadlines. He listens and takes people’s views and workloads on board and that makes it harmonious; feels like we are all on the same side. I’d like it if he would keep doing this."


2. We all have blind spots; how can you give feedback that doesn’t trample on feelings? Whether you find feedback hard to take or like it straight, your feedback to others may be a surprise or shock and they may take it very differently from the way you would. And when it’s in writing your words are all they are left with. It’s not what you say it’s the way that you say it to them.


3. Make time to do the feedback before the stated deadline otherwise you’ll focus on meeting the deadline or what’s most uppermost in your mind, rather than on the quality of your overall feedback. Then set it aside for a day or two in a standalone document so you can read it through fresh eyes before submitting the final online version.


4. Ensure your ratings are consistent with your words. If you have said that someone is good or excellent at something don’t then give them an average score for that area. Scores are an emotive issue and a low mark without context or explanation can skew their reaction to the whole report. Similarly where you give very high scores say why. Make it real.


5. Avoid making assumptions or accusations about their motives or intentions – you can’t truly know what they are so describe observable behaviours. And ensure you speak from your experience, not from hearsay.

"Anil sometimes doesn't respond to emails when he's not the project leader, for example on the procurement side. I ask repeatedly for information but get no response (I am not sure why) but as a result I often can’t move decisions forward and I hold others up too. If he could let me know a) he's got the email and b) his anticipated fuller response time that would be helpful."


6. Use constructive language. Avoid using “always or “never” unless there really are no exceptions! Equally, avoid “should / should not”, “must / must not”, or “needs to” - these can seem judgmental or even bossy. If you’ve suggestions to make, be tentative; consider using “consider”! And you could replace “needs to” with “could”. 


7. Be specific. “Jena is a poor Chair and needs to improve her meeting management skills” is not helpful. How does she know what you mean?

"When Jena chairs meetings, we sometimes don’t have a clear agenda, people interrupt each other, we start and finish late and I am not always clear what’s been agreed for action.”

It’s a longer sentence but Jenny now knows what to improve upon.


8. Don’t devalue the skills and qualities they value. Let’s say that Frank is really proud of his ability to write about deeply technical issues.“I have told Frank several times that he goes into way too much detail” won’t be useful. On the other hand:

“Frank still sometimes gives me more detail than I need at the time on the monthly metrics - if he could do a summary of the main inflows, outflows, variances and red flags that would be really useful. I know he has all the facts to hand and can give me more detail when I need it.”


9. Balance focus and detail. Fewer points with more detail is better than lots of points and no detail. Focus your feedback on the key points - select just 5-7 positives and 3-4 things they could improve. Give more positives than negatives. This isn't taking the soft route, it's being mindful of the impact that lots of negative feedback can have on their brains and reactions. If you want people to receive and act upon negative feedback positively it’s best to exercise restraint in how much you give. More appreciation than criticism = motivation. 


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 


“It’s not always easy to give or receive feedback but I think it’s like becoming a top sportsperson – they need someone to help them to identify what they’re really good at and what they need to work on. It helps them to focus, builds their confidence and raises their game. And 360 gives a range of views and so a much rounder and more balanced perspective – no-one works in isolation do they? I’ve not always agreed with everything that’s been said about me, but it’s all information that I didn’t have before and that I can work with now. So it's always motivated me. I’ve grown from seeking, giving and receiving feedback over the years and I can’t see me stopping now”. (CEO, Media)

© Linda Aspey 2015